Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 7: The Song Begins Anew - by MistakeAnon
>”Why hello there, Anopsia!” >That nasally, intimate laughter. >That controlled way of breathing that exists simply to show off her control. >That mix of affection for a friend and disdain for a stranger her tone contains. >It's all so familiar... >... And all so infuriating. “Goddammit, Strangelove.” >You rub your temples in futile effort to not blow up. >You fail miserably. "Jesus H-Bomb To Start Another World War Christ! I'm not gonna listen to your word-games right now, Strangelove! And neither am I a defect in visual field of a person! Was that just a lame way to call me blind!?" >You also fail to not get tangled in her wordplay. >You feel so cheap. >Cheap like third-rate Chinese copy sold in a flea market. >"B-but, you call me Straightlove..." "Don't make me sound like a bigot!" >"And thus, here we are." "Don't ignore me!" >"A bus; there we are!" "I'm pretty sure you and I are not using public transportation services right now! Could you please get your act together, Strangelove!?" >Judging from the pitying looks all the people around you are giving you, you look just as pathetic as you sound. >No, perhaps a bit more. >To yell at a phone after such a climactic battle scene... it feels you're kicking the corpse of tension. >Tension that Southpaw and her stupid ringtone already killed. >"Well well, now that the greetings are out of the way..." >Strangelove coughs as if nothing had happened. >"It seems that I managed to catch you at a bad time? Or perhaps you could say my call came at the very right time?" >You roll your shoulders as you answer. They feel like they're permanently stuck on battle-mode. "More of the latter. Your timely intervention through Sweden's only musical gift to the world... well, besides Kent... managed to save all our hides and prevent a lot of property damage." >"Ah. Her taste in music still hasn't changed, has it? Vile woman, in all the right ways." >You glance at Southpaw, who's eyeing up Aria. >Both the Siren and the woman-in-red have stood down for now. >There's no longer looming sense of doom in the air. >That being said, you're still not sure you're out of the shark-infested waters. >The only thing you can do is cling to the lifering that's taken the shape of your mysterious neighbor and hope for the best. "I take it you know her, then?" >You stare deep into those felines eyes of Southpaw. >She glances at you for a moment. >You no longer feel fear, but neither are you calm. >She's so infused with magic of the other world she might as well be toxic. >"You could say that, but only you and no one else. Anyone other who has seen us interact would classify it as a relationship that has far more to do with 'hating' than 'knowing'. Even a scientist like me is capable of baseless hatred. Baseless emotion, yet base emotion. Funny, right?" >She chuckles again, the line cracking her voice a bit. >It's not really funny. >Or it could be, but you're a bit too tired to be laughing. >A lot has been happening lately. "Can you get to the point, Strangelove? Sorry, but I've been through a lot today. Do you know her?" >"Well, I suppose I also know her. I'm much too of a researcher to hate something I know nothing about. Like I said, she's a vile woman." >You can almost hear the venom seep into Strangelove's tone. >"But not in the current sense. She's vile in the original, latin sense of the word. She's worthless. Common. Base. Just like that base emotion of hatred I talked about." >Something about the way she puts it makes you shiver. >"Unfortunately, something base is something low in position. In other words, it's the foundation in which we build everything else." >Vitriol is something rarely heard from the mouth of this scientist. >"Base is something simple. Simple is something primal. Primal is something which precedes it all. Ergo, progenitor." >Your breath catches in your throat. >She can’t possibly mean...? >”Yes. That woman you see before you, that Southpaw, that Hell-in-Crimson, is one of the leading witches back in the other world… and the one who brought magic, for the first time, into this world.” >Something wavers in the air. >Perhaps it’s your vision under the weight of this new knowledge. >Perhaps it’s a newfound respect. >Perhaps it’s fear. >”Thanks to my research into the subject, I’ve been running afoul her every now and then. Like many creatures banished from that other dimension, she ended up in ours with fraction of her powers. The only thing that’s helping her recovery is that poison she drinks.” >Poison? >She means Striga Soda. >That foul-smelling, rotten-berry-like soda she’s so fond of. >”Striga, in other words, witchweed. A parasitic plant that’s a major cause of crop losses down in Africa. A basic plant which relies upon the lifeforce of others, now relied upon by her to provide her with magical force. It’s a case of predator preying upon a predator, you could say.” >In other words, Southpaw relies upon that soda. >Take it away from her, you take away her power. >That would be the logical conclusion. >But frankly, you’re having hard time being logical as you stare at your female-clone that’s currently at her side, nursing her nose. “So, what? She’s a super powerful witch. Does that mean she’s responsible for, well, you know what?” >For a moment, you blink. >For a moment, you see black. >For a moment, you see that darkness that almost swallowed up you and Sonata. >It’s a sickening feeling. >”Oh, you mean the E. Cross? Nope. At least, I don’t think she is. She maybe a witch but she hardly has access to superimposed physical systems.” >You breathe a sigh of relief. >At the very least, you’re not confronting that nightmare again. >Instead it’s just some other magical wackjob that seems to have popped up in this city. “And that thing with her? The one that… the one that looks like me? Except with boobs?” >You hear Strangelove snort loudly out of amusement. >”S-sorry about that. Didn’t mean have you hear that.” “What, so you were gonna laugh anyway?” >”Why of course. In any case, that’s her assistant, slave, minion… whatever you want to call it. At the very core, it’s just a collection of malleable cells under absolute control of the mind, making it capable of taking any form it wants, male or female.” >Strangelove’s voice sounds oddly bitter as she continues. >Like she just bit into a lemon. >”Rapid Emulation Polymorph, my mother called it. I just shortened it as ‘Rep’.” >Ouch. >That was bonafide childhood angst seeping through her words there. >And it wasn’t hard to reason why. >If Strangelove had been close enough with the thing to give it pet names, it hanging out with Southpaw now must be a sore point. >You realize it’s best not to delve too deeply into that Quaker-Oats-can-of-worms. “Alright. So… what should we do? Just a minute or so ago, Southpaw and Aria here were about to tear down the whole neighborhood. How am I supposed to defuse this situation?” >”Oh, don’t worry about that. I already did it for you. Even that witch is not exempt from some rules of this world, most of which involve revealing existence of things supernatural to the general public.” >You can just imagine the smug look on Strangelove’s face. >Well, you could if you knew what she looked like. “Wait, really? So, erhm… what did you want to talk with me about? Just say hi? You know we’re meeting tonight, right?” >”I know, I know. But there’s a little change in plans, and since I couldn’t reach you, I figured I’d give her a call and save your skin while I was at it. Oh, and remember to mention me this tonight when we meet. Otherwise I’ll forget.” >Huh? >What did she mean by that? >And was it just you, or was Strangelove always… weirder than usual when on the phone? “Ooookay. I’ll remind you tonight. Anyways, change in plans? What do you mean with that?” >”Simple. My six friends… hum, ‘assistants’ sounds better… yes, my six assistants are currently running some errands for me in town. I was supposed to meet them in ten minutes or so near the school. Could you go and tell them to meet me at my apartment? I want all of you people here at the same time.” “Wait… can’t you just give them a call or something? Why do I have to run errands for you?” >Strangelove clicks her tongue. >”Other than saving your hide?” “Okay, fair point.” >”Well, I’m betting they have quite a lot of stuff to bring here, and with none of those girls having a car, they’re probably hauling them on foot.” >For a moment, Strangelove’s voice dips into a pool of honey and sarcasm. >”And a gentleman like you would *never* leave girls in such trouble… would he?” >You can only sigh in defeat. >It’s not easy arguing with Strangelove. >Even less so when there’s something she wants. “Fine, I’ll go meet them. I guess I can see it as a payment for saving my ass here. Still, you drive a hard bargain, you know?” >Strangelove chuckles. >”That’s me. Nothing but coffee, science and sarcasm to keep me going. And can you believe people used to call me awkward?” >You gasp in mock-surprise. “No! Really?” >”Yes! Really really!” “And yet here you are, having graduated from awkward to just plain ol’ weird!” >You both laugh at that. >It’s a tired laugh between two people who are way past being amused by such jokes. >”In any case, I’ll see you in couple of hours, Anonymous. Take care.” >You smile, despite her not being able to see it. “Yeah. You too, Strangelove.” >You shut the phone and throw it at Southpaw, who catches it nimbly. >Odd silence falls upon the street. >At some point, all the eyes fell upon you. >To be completely honest, it’s sort of embarrassing. “So… Strangelove said she sorted out this whole battle thing. Is that right?” >You raise an eyebrow at Southpaw, who rolls her eyes. >”Yeah, yeah. Ya can stop growlin’ at me, Melior. Ain’cha got anything better to do, like ogle Tiger Daddy-O here some more?” >Southpaw’s juvenile cackle is almost enough to make Aria fly into rage again, but you put your hand on her shoulder. >Instead she chooses to just look sullen and pouts. >A look that’s surprisingly endearing, coming from someone like her. “And you’re just gonna do as she tells you?” >You’re glad if that’s the case, but somehow it’s a bit hard to believe. >Southpaw just shrugs in response. >”No way I’m gonna risk gettin’ screeched more by that Space Cadet. Ya and I are gonna settle this peacefully, savvy?” “Fine with me. I think we’ve caused enough commotion as it is.” >You all glance around the area. >Glass, concrete and steel are all victims in a hundred meter radius around the battlezone. >Police are probably gonna show up at any minute now. >”Fair point, Tiger Daddy-O. It’s good that at least one of ya has a head on his shoulders.” >A meaningful glance towards Aria and Glimmer almost restarts the whole fight. >Thankfully you manage to hold the girls back. “Easy. We don’t need more trouble right now.” >Aria is practically grinding her own teeth to dust. >”That bitch *hurt* you Roadie! I’m not gonna let her-” “I’m fine, Aria. But thanks.” >You try to offer Deep Purple your most reassuring smile, and that seems to pay off. >She calms down. >Still… it’s kind of humbling. >Aria’s that angry at Southpaw because of you. >You. >The guy she slapped less than two months ago. “...” >You’re suddenly very conscious of your hand on her slender shoulder. >A fact that does not go unnoticed by certain Starlight Glimmer. >”Oh? And here I was under the impression that this young man was not spoken for. At least that’s one of the perks Trixie mentioned to me.” >Letting go of Aria like she was hot coals, you turn your accusing glare at the mage, who giggles. “Don’t get any ideas, Starchild. Aria and I aren’t that way.” >”Oh? Then should I take your hand as some sort of suggestion?” >For a moment, you’re confused. >Then you remember that Purple Stuff wasn’t the only one you had to push back after Southpaw’s agitation. >Thus, you find your traitorous arm safely parked between Starlight Glimmer’s breasts as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Motherfucker-!” >If your retreat from Aria was fast, this is instantaneous. >For a moment, you’re sure that divine retribution is about to follow. >Hell hath no fury like woman scorned, and all that. >Instead, you hear both Aria and Glimmer cackling like couple of idiots. >”You were right, Aria! He has the most hilarious reactions!” >”I know, right? Roadie’s Grade A comedy material!” >You turn your deadpan stare at them with little effect. >The two of them are too busy mimicking your escapades of few seconds ago. >Seeing that you lost the respect of your comrades-in-arms, you turn to Southpaw. >Goddammit, even he’s snickering. “You wanna say something, Cruella?” >”Oh, nothing. Just thought yer keepin’ some interesting company, that’s all.” “Oh screw you too. You’re travelling with a goddamn andalite here.” >Your female clone cocks an eyebrow at you. >”What? You offering a cinnamon bun, White-Gold Stripes?” >It’s like talking with yourself. >Dreadful. “Anyways, if we’re not gonna fight, shouldn’t we split? I doubt any of us wants to face the cops.” >Southpaw nods. >”Not a bad idea, Tiger Daddy-O. It’s a shame to cut this meeting so short, but what can ya do? This world ain’t ready for clash of titans like this.” >She gestures towards the group around you. >You have to admit, she’s probably right. >Just about everyone here is a fighter of some sort. >Well, except for Trixie, who’s hiding behind Gilda at the moment. >Aria and Glimmer, Gilda and Limestone, Dust and Kiddy Duo next to you. >They’ve all proven they’re willing to get their hands dirty if need be. >”Still, would love to chat with ya some more. Tell ya what, the next time we meet, I’ll treat ya to some Korean BBQ. We can talk while eatin’ proper meat.” >Southpaw winks at you, though not in a friendly way. >It’s a gesture that promises more than a fair share of troubles in the future. >You’re not looking forward to this meeting. >Even if it involves a ton of grilled meat. >”A’ight, we’re gonna go then. Catch ya later, Tiger Daddy-O.” >As the lot of you watch, Southpaw turns around in a flurry of her crimson coat. >Your clone, the one that Strangelove referred to as Rep, finger guns at you like some sort of Soviet double-agent and follows her. >It’s a surreal sight, watching the two of them melt into the blood-red sunset slicing the horizon. >They don’t walk fast, but they disappear into that bleeding color that fills your eyes completely, swallowing them up and painting the back of your brain. >You’re eventually woken up from your stupor by Aria nudging you with her elbow. >”Roadie? We should get going too.” “Right.” >You motion to everyone, and together you hastely scamper away from the crime scene. >That’s one convenience store you can never return to. >Not that you needed to. >They sold absolute rubbish when it came to beer. >Not long after that, you’re all back to the park where you parked your car. >You fish out a cigarette while others get ready to leave, and light it up. >Honestly, you wanted to go on a binge after what you experienced, but you needed to keep strong facade. >Sure enough, that experience with the darkness that you shared with Sonata… it was terrifying. >But at the same time, it was totally alien. >Something you could not quantify or put into words. Therefore, you had hard time thinking back to it. >But this? You were face-to-face with a magical maniac just a few minutes ago. >One that had wanted to do all sorts of awful things to your brain, or so it seemed. >When she left, Southpaw did act all civilized, but her eyes never betrayed her predatory nature. >A danger with a face was always easier to relate to than one without. >But right now, you didn’t want to relate to this particular danger. >You got far too many problems to deal with already. >Throwing in a witch and her shapeshifting minion was too much. >”I guess we got an answer to one question, Roadie.” >Aria comments this as she sits next to you, stretching like a cat. >Her right cheek is showing the signs of a growing bruise. “Oh?” >That’s all you can say. >”Remember how some people had spotted you skulking around the city at dark? It must’ve been that minion of Southpaw.” >Oh. Right. >Sonata did mention something like that, didn’t she? Days ago. >But that just begs another question. >Why did the minion want to look like you to begin with? >”Err… Roadie? You okay?” >Aria directs her surprisingly worried face towards you. >Despite her tough-as-nails exterior, she could pick up on subtle cues quite easily. >Or perhaps it was just because of that. “I… suppose not. Hell of a lot of crazy stuff going on. Every day just seems more bizarre than the last.” >Aria looks downcast, grasping her own arms for support. >”That might be our fault, yeah. Like, Adagio has this theory. She says that eventually, bizarre attracts more bizarre. So when you started hanging out with us, you got into the line of fire or something.” >It does make some sense. >Before you met the Dazzlings, you couldn’t even begin to imagine getting caught up stuff like this. >Magic? >Other worlds? >Beings that claim to be fish-horses yet look like your regular teenage girls? >Endless darkness and a witch with a shapeshifting companion? >It sounded like something out of a trashy fantasy novel. >Except you were its protagonist, and the novelty was wearing thin. >Still… “Nah. Just look at the school we’re in. CHS seems like a magnet for all things supernatural.” >You flash a tired grin at Aria. “So with you or without you, I’d be part of it whether I want it or not. At least this way, I get to brave this storm with friends.” >That seems to take Aria by surprise. >She stares right up at you, those mulberry eyes full of something you can’t quite grasp. >It’s a bit late, but somehow you’re only now realizing how much taller you are than Aria. >Even Sonata is shorter than you. Adagio is like a midget. But Aria… >Her presence was always so powerful she seemed to tower above you. >But now, as she looks up at you with her lips slightly parted and breath stuck somewhere in the back of her throat… >She looks shorter. >Yet far closer to you than she’s ever been. >Close enough to reach out and- >”Roadie?” “Yeah?” >You snap out of that stupor. >The moment’s gone, just like that. >Whatever odd magic took hold of you there and fogged up your mind is gone now. >Instead, it’s replaced by Aria’s cheeky grin as she elbows you gently to the ribs. >”Thanks. And, like, I mean. We all appreciate you being in this with us, right in the middle of this insanity.” “Don’t mention it.” >Journey to CHS doesn’t take long, even with the lot of you. >On the trip there, you get introduced formally to the new members of the team. >Starlight Glimmer is a student of a nearby high school of Crystal Prep. >Straight-A student, she’s something of a child prodigy. >Only problem is that she’s devoted her life to occult research, citing a ‘childhood trauma’ as the reason. >No reason to dig there more than you have to. >Still, her knowledge about the supernatural seems to be why she knows Trixie, who’s an amateur researcher on the subject herself. >The pipsqueak duo that came with her are Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. >A former queen bee of the freshmen and her yes-man. >The former had been overthrown when she lost the class president race to some other student. >Apparently this was because of a trio known as ‘Crusaders’. >Instead of an influx in Deus Vult, it was a group consisting of three other freshmen. >Two were little sisters to Heart of Dixie and Cosmopolitan. >Third was a ring rat of California Games. >Diamond Tiara went on and on about how the three had cheated her out of her victory. >Silver Spoon, though, told with a hushed voice that Tiara had just been too proud to admit her mistakes. >She had been a big time bully, apparently. Tiara even lashed out at Silver Spoon in the end. >But now, a big emotional breakdown later, the two had somehow patched their friendship and were ready to begin again. >Still by their own rules, not ones shoved to them by someone else. >Hence why they were here. >They had heard how the Dazzlings and you operated, and wanted to be a part of the group. >Funny thing, people apparently counted you as part of the Dazzlings now. >Well, funny until they start calling you ‘Anon Razzle’ or something. >At that point, heads will fly. >”And *then*, Anon, I told those three idiots to keep their pity, because I’d get some real friends! Hah! You should’ve seen their faces when I told them about you!” >Diamond Tiara, unsurprisingly, is still talking your ear off when you steer to the parking lot of CHS. >It’s sort of endearing, in a grating kind of way. >A bit like Trixie, in fact. >”They had the *gall* to act like you were some sort of criminal! The nerve! I should’ve slapped the taste out of their-” “You know, I was actually in juvie.” >”W-well, still. It’s rude, right? Whatever you did is in the past now, right? So they should leave well enough alone and judge you by what you do now.” “I think I shoved a guy into a locker just few days ago. No wonder they’re afraid of me.” >”And just before, you immediately stepped forth to protect us when the going got rough. No bad person would do that on instinct, I say. Whatever Flash Sentry did to you back then must’ve been lot worse.” “I… Thanks, Diamond Tiara. It’s nice that you think so highly of me.” >You roll your eyes as the blushing girl keeps on blabbing. >From the corner of your eye, you can see Silver Spoon mouthing the word ‘fangirl’ silently to the rest of the group, who all chuckle at that. >Looks like the way you stood up to Southpaw really made an impression on the candy-colored heiress. >Enough that she’s still yapping when you get out of your car. >It’s sort of relief when you notice a group loitering around the entrance, and you can focus on what to do next. “You guys wait here.” >You turn to look at the ragtag collection of people you’ve assembled. “I’ll give them Strangelove’s message and if they have something they need to put in the trunk, help them with that. After that it’s off to see Adagio and Sonata.” >God knows you’re gonna pay for leaving the former alone. >Sonata might look like a kicked puppy, which was bad enough alone. >Adagio, on the other hand, was much worse. >She’d make you *pay* for abandoning her, one way or another. >And every second spent away from there gave her more time to think of a perfect punishment. >Steps hastened by that thought, you hurry to meet these assistants of Strangelove. >As you approach them, taking a long drag of your cigarette, you notice something strange. >They’re all wearing uniforms you don’t recognize. >Could they be from another school? >Maybe Crystal Prep, the same one Glimmer goes to? “Hey there! Are you Strangelove’s people?” >You direct this question at the group as you approach, giving a lazy wave with your hand. >“Sure, that’s us! Did she send you to look for us? Sorry for the trouble!” >One of the girls approaches you with a sweet smile and apologetic words. >In about 0.8 seconds, the former turns into a scowl and latter into a curse. >”That shut-in nerd could have come herself, though!” >Aaaaand now she’s back to smiling. >Oh boy. >Looks like the trouble isn’t