Made For This
Once upon a time, on Homeworld, there were two gems.
They were not made for each other. Their meeting was pure coincidence; a chance arrangement that could easily have been avoided.
Yet, it happened, and they were ever grateful for it after.
Onyx was a fighter. Not for war, but for sport, to entertain the upper classes in long, spirited arena battles, where the losing gem was said to be shattered each time; though this was untrue, as they simply reformed in an altered uniform and begun their career anew. Homeworld wasn’t going to waste its fighters.
Pearl was made for a Morganite, and served quietly at her side for decades.
One day, Pearl’s Morganite was shattered in a chance accident. Pearl would have been harvested, if it weren’t for a Hematite requesting a Pearl as a prize for the next tournament.
Pearl stood on a hovering platform, with barely enough room to stand, over the center of the arena. She was protected from the chaos of the battle below by a kinetic field; but that didn’t stop her from watching.
There were many Onyxes who came onto the field; but one, with her gem on her left cheek, surpassed every one of them in strength, speed, and skill.
Pearl watched, fascinated, as this Onyx defeated every one of her opponents, not once summoning her weapon.
There was another Onyx in that tournament who could match her. With her gem on the back of her hand, this Onyx fought with a hammer, and she was seemingly unstoppable, tearing through her opponents like paper.
When the time came for the final match, these two were against each other. Pearl favored the first Onyx- she moved with speed and grace, while the other seemed to swing wildly, and was merely lucky that most of her shots connected.
The match began, and at first, it seemed as if the second Onyx were winning. The first Onyx was constantly retreating, dodging, on the defensive; and watching, Pearl noted, watching her opponent.
Onyx reached to her gem, summoning her weapon. At first Pearl couldn’t see it- then she realised it was a long strand of impossibly thin string, one end in each of Onyx’s hands.
She leapt over the next swing of the hammer, and cast one end of the string, which stuck to the handle. She vaulted over her opponent’s shoulder, wrapped the string around her neck, hit the ground running and pulled the string taut. The hammer snapped up to hit its owner in the face, while simultaneously the string severed her head at the neck.
The crowd went wild.
Onyx won the tournament, and so she won a Pearl.
“First off,” Onyx said to Pearl as soon as the ceremony was over, “don’t you dare do any of that formal stuff with me, you got it? Just call me Onyx, or come up with a nickname if you like, I don’t care. Don’t get into trouble, and you can do whatever you want.”
“Yes, My… I mean, yes, Onyx,” Pearl said.
Onyx smiled. “Well, that’s a good start.”
Onyx showed Pearl around the backstage of the arena- the large training area, and the cubbies where the gems rested. Onyx, as champion, had a cubby on ground level, close to the door. Pearl was to stay there while she trained.
For days, Pearl sat and watched as Onyx trained, sparring against other Onyxes, including the one she’d beaten in the tournament. They laughed together, playful banter accompanying their sparring matches. These gems were not the battle-hardened gems Pearl had expected; they were a family, full of goofy sisters having fun. They were not warriors, in truth; they were actors, playing the role of warriors.
Except for her Onyx.
She was a true warrior. She laughed and played with the others, true, but she’d also spend hours by herself, drilling the same technique over and over again, honing her skills far beyond any of her sisters.
Pearl overheard a conversation, a few days into her residency;
“Yo 4L1, you gonna get in on this?” an onyx with her gem on her thigh asked.
“Nah, I’ll just go practice on my own,” Pearl’s onyx said.
“Suit yourself,” the first onyx shrugged. “Dunno why you bother, anyway.”
“You never know,” was all Onyx said before retreating to her corner and starting her drill set again.
As Pearl studied her from afar, she began subconsciously tapping her finger on the stone floor. There was a rhythm to Onyx’s movement- precise timing, down to the millisecond. Almost like dancing.
“Well,” Onyx said as she finally sat down in her cubby after days of work, “what do you think?”
“About what?” Pearl asked, confused.
“Everything,” Onyx gestured widely. “This place, these people. I know you watch, so I want to know what you think.”
“Pearls don’t think,” she said automatically.
“Shut up. I know that’s not true,” Onyx said. “So tell me.”
“Well,” Pearl began, “you’re all very different than I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
Pearl considered for a moment.
“I think I expected soldiers.”
“Hah, we sure ain’t that,” Onyx laughed. “Fighters, sure, but not soldiers. Wouldn’t be interesting if we were.”
“Not soldiers,” Pearl agreed. “The others don’t come close. But you…”
“What about me?” Onyx raised an eyebrow.
“You stand apart from the crowd. You act like a warrior.”
Onyx smiled. “Sure you’re not just saying that ’cause you’re my pearl?”
“I believe you told me to refrain from such things.”
“Heck yeah I did,” Onyx said. She lay down, stretching her feet to the back of the cubby. “Imma sleep now. See ya in a cycle.”
So Pearl patiently waited as Onyx slept.
“Onyx,” Pearl asked when she woke up, “could you show me your weapon?”
Onyx smiled, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
“Sure, if you wanna see it,” she said. She reached up to her gem and summoned a small length of string, nearly invisible unless the light hit it just right.
“I’ve never seen any like it,” Pearl said, reaching out unconsciously. Onyx handed the string to her, and she marveled at its lightness, and strength.
“I thought it was garbage the first time I summoned,” Onyx said. “But now I think it’s pretty cool.”