over yet. >Out of the frying pan and into the asylum, or how it goes? >As you get closer, you vaguely realize you’ve seen the frontman of these girls before. >That soft serve hair and those freckles are a dead giveaway. >She and her friend were at Gilda’s gym just last night. >And you gave them a good scare back then, didn’t you? >An awkward expression rises to your face. “W-well, this is a surprise. Looks like we meet again. How’s it hangi-” >Your words die in your mouth as the contagious smile on the girl’s face withers away, revealing a look of deep disgust. >”Ugh, seriously, are you a stalker? That’s gross, way too gross, mega gross! Stop right there and keep that 5 meter distance between us, alright?” >Well then. >Where’s a good tumbleweed when you need one? >You need something to offset this awkwardness. “N-no. Listen here, I’m just a messenger. From Strangelove. She told me to tell you that she wants you guys to meet her at her place instead of here. And that I should help if you have some heavy stuff to carry.” >Your only hope is to push on. >”Weeell, why didn’t you say so! I thought you were some creepy old uncle, you know? Oh! I’m Sour Sweet, by the way. Nice to meet you!” >First the sweetness. >”But seriously, if you’re a stalker, I’m gonna knock you out you sicko. And don’t offer you hand, I’m not gonna touch it. Freak.” >Followed by sourness. >This one was gonna be a blast to be around with. >Desperate to get away from the frontman, you glance at the rest of the group. >First up is a purple one that looks like she belongs in an interview of a fashion magazine. >“Really? Leather and fur? Then again, I suppose your frame supports the look. No offense, m’kay?” >Next to her is the blue one with glasses and quite the deadpan stare. >”You know, smoking is really bad for you and you should stop immediately.” >Nobody asked you. Next. >The girl besides the blunt one is just staring at you, arms folded. >”Looks like she found someone stranger than herself. That’s surprising.” >Well, this is turning out to be a warm welcome. >Luckily, the pompadour chick carrying a tower of boxes grins as she sees you. >”Oh, hey. It’s you.” >She looks like she’s about to say more, but she’s violently tackled to the side. >Her place is taken by- “Oh no.” >Nononononono! >”Oh hey! It’s you!” >That voice, screeching like Dio himself, floods your ears. >Memories well up as colors of green fill your vision. ”No, I’m not who you-” >”Omigosh! It’s really you!” >A flying tackle drives all the air out of your lungs. >Before you even know what happened, you’re on your back on the asphalt. >On top of you? >Lemon Zest. >”Hi Anon!” >Your indie-scene fangirl #1. >Three years ago. >Backstage of Short Creek Saloon. >You throw yourself on the dusty leather sofa, adrenaline-filled laughter echoing from somewhere deep within you. >Your band members soon follow you, each sitting down for a breather. >You’re all sweaty. >You’re all more than a little drunk. >You’re all barely past sixteen. >And you just killed it at the stage. You can still hear the people chanting for Star Generation. >That, of course, being your band. >”Maaaan, I need a beer.” >Your bassist, Crystal Ship, was one sick puppy. >Always first of you to get drunk, last to get sober. >Not that anyone else was better. >Purple Haze, your keyboardist, is busy lighting a cigarette. >Kozmic Blues, your drummer, high-fives you as she walks over to the fridge for more drinks. >And then there’s… >”Mmm, gotta love your musk, babe.” >You girlfriend, collapsing on top of you with a goofy smile on her face. “Oh? Well just wait for tonight, there’s more where that came from.” >You play with her hair that you love so much. >She starts to giggle, but both of you yelp in surprise when Kozmic Blues shoves ice cold beers to your faces. >”Ugh, save it for bedroom you pervs.” >Kozmic rolls her eyes and sits down on another couch. “What’s her problem?” >You mutter that under your breath as you twist open your beer. >Your girlfriend has an odd expression when she looks at Kozmic. >A mix of anger and… pity? >”Don’t worry babe. She’ll eventually get over it.” >You shrug and take a huge swig from your beer. >Your head is buzzing too pleasantly for you to care about this right now. >And you want it to buzz even more. >It seems you’re not the only one, because your girlfriend straddles you and chugs her beer down in one go. >Purple Haze laughs at the sight and takes a drag off his cigarette. “Haze, I’m outta smokes.” >”Christ dude, again? You go through like two packs a day.” “Which is two less than your average person in this line of work. Bite me.” >As he throw you the pack of Lucky Bastards, you fish one out and then hand another to your girlfriend. >She lights hers with that lionhead zippo she’s so proud of and then leans forward. >The burning eye of the cigarette looms over you, and you push closer. >The cigarettes touch. >It’s like kissing, only better. >Well, almost. >”Jesus christ…” >Kozmic looks at you two like you were insane and starts chugging her beer as well. >Soon she should be drunk and far happier. >No need to let whatever’s going on ruin the night. “Anyways! Here’s to another successful gig!” >You raise your longneck, as do the others. “This long black road’s almost over, and we’re almost there at the stardom! I hear Ol’ Grimey managed to get us a gig at the Riot Room with some bigwigs from some record label coming in to listen.” >Crystal Ship rolls his eyes. >”You said that about the gig at Lawrence as well, and you know how well that ended.” >You groan. “How was I supposed to know there’d be Sons of Silence members in the audience? Anyways, they got what they deserved. You break the 100-mile rule, you pay for it.” >Kozmic shakes her head in disappointment. >”Anon, we ain’t never gonna hit it big if you keep brawling at every dive bar in the state. I know your father was part of El Foraster-” >Whatever she was going to admonish you about is cut short when something smacks against the skylight. >You all turn to look, eyes wide from surprise. >However, that surprise soon turns into a groan of disbelief on your part. >”Oh look at that, Anon.” >Your girlfriend grins at you, devilishly. >”Your little admirer is here.” >And indeed, up there, against the glass of the skylight, you see a familiar excited face and tuft of green hair. >Along with a pair of eyes that are already undressing you. >You shiver with fear. “Jesus Christ, that kid’s not alright in the head. How did she even get up there!?” >Your girlfriend giggles and draws circles at your chest with her finger. >”Oh, I dunno. You *are* quite the catch…” >You’re not feeling the flirts right now. >Even through your alcohol-induced buzz, you can feel annoyance raise its ugly head. >Meanwhile, the girl up at the skylight is already drawing a heart-shape to the glass. >Your bandmates are howling like hyenas at the display. >So it’s up to you to try to shoo her away. “Get outta here, Lemon! Or you want me to get the bouncers on your ass again!?” >You get up from the sofa and swipe the air at her. >You have no idea if she heard that. >Probably not. >She’s mouthing something as an answer, though. >It’s either: >”I want your autograph!” >Or: >”I want your babies!” >Neither would be surprising, considering it’s Lemon Zest. >Your self-proclaimed number one fan. >Sure enough, the girl was there to witness your first gig at Independence. >And has been following your ever since. >But goddammit, you draw the line to following you home just to get an autograph. >Your girlfriend seems to find it hilarious though. >You just can’t get used to the green-haired fan. >Mostly because she has no concept or personal space. >Or that you’re in a relationship. >”Oh crap! Catch her, Anon!” >Your girlfriend’s shout is your only warning. >With a loud thunk, the skylight swings open like a trapdoor. >Lemon Zest doesn’t even manage to yell out of surprise. >However, you spring into action. >Leaping with arms stretched, you manage to break her fall and slide backwards on the beer-stained floor. >The impact is quite heavy, making your head ring. >When you come back to, you realize you’re laying on the floor, Lemon Zest sitting on top of you. >”Yo! What’s up, Anon?” >She doesn’t seem troubled at all. >Back in the present day, you’re on your back on the asphalt. >That must’ve been your personal Vietnam Flashback, triggered by this deja vu. >After all, Lemon Zest is once again sitting on top of you. >She’s older than before, sure. >And so are you. >Still, you can see that same crazed glint in her eyes. Some things never change. >You just hope that there’s a bit more common sense behind those amber eyes. >”Dude, I can’t believe this is happening! Like, all my wet dreams are coming through right now!” >Nope. >Common sense is as foreign as her as unrealsies are to Sonata. “Okay, that’s great. Now get off!” >You try to push her off without using too much force. >She’s still a girl. >But damn if she isn’t freakishly strong one, as she stays right where she is. >Lemon Zest’s friends are looking at the ongoing show with varying degrees of shock. >Especially Sour Sweet. >She’s hovering somewhere between disgust and utter confusion. >Luckily there exists one person on this parking lot that isn’t afraid to take action. >”Get off him you skank!” >Aria appears out of nowhere, grasps Zest into a full nelson and drags her up. >You remind yourself to buy Deep Purple a beer. >She’s saved your ass today more than once. >”Anybody want to explain what’s going on?”’ >Sour Sweet is not sure who she should be angry at. >So she just glares at everyone in sight. >Too bad for her, Aria’s got one hell of a mean eye. >One look and Sour’s hiding behind her blue-haired friend. >”Yeah, Roadie. I’d like to hear an explanation as well.” >Aria’s words are thick with venom as she looks at you. >Goddammit. >You thought this day couldn’t get any worse. “Well, you see, this… this is a fan from the days I used to be-” >”Girls, you ain’t gonna believe this, buuut, that dude’s the lead singer and guitarist of *Star Generation*!” >Lemon Zest waves her arms, smile radiating energy like a leaking nuclear reactor. >All of Lemon Zest’s friends look completely unimpressed. ‘>Figures. >It ain’t like one of these teenage girls has heard about your old band. >During the time you were touring, they were listening to godawful bubblegum pop and learning how to not make sense whatsoever. >Well, with the exception of Lemon Zest. >She’s some sort of freak of natu- >”Star Generation? Are you talking about one of the most prolific and influential bands of the independent circuit during the early 2010? The one responsible for rising popularity of Southern-style hard rock during recent years? The one that have their self-published album ‘Great White Trash’ still be in high demand from record stores?” >This tidal wave of fast-paced speech comes from the girl with glasses. >She then looks at you. >To your surprise, the former disdain is gone. >Instead, you can see a hint of respect. >”Yeah, you got it, Sugarcoat!” >Lemon Zest nods like crazy. >”He’s their frontman, Anonymous!” >Hearing that, the girl named Sugarcoat walks up to you and offers her hand. >After a bit of hesitation, you let her help you standing again. >”Honor to meet you, Mister Anonymous. You know, your music definitely helped me during the more emotionally turbulent times of my teenage years when I wanted to vent my frustration regarding the prevalent faux-cultured attitude found in our high school. It was very therapeutic.” >Right. “Right. Glad you... liked it.” >Did… did this girl just imply she’s masturbated to your music? >You hope not. >You look down at your hand which she just shook. >Probably best to make a mental note to wash it thoroughly later. >Admittedly, the idea’s sort of hot but no. >You just hope it was a poor choice of words on her part. >”So, what Roadie? These girls are your fans?” >Aria seems less than impressed by the thought. >You shake your head. ”No, no, these are Strangelove’s assistants. Remember?” >”Duh! Well, I’m actually both! But rest of them are! Assistants, I mean!” >Lemon Zest gestures vaguely towards her friends. >Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Aria finally lets her go. >You turn to look at the group of girls in chic uniforms. >Hard to imagine they work for someone as weird as Strangelove. >”What she said.” >Sour Sweet continues. >”Anyways, other than Lemon Zest and myself, these are Indigo Zap, Sunny Flare, Sugarcoat and Suri Polomare.” >Suri and Sunny give you an indifferent nod. >Lemon and Indigo grin and wave. >Sugarcoat, surprisingly, smiles at you. >Sour Sweet on the other hand… >”What are you staring at, creepo?” >... Looks like she’s permanently stuck on sour. “So, like I said before, Strangelove sent me here to give you a message. You’re supposed to meet her back at her place, and I’m supposed to help you transport whatever it is you’re transporting.” >Indigo Zap lets out a sigh of relief. >”Man, thanks a lot! My arms are dying here! That nerd ordered way too many electronic components again!” >She nods towards the mountain of boxes behind her. “Probably because she’s gonna blow them all up in couple of days.” >Your dry joke is met with some chuckles. >Not from Sour Sweet, though. >She’s back to staring daggers at you. “So you guys are, what, Strangelove’s friends?” >The girls look at each other, seemingly little surprised by the question. >What follows is an awkward silence you weren’t prepared for. >However, it’s Sunny Flare who eventually shrugs her shoulders with a hint of smile on her lips. >”I guess we are? We wouldn’t be helping her otherwise.” >Suri clicks her tongue, but nods all the time. >”She was horribly awkward and nervous while studying at Crystal Prep, but the moment she got accepted into Everton independent study program, she was allowed to be herself.” >Indigo Zap chuckles. >”Yeah! I mean, it’s like she’s eating nothing but willpower and sarcasm in that apartment of hers! First time she contacted us about getting her something-or-other, we couldn’t believe it was really her!” >Sour Sweet rolls her eyes at the bluehead. >”Tell me about it. At first she tried to coax us into it by flattering us…” >Suddenly, her face considerably darkens. >”But the moment we refused she started actual threats, revealing her true, twisted nature!” >Already used to Sour’s bipolar attitude, you’re surprised to see her pop right back into smiling once more. >”But still, she’s blast to be around when she has time to spare from her studies!” >Sugarcoat nods at that. >”The moment she wasn’t required to be at a place she clearly didn’t want to be, she was able to act more naturally. And we were able to learn she wasn’t a dork, but just needed her own space.” >Lemon Zest grins in agreement. >”Yeah, yeah! Plus she introduced me to Freezepop! Girl’s got taste in music up the whaaack!” >To be honest, hearing them say all these positive things about Strangelove… >... You’re bit surprised. >When you initially saw these six, you took them for snobby elitists from another school who just acted as Strangelove’s hired muscle. >But the more they speak about her, the more it dawns upon you that Strangelove might not be as lonely as she seems. >And that these girls might not be such jerks they initially looked like. >Hell, even you managed to break through the icy exterior of Dazzlings. >Now a former bully like Aria rushed to help you the moment she saw you in trouble. >So if the Dazzlings deserve a chance, so do these girls. “That’s good to hear. In the end, Strangelove’s my friend too, so to know that she’s got someone to depend on… thanks, girls.” >Most of them grin back at you… with the expected exception of Sour Sweet. >”And what’s that supposed to mean, creepo?” “It means that I’ll be counting on you to be Strangelove’s friends from now on as well. That’s all.” >A moment of silence. >Then, with a hint of red on her cheeks, she nods. >”I don’t need you telling me that. I’ll look out for her even without someone telling me to.” >You chuckle at the sight, as do the others. >Even Aria’s grinning… though a bit maliciously. “So, with that outta the way, what do you say we load up all those boxes in the Buick and head out?” >The girls nod in unison and begin lifting the boxes. >You motion Aria with your head, and the two of you join in. >Falling a bit behind the six, the two of you talk some more with hushed voices. “Strangelove has some interesting friends, huh?” >”Roadie, she’s a mad scientist you got living as your neighbor. Be glad she’s not friends with talking dogs or something.” >You chuckle. “Fair point. Still, I wasn’t expecting them to be, you know, so open about their friendship. They seem like people who care about appearances too much.” >”Eh, you’d be surprised, Roadie. If a person is allowed to, like, grow the way she wants to, she can take things at her own pace. Strangelove did what she wanted, gained some confidence, and contacted these six when she was ready.” >She motions towards the girls with her eyes. >”The change they saw made them respect her. I bet some of them want to change, too.” ”You think so? People want to change because someone inspires them, not to fit a certain mold?” >”I don’t think so, Roadie.” >Aria shoots you with a meaningful stare. >”I know so from personal experience.” >There’s an odd weight behind those words, enough to leave you standing there, puzzled. “Huh?” >It’s only five seconds later that you grasp what she said. >And when you do, you blush heavily. >Goddamn Deep Purple. >Aria turns to look over her shoulder at your dumbfounded face. >She’s an odd girl. >First of all, she’s not a girl, not really. >Try fish-horse monster from another world. >She’s also foul-mouthed. >A sore loser. >Grumpy as all hell. >Violent. >Unable to take a joke. >And yet… >She’s there to support you whenever you need it. >She genuinely cares for you, and is upset at the thought you don’t care about yourself. >She’s ready to defend you to the point of duking it out with one of the most powerful magic users on Earth. >And she does it just because that magic user laid a hand on you. >She goes along with your crazy plan of ‘revenge’, trusting you. >And most importantly... she does this all even though she hated you when you two first met. >But after everything that happened, that hatred has turned into something else. >Just like with Sonata back in that darkness… >... now that you look at Aria, veiled in the color of the blue hour, you consider her family. “Aria?” >”Yeah, Roadie?” >She looks at you expectantly. >And you finally decide to say something you should’ve said a long time ago. “... Thanks. For everything.” >That seems to surprise her. >For a moment, she stares at you, her eyes wide and cheeks red. >Then, letting out a chuckle, she walks up to you. >Her head bumps against your chest, and she rests it there for a moment. >”Don’t mention it, Anon.” >You nod. >Being this close, you can hear her frantic heartbeat. >Just like she can hear yours. >Aria’s warm body against yours reminds you of things you buried away years ago. >When you entered juvie, you promised you wouldn’t get involved with girls again. >But now, with Aria so close you can smell the faint fragrance of lavender from her… >... You’re beginning to doubt that decision. >”Especially to Adagio and Sonata. I don’t want them getting any ideas.” >The two of you chuckle. “You got it.” >You get back to your apartment just before nine. >Steering your car to the parking lot, you take a deep breath. >You know what’s coming. >You’ve been trying to get mentally prepared for it. >But fuck. >You’re not looking forward to meeting Adagio again. >She’s gotta be fuming. >You ditched the whole day to go looking for people and getting in trouble, even though you were just supposed to drop by the store. >Aria notices your nervousness. >”Looks like you gotta face the music, Roadie.” “... Yeah. I’ll go on ahead, take the brunt of it.” >”Good luck.” >You step out of the car and fix your jacket. >Up ahead, clouds are gathering to the darkening sky. >Looks like tonight’s gonna be the first snowfall of this year. >Another thing you’re not looking forward to. >Then, after fishing out a cigarette and lighting it, you take a step. >And another. >And eventually, you find yourself at the front door of your apartment building. >There, a beauty with lustrous hair lies in wait, arms folded. >Her eyes are narrowed and you can see her breath fog in the cold air. >Nowhere to run now. >There’s less than two meters between you and Adagio. “... Hi. I’m back.” >”Welcome back, Anonymous.” >Her voice is colder than the air around you. >Sonata peeks from behind Adagio, looking nervous, and gives you a small wave. >”H-hi, Nonny. How was the sto-” >”Sonata. Shut up.” >Ouch. >Looks like there won’t be no mercy for anyone. >But what surprises you more than Sonata’s presence is that of another person behind Adagio. >”... Woah, dude. You’re, like, so screwed.” “Tree Hugger? The hell you’re doing here?” >It’s the potheaded daughter of your landlord. >Like mother like daughter, you suppose. >”Well.” >Adagio’s harsh tone cuts the air like knife. >”Since neither you nor Aria were around, we had to make do. We still had an apartment to clean and needed all the help we could get.” >Adagio glances at the hippie behind her. >”Hence we recruited her.” “That… makes sense, I suppose.” >Still, you can imagine Adagio’s mood didn’t get better, having to babysit both Sonata and Tree Hugger. >The way her right eye twitches confirms your suspicions. >”What does not make sense, however, is that you took the whole day to go grocery shopping.” >Adagio takes a step forward. >Instinctively, you take one backwards. >If you were completely honest, you’d rather go another round with your physical doppelganger than with angry Poof. >”I know I should punish you severely for abandoning me with these two…” >Sonata cuts in with an annoyed ‘hey!’ but is quickly silenced by Adagio’s glare. >”... However, I am not without mercy. I’ll give you a chance to explain yourself, Anonymous.” >Her eyes narrow even more. >”One chance.” >Well, this is it. >Your one chance at avoiding whatever horrible fate awaits you. >You completely abandoned Adagio to clean your landfill of an apartment. >Instead, you spent the day fooling around and chatting up random people in order to get them join your inane quest for revenge. >Revenge that isn’t even yours. >You also got into more than one fight and made enemies with a powerful witch. >During this whole time, you ignored every call from Adagio because, well… >... You were goddamn afraid. >So, what can you say? >How can you possibly make it all seem worth it? “... Shit.” >You take a drag from your cigarette and blow it up in the air. >The smoke dances in the air, as if mocking you. >Defeat lurching in your stomach, you look back down, at Adagio. >At that moment, it happens. >Last ray of light from the descending sun hits the glass of the door behind Adagio. >In that light, you see what’s going on behind you. >And in that instant, a familiar song begins playing in your head. [Embed: Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers - This Life] >They’ve arrived. >All of them. >Some came on their bicycles. >Others on their motorcycles. >Others finally finished getting the stuff out of your car. >And now they’re here. >They approach your little pow-wow at the stairs in a single row. >Seven on the left. >Sour Sweet, Sugarcoat, Lemon Zest, Sunny Flare, Indigo Zap, Suri Polomare and Starlight Glimmer. >They’re the ones spurred on by trust in someone else. >Seven on the right. >Aria Blaze, Gilda Griffon, Limestone Pie, Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, Lightning Dust and Trixie Lulamoon. >They’re the ones spurred on by trust in you. >But nevertheless, it’s a trust of fourteen mighty pillars rising from the ground, gazing up at the blazing sun together. >Like wings of an eagle they spread behind you, all with determined looks on their faces. >They don’t know it, but… >They make an absolutely majestic sight. >Their walk, powerful. >Their faces, gallant. >You’re reminded of the first time you saw your dad return from one of his runs with his friends. >There isn’t the deafening rumble of motorcycles, but it doesn’t matter. >You get chills nevertheless. >A slow smile spreads on your lips. >You take another drag from your cigarette and fix your leather jacket. >If you knew magic, you would emblazon the logo in your mind to its back right at this moment. >But that’ll have to wait. >So for now, you’ll keep that picture of a snarling grey canine at the back of your mind. >You draw a deep breath. >Then, with a proud look in your eyes, you spread your hands. ”I went to recruit, Adagio.” >She looks surprised by these words, and what she sees. ”I found our Outsiders, Adagio. I found our nWo.” >You grin like only a wolf who found his pack would. ”I found our New World Outlaws.” >Adagio eyes up the people gathered behind, and finally nods. >The cold look on her face melts away to a sneer that matches yours. >Another wolf, ready to run. >”Good work, Anonymous.” >It doesn’t take long for you to introduce everyone to Adagio, Sonata and Tree Hugger. >It also doesn’t take long for Adagio to assert her authority over everybody else. >Not even Sour Sweet or Starlight Glimmer is stupid enough to challenge her on that. >Scarily enough, Lemon Zest and Sonata hit it right off. >Perhaps it’s because they’re both a bit crazy. >... Well, it should be okay as long as Sonata won’t give any new ideas to Zest. >You shiver at the thought. >Another worrisome combination is Indigo Zap, Lightning Dust and Limestone Pie. >Those three jocks are gonna cause some trouble, you can just tell. >Sure, you all will be chasing hell, but that doesn’t mean you have to go at it the stupid way. >If the worst comes to worst, you’ll just have to sic Aria at them. >”So.” >Adagio turns to look at you. >”Clock is almost nine. Shouldn’t we go meet this Strangelove?” “Yeah. Let’s go, everyone! After the meeting, free food and drinks at my place!” >This announcement is met with cheers. >”Um, Nonny? You sure? Like, we just cleaned it…” >Sonata looks a bit worried, but you pat her on the shoulder. “We’re gonna need their help, Sonata. The least we can do for them is keep them fed and happy.” >Leaving it at that, you head inside the apartment building, a mass of people following you closely. >Strangelove’s door right on the first floor. >Behind it are stairs leading to the basement where she lives. >You clear your throat and knock on the door, bracing for a crash or an explosion from the inside. >Instead, you hear muffled talking and sound of papers being arranged. “Strangelove? You there?” >The talking doesn’t stop, but you can hear steps coming closer to the door. >Thanks to that, you can finally hear what Strangelove’s talking about. >”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some fantastically punctual guests to meet. I’ll talk with you two later.” >Huh? >Is she on the phone? >That sounds vaguely familiar but… you can’t just put your finger on it. >Well, whatever it is, it’s not important. >You knock again. >”Yes, yes, just a minute! I’ll open the locks!” >You start hearing the sound of multiple locks being released, and roll your eyes. “Talk about paranoid security…” >”You’d be surprised, Anonymous, how many people would want to break into my sanctuary. And I’m not talking about just foreign spies.” >You chuckle at that. >However, Adagio next to you tenses up. >You see the hair on the back of her neck stand up. >Almost like an animal that recognizes an enemy. >”Pizza delivery, mailmen, annoying people from Everton… the list goes on. Just be glad I’m letting you in this easily.” >The last few locks click open. >The door begins opening. >At the same time, you see Adagio’s eyes shoot wide open. >Too late. >Too late you sense danger. >Like a nightmare, the metal door swings open, revealing the person behind it. >Yet you’re rooted in place, unable to stop the catastrophe you can sense is about to happen. >For a second, you finally see her. >Your mysterious neighbor who has been helping you all this time. >And you have to admit, you weren’t expecting a beauty. >A nerd, sure, but still a beauty. >Purple-hued skin, hair of dark violet with a bright streak running through it. >Sharp and intelligent eyes gazing at you through thick-rimmed glasses. >Labcoat that accentuates her lithe body in just the right way. >If you weren’t stuck in a slowed down film of despair, you’d be able to appreciate the sight more. >However, reality is cruel. >You try to say something, anything. >But it’s drowned by the growl emanating from Adagio’s throat. >”YOU!” >That’s all you hear before Adagio lunges forward, hands wrapping around Strangelove’s throat. >The two of them tumble down the stairs into the darkness, and you chase after them. >You knew it. >The day was going far too well. >You charge down the stairs with the rest of the group. >Ahead of you, you can hear the sound of shattering glass and two girls screaming at the top of their lungs. >Strangelove out of surprise. >Adagio out of rage. “The hell are you doing, Adagio!?” >You yell at the two of them as you fly down the stairs. >”T-that’s her!” >Sonata sounds panicked, running behind you. >”That’s the girl who defeated us during the Battle of the Bands, and got us stuck here!” “What!?” >”That’s Twilight Sparkle!” >You have no idea what’s going on anymore. >Wasn’t the #1 enemy of Dazzlings supposed to come from their original dimension? >Why was she here? >And why had she been helping you? >No time to think. >Whatever’s going on, it needs to be stopped. >Too bad things are heading straight to hell as you run these seemingly endlessly stairs. “Shit!” >No, scratch that. >You finally got to the end. >Too bad you crashed right into a shelf, shoving a record player enough to have it jump-start and fill the room with a song. [Embed: Freezepop - Get Ready 2 Rokk] >Of course. >Lemon Zest did mention Strangelove’s taste in music. >And to be honest, now that you see her room, you can say it fits her. >Everywhere you look, you see bright LED-lights and colorful gooey liquids running in various pipes and bottles, shining in the darkness. >Jutting from their mass is three towering collections of machinery that you vaguely recognize as server racks. >Various electrical, sciency equipment surround the walls. >They beep almost to the rhythm of the music, creating a surreal surrounding for the brawl that’s going on. >Neon lights glow above you all, throwing their pastel colors around. >There’s also a table with six monitors on it, all showing various graphs you have no idea about. >Again, scratch that. >Adagio and Strangelove just plowed through one of them. >”I’m gonna kill you, you wretched bitch!” >Adagio’s almost foaming from her mouth. >”Why!?” >Strangelove’s face shows nothing but shock and confusion. >They crash into some more equipment, creating a hell of a mess as they do. >You can’t help cringing. >If you somehow manage to calm this situation down, Strangelove’s lab is gonna be a mess. >Wait. Shit. >This is Strangelove’s lab. A place of daily explosions. >If those two continue fighting, they might just- >”No-no-no! Watch out for that! That’s gonna blow up from slightest impact!” >”O-oh! Wait, no! You’re gonna pay!” >Well… maybe you were worrying for nothing. >Even in the midst of being beat up, Strangelove’s keeping track of where they are. >You have to admire her focus… wait, no. >Why are you just standing there, watching Adagio beat the crap out of your friend!? “Adagio, wait! Calm down!” >”No I won’t! This *harlot* took *everything* away from us!” >”I didn’t, you’ve got the wrong-” >”LIAR!” >Adagio raises her hand and proceeds to slap the taste and possibly teeth out of Strangelove’s mouth. >Behind you, there’s a growing line of worried faces. >”W-wait, why is she beating up Twilight?” >You can hear panic in Sour Sweet’s voice. >”Because that’s the girl who destroyed our lives. She’s the one behind our loss at the Battle of the Bands.” >You can hear Sugarcoat breathe in sharply. >”Oh no.” >Oh no, indeed. >Two of your closest allies, Adagio and Strangelove, at each other’s throats. >And you don’t even know why. >Adagio said Strangelove was the reason they’re stuck in this world. >If that was the case, shouldn’t you let her get that revenge she’s after so much? >But just one look at Strangelove tells you something’s not right. >She’s frantically trying to get away from Adagio… but never trying to strike back. >Why? >Guilt? >Or perhaps… “Shit…!” >Seconds roll by at an alarming rate, refusing to slow down for you. >You need to do something and fast! >Limestone curses and hits the wall with her fist. >”Not good! Anon, they’re completely misunderstanding! That’s not--” >”Not what!?” >Aria yells this, agitated by Limestone’s voice. She’s now facing the older girl with fury in her eyes. >”That’s not the reason our life is this fucked up right now!?” >Her words hammer into your brains like wedges. >Like barbed wedges that refuse to budge. >Pulsating pain. >It’s not physical, but your panic, your anger finally rising like a roaring beast. >A beast that fills your mind with too much noise. >Noise that mixes in with the music blaring at the background. >”I try to wait and I try to be good,” >So the song goes. >”I try to be patient, I know I should.” >Yes, yes you should. >But you can’t. >Every solid second that passes makes your head hurt more. >You just don’t what you’re supposed to do. >”Pinkie told me the truth, chief. She told me who that girl really was back there!” >Limestone seems frantic to get through, but Aria’s not letting her. “What the hell’s going on!?” >You raise your voice, trying to make sense of the situation. >But no answer can be found. >Instead you see Limestone and Aria yell at each other. >You see Strangelove’s friends trying to yell over each other. >But you can’t hear them properly. >Your brain jams up, empty like a broken engine. >You grab your forehead, hoping it’ll calm you down for a moment. >It doesn’t. >Instead you feel your own, sweating hand add up to the heat. >You’re burning up, you can feel it. >In your ears, the voices of the arguing girls, the voices of the fighting friends, the voice of the singing woman. >They all mix up into a cacophony that drives you further. >And further. >To the edge. >”Nonny.” >Suddenly you feel it. >Sonata’s clinging to your arm. >Warmth spreads to you like ink into water. >She doesn’t even seem to realize she’s doing it. >Indeed, it seems like an instinct. >Instinct meant to calm you down the moment you seem agitated. >Instinct you’re thankful now, more than ever. >Those big mulberry eyes stare deep into yours, gentleness flowing from them. >The effect is like cold water splashed to your face. >You see everything. >The voices become separate. >And just like that, you’re once again on top of things, able to think clearly. >With a nod to Sonata, you turn towards Limestone and Aria. “Limestone, tell me. What do you mean?” >”Roadie, she-” “Aria, shut it!” >Aria’s eyes fly right open. >She looks like you just slapped her. Hurt. Betrayed. >You feel a sting unlike anything before in your heart. >But you’ll push on. >And you’ll apologize when this is done. “Limestone! What do you mean?” >For a moment, Limestone seems as shocked, but her expression quickly steels up. >She grasps your arm. >”My sister told me: the girl that helped her and her friends before doesn’t come from here. She doesn’t even live in Canterlot City!” >Hammer strikes down. >”Yeah! And another thing!” >This time it’s Sour Sweet. >Her eyes beg you to save her friend. >”Twilight, the girl right there, she went to the Crystal Prep High! She’s never even *been* to CHS!” >Sunny Flare is right up there, panic clear on her face. >”She can’t have hurt any one of you! Can’t you understand!?” >Bullet is chambered. >Aria doesn’t need to hear anything else. >She’s not stupid. >Of course she’s not. >Putting two and two together, the shock on her face turns into understanding. >Any thought of your betrayal is swept away by something much more urgent. >Trust. >She whips around to face you. >”Roadie! GO!” >Thus, trigger is pulled. >And you run like a bat out of hell. >Sonata is the one to calm you. >Aria is the one to direct you. >Both are two-way streets. >So what is Adagio to you? >She understands you. >So, it’s only natural that you understand her. >And right now you know that she’s blinded by similar rage that blinded you before. >Vaulting over one of the tables, you hurry to where Adagio’s trying her best to claw Strangelove’s eyes out. >Without hesitation you grab Adagio by her wrists and lift her up with one move. >She lets out a surprised growl, almost like an animal. >Strangelove takes this chance to crawl away from you both. >Continuing your surprise assault, you slam Adagio against the walls as soft as you can, hands up so she can’t hit you too. >You also bring your knee to the front on the off-chance she’d decide to kick you in your for-realsies. “Adagio, calm do-” >”LET ME GO ANONYMOUS!” >She’s screaming and spitting straight at your face. “I said calm down!” >”LET ME GO RIGHT NOW OR I SWEAR I’LL KILL YOU TOO!” >You push closer, refusing to budge an inch. >You know how drowning that red rage is. >You know how it takes hold of you and never lets go. >You know she doesn’t mean it… and try not to get hurt by the words your friend will most likely roar out. >”Are you on her side?! Were you always on her side!? Was this just some sick JOKE you and the Rainbooms played on me, trying to REFORM me or some crap like that!?” “No. Listen to me, Adagio. I’m not-” >”YES YOU ARE! You’re defending her! I thought you were my friend, and you’re defending HER!” >She tries to shake free, snarling and snapping at you. >For a moment, you see her face twist into a shadow of something you’ve never seen before. >A bestial shape of a monster that doesn’t belong to this world. >You can guess that’s how she looked back in the world she came from. >However, that’s nothing. >You can face a monster or two if it’s for her. >”Was ANYTHING you said to us true!? Were you ever even our friend!?” “I *am* your friend, Adagio! Just let me explain what’s-” >”YOU WERE FAMILY TO ME!” >That one cut. >That one cut deep. >The sheer amount of hurt in her voice as she bellowed that out is enough to make you flinch. >That’s the opening she’s been looking for, and she lunges forward. >Towards you or towards Strangelove… she probably doesn’t even know it herself. >But you’re still faster than her. >You grasp her into a tight hold, more like a bearhug than anything else. >And you hold on to her despite her nails digging deep into your shoulders. “And you’re family to me Adagio. You guys are the only goddamn family I have left on this big blue ball of trash, so for the love of God, just let me-” >She spits in your face. >”NO! I don’t want to hear your lies anymo-” “ADAGIO!” >That’s the first time you’ve raised your voice to her. >And the look in her bloodshot eyes makes you promise to yourself you’ll never do it again. >Her expression is like shattering glass. >You’ll never hurt her again like this. >You promise. >With one final push you put her back against the wall. >Your forehead’s touching hers, your faces inch away from each other. >This close, you can feel the pulsating heat of her breath. “You’re smarter than this, Adagio. You’re the smartest person I know. Think, Adagio! Think for one goddamn moment! Was all that anger-management Gilda taught you for nothing?” >She just stares at you. >She’s even stopped struggling. >Instead, her face tells you all you need to know about her thoughts. >That incredible loneliness, that heartbreaking pain, that fear of betrayal… >It all sits right there out in the open. “Think. The girl who defeated, who took away your home, came from another world. She came from the same world as you.“ “Why would she be living here, in this basement, and not in that world? Why would she be helping us even though she knows about you three? Why would her friends tell us that she has never even set foot into CHS?” >Slowly, but surely, realization begins dawning upon Adagio. >Her face goes pale white, and her hands start to shake. >She’s still clutching your shoulders. >You can feel how her whole body trembles. “Why, Adagio?” >You know she’ll understand. >You would understand as well if Adagio did this to you. >Everyone’s told you how similar you are… and now it has finally paid off. >Because you know exactly how Adagio’s mind works, and what you need to do to make her calm down again. >”Because…” >Adagio’s voice is nothing more than a wavering whisper. >Her wide open eyes begin gathering water to their edges. >You know what’s coming next. >”Because they are two different people…” >You close Adagio into the tightest, most gentle embrace you can, burying her face into your chest. >Allowing others to see your tears is not something you want to do. >You know Adagio feels the same way. >So you hide away those tears of shame, of regret, of bitter emotions that overflowed for just a moment. >Nobody needs to see this, not even you. >You’ll let Adagio keep those tears to herself. >”O-o-oh… oh… Anon, I…” “Hush. It’s alright, Adagio. It’s… alright.” >You gently pet her head, fingers running through her beautiful hair. >Meanwhile, Adagio wails and sobs to your chest, hands grasping you like she wanted to break you. >You’ve never seen her this vulnerable. >But if your emotions can get the better of you… so can Adagio’s. >What you’re just glad about is that Adagio still thinks highly enough of you to seek comfort and safety from you. >And so you let her vent out that frustration through tears. >Your shirt is probably ruined, but who cares? >One shirt is worth this. >Others are finally starting to gather, but still keep a respectful distance from you two. >Even they must sense that these are not tears they’re meant to see. >Sonata’s openly crying herself. >Aria is looking away, but you can see her biting her lip, as if to hold back sobs of her own. >Sour Sweet and the gang are looking at you oddly. >As if they have some newfound respect for you, and how you handled the situation. >”Anonymous.” >Adagio whispers to your chest, so quietly you can barely hear it. “Yeah?” >”I’m sorry.” “It’s alright. We all make mistakes. We just need to know how to move-” >”No, I really mean it. I went and said terrible things to you. Things that I should have never said.” >You shake your head. “Adagio. Do you know what it means to be family?” >She stays silent, waiting for you to continue. >And you do. “It means that we can say the most hurtful things to each other… and still care for one another.” >This time your answer is a gasp. >Looks like she’s finally beginning to understand that too. “So… think of this as a proof for us both.” >She lets out an odd combination of a chuckle and a suppressed sob. >”... You’re starting to push it with the sappy stuff, you know?” “I know. Sorry.” >”Don’t be.” >After that, it’s silence between you two. >You just stay there, supporting each other. >Little by little, Adagio’s breathing starts to calm down and her tears subside. >Her fingers no longer dig into you. >Instead, they rest calmly on your shoulders. >She’s still holding herself close to you, though. >And you’d be lying if you said it was an unpleasant feeling. >It had been long since you welcomed physical contact in this way. >But these three girls… Adagio, Aria and Sonata… >They just kicked that wall in and waltzed right through. >Two minutes later that Adagio finally lets go. >When she looks up to you, you can see a smile. >Her eyes are red from crying, yet she’s smiling. >A calm smile. >It must’ve been as cathartic as it was when you finally unloaded your fury on that punching bag. >Seeing that their friend is once again herself, Sonata and Aria push through. >The blue-haired goof just launches into a hug that nearly drives all air out of Adagio through impact. >Aria just stands there, hands on hips, but with a relieved smile on her face. >”Dagi! Like, never ever get that mad again! For realsies, I tell you! I was sooooo worried!” >Aria chuckles, and you can hear her voice waver a bit. >”I’m gonna agree with Sonata on this one. You’re supposed to be our leader, you know? Act like it, or else we’ll just follow Roadie here from now on.” >Deep Purple jabs you playfully, making Adagio laugh as well. >”Mhm. I don’t know… Anonymous might make for a fine leader.” >Really? >”But *only* if kept under my strict supervision!” “Hey!” >The Dazzlings giggle at you. >And before you know, Sonata has her arms around your shoulders. >As does Aria. >Both you and Adagio are in their clutches, and there’s nothing you can do about it. >... But honestly, you don’t mind. >Because just one look at their smiling faces makes you smile as well. >That’s family to you. >”Ahem.” >Behind you, you hear a matter-of-fact cough. >Turning to look, you see Strangelove there, playful expression on her face. >She’s patched herself up, but still looks pretty beat up. >Yet without hesitation, she offers her hand to Adagio. >”Unfortunately, I can’t substitute for the target of your revenge, Miss Dazzle…” >Strangelove winks at you lot. >”... But I can definitely help you find her, that’s for sure.” >Aria hesitates for a moment… yet eventually, a grin forms on her face. >She grasps the extended hand. >”I’d like that, Miss Strangelove.” >It takes some time to clean up the mess Adagio and Strangelove caused. >The students of Crystal Prep help Strangelove pick up the trashed equipment and you carry it all outside. >As you’re returning from the trip to outside, you see something odd on the inside of Strangelove’s door. >It’s an emblem depicting round shapes and curved lines, like waves crashing again and again from single point of origin. >As you’re trying to think what it could mean, Gilda passes you by and pats you on the shoulder. >”Don’t think about it too hard, dweeb. You’ll see soon enough.” >With those enigmatic words, she heads back in. >Eventually, you’ll have to follow her example. There’s nothing that even hints what the emblem means. >When you’re finally ready, the laboratory is still a sorry sight. >Strangelove sighs. >”Well, I suppose I still have some of my funding unspent…” >Adagio grimaces and scratches the back of her head. >”Once again, I apologize. I wasn’t thinking straight…” >”It’s alright, Miss Dazzle. These things happen.” “If it’s any consolation, well… you’re welcome to join us after this meeting. Food and beer is on me.” >She flashes you a wry smile. >”I might just take you up on that offer, Anonymous.” >Saying that, Strangelove walks up to the record player that had added to the cacophony of the fight. >This time, she puts on music much more peaceful. [Embed: Freezepop - Science Genius Girl] “Really, Strangelove? This, instead of Brainpower?” >”Well, I *am* a girl.” >Strangelove says this while walking to the small fridge in the corner of the room. >She pulls a glowing, blue freezie out of the box, opens the wrapper and pops it in her mouth. >It’s like a neon-colored cigar. >”Also, I think it’s time we did away with fake monikers. My name’s Twilight. Twilight Sparkle.” >Something tugs at the back of your brain. >Something familiar in that odd name that’s now been assigned to your neighbor. >You cast your mind back to the day you arrived to Canterlot. “... Wait.” >And remember the odd guy you met at the bar that night. >”Is Shining Armor your brother?” >Strangelove… Twilight looks surprised. >”W-why yes. Yes he is. Do you know him?” “I guess you could say that? I met him at Alabama Song. You know, the pub down the street from here. It was the night I arrived here, months ago.” >You scratch your chin, trying to drag your memories. >The only thing you remember is taste of cheap alcohol and that damned jukebox that wouldn’t stop playing the best of Lynyrd Skynyrd. >Meaning ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was every third song without a fail. >”Hold on. You’ve been with my brother… at a bar?” >Twilight’s eyebrow is twitching oddly. “Yeah? That’s what I said.” >”He should be spending his evenings studying! He even promised me he wasn’t fooling around!” >Twilight hits the table with her fist, causing you all to recoil in surprise. >Sheeze. >Looks like it’s best not tell her about the dame with Shining Armor that night. >The one whose name started with C or something. >Now that you think about it, you haven’t stopped by Alabama Song after you met the Dazzlings. >”That scoundrel! I should phone him right now, and…! And…!” >”Umm, Twilight?” >Sour Sweet raises an eyebrow at the fuming scientist. >”Didn’t you call us here for a reason?” >For a moment, Twilight just stares at you all with a vacant look. >This look is quickly replaced by an embarrassed grin and a slight blush on her cheeks. >”Oh, um, right. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there. I’ll deal with my brother later, after we’ve got everything here in order.” >Aria rolls her eyes next to you. >”Great, a bro-complex. We’re adding to the list of freaks here…” >”A-ny-ways!” >Twilight slaps her hands together and takes a seat on a swivel chair. >She gestures you all to sit down as well. >This is easier said than done. >After all, there’s almost twenty people crammed in one basement apartment. >Indeed, you eventually end up with both Diamond Tiara and Sonata more or less treating you like a sofa cushion. >”I called you all here because, well, there’s been odd things happening in Canterlot City lately. I think you’ve all met your fair share of them.” >To your surprise, you’re not the only one nodding. >Pretty much everyone is. >”From what I hear, some of you have been seeing odd fluctuations in reality and even shadows of what can be only described as monsters. Some of you have even fought them.” >Gilda, Limestone, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon make agreeing grunts. >”Those who are more sensitive to magic have, to my knowledge, seen the signs of magical energy leaking into this dimension even though it should not occur naturally.” >This time it’s Trixie’s and Glimmer’s turn to agree. >”Some have even been directly changed by these events happening.” >To your surprise, it’s Lightning Dust who nods to this. Her eyes look grim. >”And what comes to you, my friends, I did ask you to look into the disappearances that have been plaguing this town lately.” >The Crystal Prep students nod in unison. >Huh. You remember hearing about the disappearances here and there. >Were they connected to all this? >”And Anonymous… well, you and Sonata Dusk here had a proper encounter with one of these supernatural threats. The E. Cross. In other words, you were at the heart of it.” >These words pique Adagio’s curiosity. >”I’ve been meaning to ask: what does the E. Crossing stand for?” >Twilight smirks and begins typing away at her wireless keyboard, turning her attention to one of the screens. >”E. Cross. In other words, Electromagnetic Cross-event. Or, if you want, Eldridge Crossing. Both are pretty much fitting.” >Twilight flashes a wry little grin. >”I tend to think up the abbreviations first. Sorry.” >”Hold up there, Sparkle. Eldridge Crossing? As in USS Eldridge? The ship that took part in the Philadelphia Experiment and according to rumors travelled through time and space?” >Starlight Glimmer folds her arms across her chest and raises an eyebrow. >Twilight giggles, shaking her head. >”Oh, no, no! You’ve got it all wrong.” >But suddenly, you feel a chill. >Like that giggle has the undertone of a mad scientist. >”It isn’t a rumor. USS Eldridge really *did* cross the space between dimensions, appearing in a parallel dimension for 10 minutes before returning back.” >Now there’s a dead silence in the laboratory. >You glance around, and people have various looks of disbelief plastered on their faces. >Sour Sweet sees your questioning gaze and makes a little ‘cuckoo-cuckoo’ gesture towards Twilight. >You can only hope she’s right. >”The experiment was allegedly for invisibility or some such, but in reality, they were searching for the source of a certain type of energy that had just recently been discovered. By installing engines that molded electromagnetic fields, they attempted to trace the energy back to where it originated. For protection, they utilized an actual destroyer-class vessel for it.” >Limestone snorts. >”Hunting for a new type of energy? Nerd, what are you on about? What energy? And if it was from another dimension, how did it get here?” >Pulling up some images to the biggest monitor, Twilight spins around on her chair and points at them. “No way.” >You feel like someone just sucker-punched you. >You’ve seen these pictures before. >And so, apparently, has Gilda. >”The Great Los Angeles Air Raid…” >Twilight’s grin can’t be any wider. >”Indeed. 26th of February, 1942, something tore through the fabric of our reality and nearly killed itself by getting caught in the fire of air-raid guns of Los Angeles. That was most likely because this ‘thing’ was no longer capable of flight after entering our dimension.” >Sonata let’s out a funny sound of confusion, sounding a bit like she swallowed a tennis ball. >”W-wait, whaaat? Flight? For realsies? What was that thing, anyway?” >After pressing another button, Twilight brings up two new pictures to the monitor. >One is of a single person. >Second is of a group of seven girls. >”That girl here is the ‘thing’ that broke through the dimensional barrier.” >Twilight’s words hold a weird sort of reverence, almost like she was gazing at particularly brilliant equation. >You look at the picture. >It’s a black-and-white picture as you could expect, but you can still make out some details. >The girl has light-hued skin and her layered hair covers half of her face like a mask. >She was dressed in a tea dress, with a blazer thrown over her shoulders. >For that period, it was surprisingly masculine look. >”Her name is Mimic, and she was originally an inhabitant of the same world as Dazzlings here.” >That causes a quiet wave of shock to reverberate through the girls. >You look at the three sirens, who are staring a hole into the old picture. >A look of longing is clear in their eyes. >Any sign of their former homeland is enough to incite a reaction like this. >But as for you… all this just makes you think. >Battle of Los Angeles was in 1942, right? >Travel between dimensions has been happening since then? >”The other girls here are her six friends that were exposed to the energy that Mimic brought to Earth with her. From left to right they are Gusty, Fizzy, Firefly, Wind Whistler, Sundance and Magic Star.” >Adagio gasps, her fists turning white from the force. >”Wait! Are you telling me--” >Twilight nods. >”Yes. These seven girls commandeered the same energy that seven students of Canterlot High School used to defeat you Dazzlings at the Battle of the Bands: in other words, magic.” >That’s a lot to take in. >Magic? >Of course, you knew about it from before. >Hell, you had seen both Sonata and Aria use magic. >But there was more? >Somehow you had managed to think it was all contained in that building of crazy known as CHS, but this… this went deeper than that ever did. >So, magic has been around since the Forties? >Jesus. >”Apparently, each went to codify an aspect of said energy, which is a tradition that has been then passed down to any next group of magic users that appears, including our friends at CHS. With these powers, they fought against various threats to the high school they attended. I guess some of you can already guess which high school that was.” >It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure it out. >Hell, it’s Trixie who puts the thoughts as proper words. >”CHS, right? Trixie can’t believe it…” >”I had hard time believing it myself. To think that research into a strange anomaly in energy readings at CHS would have led me to uncovering this story that spans more than 60 years… it’s been a ride, really.” >Twilight chuckles. >”Oh, you should’ve seen some of those articles I found. It was like history’s repeating itself, over and over again. The main villain that kept bugging Mimic and her friends was, well, you’ve already met her.” >“I think Southpaw arrived circa 150, near Via Campana, though with only single witness. By the time she reached America, Mimic and others had begun to use their powers. A clash was inevitable.” >More pictures. >More old newspaper articles. >These seem to be from the old school newspaper of CHS. >They showed both the calm, happy nature of the school, as well as seven girls battling a familiar-looking opponent in a red coat. >From the looks of it, the school seems brand new even for the times. >Perhaps it was built not long before this Mimic-girl arrived. >Hell, the pictures revealed that the familiar horse-statue wasn’t there during that time. >”Eventually their antics got the attention of military higher-ups. They were interested in weaponizing magic, but Mimic saw this as a way to get back home, so she agreed to help them in their tests. This morphed into what we know as Philadelphia Experiment.” >Sucking on her freezie, Twilight stares into the pictures of a large military vessel that are now being shown. >”A project meant to gather and introduce magic to Earth, it was meant to make use of those seven different types of magic utilized by those seven girls. I guess there was a reason why in the inner circle Philadelphia Experiment was known by another name:” >A mad scientist smiles at the dry humor of those like her. >”Project Rainbow.” >You lean back in your chair. >As you do, you change a short glance with Adagio. >Even she seems disturbed by all this information you’ve been given. >Your world and another world. >Somehow, creatures always find a way to break the barrier. >One time it brought with it a power-hungry witch. >Next time it brought with it a girl that spread enough magic to be noticed by the military. >And at some point, it had brought forth three sirens that were banished from their world. >”Of course, Project Rainbow failed. USS Eldridge was in the alternate dimension for a whole of ten minutes, during which people were transformed into the inhabitants of that dimension. It seems that our realities are different enough to warrant such a precaution. Too bad that on the return trip the crew changed back, and… well, you’ve probably read the reports. Changing from something smaller to bigger is not wise in an enclosed space.” >Sonata looks at her hands, odd expression playing on her face. >Most likely, she’s thinking of what she used to look like. >Who she used to be. >But when she looks at you, she beams a smile. >She even looks… grateful. >Strange. >”Now, that would have been that, I think, if not for what happened to the ship itself later. Since it had been coated in the magic of the other dimension, USS Eldridge became one of the few things that can be used to create or stabilize a portal between our two worlds. For example, I can cheat time and space because my phone has some of the metal from Eldridge in it.” >Adagio hisses between her teeth. >”And that portal, that accursed horse-statue… it must have some of the ship’s metal as well, no?” >Twilight nods. >”I’m afraid so. I read some of the reports regarding the building of that statue, and I guess is that the portal on the other side is made out of Eldridge’s metal, too. And it’s not surprising. One of Mimic’s friends, Gusty, became the principal of CHS eventually and had the statue built. Guess she wanted to stay in touch, because she proposed an experiment to make it into a portal, and succeeded.” >Suddenly, Silver Spoon hits her open palm with her fist. >”Ah. Of course. Wondercolts.” >You all turn to look at her. >She theatrically rolls her eyes back at you. >”I mean, duh? She was honoring her friend! That’s where the Wondercolt movement got started! Since it’s about, y’know, pride of being a CHS student. In other words, it’s about carrying the legacy of this Mimic girl and her friends.” >You slap your forehead while others nod in agreement. >Well, that was obvious. >The school had connection to magic and horses from the beginning. >Adagio had told you before that the one who banished them was some sort of unicorn. >Meaning that this Mimic was also, most likely, some sort of horse creature. >Still, Sunny Flare seems a bit skeptical. >”Uh, Twilight? I get this whole thing about magical visitors and what-not, but… where are they now? If military knew about them, they wouldn’t have let them go.” >Twilight shakes her head, looking a bit grim. >”Government took over after the failure of the Philadelphia Experiment, and a single department was set up to handle any and all matters relating to magic and this other world. This place was headed by another one of Mimic’s friends: Magic Star. My guess is that she played a part in allowing her friends to lead normal lives… but honestly, the damage was already done.” >Starlight nods grimly. >”The government knew about magic.” >”Exactly. That’s why today, what is left of that department is on the hunt for all sorts of magic, whether good or bad. The name they are known these days is--” >”Montauk Project.” >All eyes are now on Gilda. >She’s looking rather serious. Her arms are folded and her eyes are trained on Twilight. >You can practically feel the tension rising from the young boxer. >Hopefully she’s not about to do something stupid. >”Y-you know about Montauk Project?” >Twilight seems surprised for the first time during this meeting. >Wait. >A memory surfaces from yesterday. >You’ve heard that name before. >”You know anything about ‘Montauk Project’, dude?” >Last night, Gilda asked you that. >She was testing you. >And judging by how the boxer’s now glaring at our resident scientist… Twilight just failed the same test. >”Know about it… dweeb, I *know* it better than you can imagine. And yeah, don’t try to fool me. I saw the emblem on the door.” >Gilda grinds her teeth together. >”You’re an agent of Montauk, aren’t you?” >This makes Twilight fall silent. >She leans back in her swivel chair, teeth chewing on her freezie and eyes gazing upwards into the darkness of the room. >Nobody else seems to know what to think. >Twilight herself just said they are an organization on the hunt for magic. >And Gilda’s tone makes it clear they’re not good guys. >”Of course… I forgot your grandfather used to work for Montauk, Gilda Griffon.” >Twilight rubs her chin as she starts speaking, slowly and deliberately. >”He was one of the guards protecting the first activation of the space-time-continuum bridge of CHS, 1983. He, like all the others, also lost his life when the monster known as Grogar emerged from the portal. If not for the intervention of that generation’s team of magic users, the city of Canterlot would not likely exist anymore.” >Your eyes dart back and forth between Twilight and Gilda. >Latter is clearly looking for a confrontation. >But Twilight is having none of it. >Her voice stays calm and collected as she talks. >”It was not my intention to hide it. Yes, I do work for Montauk Project. Everton is partly under their control, which I learned about when I reported my findings about the magical energy gathering at CHS. They knew what it was about and wanted me to learn everything I could, including if there were any new magic users present.” >A small smile forms on the scientist’s lips. >”But you haven’t seen black vans at your school yet, have you?” >Tree Hugger tilts her head, and she’s not the only one confused. >”Like, dude… are you evil or not? I don’t get it.” >Twilight throws her arms in the air, exasperated. >”No! I’m not evil! I may work for evil government organization, but that doesn’t mean I agree with them! I’ve been doing my best to misdirect the lot of them so the students of CHS can have a normal life, while continuing my personal research on the side.” >Gilda snorts. She’s not ready to let go of this yet. >”Likely story. Why should I believe you, dweeb? You could be just another liar.” >To your surprise, Twilight points her thumb at you. >”Because one of my friends goes to CHS, and as much as I love SCIENCE, I’m not about to sacrifice my friends because of it.” >Now it’s your turn to be the center of everyone’s attention. >After a moment of silent contemplation, you give them your verdict. >A non-committed shrug. “Eh. If she was about to betray, she’d have done it when I was stuck in that blackness with Sonata. I don’t mind trusting her, Gilda.” >The boxer glares at you for a moment, before letting out a defeated sigh. >”Ugh, fine. Whatever. If you say so, Hoss.” >This is punctuated by her getting into Twilight’s face, fist raised. >”But if I learn you’re playing us all for fools, you’re in for a world of hurt, no matter what Anon says.” >”I’ll hold you on to that.” >Twilight grins back at Gilda, and for a moment, the two of them face-off. >When they finally do separate and relax their stances, just about everyone lets out a collective sigh of relief. >”Oh yeah! That reminds me!” >Sonata is the first to speak after that bit of tension. >”You were, like, asking about us noticing spooky stuff happening around the city, right? So, what gives? Where were you going with that?” >For a moment, Twilight has the expression of a person caught with their pants down. >This is soon replaced by an embarrassed chuckle and light blush on her cheeks. >She scratches her neck. >”Oh. Right. We were supposed to talk about that. I suppose Adagio’s question just, um, put me on a little sidetrack.” >Aria rolls her eyes, grumble escaping from her lips. >”We listened her yammer on for like fifteen minutes.” >To ease the awkwardness, Twilight once again begins typing away, bringing up new pictures to the monitors as she does. >”Anyways, sorry about that! But then again, I would have had to explain to you the basics anyway for you to get what I’m about to tell you.” >The basics, huh? >There’s two worlds. Yours and the other one. >The other world has magic. It’s also the one where the Dazzlings came from. >Sometimes beings from the other world come to this one, spreading magic with them. >Military tried to gather this magic for their own needs with Project Rainbow. >Project Rainbow, however, only managed to transport a single ship to the other world for 10 minutes, USS Eldridge. >USS Eldridge became coated with magic of the other world, and it’s parts can be thus used to build lasting portals to the other world. >One of these portals is at CHS. >This means that CHS, thanks to being the school of the magic user known as Mimic and her friends and because it houses an important portal, is heavily tied into the other world and its magic. >Government-sanctioned Project Montauk remembers this, and when Twilight brought it to their attention, asked her to find out everything she can about it. >She misdirected them and instead decided to help us, while researching the mysteries surrounding supernatural anomalies happening in the city. >... That should be everything, right? >”Now look here. These are the information files I made for all the victims that have disappeared so far in Canterlot City. It would have taken me a heck of a longer time if it weren’t for my team of assistants, so thanks for that.” >Sour Sweet grins at Twilight, who continues talking. >”Now: do you notice anything that connects these people?” >You look through the photos of seven people presented to you. >At first glance, there’s nothing really remarkable. They’re all boys and girls from different parts of the town. Three from CHS, two from Crystal Prep, one high school dropout and one last that apparently went to some school outside the city. >Nothing really strikes you as remarkable about them. >Random people with random interests and random social circles. >They’re just your typical teenagers. >... Wait. “They’re all teenagers in the age range of being in high school.” >Aria nods, rubbing her chin. >”Roadie’s right. Even if one of them isn’t in high school, he’s still 17 years old.” >”Exactly my thoughts.” >Twilight grins at you all. >”I think it’s safe to say that all of these people who have been disappearing are the age to be in high school. That is our Clue #1. The next one comes from the circumstances surrounding these disappearances, and some odd things that happen during them. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?” >Gilda fishes out a cigarette from her pocket and lights it, exhaling a small cloud of smoke. >She smirks. >”I know that before every disappearance, they hear this roar or a wail that’s unlike any animal on Earth.” >Trixie waves her hand enthusiastically, like she was in a classroom. >”Trixie also knows that every single one of these disappearances has happened after midnight!” >Twilight nods at the two. >”Around 2am precisely, actually. According to the data provided by the girls, this one has been one of the constants.” >It’s like a spark went off inside your mind. >2am? You remember that time having been important before. >Digging into your memories, you try to remember where it had come up before. >Surprisingly enough, one look at Twilight is enough to give you the answer. >It was the morning after the incident with Sonata, when you knocked on her door. >She asked you: >”Oh, speaking of times: can you remember at what time I called you, Anonymous?” >And you answered: >”Erm, I think it was around 2m. I’m not totally sure. Why?” >The pieces in your head click together, and you nearly jump out of your seat, throwing off Diamond Tiara and Sonata in the process. “T-Twilight, don’t tell me that--” >”Indeed, Anonymous. Sonata, can you tell me: did you hear an odd sound before you wandered into that darkness at the mall?” >Climbing up back from the floor, it takes Sonata a few seconds to adjust herself. >When she does, she nods. >”Umm, I think so? It was this super odd thing. Like a booming whistle, only louder and more… like, sad? I dunno! It didn’t sound like anything I ever heard before.” >If Twilight could grin any wider, she’d turn into the Cheshire Cat. >”And there are our Clues #2 and #3. The time of 2am and the odd sound heard before each disappearance. When we compare these to what happened with Sonata and Anonymous, I think we can come to a pretty solid conclusion.” >You slump backwards on your chair, the realization rushing in. >Shit. >Things had been even worse than you thought. “We narrowly escaped that kidnapper, didn’t we?” >Twilight nods. >”Yes. If my theory is correct, then whoever or whatever is controlling that darkness, controlling the E. Cross, is the one behind the disappearances.” >She has barely managed to say this when Starlight Glimmer slaps her forehead. >It’s like she also realized something important. >”E. Cross! Eldridge Crossing! Are you telling us that the way the darkness is achieved is… oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” >Few more keystrokes on the keyboard. >One more picture opens. >In it, two 3D models of two cities. >One you recognize. >Another one you have never seen before. >Twilight points at the sight. >”I’m afraid so. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my theory that someone, in order to hunt young people of this world, is merging our world and the other world together.” >Silence as heavy as a grave falls into the laboratory. >Everyone’s eyes are on the model of the two merging cities. >It’s not a pleasant image to see. >And it raised a hell of a lot of more questions than it answered. >First of all: why? >Why would anything want to kidnap, or perhaps kill, high schoolers? >Why select a method as bizarre as superimposing two worlds and then trapping the victim between them? >How was such a bizarre feat even achieved? >What would it mean if the two worlds completely merged? >You bite your lip. >The more you understand, the less you actually do. >It’s like someone is weaving this web of conspiracy theories and magical mumbo jumbo around you, and even with someone like Twilight there to unravel it to you, you still get tangled up. >Frankly, it’s a sickening feeling. >”Easy, Roadie. Take deep breaths.” >You see Aria’s hand on yours. “... Thanks.” >You inhale and exhale, bringing your mind to a halt for a moment. >Better not get too wrapped up in the absurdity. >It’ll affect your ability to make correct decisions. >”Now, I know this sounds absurd. Surreal, even.” >Twilight stands up from her swivel chair, still chewing on that freezie of hers. >”First of all, to achieve all that, the perpetrator… let’s call him Slider for now…” >”Why Slider?” >Lemon Zest earns an annoyed look from Twilight. >”Because it’s symbolic. A-ny-ways! To achieve what he’s doing, Slider needs to have a complete or at least very powerful control over the phase space of our realities. To bring two systems like our world and the other world together to a state where neither is right or wrong is an absolutely impossible thing to do… if he were from this world. That’s why my guess is that Slider is somehow using the magic of the other world to achieve this.” >Twilight points to the left image, to the city that you don’t know. >”Imagine that Canterlot City is a set of variables set in a specific way; a set of interacting or independent parts that make up the city as it is. You are one, I am one, this room is one… you get what I mean. Now, if we were to set these variables to another setting like, say, changing everyone into fantasy creatures and adding magic, we’d get the other world from where the Dazzlings are from. That’s why I hypothesize that we change shape when moving from one reality to another. It’s to fit in with the rest of the world.” >She moves her finger to the model of your city. >”In that sense, we are not actually separate dimensions or worlds. Just different interpretations of it. Like some of you can probably guess, this means that the Everett interpretation is, indeed, true. Theoretically there are infinite number of worlds out there, realising every possible quantum outcome; even there being magic. But rarely, if ever, shall two of these worlds meet. Sometimes it’s someone crashing through the barrier with force, sometimes it’s by using a carefully constructed portal that belongs to both possibilities…” >With a click of a button, Twilight slams the 3D models of the two cities together, creating a chaotic sight of destruction. >”... And sometimes it’s something forcibly combining two possibilities. I don’t know how, but Slider has the power to convince… well, reality I suppose… that the two possibilities of Canterlot City and this other city are one and the same. For him, 1+1 equals both 2 and 4. In theory he could literally have his cake and eat it too. And when a state is in equilibrium between two possibilities, it creates a pocket between them where normally it would be impossible to escape until one outcome is determined.” >To your right, you see Sonata’s befuddled face. >”Nonny?” “Yeah?” >”I understood, like, third of that.” >You groan. “The feeling is mutual…” >Twilight makes a gesture of giving up and nods towards the 3D model. >”Long story short: Slider, our enemy, mashes up our world and the magic world in order to create pockets where he can trap his prey. Said prey is teenagers. The reason for doing this is unknown.” >Glimmer gazes deep into the image, as if it could tell her the reason for this absurdity. >”And because the worlds are being superimposed, magic from the other world leaks into ours, causing all the anomalies.” >Twilight is quick to affirm that. >”Yes. The creatures that you’ve fought, the magical outbursts from random things… it’s all because of what’s happening with Slider.” >Lightning Dust raises her eyes to the scientist, looking unsure. >”Um… and my… powers?” >”The same thing. If I had to venture a guess, you and whatever setting your variable in the other world is are getting mixed up. You’re gaining traits of each other… or so I theorize.” >That doesn’t seem to calm the jock down. >If anything, she looks even more disturbed, hugging her knees and eyes trained to nothingness. >Who could blame her? >The more you hear about things going on, the more you realize that you know only a fraction of what’s really going on. >Monsters? Powers? None of the girls ever mentioned these to you. >Perhaps they thought you wouldn’t believe them. >But now that you’re, gathered under the roof of Twilight Sparkle… >... It all seems undeniably possible. >It might have been a coincidence that half of these people are here, but somehow you have your doubts. >The scientist before you is certainly capable enough to know all sorts of things about the oddities you all have faced. >How hard would it to be for her to arrange this meeting? >It’s not that you don’t trust Strangelove… >... You just haven’t made your mind up yet about Twilight Sparkle. >Maybe, once things calm down a bit, you could get to know what’s really been going on with everyone. >Perhaps, just perhaps, that might help in piecing together what’s really going on. >”Lastly, about our enemy: he appears at 2am, announced by a strange cry and bringing forth the darkness between dimensions. Never forget these facts, unless you want to risk getting caught. We’re all in the risk group.” >Twilight stalks to the other side of the room, back to the fridge. >To your horror, she takes out another freezie from there. Red this time. >She’s worse than a chain-smoker like you! >”Wait a minute.” >You’re all caught a little unawares by Adagio’s voice. >”2am, sound, darkness… it sounds strangely familiar. Almost like I’ve heard it somewhere before. Unfortunately, I can’t place my finger on where I heard it. Perhaps back in Equestria…?” >Hmh? >Equestria? >”It’s the world we come from, Roadie.” >Aria is quick to dispel your confusion. >”Well, if you remember about it, Adagio, inform me at once. We need all the data we can get our hands on. Now, we must talk about one last thing. As I mentioned we’re part of the risk group, yet we’re the only ones who know what’s truly going on here.” >Twilight eyes us all up while unwrapping her red freezie. >”Which means we’re the only ones who can stop the collision of the worlds from happening. I’d like to think we’re all on the same page that it can’t be allowed to happen.” >Everyone is agreeing. >You’re a bit surprised that both Adagio and Aria don’t even hesitate. >”What we need is a way to get the risk group, that is teenagers, to not endanger themselves without reason. In addition that, our information network must be made to cover as much of the city as possible. There’s only so much of Montauk’s funds I can divert to this before they realize something’s going on.” >For some reason, even though Twilight posed both of these points as problems, her smile doesn’t waver. >Almost like she already knows what to do. >”Fortunately, there is a simple answer to both.” >Well, there you go. >That there’s a mind that’s achieved FTL. >”If we want to keep teens out of harm’s way while increasing our influence, we can do this by tackling both problems at once.” >Suddenly, you feel Adagio drape her arm over your shoulder. >There’s a smug smile on the siren’s face. >”That ‘tackle’ wouldn’t be Anonymous’ plan regarding the school, would it?” >Twilight claps her hands twice, as if to applaud the deduction. >”My thoughts exactly. If I understood correctly, you, Anonymous, wanted to change the social situation within CHS by introducing another ‘faction’ that would act as an opposing force to the Rainbooms, right?” “Yeah, pretty much. I just didn’t use such fancy terms.” >”Then it’s simple. We make that faction grow as much as possible, and through it, make sure students don’t end up in places where they could be kidnapped. In addition, more eyes on the city allows us to notice anything out of place that could lead us closer to the answer.” >Spreading her hands, Twilight presents this solution to the whole group. >The trio of sirens is quick to reply. >”We’re behind Anonymous all the way. Nothing has changed that.” >Hearing Adagio put that to words is enough to make your cheeks warm. >You make sure to hide it with the collars of your jacket. >Though judging by Sonata’s gleeful grin, she already noticed. >”We already agreed to help Hoss.” >This time it’s Gilda and the rest of the people you recruited just today. >Limestone pumps her fist. >”Yeah! We ain’t gonna let him down now!” >”The Great and Powerful Trixie has given her word. She and Starlight Glimmer stand with Anonymous.” >Glimmer just rolls her eyes, but her smile tells you enough. >”Well *duh*! We didn’t come all this way just to chicken out.” >Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon fist-bump each other. >The former winks at you. >”You can count on us… leader.” >Lastly, Twilight looks at her friends from Crystal Prep. >They seem a bit unsure, but after a wordless exchange between them and the scientist, Sour Sweet turns to look at you. >She flashes a brilliant smile that takes you by surprise. >”Why of *course* we’ll help! A friend of Twilight’s is a friend of ours, right?” >The expression is soon overtaken by an angry glare though. >”But seriously if you try something pervy again, you’re dead, stalker.” >You’re gonna need to have a talk with Sour in the future. >Otherwise this bipolar attitude could cause trouble for your mental health. >”The vibe I’m getting from everyone is totally righteous, man.” >Almost forgotten, but never dissatisfied, a voice speaks out from the corner of the room. >Everyone turns to look at the source, who’s currently meditating on top of the CRT monitor. >Tree Hugger, who else. >”It’d totally strengthen my chakras if I could, like, join your collective consciousness with everyone else.” >Once again, you’re left with nothing but a shrug. “Eh. Fine with me.” >One more member can’t hurt, can it? >After that, the meeting concludes. >It suffices to say, you weren’t expecting this when you first agreed to meet with Twilight after the call. >Hell, you had no idea things would get this complicated. >In the beginning, there was only your own overly complicated plan to do something for the sake of the Dazzlings. >Then there was Principal Celestia’s request, followed by your lie to the Dazzlings themselves. >And now you’re supposed to mix it all with the purpose of protecting the teens of CHS while finding more about your supernatural enemy? >When did things take turn for the bizarre this harshly? >Was it when you forgot to pick up Sonata that night? >Was it when you met the Dazzlings in the first place? >Or was it when you got behind the wheel of your car all those years ago and… >”Anonymous? Can you help me with this?” >While others are getting ready to leave, Twilight calls out to you. >At first, people were going to go their separate ways until you reminded them that the offer for free food and beer still stood. >So, it looks like there’s gonna be an after-party at your place. >Hence why you’re about to carry some audio equipment from Twilight’s place to yours. “Sure. Lemme give you a hand.” >You lift the amp while Twilight goes over something at her computer. >Oh right. >There was something you were supposed to mention to her. “Right. You told me to remind you to about today’s call.” >”C-call? Another one?” >Twilight looks surprised. “Yeah. Just before here, when we were about to fight Southpaw to death, you called and defused the whole situation.” >Some sort of realization dawns upon the scientist’s face. >”Oh, of course. That’s how you survived that. Okay, I’ll make a mental note about it. Thanks, Anonymous.” >Weird. >Hell, that’s more than weird. >Why does it seem that Twilight doesn’t remember half of the phone calls she’s made to you? >”Hmm… that’s odd.” >Twilight scrunches her nose at the numbers displayed by her computer screen. “What is?” >For a moment, the scientist hesitates. >After checking that only you two remain in the room, she gestures towards the screen. >”Well, I had my equipment primed and ready to detect any magical signatures that entered the room today.” >Huh. She could do that? >”Just a precaution, mind you. So that we wouldn’t run into anything unexpected along the way. “That makes sense, I guess. Things aren’t exactly normal around here.” >”I know, and that’s why I did it. But looking at these results… something is off.” >She points at one of the numbers at the lower part of the screen. >”Just like I expected, all of the Dazzlings registered. So did Starlight Glimmer and Trixie… though I was a bit surprised by the latter. Still, seems like she has more latent talent than she thinks.” >Twilight folds her arms, eyes glaring at the illuminated screen. >”Then there’s Lightning Dust, so that makes six in total, just like I expected. But… look.” >Just like Twilight said, the total number it’s showing at the end is 6. >You’re about to comment that there’s nothing wrong there, when you suddenly see it. >It happens only for a split second, but you definitely saw it. >And then it happens again. “What the hell…?” >For just a moment, the “6” that the computer screen is showing changes into “7”. >There’s no doubt about it. >The total number of magical signatures in the room today fluctuated. >Something kept trying to make it 7 when it should have been 6. >At the back of you neck, you feel odd tension. >Cold sweat running down your spine. “... What does it mean?” >She bites her lip. >”I wish I knew. But if there really is another magical signature among us... “ >The darkness of the room feels much more oppressing all of a sudden. >”... There might be something going on even I couldn’t predict.” >Shrimps fly through the air and hit the bottom of the wok pan. >Grease droplets fly up in the air and audible sizzle fills the air, only to be drowned by the music. >You take hold of the spatula and give the shrimps, the veggies and the noodles a good whirl, spinning the pan as you do. >Next to you, Sonata and Indigo are drooling up a lake. >”N-nonny, that smells… that smells like…” >Okay, back when you came up with the idea of shrimp chow mein, it was something of a joke. >A stupid pun about the Dazzlings originally being underwater predators and all that. >But seriously!? “Goddammit, Goof! Back off!” >You have to blockade the way to the stove with your shoulder. >Because right now a crazed blue girl is climbing all over you, trying to reach for the shrimp. >”But I want it! I NEED IT!” “They’re not ready yet!” >Trying to keep the stir fry steady and stop Sonata’s attempts to nosedive in the noodles is not as easy as it sounds. >And it sounds pretty much impossible. >”Sorry ‘bout the Full-Nelson!” >Before either you and Sonata can even react, Indigo’s caught the other girl in said move, locking her hands effectively. >The Terror from the Deep Idiocy is dragged away, kicking and screaming… all the way to the other side of the small kitchen. >You sigh. >Things aren’t nearly as dramatic when you have a relatively small apartment. >At least it’s clean now. “Indigo? I owe you one. Thanks.” >”No problem, man. Just save one Budweiser for me, okay?” >You give her thumbs up and take a swig of your own beer. >Somewhere at the back of your mind you feel a chill at the idea of Principal Celestia ever finding out about you buying alcohol for minors. >She wanted you to be a villain but somehow you don’t think that’s what she meant. >And speaking of utterly incompetent villains… “Adagio? Aria? I can see you two behind that counter, y’know.” >Two pair of eyes avoid yours and descend behind the kitchen counter. >You try to contain your chuckles as you keep mincing garlic into the pan. “Nice try girls. You do know that you two have hair like Tina Turner and Carrot Top put together, right?” >A bottle of soy sauce flies towards your general direction, which you catch as an instinct. >You frown at Aria. “Hey, my kitchen, my rules. Respect the merchandise.” >”Oh? Merchandise?” >Adagio leans over the counter, eyebrow cocked and with a smug smile plastered on her face like a damn neon sign. >”And what, pray tell, is this merchandise? All these ingredients you’ve bought? The alcohol you’ve bought? Or perhaps…?” >She was probably going to say something extremely clever, but you put a stop to it by sticking your finger in wasabi and swiping her nose at it. >Half a second later Adagio’s getting everyone wild about her new dance move: spinning around on her face. >Aria’s howling in laughter. “Keep it up, Purple Stuff, or you’ll get yours too. No shrimp for you lot before it’s finished.” >Hers is a face of a cat scorned. >”Ugh, you’re the worst Roadie. Cooking actual seafood when we could just eat it raw? That’s, like, heresy.” “You’re the heretical one here. See this?” >You lift one of the piping hot noodles with chopsticks and dangle it before her raspberry eyes. “This is perfection from Asahikawa. Well, actually it’s from the supermarket on the other side of the city, but you get the idea.” >With a flourish you stick that soba noodle in Aria’s mouth. “You. Don’t. Mess. With. Perfection.” >For a moment, Aria’s eyes are wide as plates. >Then it melts away into surprised satisfaction caused by nipponese noodle nuances. >You let her savor the taste of ginger, honey and sesame oil for a moment, before raising an eyebrow, along with the chopsticks. “Well?” >After careful consideration, she gives you thumbs up. >”Fair enough, Roadie. You do your thing, I’ll eat that thing. Just… don’t ruin the shrimp. Seriously.” >You grin at her and slide a beer across the table, which she catches nimbly. “Why would I do that? The reason why I’m slaving over the stove is because they--” >You point at the living room where a gaggle of girls is currently banging their heads to the loud music. >”--Decided that I was worthy enough to help. The least I can do is give them a decent meal and a chance to relax.” >You turn your attention back to the wok pan and give it a good stir, shrimp and veggies flying in a beautiful arc. ”Still, why are you three so on the edge? It’s just shrimp. Or are you guys really…” >For some reason, you feel it’s best not to complete that sentence. >Perhaps it’s an instinct. >Or perhaps it’s Aria’s sour expression promising a verbal beatdown. >”Aquatic monsters? Yes, Roadie. We already told you, right? And yeah, we ate things in the ocean, including shrimp. It was our main diet. Only lately…” >This time it’s Aria whose words trail off. >She glances forlornly at the chow mei. >A stare that tells more than any words could. “... Right. You still live at school.” >”Yeah.” >So that’s it. >Of course, you should’ve realized it. >For you, shrimps are something you can just buy from the store. >But for Aria, Sonata and Adagio… “Like I said, don’t worry. It’s been years since I cooked, but… for some reason, it’s not a chore at all. With all these people here to eat.” >You nod towards the growing hullaballoo that is the ‘dance floor’. >Or rather, the growing chaos of Adagio’s wasabi-escapades. “I wanna try my best.” >For some reason, Aria’s looking at you with odd expression. >It’s amused. But without the usual barb. >”You know… you’ve changed, Roadie.” >That’s a sentence you never thought you’d hear. >And to be honest, it surprises… even scares you a little. >You glance at Aria, taking a sip of your beer. “For the better?” >”Not for the worse, at least. The thing is Roadie, when I first met you, you’d have never cooked a meal for anyone. Let alone tolerate that army of giggling maniacs in your apartment.” >She’s got you there. >After you had gotten out of juvie, you weren’t social. You weren’t happy. You weren’t… anything, really. >Even now, Aria said you had dead eyes. >And she was right. >You had been looking the world through cracked glass for a long time now. >Ever since it smashed against that tree on the side of the road. “I’m not really tolerating them. If we’re to be allies in this, I need to learn to live with all of them. So let them behave how they want. I’ll just adjust.” >Aria’s grinning like a great white shark swimming towards you. >”Really? But you just admitted you’re enjoying this ‘cooking for the whole family’ spiel. Why’s that?” >For the first time in quite a while, you falter in your answer. >The logical fallacy in your words made you trip over like a bad slapstick character. >You liked to cook for them, but just adjust to them like they were bad weather? >... What the hell? “I… You know what? Maybe I *have* changed.” >You return your attention back to the sizzling stir fry. >Movement of sesame oil and slowly goldening shrimps offers some solace. “Even I don’t got the answer.” >”Oh, I know!” >Before you can catch your breath, Sonata’s already clinging to your back. >”It’s because Nonny likes us for realsiiimmph!” >Chopsticks cut through the air with precision and catch the blabbering lips with precision. “Sonata~? What were these lying lips about to say, hmm~?” >”Mmmph! Mmh-mmmph!” >You feel like some sort of freak Ralph Macchio clone, holding Sonata’s lips between the chopsticks. >Still, your blushing cheeks demanded retribution, and here you are. “That’s what I thought.” >As if things couldn’t