“How you fought with it was amazing,” Pearl said, and handed the string back to Onyx. “how did you learn to do that?”
Onyx shrugged. “Lots of practice, and watching the older gems here. 4k9 has a whip, and it’s not too different.”
“But you fight very differently from her,” Pearl said. “I watched. You don’t stop to take a break for days on end. You keep trying the same things over and over again, until you get it right. You’re dedicated.”
“I guess so,” Onyx said. “Old habit, really.”
“I don’t think so,” Pearl said. “Old habits die hard, but they do die. You want to improve. You’re driven to succeed. Why?”
Onyx chuckled. “Fourth day on the job and you’re already asking the hard questions. I like you.”
“Well?” Pearl asked, shifting her weight to her back foot and crossing her arms.
“I think it’s because no one else does it,” Onyx said. “I feel like I always need to be the best, because that’s just what I do. But I’m also frustrated, since no one else really comes close, and I can never get a challenge. So I make my own challenges, by training, and that just exacerbates the problem.”
“It seems to be a positive feedback loop,” Pearl said.
“In a sense, sure,” Onyx said. “Speaking of which, I ought to get to it.”
“Go on, then,” Pearl said with a smile. She sat down against the wall, and watched as Onyx went to join the current round of sparring, before retreating to her corner once again to train.
Pearl hummed softly to herself as she watched, her eyes unfocused, unconsciously following Onyx’s movements without really taking them in. There was a harmony to the repetitive motions, and even when she failed, Onyx always waited for a perfect moment to re-enter the dance; whether she knew it or not.
The song Pearl hummed was ancient, its origin long forgotten. It was passed down between pearls, in what quiet moments they could snatch together. The song was different from Homeworld’s usual anthems, but similar enough not to draw attention if a pearl were to hum it while working. Its tune was in a familiar key, but the melody was fast, upbeat, reminiscent of battles fought in the past; as if the pearl were the one wielding the blade.
“Onyx,” Pearl asked once onyx had returned to rest, “may I give you a nickname?”
“I did say nicknames were encouraged,” Onyx said. “So long as you don’t copy any of the dozen I already have.”
Of course, that made Pearl curious. “What are they.”
“Oh stars. Let’s see here…” Onyx began counting them off on her fingers. “Moody, Star, Tripwire, Slinky, Lonely, Tap, and Queen, to name a few.”
Pearl blinked. “Those are very diverse.”
“Yet all of them are me!” Onyx said.
“Well,” Pearl continued, “I would like to call you String, after your weapon.”
“I think I heard that one a few decades back,” Onyx said, “but no one besides 5I0 would use it. So sure, go ahead.”
Pearl smiled. “Thank you, String.”
A few months in, Pearl heard a strangely familiar voice beside her.
“Goodness, won’t you at least stand properly?”
Pearl looked up to find another pearl looking down at her. She was just barely tinted blue, with her gem on her chest.
“I mean really, it’s bad enough that you’re stuck serving an Onyx, you should at least pretend to have some dignity,” the pearl continued.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve met you,” Pearl said, standing.
“Oh, you haven’t,” the pearl said. “I’m Hematite’s pearl. She runs this whole place.”
“I’m aware,” Pearl said. She mentally nicknamed the pearl Teal, for her coloration.
“You’ll meet her soon enough,” Teal said. “So, what’s it like being stuck in here with the onyxes?” Pearl shrugged. “Not bad. I like watching them train. String- I mean, Onyx 4L1, trains over there.” she pointed.
“Hmm. Bit boring, if you ask me,” Teal said. “I’d much rather have something to do with my time.”
“Well, we agree on that at least,” Pearl said, beginning to get a bit fed up. “But I find their training to be quite fascinating. My onyx in particular almost seems to be dancing.”
“Please. There’s nothing elegant about their mindless battles,” Teal said. “I’ll see you soon, Pearl.”
“You as well, Pearl,” Pearl said, automatically. Then Teal was gone.
“She’s a snob, ain’t she?” String said almost as soon as Teal had left.
“A bit, yes,” Pearl said. “But I have a feeling she can’t help it.”
“Yeah, Hematite’s ten times worse,” String admitted. “Hopefully you won’t have to deal with her too much.”
“I certainly hope so,” Pearl said.
For a moment, weighted silence hung in the air.
“String,” Pearl said, “are there any security devices in this room?”
“Nope,” String said, “not one. Believe me, I know.”
“We set the place on fire about a year ago, and Hematite didn’t even send her pearl to check.”
“Okay then,” Pearl said, barely restraining her laughter. “No security.”
“My turn to ask a question,” String said. “Why do you want to know?”
Pearl held up one finger. “One more question first. How much do you trust the other onyxes?”
“I’d trust them with my life,” String said immediately.
“What about with a secret?”
“Easy peasy,” String assured her. “6B3 and 8T9 swapped places for two years and Hematite never found out.”
Pearl smiled. “Then… do you think I could learn to fight?”
String’s jaw dropped.
“Seriously?” Her eyes lit up. “You want to?”
“If I can,” Pearl said. “I want to… have something to do.”
The old tune floated through her mind.
“Yes! Absolutely! 100%!” String said. “You’re gonna be the best fighter Homeworld has ever seen, just you wait!”
“No,” Pearl said, “I won’t, not as long as you’re alive to keep that title.”
String laughed. “We’ll see. Someday the student may surpass the teacher!” “A very long time from now, maybe,” Pearl conceded.
The next day, the combat lessons began.