get worse, Aria’s chuckle cuts like Mack the Knife. >”Come on, Roadie. No need to look so embarrassed. It’s just Sonata speaking whatever, right?” “Cut the crap, Aria, and let me focus on cooking.” >”Hmm? Now this sounds interesting.” >Looks like Adagio’s back from her trip to disco hell. >She’s wiping her nose, leaning against the counter once more. >”Did my ears deceive me, or did Anonymous inadvertently admit he has positive feelings towards all of u-” >Like a pinpoint-accurate ballistic missile, your still-wasabi-covered finger flies through the air, straight to Adagio’s nose. >Aaaaand she’s back to the dance floor. >”You know she’s gonna kill you if you keep it up, right?” >Aria’s far too amused to sound concerned about you. >You try to bury your growing dread to your beer, but find it empty. >So you just sigh. “Hopefully she’ll be killing me softly. Not with *this* song, though. Whose bright idea was it to play the Fugees, anyway?” >”That would be Sunny Flare. That girl has unhealthy obsession with all things 90’s, though it mostly likely stems from the fact that her older sister used to tell her stories about that decade. Most of them were total fabrications, of course, to make said older sister feel greater in front of her younger sibling.” >Sugarcoat, who else? >You swear you could create a downright terrifying neo nu metal remix if you just recorded her speech diarrhea. >”Here. I saw you were finished with your beer so I brought you another as I was getting myself one anyway.” >Maybe that track can wait. “Oh. Erhm, thanks? You didn’t need to, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” >Sugarcoat gives you one of those rare, non-stoic expressions of hers. >Ah, right, it’s a smile. >It’s hard to remember with this girl around. >”You’re welcome.” >Hearing your thanks, even through her spartan appearance the girl seems pleased with herself. >Bah. Maybe you’re being a bit too harsh on her. >You twist open your beer, and decide to do the same to your snark. >Like said, these people are going to be your allies in things to come. You should at least give them a chance. >And strangely enough, Sugarcoat has been nothing if not respectful towards you. >So perhaps it would be wise to return the favor. >Though that might be just the alcohol talking. >”So, if you don’t wanna listen to this crap, what *do* you wanna listen to?” >Aria asks this, leaning on the counter like she was a teenager of yesteryears. >Behind her, Lemon Zest has joined Adagio and now they’re performing some interestingly synchronized breakdancing to the beat of green paste. >”Isn’t it obvious? Despite his young age Anonymous was known as one of the pioneers of southern rock resurrection of 2010. His interest lies within that particular genre of music, not Caribbean-influenced hip hop, if it can be even called that.” “Hey now, don’t go deciding my taste for me Blue Meanie.” >You pop Sugarcoat on the head with the spatula, though it’s just a friendly gesture instead of true admonishment. >Nevertheless, she seems surprised. >Not creeped out, but just taken for a loop like people usually went out of their way to avoid touching her. “I mean, sure, I played songs that made me look like a damn redneck… and I guess I am, but that’s not the point.” >Damn this alcohol is making you talkative. >Better have another swig. “I can also enjoy other songs. For example…” >You wave your longneck to catch Twilight’s attention, since she’s handling the job of the DJ right now. “Hey! Twilight! Second album on the third row, track number 5!” >She gets the message and with an expert move flips the CD-casing out of the rack. >Then, just as professionally, she slides the CD into the player and hits a few buttons. >The song that starts playing seems to confuse everyone but you momentarily. >After all, the squeaking of a Wah Wah pedal on a guitar immediately informs that this can be danced to. [Embed: Jamiroquai - Starchild] >Glimmer, of all people, looks at you with a surprised smile. >”Jamiroquai? Really?” >You twist yourself to the rhythm, tapping your foot and stirring the noodles, and grin back at her. “Hell yeah.” >The intermingling and dancing in the living room continues, but spurred by this revelation you find some new face joining you in the kitchen. >That is Starlight Glimmer, Trixie and Lightning Dust. >”I told you Boss has excellent taste in music, right?” >Lightning is gleefully hovering over the other two, nose up in the air as a sign of victory. >Were those three arguing about your musical preferences? Jesus. >”Trixie has never doubted Anonymous’ taste, not even once! She just expected something… rougher.” >That seems to be extra hilarious for the flighty jock. >”Oh, wow, Trixie! Never thought you were into stuff like that!” >It takes all of five seconds for Trixie to actually get what Lightning was implying. >When she does her face goes a happy shade of purple, and she looks ready to lunge. >Thankfully your trusty spatula separates them like Moses parted the red sea. “Okay, that’s enough, you two! Sparks, don’t tease Blueberry. And ease on the drinks, you look like I’m gonna trip over you tomorrow morning on my way to the loo.” >”Here’s hoping.” >With a shameless grin, Lightning Dust downs another GNT. >”Oh speaking of drinks, Anonymous: have a try at this white russian. I think I finally got it down right.” >Glimmer offers you her glass, and without thinking too much, you take a sip. >Oh, that’s good. “Kahlúa?” >She fakes an exasperated sigh. >”Well of course! What kind of animal do you take me for?” >She then grimaces and peers into her glass another time. >”Well, I did use milk, so maybe it’s a bit barbaric. Anyhow…” >All attention is back to you once more. You take this chance pour some oyster and fish oil into the wok pan, heat blasting upwards as you do. >”I’ve wanted to ask this you some time now: what’s up with the nicknames?” “What do you mean?” >Just about everyone who heard that rolls their eyes. >”You know exactly what I mean. Just know you called Lightning Dust here Sparks and Trixie Blueberry. Why?” >The fast movement of your spatula stops, and you find yourself staring at a golden, crispy shrimp. >For some reason a stray thought of: ‘did that shrimp die honorably?’ floats to your mind. >Did it fight till last breath to stay alive? >Wait, do shrimps even breathe? >”Hey! Earth to Easy Rider! I asked you a question!” >You snap back to reality and all the girls in the kitchen staring at you with varying degrees of confusion. >Aah, right, they asked about nicknames, right? “Well, I can’t come up with a real reason. It’s just something that happens, alright? Back in the days we toured everyone got stuck with a nickname of their own, so I guess it’s some echo from that.” >You sweep the apartment with your gaze, looking at all the people gathered. “I guess I always figured nicknames as a sign of belonging or something. Though you better have Dr. Dolittle over there psychoanalyze me if you want clearer answers.” >Twilight probably heard that, since she stuck out her tongue to you. >Aria, of course, cackles yet again at this new revelation. >You shoot her a warning glare. “What?” >”Nooothing. Just have this odd urge to say ‘told you so’.” >Instead of answering, you throw a noodle at her. >Not eloquent, but it shuts her up. >Mostly because she caught that damn noodle is now slurping it down. >”Trixie is curious: if she is Blueberry and Lighting Dust is Sparks, then what are others?” >Carefully nursing her rum and cola, emphasis on the cola, Trixie leans closer with interest sparkling in her eyes. >You scratch your chin. >Man, you need to shave more often. You can still feel it. “Well, let’s see now…” >You point at Aria. >”Deep Purple, or alternatively, The Aloof.” >And then proceed to point at Starlight Glimmer and Sugarcoat. “Starchild and Blue Meanie.” >You let your eyes wander around the perimeter of your apartment, locking onto rest of your prey on your targeting computer. >Then, in no particular order, you start going the people in your apartment through, one by one. “The Poof, The Goof, Strangelove, Rastafury, Sugar Ray, Stone Cold, Young Bucks…” >Your eyes hop from one person to another, until you get to your sofa which has been mostly overtaken by Crystal Prep students. >Looks like those schemers found your old PS2 somehow and are jamming some game inside it. >The fact that they’re also attaching a microphone to the console fills you with dread. “Then there’s Supergroupie, Top Gun, Tsikuni, Malibu Point and…” >Lastly, your eyes descend upon Sour Sweet. >You naturally lower your volume a bit. “... Bitchpolar.” >The whole table around you erupts in snickers and stolen glances at the ponytail girl, who directs you all a confused stare. >”Try not to say that around her. Sour Sweet’s not exactly your fan to begin with, so a nickname like that might make her throw a fit.” >Sugarcoat elbows you playfully and grins. >You chuckle as you sprinkle the last of the seasonings on the chow mein and crank down the heat. >Time to let it simmer for a while, after which it can be eaten. >Well, ‘devoured’ is probably the right term here. >Just one glance tells you that there’s a boatload of people hungry for noodles. >Good thing you’re practically going all Thailand street-food vendor on them. >That is, more on the quantity side, less on the explosive diarrhea afterwards side. >... You hope. >It’s been some time since you last cooked, after all. “Sugarcoat, can you watch this while I swing by outside? It should be ready any minute now.” >The bespectacled girl mock-salutes you. >”Understood. I will do my best to drive away any prospective thief who would want to get a head start on the dinner.” >You give her a confidential nod, eyeing a certain blue-haired girl bouncing on the dance floor as you do. “Keep tabs on Sonata especially. That girl’s been climbing the walls and my back ever since I started cooking.” >Leaving your cooking in capable hands, you sneak outside the apartment, leaving behind the rhythmic pulse of bass and British singers. >A simple wooden door between you and that noise is enough to dampen it completely. >And speaking of which, you should really get that new lock. >Twilight installed some sort of jury-rigged equivalent for now, but just looking at the thing gives you chills. >Plus having to use a keycard and retina-scanner just to get inside is absurd. >Short flight of stairs down, and you enter the chilly night outside. >Hastily you pull up the collars of your leather jacket. >Your frosty breath fogs up the air and you pull out your pack of cigarettes from your pocket. >Condensation is soon replaced by smoke. >Usually you just smoke inside your apartment, but with all these guests you wanted to be a little considerate. >Suddenly, you feel a strange sort of laugh bubble up inside you. >It suffocates in your throat thanks to all the nicotine, but it’s still there. >Instead, you cough up phlegm and feel disgusted, and only that. >Consideration, huh? >When did you learn an emotion like that? >Aren’t you the guy who pushed a student through a locker just because he managed to bump into you? >Aren’t you the guy the rest of the school sends hatemail to because you hang out with the Dazzlings? >Aren’t you the guy who just got out of juvie and tries desperately re-enter society like his life depended on it? >For what reason, exactly? “Shit…” >You take a drag off your cigarette, letting the smoke slowly drift out from between your closed lips. >Reason is probably the one thing you didn’t have. >At least before. >When you moved to another state, to another city, you just wanted to get away from it all. >When you enrolled to CHS, it was your uncle Bobby urging you on, grumbling about wasting your youth or something like that. >And when you started becoming close with Adagio, Aria and Sonata it was merely a chance meeting, if even that. >What if you had never snuck into that bandroom that evening just to play? >Would you have continued your life as it had been till then? >Bleary and empty? >Sure enough, you wouldn’t have gotten associated with ‘villains’ and Principal Celestia would have never asked you to play one’s part. >Where might have that life led? >For starters, you would have been considered a ‘good guy’. >Probably. >Would you have ended up hanging out with people like the Rainbooms in that case? “Yeah right.” >You taste something foul, and it’s not just the cigarette. >People like you and the Rainbooms never got along. >They would have taken it upon themselves to help you change to what they see is right. >Unlike Dazzlings, who allow you to grow into who you want to be. >That’s probably the fundamental difference between those two groups. >Your friends want you to be who you are. >They don’t care if you’re rough, unfriendly or mean. >Hell, the only time they showed concern was when things seemed to head down a suicidal path. >Aria only stepped in because she didn’t want you to hurry to your doom. >One of the Rainbooms would have tried to change your outlook completely. They’re against things that are not compatible with them. >They’d probably throw out buzzwords like ‘lonely’ or something like that without even thinking about them. >Just one glance at the gathering of people inside your apartment tells just how wrong the Rainbooms are. >Those are people who all are exactly who they want to be. They aren’t nice to everyone, they live how they want, and yet… they all get along right now. >Nobody needed to change. “You don’t need to get a new arm just because you get cut. Morons.” >Just some concern is alright, like Aria showed you. >”Anon. You should at least realize you’re worth *something*.” >She said that without a hint of irony. >”And so should others.” >For some reason, even in the chilly air, your cheeks feel warm. >Must be the alcohol kicking in. >Still… it’s strange. >Something at the back of your head keeps kicking you. >It’s an annoying voice that keeps repeating something that you already forgot. >It’s mocking you, whispering that you’re overlooking something said to you much earlier. >And that voice is that of a familiar girl with hair of crimson and yellow. >”But, just know that if you don’t accept the help of other people at some point, then you’ll spend the rest of your life as the cold bastard you are now!” >Didn’t she say the exact same thing Aria said to you? >Wasn’t she just as concerned? “Bah.” >You spit to the ground. >As if. >Those are completely different things. >Right? >Any moron could see that Baconswirl’s words were only spurred by her need to act like her naive little ideals dictated. >You’re not a moron. >You’re not. >You and Aria had gotten to know each other before she told you that she was worried. >A saint-wannabe like Baconswirl just did it to satisfy that holier-than-thou attitude of hers. >What did she know about hardships? >”In a sense, the two of you have rather similar pasts. You’ve both done things you aren’t proud of, and you’ve paid the price.” >This time it’s Principal Celestia’s words which float to your ears. >Angrily you throw what’s left of your cigarette on the ground and stomp on it. >Your hands fumble for the pack once more, only to drop it in your hurry. >Letting out a string of curses under your breath, you squat down to pick it up. >Why were your thoughts getting so muddled now? >What was there to think anymore? >There was no need start overthinking this. After all, the line in the sand had been drawn. >While the Rainbooms, and Baconswirl especially, supported some ridiculous concept of everyone getting along and sunshine and rainbows and whatever, you took the realistic route. >You understood that people should only get along if they want to. >Anybody who would change just to satisfy someone else is a vapid excuse for a human being. >That’s not true friendship. >It’s not. >It’s just people shoving their ideals to you and expecting you to be every single goddamn thing their stupid little minds fantasize you are. >And when you can’t, they ridicule you or abandon you. >Or worse, they’re disappointed. >Disappointed that you can’t be all they thought you were. >Disappointed you aren’t perfect. >And you aren’t. >You really aren’t. “Just get it through your heads! I’m *not* perfect!” >Flash of anger breaks through and you end kicking a streetlight. >Two seconds later you’re jumping around, cursing once again. >Maybe it’s irony, but the pulsating pain helps you calm down a bit. >You limp over to the stairs and sit down. >Popping another cig to your mouth, your lighter’s flame lights up the parking lot. >Smoke drifts towards the moon from your lips. >Like it wants to escape. >Just like how changing your personality to fit in with the people around you is, at the end of the day, nothing more than running away. >It’s something you can never understand. >Changing yourself means becoming something you’re not. >In other words, you’re becoming something you don’t know. >How can you even begin to consider that? >You just want to be you. >But how is it that people like Baconswirl find it hard to understand? >That’s why you’re never gonna change. >”You know… you’ve changed, Roadie.” >Or perhaps it’s already too late? >Aria claimed you had, after all. >Are you someone you don’t know? Have you become a completely different person? >Like Deep Purple said, you’re currently doing things the old you would have never considered doing. >Do you even know who you are anymore? >You look at you reflection from the nearby window of a car, but the face that stares back at you is the same old one. >The one with dead eyes, as Aria put it. >There’s nothing perfect about the prick that’s staring at you. >”You should totes tell that to Sugarcoat, Anon~” >You nearly fly off your skin when you hear a sickeningly sweet voice from behind you. >But what you see staring at you is an expression of disgust. >”Maybe she’d stop talking about you for one second then!” >Sour Sweet’s standing behind you, arms folded and with stormy presence. >Above you both, the first snowflake of this winter finally drifts down from the sky. >Of all the people, Sour Sweet was not the one you expected to follow you here. >Warning bells ring in your head. >Somehow it seems clear that things are about to get even more complicated than before... “What do you want?” >You glare at Sour Sweet, who’s looking at you like you were a dog shit on the side of the road. >One she had inadvertently stepped on. >”Puhleez, as if you didn’t know that! I mean, after all...” >Her eyes twitch dangerously as she hovers above you. >Another switch. >”You had to go and call me Bitchpolar, didn’t you!?” >Quite frankly, you’re really not in the mood for this right now. >You were just in the middle of trying to sort out the chaotic mess that your life has become. >And now you’re dragged into this petty little hurricane? >She’s angry about what you called her? “Tough.” >There are things much worse than namecalling. “If you don’t like it, stop acting like such a spaz.” >”Spaz!? You’ve got some nerve, dork! I should just, just--” >Sour takes a threatening step forward, raising her fist. >It’s a bit of a meaningless gesture, considering she’s only a little taller than you, even though you’re sitting on the stairs. >The only reasons you are shaking is because of the cold and the alcohol coursing through you. “Do what, exactly? You can’t seriously think about fighting?” >Oh yes she can. >She even swings her fist at you. >Too bad the strike goes a mile wide and ends up with her spinning wildly. >You just snort and return to your cigarette. “Just what I needed. A violent drunk.” >Growling at you like an animal, she steadies herself. >”I wouldn’t be violent if you weren’t a *jerk*!” “I’m a jerk!? I’m just trying to mind my own business here!” >”After badmouthing me!” “For a reason!” >”What reason!?” “Because you’re being insufferable twat!” >”Only because you’re an ass!” >Heavy breathing fills the air between you, fogging up the night. >You two are inches away from each other, shoulders heaving. >You’d never admit it to Sour, but… >... After all those muddled-up thoughts, this is incredibly cathartic. “I’m an ass? I’m trying my best to get along with you lot, but you’re disapproving everything I do.” >”Nuh-uh, am not!” >If you could roll your eyes any more, they’d be speeding down the goddamn street. “I have eyes in my head, you know? I can see how you look at me.” >Her eyebrow shoots up like an elevator. >”And how’s that?” “Like a turd!” >She snorts, amused, and folds her arms across her chest. >The look on her face is almost challenging. >”Well, duh? I mean, that’s what you get for being, like, such a sleeze!” >Now is your turn to be confused. >Taking a drag off your cigarette, you blow the smoke out of your nose and gesture her to elaborate. “Sleeze? What?” >Sour groans and throws her hands up in the air. >”You’re three-timing with those Dazzling-girls, you sicko. Don’t think I don’t know, I can see the way you look at them, jackass.” >For a moment, there’s nothing but the wind. >Nothing but the schadenfreude wind that sweeps across the yard, slapping you in the face as it does. >Then it is replaced by your laughter, erupting from within you like an Indonesian volcano. >”W-what!? What are you laughing about!?” >Sour’s not taking your reaction well. >She’s shaking you from your shoulders, face contorted in an angry mask, but you can’t help it. >You just keep laughing. >Laughing and laughing until your stomach hurts and tears are streaming from your eyes. >At some point it starts to sound a little sick. >Like, you want to stop laughing, but you just can’t. >Mostly because it’s not just laughter, but all of your worries and stress streaming out thanks to that stupid misunderstanding Sour Sweet made. >”Oooookay? You know what? I’m just gonna go, like, over there and tell them you completely lost it. That okay?” >Finally reigning yourself in a bit, you grasp her shoulder. “S-sorry, I just… ahah… oh god… that’s… whoo, wow. Sorry, I just never thought you actually, snrk, thought Dazzlings and I were… were…” >”W-were?” >Unable to put the ridiculous mental image to words, you just show her your pinky. >Looks like she understands the gesture, as her jaw drops. >”Wait, you’re *not* together!? B-but I thought you four were, like, an item or something! I’ve seen how you all look at each other, all those long gazes and stuff!” >You cackle, shaking your head and raising your palm to stop her. “That’s just… just… you know? We’re a family. Bunch of losers banding together. Ain’t nothing like that happening between us.” >Sour snorts again, doubt clear in her eyes. >”I dunno, those looks the blue one keeps sending your way are, like, totally not suitable for siblings.” “That’s Sonata. You know how she is, right? I can promise there’s no way they’re seeing me in any romantic light.” >Sour is about to say something, raising her index finger, but then stops. >She hovers awkwardly there for a second or two before slumping back to ground. >”Yeah, I guess you got me there. She’s an idiot alright.” “Right? So don’t get you panties in a bunch, I’m not cheating on anyone. Hell, I don’t have anyone to cheat.” >Taking another drag off your cigarette, you’re stopped by the deadpan look Sour’s giving you now. >It literally screams ‘are you fucking kidding me?’. >Also, you notice she’s moved right next to you instead of staying behind you. >”Ugh, seriously? You hang out with all these girls, yet you’re not going steady with any of them? Puhleez, as if I could believe that.” “Better believe it. I mean, have I been touchy-feely with any of the girls today?” >”Well, no, but, like, that doesn’t mean anything! You could be just shy!” >You chuckle and reach for a beer that isn’t there. >To your surprise, Sour comes to the rescue and hands you her own. “Well, I’m not denying that. I ain’t the type of guy to really, hum, showcase my feelings. Been a bit blunt on that department, I suppose. My old girlfriend used to say it all the time.” >This seems to pique her interest, as the soft serve head is staring at you while hugging her knees. >Why are you even talking about this so openly? >Oh, right. >Alcohol. >”... Old girlfriend?” >You’re lost in your thoughts for a moment, staring at the moon up above. >The light it’s casting reminds you of those tender eyes she had. “Yeah. We’re not together anymore, but… well, no, I guess there’s no but. It’s behind me now.” >Sour Sweet stays silent for some time, and you hand her back the beer. >She takes a sip to wet her throat before breaking the quiet with her voice. >You’re not quite sure when, but at some point the shrillness of it disappeared. >”Was she pretty?” “Like the sun itself.” >”Smart?” “Smartest girl I’ve met.” >”Funny?” “I still smile when I think about her, don’t I?” >Another moment of gentle silence. >”She sounds perfect.” >You have to chuckle at that. In a way, she’s not wrong. Still… “She hardly was. She was a bit hasty to anger, bit arrogant in her logic and she had vices just like I did, but… yeah, to me she was perfect.” >The beer continues circling between you two as you talk. >At some point you hit the bottom, though. >Peering into the empty bottle, Sour Sweet seems to consider her next words carefully. >”Is she the reason you’re not interested in anyone now?” >You’re about to answer, but the words die to your lips. >In your mind you have to acknowledge that she probably hit the nail in the head. >You’ve been hanging out with the Dazzling for well over a month now. >And you haven’t had anything but an odd stray thought of amore towards them? How weird is that? >Perhaps, just perhaps, the memory of your old girlfriend is still subconsciously making it hard for you to jump into the game again. >It’s not unheard of. >Hell, it’s practically a cliche in young adult romance novels and tv shows. >The irony that you, of all people, find yourself in such a development is not lost to you. With a sardonic laugh you flick your cigarette into the night. >Sour follows the flight of it with her eyes. >Soon even the pinprick light of the cig is gone. “You know what? That might be just it. I haven’t thought about it… but it does make sense.” >You pat her on the shoulder as you rise up from your seat. “You’re smart for a girl your age, Sour. Thanks.” >She swats your hand away as a thanks and jumps up. >Fire of challenge flares up again, and you’re basking in its light. >”Excuse me!? You don’t get to talk to me like that! I might be short, but I’m a sophomore like all the rest!” >You blink twice, little surprised. >But not in the way that she thinks. “Wait, you haven’t realized it yet?” >”Realized what?” “Sour… how old do you think I am?” >She seems confused by this sudden question. >”Huh? You’re a sophomore too, so… ugh, I dunno? 15? 16?” >You dig into your pocket and draw out your wallet. >From there, you proceed to show her your driver’s license. “Sour? I’m… I’m 18.” >For a moment she stares at you like you grew another head that turned out to be Gilbert Gottfried. >Gilbert Gottfried that then proceeded to roast her until a studio audience would start clapping out of nowhere. >Followed by a commercial break. >In other words: like her whole word had just collapsed in a hail of what the fucks. >”E-EIGHTEEN!?” >She gets up your grill with a look of absolute shock plastered on her face. >”I mean, I thought it was super weird how tall you were, how you had some beard and how you bought cigs and alcohol without problem, but, but…” >She stares at her own hands as if they were responsible for all of this. >”Eighteen…?” >You scratch your neck out of the awkwardness of the situation. “See, I was in juvie for over a year. Hell, I got out around 8 or so months ago, back in April. Missed most of my sophomore year, but since I still had a chance to finish my education, I enrolled here.” >Sour Sweet has an odd expression, somewhere between impressed and a little creeped out. >”A-and you spend your days hanging out with girls, ugh, three years younger than you?” >You bob her on the head. “Reminder: they’re extradimensional fish-horses that use songs as their weapons. Plus they’ve probably been in this world since middle ages. So yeah.” >Sour rubs her head and shoots you a pout of magnificent proportions. >You had to admit, the girl had a habit of being cute when she was angry. >”Well, you’re hanging out with me and last I checked I was 15…” >There’s not much you can say to that since it’s, in fact, true. “Well, what can I say? I don’t mind the company of younger girls. Makes me feel a bit more lively and energetic myself. >Self-ironic grin on your face, you scratch the back of your head. “Wow, that sounded pretty bad, huh?” >You’re already waiting for a bitter retort from your side. >Instead, there’s just the familiar silence. >Curiously, you look at Sour Sweet, who’s staring at you with slightly flushed cheeks. “Umm… Sour?” >”Wait, seriously, you’re into younger girls? That’s gross, way too gross, mega gross! I mean, I might be into older guys myself and that might have made my heart skip a beat but when I think about it with clear head, nope!” >Launching into a tirade that would have made Sugarcoat proud, she pushes past you and back into the staircase. >You’re left to look after her, unable to understand what just happened. “Wait… what?” >About five minutes later, you rejoin the party, trying to stave off the confusion caused by Sour with another beer. >She’s definitely avoiding you now, moving like a crab across the room, never letting you out of her sight. >Checking on the chow mein, it seems just about ready. >Intending to call up everyone in the living room, you enter it only to find yourself eavesdropping on a rather interesting conversation. >”I don’t mean any harm with it, ‘kay?” >Suri Polomare makes a sweeping gesture and raises her glass of some fancy drink. >”I just meant that I don’t know Anonymous that well yet. If anything, it is you Dazzlings that have spent the most time with him.” >She nods towards Adagio, who seems a bit pleased with herself. >”How did you guys even meet? I mean, I know he’s a decent guy and all, but…” >Sunny Flare looks around, luckily not noticing you behind your trusty potted plant. >Thanks, Mitch. >”... You have to admit, he looks like belongs in a motorcycle club, not in a high school.” >Suri cackles. >”Oh, I dunno, love. I sort of like his renegade look.” >Flare claps her hands together, giggling like mad. >Yep, she drunk. >”Oh, that’s perfect! He’s like from that old TV show? Remember? Renegade?” >Few confused looks incite Malibu Point into further tirade. >Worst thing is… you know what show she’s talking about. >”He was a hall monitor, and good at his job. But he committed the ultimate sin and testified against other hall monitors gone bad. Hall monitors that tried to fill his locker with dog poop, but got the locker of the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands… an outlaw hunting outlaws. A bounty hunter.” >Guess the girls remembered the show with that, as they all raise their drinks and proceed to yell in unison: >”A RENEGADE!” >Giggling resumes, filling the room. >It’s perhaps a combination of what Sour said and your growing drunkenness, but you’re starting to realize how out of place you are here. >You’re a grown man hanging out with teenage girls. >Jesus. >Chris Hansen must be hiding somewhere in here. >To be sure, you check on the other side of your potted plant. >All clear, thankfully. >”Well, that aside, let’s see…” >Adagio calms down and rubs her chin, looking thoughtful. >”I personally met Anonymous last October. Oh, well, we did have a chance meeting a bit before that, but our first real conversation was when I confront him about… rather insignificant thing, now that I think about it.” >”Ooh, tell us! Tell us!” >Indigo Zap, who else? >Adagio smiles softly at her glass of Cuba Libre. >That’s a full Reminiscence Mode if you’ve ever seen one. >Still, you find yourself strangely interested in what she has to say. >”Before that, Anonymous had met up with Sonata and the two of them had begun to… hang out together. Of course, I had no idea who he was at the time.” >She sighs and rolls her shoulders, looking a bit troubled. >”The way I saw it, it was some redneck ex-juvie getting far too close to--” >Adagio’s eyes flash towards the kitchen to make sure Sonata’s out of the hearing range. >”--to someone I care about. I was determined to cut the problem right at the root, and accosted him at the stairs behind the school, near the football field.” >”Ah! I saw that!” >Diamond Tiara snaps her fingers. >A mischievous grin spreads on that little princess’ face. >”It was when you two had your Duel of the Harmonicas, wasn’t it?” >Adagio cackles. >”I guess you could call it that. We certainly played till our lips were bleeding. But, though I initially thought so, it wasn’t a mistake.” >Adagio sips her drink and her eyes now stare out of the window. >Fragile flakes of snow are falling across the pitch black sky, with only the distant lights of the city to frame them. >If you all are lucky, the ground’s gonna be covered in white come next morning. >”That meeting made me realize he was more than just a random thug. So, I decided to give him a chance.” >Adagio now has the rapt attention of all the girls around him. >”With time, he proved that I was right in giving him that chance. Not only did he… ahem, convince Aria to speak about her feelings to us, he also brought us closer together than we had been in a while.” >She chuckles a bit. A silent sound that’s soft as the snowfall outside. >”I guess it’s natural for you to get blind to your problems if you’re staring at them up-close. You need someone from the outside to point them out to you.” >Indigo Zap leans closer, eyes almost shining with curiosity. >”S-so? That’s how you guys became a group? He seemed like a jerk, until you gave him a chance?” >For some reason, the pompadour-sporting girl sneaks a glance at Sour Sweet, and grins. >Sour’s response seems awfully fitting for her crab-esque walk, waving her hand at her friend like it was some sort of pincer. >Her face speaks volumes. >Volumes of: Ya pickin’ a fight, huh!? >”Indigo, I think it’s a bit more than that, m’kay?” >Suri peers at Adagio over her glass, knowing look on her face. >”The way I read it between the lines, love, it sounds like you admire him.” >... The hell? >Adagio? >Admire you? >At the last chance, you clasp your hand before your mouth to stop your bubbling laugh. >There’s no way that the bossy, competitive, devilishly clever Adagio would- >”Yes. I have no problem admitting that I admire him.” >You nearly fall over. >No hesitation. >No blush on her face or shaking in her voice. >Adagio delivers that absurd truth to Suri’s face with a straight face. >The girls’ reactions mimic yours. >They gasp in unison, recoiling back. Some of them even flush crimson pink. >Diamond Tiara in particular seems to have completely misunderstood what Adagio meant. >Goddammit, who gave the kid a beer? >... Wait. >It was you. >”Anonymous has done so much to us, and continues doing so even if we never asked him to. He’s ostracized himself from almost everyone else in the school just to remains friends with us. He’s earned the ire of the ‘heroes’ of CHS because he walks the path he and we believe in… all that without hesitation.” >Adagio continues spewing lines that make your ears burn with blush. >The hell is this girl babbling about!? >You squat against the floor and lean your back on the cold wall, trying to calm yourself down. >But those words… words you thought you’d never hear someone say about you, continue. >”His eyes may look dead, his looks may be those of a thug, his attitude may resemble a delinquent’s… but beneath all that, he has been the best friend the three of us have met during our time in this world.” >You hear a momentary pause as Adagio takes a sip of her drink. >That’s it. >She must be drunk. >There’s no way the Adagio you know would otherwise say this. >This… stuff that makes your heart feel constricted by a rattlesnake. >To search proof for your claim, you take a peek around the corner. >But all you see is a calm smile and eyes that are clear as day. >”We may have been born in different worlds… but to me, Anonymous is the older brother I never had.” >Something resonates within you. >That wording… that way she put it. >It seems so familiar you could burst. >You put your hand to your pocket, where a certain white piece of cloth lies. >And all of a sudden, you remember a small hand squeezing yours. >A descending sun on a hot summer evening. >And a voice that’s more like an echo. >”Then… then you’ll be my big brother!” >Why? >It’s a memory that feels so distant, so detached… >... Yet, at the same time, it’s suddenly so vivid. >Someone said that to you such a long time ago. >On a hill overlooking the city of Canterlot. >Those eager eyes, full of trust and hope for you. >You had just been in a fight with other boys. Probably to protect her? >And when you told her that, she had said… yeah, she had said it was like how a brother would act. >To which you had asked if she wanted you to be one to her. >A brother. >Someone to watch over her. >Someone to always have her back. >Someone to always l- “Crap.” >You slap yourself on the cheek and get up from your hiding place. >This isn’t the time to get lost in the past. >That happened years ago. It’s a time you’ll never get back. She’s someone whom you probably wouldn’t recognize even if you met again after all these years. >Which is why you have to focus on what’s in front of you right now. >And what’s in front of you is Adagio. >Before you knew it, your feet carried you to where the group of girls were still talking. >A hesitant silence fell over them when they saw you approaching. >Adagio, in particular, is looking at you while biting her lip. >”A-Anonymous. What is it?” >She glances around like she had been caught, hair in a cookie jar. >You just look at her. >That short girl with fire inside her unlike you’d ever seen before. >No, you had met someone like that. >Back in your hometown. >The person whom you had meant to share your whole life with. >But that fire was already… >”What is it? D-don’t tell me you… you heard?” >Adagio looks like she’s about to start panicking. >To calm her down, you ruffle her poof and grin at the girl. “Just came to tell you lot that the food is ready. Get your asses into kitchen, all of you.” >A wave of relief washes over the girls, Adagio in particular. >She smiles at you. >”Sure. Lead the way.” >And so, the much-promised dinner finally starts. >There’s a huge bowl’s, more like a small bathtub’s, worth of shrimp chow mein on the table. >Nineteen people have crammed themselves around a table that was originally meant for four. >It’s like watching a viking feast, only it’s made up of high school girls and one very out-of-place delinquent. >Plates sail across the table as they’re being filled with food. >Chopsticks and forks follow them like sharks follow boats, searching for hands to serve. >Beer bottles and various alcoholic drinks line up the edges of the table, flanking it like an army of booze. >Everywhere you look, you see grinning faces. >Some more subdued than others. >And top of it all, a happy murmur of people talking with each other. >”Here you go, Nonny.” >Sonata hands you a plate filled to brim with noodles, veggies and shrimp and beams a contagious smile. >You set it in front of you and take a swig of your beer. “Thanks. Now dig in before it gets cold.” >You don’t have to tell her twice. >In fact, nobody seems patient enough to wait anymore. >Eighteen hungry mouths assault your evening’s work, and you see the noodles disappear faster than Japanese underpaid wage slave can make them. >Showing a bit more restraint yourself, you twirl some to your chopsticks and begin munching. >”Mmm~! So good!” >You nearly choke on a damn shrimp when Sonata slaps your back in joy. >”Yeah, yeah! Boss sure knows how to cook a mean meal!” >Lightning Dust hollers from the other end of the table, raising her beer. >”More than a meal, this should count as a dinner considering what time of the day we eat it. Then again, a proper term for food consumed after twelve o’clock has never been-” >Sugarcoat is about to start prattling on again, but Twilight shuts her up by flinging a shrimp to her mouth. >”What she meant was that you really outdid yourself, Anonymous.” >The scientist winks at you. >”I say. The seasoning is perhaps a bit strong, love, but with a dish like this, I suppose it’s the point. This is ‘street food’ as they say, no?” >Suri directs a questioning look at you. >”Wait, a dweeb like you *knows* about street food?” >Gilda cackles and downs her tenth beer for today. >Limestone, on the other hand, picks her plate with her fork. >”Ugh… The farm’s in desperate need of something like this…” “Excuse me?” >”Huh? Oh, sorry chief. Was surprised a brute like you could cook.” >You smirk competitively. “You’re speaking almost like you could do better.” >”Oh, watch me. I’ll beat your ass just like I beat you today.” “Funny, to me today was more about you screaming me to not break your arm.” >Limestone flushes deep crimson and flings a noodle at you. >”S-shut up! Ass!” >Tree Hugger, who was hit by the projectile, doesn’t seem too fazed. >Instead, she slurps the noodle down. >”Far out, dude. These flavors are resonating with my karma like you wouldn’t believe.” >... You find yourself unable to say anything to that. >Was that even a compliment? >Adagio, sitting next to you, seems to find it fun, though. >”Sparkle was right, though. You really outdid yourself, Anonymous. And I’m not talking about just the food.” >She nods towards the rest around the table. >”But all of this. What even is this odd group of people?” >You smirk, raising your bottle and catching everyone’s attention. “Can’t you tell, sis?” >Adagio nearly falls off her chair. >Eyes wide as plates, cheeks flaming red, she stares at you. “It’s a family.” >And so, everyone follows your example by raising their drinks and repeating: >”A family!” >Even if you say so yourself, the dinner was a roaring success. >The chow mein disappeared in under half an hour, with hungry mouths demanding more. >You appeased the Elder Gods of Teenage Gluttony by chucking bags upon bags of snacks at them, hoping it’d be enough to give you a chance to escape. >As it turned out, it was. >You managed to sneak outside for a quick cigarette. >You were eventually joined by Gilda and Limestone. Former was there to smoke a cigarette of her own, the latter… >... Well, she tried. >She honestly tried. >But after a coughing fit nearly made her spit her lungs out, you and Gilda decided it was best for her to just stay on the sidelines. >As you three headed back, you were thinking of getting a few beers more before calling it a night. >Ain’t no God in high heaven who’d condone all those teenage girls staying long past midnight at your place. >As it turned out, there was no God. >Just the scheming minds of adolescent girls who had already tricked their parents with the trusty “I’m staying at my friend’s place.” >That and bottle after bottle of tequila, as provided by the resident pothead Tree Hugger. >Girl had even rolled a joint or two, and now the whole place stank like your former drummer’s underwear. >Still, you could have endured it all. >The partying. >The alcohol. >Even the enabling stoner. >If not for the absolute last straw. >And that was when the gaggle of infernal idiots went over to Twilight’s room and brought back her collection of SingStar games. >You cursed the very moment you had chosen to buy that old PS2. >”Aw, come on, boss. It’s not so bad.” >You glare at Lightning Dust while downing another shot of whiskey. >Even in your fortified bunker that is your kitchen counter, you still hear the drums of war. “Not so bad? Tell me, Sparks, what’s not so bad about hearing the third Linkin Park song in a row?” >Sugarcoat was on a roll. >”I have to agree with you there, love. Which is why I snatched the next slot. I hope Bee Gees is more up your alley.” >You roll your eyes at Suri, who is wearing a very smug smile right now. “No matter what you think: No. I should not be dancing.” >”Such a shame!” >Glimmer grins wickedly and leans on you, reloading your glass from her bottle. >The purple mage was absolutely newscasted at this point. >Those white russians had done their job. >”I totally wanted to see you shake that firm, shapely little as-” >Before Starchild can even comprehend what’s happening, Sonata’s up her grill in a major way. >”H-hey! Hands off, you!” >She forces herself between you two, and to your horror, grabs a firm hold of your right buttock. “Gah! What the hell, Sonata!?” >”Whaaaat? Like, Nonny’s ass totally belongs to me! For realzies!” >You scoot away as fast as you can, nearly sending Lightning Dust flying from her chair. >She manages to grab a hold of your shoulder to steady herself, though. “No it doesn’t! Get your own!” >”But I do have my own?” >Sonata quizzically cranes her neck and peers at her own backside. >Very shapely, very full backside. >One that she’s presenting to you like some kind of proof to back up her words. “Not what I meant!” >”Yeah, yeah! You tell ‘er, boss!” >Lightning Dust assists you, totally ignorant of the fact that her breath tickling your ear sends shivers down your spine. >Not to mention how she’s practically draped herself over you. >”Besides! Boss is totally a legs man, aren’t you? You can appreciate firm, slim thighs, right?” >To your utter horror, she lifts one of her toned legs so it rests on the table. >Just at the last second, you turn your gaze to avoid what is probably the most magnificent view as provided by her short skirt. >Too bad Sunny Flare notices your obvious attempt at decency. >”Ah! He’s totally blushing! This guy’s seriously blushing! What’cha looking at there, cowboy?” >You shoot her a glare and down your glass in one go. “Nothing, thank you very much!” >”Woo, Anon’s a total perv!” >You feel your eyebrow twitch. “Do I need to come over there and-” >”-And what?” >Flare’s smile is probably supposed to be suggestive, but it just reeks of alcohol. >”Oh boy, whatever he’s gonna do to me? Such a peeeeerv!” “Jesus Christ you’re annoying!” >Ignoring the girl wriggling like possessed, you try to cool your head by looking around. >Too bad. Everywhere you look, you find no solace. >At some point it dawned upon you that copious amounts of alcohol, mixed in with teenage girls, was never a good thing. >Assassination of Music Industry by the Sub Par Karaoke aside, things were getting a little out of hand. >Like Aria desperately trying to win against Gilda in arm wrestling. >Or Twilight telling anyone who even feigned to listen how drinks could be improved with right amount of know-how in chemistry. >Or Lemon Zest rummaging through your vinyl collection with ill intent. >At some point the cozy, jovial atmosphere in your apartment had been replaced by something much more fitting for spring break. >All things considered, you should’ve seen this coming. >Still, it had managed to take you by surprise. >Little like how you didn’t even get a warning before Tree Hugger slithered across the floor and caught your leg in a vise grip, dopey smile on her face. >”Dude, this party is absolutely fantastic. All these inner energies mixing and matching in universal harmony… this is so far out.” “Sure, whatever. But why are you hugging my leg!?” >”It’s just… Man, it’s just so strong. Like a trunk of a tree. Dude, this is totally like a tree.” >And to make her name proud, Rastafury then proceeds to hug the shit out of your calf. >You’re about to lose it when a ray of light shines through the inebriated darkness. >Silver Spoon, the only sober-looking person in this whole damn apartment, plops down to the empty chair next to you. >Judging from the 70’s disco that fills your ears, Suri finally got her turn at the mic. >”Looks like you’re getting popular there, Anon.” >You groan loudly and try to separate Tree Hugger from yourself. >She’s apparently moved to sniffing your jeans now. >It shouldn’t be this arousing. >You blame the alcohol. “I could do without it, you know? All these drunken idiots are starting to get on my nerves.” >You gesture towards the corner where Trixie is trying her damnedest to remember how to perform some card trick or another. >Her fumbling explanation is not helped by the fact that Indigo Zap is swaying back and forth, almost falling asleep. “I know I bought most of the alcohol and everything, but it didn’t mean everyone should go full Sideways tonight!” >You let out an exasperated sigh and grab the nearest bottle. >Crap. >Tequila. >... You fill your glass anyway. >”Puh-lease. This isn’t half as bad as you think it is.” >Silver Spoon chuckles at your annoyance and glances around the table. >What must be the last Budweiser catches her attention, and she quickly snatches it before the ever-thirsty Limestone can spot it. >”Like, you talk a gruff game and all that, but… is this really so bad?” “... What do you mean?” >For some reason a girl that’s 4 years younger than you is looking hell of a lot more mature than you’ve ever been. >Must be that magnificent eyebrow of hers silently judging you. >”This.” >She spreads her arms. >”You’ve got, like, twenty girls in this apartment and you’re the only boy in here. Everyone’s dancing, everyone’s singing, everyone’s having a good time… except for you.” >She jabs her finger towards you. >”You’re being a total sourpuss, Anon. Do you even know why?” >You’re a bit surprised at what this girl’s spouting. >It’s not that everyone’s drunk, but that… >... you’re just grumpy? >Well there’s a novel concept. >Sure, you’re the first person to admit you’re not that social. >Still, you were having a good time until you noticed everybody acting like a bunch of fools thanks to ol’ Mr. Daniels. >The only thing it’s managed do to you so far is make the floor sail back and forth. >It’s a bit fascinating, to be honest. >Just like what Silver Poon said. >Spoon. >Fuck. >The last thing you should be thinking about entered your mind. >You do not need a mental image of Silver Spoon’s Silver Poon. >Aaaand there you go. >Now you’re imagining it. >Somebody stop these thoughts most impure. >”Anon?” >You bury your face in your hands. “Please don’t call the cops.” >”Huh?” >Fourteen, man! Fourteen! >Don’t go there! >Even if in your mind you already totally did! >When you finally look back at your conversation partner, you see her smirking coyly at your plight. >”Oh boy. That’s, like, totally flattering but Diamond Tiara would kill me if we did something.” “Ha ha ha what are you talking about please just kill me.” >You’re just glad nobody else is there to witness your self-termination. >Well, anyone more coherent than Tree Hugger. >”In any case, that’s part of your problem.” >Silver Spoon continues, unfazed, while sipping her beer. “That I can’t think coherently after one too many drinks?” >She giggles. >”No, no. That you’re afraid to just let loose and enjoy.” >You? >Afraid to let loose? >The last thing you want is to let loose after what you just ended up thinking about. >As close the group has gotten in the last few hours, you doubt their understanding would extend that far. >Just the mental image is enough to drive you to seek shelter from your glass. >Ah, sweet Mexican import. >Show some solace. >”See? Even now you’re stressing about whatever.” >Silver Spoon rolls her eyes. >”You talked all about how we’re growing as a group thanks to tonight, but unlike everyone else here, you can’t just throw yourself into this atmosphere.” >She glances over her shoulder. >Suri has just finished her song, and now the next spot is being contested by Lemon Zest and Twilight. >Latter seems to think that Pet Shop Boys is the epitome of karaoke bands. >Rest of the girls have pretty much gathered around the PS2 like it was some unholy object of worship. >Finally, you manage to collect your dirty, dangerous thoughts enough to mumble an answer. “Well sorry for not having a mindset of a teenage girl.” >”See! There’s that problem!” >You’re a bit taken aback by her emotional reaction. >”You’re already separating us into two groups. Like, there’s us, and then there’s you. Teenagers this and teenagers that, you sound like an old fart, you know?” >The thing is, whatever she says doesn’t change the fact that this rift already exists. >You’re older than these girls, some by a large margin. >You don’t mind them having fun together, but it’s not something you can relate to. >After all, they’re girls in their prime. >You’re approaching your twenties slowly but surely. >Trying to fit in with them would be… well, it’d be hella creepy. >”Anon, seriously.” >At some point, Silver Spoon caught you by your shoulder. >She’s giving you the ol’ eyebrows. >”You’re not as old as you think you totally are. Lighten up.” >... Huh. >The girl’s a mind-reader, huh? >That or your face is as easy to read as a vintage porn mag. >Be that as it may, one nagging question still remains in your mind. >One that, now that you think about it, might be the reason for this all. “... You sure the girls don’t mind?” >Silver Spoon beams at you. >”As if! It’s what they’ve been waiting for!” >You take ten seconds to consider this. >Finally you pour yourself one more glass of tequila and down it instantly. >The burn in your throat almost makes you throw up, but you keep it in. >Fuck it. >If you’re pressurized this much, you might just go with the flow. >Screw being a wallflower and sulking in the corner. >Everyone else is having fun. >Why shouldn’t you? >Now that you think about it, Silver Spoon’s totally right. >There’s no reason you should be this reserved. >It’s a goddamn PARTY after all! “Alright! Let’s do this!” >You catch Tree Hugger by her sides and lift her up. >As the two of you rise, you’re instantly hit by a wave of nausea. >Everything spins. >But you’ve encountered worse. “Gimme that.” >Without waiting for an answer, you snatch the microphone and the controller from Twilight. >As you begin pouring through the song list, you hear a collective gasp emanate from the girls around you. >”Wait, for realzies? Nonny is going to sing!?” >”Woo! You go, dweeb! Let’s hear you bellow it out!” >Yeah, dude! It’s like Star Generation’s back again, except without… without… y’know, rest of the band!” >”Finally got the funk out of your system, Roadie?” >”The Great and Powr… Paw… Power Trixie! Yeah, Power Trixie approves this!” >You pay no heed to the hooting and hollering around you. >You keep the down button pressed and see the song names whistle across the screen. >They’re in alphabetical order, sorted by the artist. >Good. >Makes your job that much easier. “There!” >So fast that none of them even manages to catch what song you chose, you hit X and the screen changes. >Dread, almost hallowed silence takes over the room. >Everyone is waiting with baited breath. >Cracking your neck, you throw away the controller and lift up the mic. >Near you, you can hear Adagio whisper to Twilight: >”Come to think of it, we have never heard Anonymous sing before.” >You ignore the doubt in her voice. >You know you can sing. After all, you’ve done before. >Plus you’ve got a small brewery’s worth of booze running through your veins, bolstering your courage. >Time to kick your awkwardness to the balls with a song you haven’t sung in a long, long time. >It was your old girlfriend’s favorite. >Well, it was after she got utterly plastered. >But! A favorite nonetheless! >”Uhh, Nonny? What are you gonna-” >Sonata’s question is cut by the vibrating melody of Puerto Rican guitars. >Latino sound fills the room, and for a moment, everyone looks like they’ve been suckerpunched. >You grin like a maniac. >Utter disbelief is driven away by salsa-style song from the 2000. [Embed: Ricky Martin - She Bangs] >You whip your head forward and begin to sing. “Talk to me! Tell me your name.” >With a saucy step you bring yourself before Aria, who’s staring at you like a rabbit in the headlights. >Before she can escape, you catch her wrist and drag her with you to the dance floor. “You blow me off like it’s all the same.” >Despite her protests, you bring her into a hip-swaying dance, body close to body. >Around you, a laughing and hooting circle of spectators has formed. “You lit a fuse and now I’m ticking away.” >As you sing, you drag a sensual finger down Aria’s cheek. >Her awkward dance stops as her face explodes into an extravagant blush. “Like a bomb.” >At last she gets into it, her ass bumping into yours as the beat deepens. “Yeah, baby!” >With a twirl of her body, Aria moves away. >From the look on her face, you can tell she’s trying to contain something. >Unfettered, you scan the crowd around you for a new target. >Lock-on. >Limestone immediately bolts for it, panic in her eyes. >You catch her easily and swing her to the center of the ring of people. “Talk to me!” >You catch Limestone by her hips, making her move as you do. “Tell me your sign.” >Your breathing and hers intertwine as you wriggle like vipers. “You’re switching sides like a Gemini.” >Despite her face being as red as Puerto Rican flag, Limestone is doing a good job. >Her hands fumble to your waist, those green eyes focused on yours. “You’re playing games and now you’re hittin’ my heart.” >With your free left hand you catch hold of her leg as she lifts it against you. >You can hear some surprised gasps from the crowd. >Looks like you’re not the only getting a bit hot and bothered. “Like drum.” >You spin Limestone around, letting her lean into you as you put on your best Casanova grin. “Yeah, baby!” >As you let go of Limestone, you don’t even have to search for your next partner. >She’s practically tackled out of the way by Starlight Glimmer. “Well if Lady Luck gets on my side,” >You take a stance, side-by-side. “We’re gonna rock this town alive!” >Your legs twist and turn, almost getting tangled up as you move from left to right. >It’s a dizzying tango that reeks of sex. >You push forward. “I’ll let her rough me up!” >She pushes back to you. “Till she knocks me out!” >Your lips almost touch. >But instead, you two send each other into a whirling spin. “‘Cause she walks like she talks, and she talks like she walks!” >And as the music reaches crescendo of the chorus, Glimmer disappears from your view. >Instead, you get your vision full of ice blue hair. >Sugarcoat, having let her twin-tails finally down. >And you don’t even have to invite her. >Instead, she sticks to your body like a glue. “Oh! She bangs, she bangs!” >Like rivers snaking through a forest, you two enter a trance. >Her hands seem to wander up and down your body. >And you don’t even mind. “Oh baby, when she moves! She moves!” >The ring of girls around you has begun clapping to the rhythm. >Sweat and heat rise up from you lot as the song takes over. >It’s exhilarating, not caring about appearances. >Just letting go. “I go crazy cause she looks like a flower but she stings like a bee!” >Your left hand rises, snapping like you were a flamenco dancer. >Sugarcoat’s feet tap the beat away. >Your movement joins hers and for a moment, you’re lost in her eyes. >They look hungry. >Both of you are far too drunk. >And you don’t give a shit. “Like every girl in history!” >Backs against each other, she digs into you before pushing with her ass. >She flies back into the ring, only for her place to be taken by someone else. “She bangs, she bangs!” >To your surprise, it’s Twilight. >She hastily looks around her, seemingly having no idea what to do. >So to help, you grab her by the waist and pull her close. >The mere gesture seems to catch her out of breath. >Your own was stolen long ago. “I’m wasted by the way she moves!” >A step back and two forth, you enter a more classical style of flamenco. “She moves!” >Her awkward steps melt away into a slithering poise full of strength. >Your legs cross the dance floor, and you realize that hers seem to go on forever. “No one ever looked so fine!” >Balancing the mic with your right hand, you catch up to Twilight and drape your arm around her waist. >With a decisive knee, you bend her backwards, catching a flash of alarm in her eyes. >But you hold strong. >So close that you can smell something mixing with her perspiration. >It drives you mad. “She reminds me that a woman only got one thing on her mind!” >As you pull her back up, you get a whiff of chemicals, chlorine and something much more primal. >Deep violet hair veils you and you feel the frantic beating of her heart near to your chest. >As you let go, she seems unwilling to go. >But since the rhythm demands, she stumbles back into the ring like she was drunk off her mind. >Like she probably is. “Talk to me!” >Your finger calls for your next dance partner, and Sonata doesn’t need another incentive. “Tell me your name.” >She immediately jumps you, throwing her arms around your neck. >For some reason her lower body is almost glued to yours. “I’m just a link in your daisy chain.” >You both swing from side to side as you descend lower. >When you reach the bottom, you can taste the sea-salt. >Something between you two is burning. “Your rap sounds like a diamond.” >Gone is the innocence that’s natural to her. >The Sonata before you reminds you of a predator. “Map to the stars!” >Even your foggy mind realizes that the way her thigh brushes against your groin is no accident. >Neither is that sultry smile that approaches you. >The temperature has shot through the roof. “Yeah, baby!” >Before you explode, you push her back, gasping for breath. >Immediately you feel a lithe back touch against yours. >Sunny Flare has her arms up, fingers caressing the back of your neck. “Talk to me!” >She arches her back and you can feel a soft touch. >Her lips nibble the skin beneath your chin. >Electric jolt runs through your spine. “Tell me the news!” >Before you can stop it, your free hand is running past her skirt. >Her soft, smooth skin has heated up. “You wear me out like a pair of shoes.” >It burns to touch. >But that burn sends your mind to the overdrive. >You’re an inferno that cannot be quenched. “We’ll dance until the band goes home.” >You no longer can distinguish drunken haze from reality. >Thus you’re unable to tell if the tongue touching your cheek is real. “Then you’re gone.” >But what is real is how she lets out a strange moan. >She sings the outer parts, but in a way that leaves everyone in the room with a flushed face. “Yeah, baby.” >And with that, she whisks away back into the circle. >Like she was never there. >The sensation of loss is quickly replaced when you see a flash of blue. >Trixie stands before you, throwing her hair back, along with her hoodie. >What lies beneath is a form-fitting tank top that reveals just what magnificent curves are hiding beneath. “Well if it looks like love,” >You invite her further, striking a pose with your left hand up. >She mirrors it, her chest against yours. “Should be a crime,” >You both move in perfect synchronization. >Body left, right, and then back to slide against each other. “You’d better lock me up for life!” >You take a knee and gaze up at her. >She throws her leg over your shoulder and leans down at you. >Together you sing the lead-up of the bridge. >But the only thing you can think of is how her breath tickles you as your foreheads touch. “I’ll do the time with a smile on my face!” >Her index finger lifts up your chin. >You need no words to communicate. >Things are way beyond that. >So as you rise up, she somersaults backwards. “Thinking of her in her leather and lace!” >Her weightless body ends up in your arms. >You don’t want to put her down. >The urge to do something else swells inside you. >But as if she knows that, Trixie slides out of your reach, brushing her face against yours for a goodbye. “And she bangs, she bangs!” >You switch the mic to your left hand, throwing your right hand and index finger towards the ceiling. >Lemon Zest powerslides next to you, her form almost shining in your eyes. >The brakes are long gone. “Oh baby, when she moves!” >That’s why you don’t feel strange lifting her up with one arm and letting her cling to said arm. “She moves!” >You can’t even remember why you were annoyed by her close presence earlier. >Now her ass grinding against you feels only natural. “I go crazy ‘cause she looks like a flower but she stings like a bee!” >You let your fingers run through her hair, enjoying the fragrance of citrus. >Those amber eyes looking up at you draw you, refusing to let go. >Sweat mixes with sweat as she practically melts into you. “Like every girl in history!” >At the very last moment you push her away, gasping for air. >You almost did something there. >Your dry lips almost betrayed you. >But something at the back of your head warned you. >You try to focus on the song, though the lyrics sound so far away now. “She bangs, she bangs!” >Your one warning is an excited yell. >Lightning Dust jumps at you, and you extend your arm, catching her. >In that 360 degree spin, she manages to hook her legs around your back. “I’m wasted by the way she moves!” >She bends backwards until her head almost touches the floor. “She moves!” >The bridge before you grants a view you’d never thought possible. >The mere sight is enough to send an animalistic reaction through you, heading downstairs. >The grin on Dust’s face tells you she can feel it. “No one ever looked so fine!” >You quickly pull her back you, trying to mask your excitement. >The only reward you get is a smile that promises so much. >So much it almost makes you fumble your words. >Or maybe it’s her teeth gently touching your earlobe. “She reminds me that a woman only got one thing on her mind!” >That’s almost too much. >You pry Lightning Dust off of you before you do something you’ll regret, in front of all of your allies. >No, friends. >She separates from you begrudgingly. She walks backwards to the rhythm, arms spreads wide as if telling you it’s okay. >No. You can’t let it be okay. >Not now. >If she gives you the go, you’re no longer responsible for what happens. >Focus on the song, Anon. >Pour what you feel into the lyrics. >Pour that white-hot blood now running through your veins into something that you won’t regret in the morning. “Well if Lady Luck gets on my side,” >You’re almost on the home stretch. >If you get through this, it’s just the chorus. >Just reign in those base instincts. “We’re gonna rock this town alive!” >Deliberately you keep moving so that nobody can join in on your dance. >You throw your jacket to the corner as you keep moving, legs and arms disappearing into a flurry of flamenco. >Your left hand taps the rhythm as your shoes strike the beat. “I’ll let her rough me up,” >You spin around, bringing your knee up. “Till she knocks me out,” >Same leg crashes downwards and you hear and impressed gasp from the people around you. >Too bad it’s not because of how you channel your urges into this desperate attempt to cool yourself off. “Cause she walks like she talks,” >It’s because now, before you, stands all 5’1 of burning eyes and copper hair. “And she talks like she walks!” >As the horns of the song reach their apex, you realize your mistake. >Adagio’s eyes aren’t on fire. “... oh crap.” >They’re *smoldering*. >Before you know it, you’re being forced back by a girl half your height. >Her hands are draped around your neck, mischievous smile rising to those lips. >To your horror, you can’t even retreat. >The unbroken circle of onlookers is there to prevent that. >Thus, you have no choice but to raise your microphone to your trembling lips. >Just few inches from you is a pair of raspberry orbs, hungering, yearning. >Rest of that tiny body is lodged against you. >Moving slightly up and down, hoping for a reaction. “And she bangs, she bangs!” >No. >This is it. >She expects you to lose to her. >Once again, Adagio is trying to assert her will over yours and win. >You won’t back down. >Liquid courage in your veins screams for you to strike back. >And you do. >First by scooping her up by the ass and lifting her up. >Second, by continuing to sing. “Oh baby, when she moves!” >Adagio gasps in a way you’ve never heard before. >Her hold of you tightens, and those nails dig a bit to your back. “She moves!” >You see a glint. >A question in her eyes. >She wants to know if she can trust you. >You answers by spinning around, letting go of her right leg and then moving backwards so that foot drags across the floor. >Tango 101. >It’s a cliche, but it takes two to do it. “I go crazy cause she looks like a flower,” >As you two move around, Adagio’s hair seems to fill your entire vision. >At the same time, her left hand lets go of your back and intertwines its fingers with your right hand. >Almost like that soft, soothing palm was meant to fit with your coarse one. >You brush your nose against her forehead, and she giggles. “But she stings like a bee!” >Are those words a confession or an accusation? >Either way, you whisper them to her in a husky tone, making her push her face into your neck to suppress something. “Like every woman in history!” >You know there’s few more lyrics. >But you no longer care. >So, leaving the last parts to the crowd around you, you drop the mic and throw your hand around Adagio’s waist. >Your feet move before you know it, hers matching yours perfectly. >Left, right, left forward. >Right and left to the side. >”Anon.” >Out-of-breath voice. >First time she’s called you that. >You extend your right leg far and bend forward. >Gracefully, you dip Adagio backwards. >She responds to your unspoken gesture by curling her left leg and letting her right hand hang free. >The Poof hovers above the floor as you two lose yourselves into each other’s eyes. >Your head fills with her arousal. >Hers with yours. >And thus you bury yourself into that awaiting copper. >Remembering nothing more of the night that follows.