Shattering the Competition
Corona had breathed a sigh with the very first step she took into the arena; the incredible sunshine they were getting meant that there was a distinct lack of moisture in the air, and that made her life just a little bit more difficult.
‘Well,’ she thought, ‘at least the battle might last a little longer. It would be such a pity to be labelled a spoilsport on the first day of my reign.’ But as they walked across the arena and she thought through it some more, she decided that it was a useful occurrence. A victory here with minimal use of her power would make the yellow Shard and the House of Topaz happy; she’d noticed that they showed less respect to Diamonds who relied more on special abilities than brute force and weapon skill. But she was more than capable of providing on all three fronts, so if basic combat was what they wanted, then today —just today, because circumstance happened to be in that mood — she could oblige.
So when the empress gave them permission to summon their weapons, instead of having her twin blades materialise on the soles of her shoes as usual, she had them appear parallel to her forearms, secured in place with the special sleeves that she’d conceived specifically for conditions like today’s.
She lengthened the blades, grinning behind her mask as she did so: the spectators just didn’t know how lucky they were to be seeing her alter her fighting style like this...
The arrow exploded above them, and she turned to address the diamond closest to her.
As they were sizing each other up, Corona noticed something move far below them. With rapidly increasing speed, the two discs that now made up the arena floor had begun to spin in opposite directions. Their whirring soon grew louder than the shouting of the crowd, and then drowned them out completely as it escalated into a loud, angry buzzing.
The diamond made a dash at her, apparently thinking she was distracted, but she wasn’t. She raised her right arm to block the thrust of the sword, turning to the left as she did so. The sword slid through the thin gap between Corona’s blade and the sleeve it was fixed to, and her twisting motion pulled the diamond and her sword towards her in an unintended stumble. As the diamond began to tumble past her she thrust the blade on her left arm towards her, skewering the very surprised Gem through the chest with a pain filled ”HYACK!"
The diamond disappeared in a glittering puff, and her clothes crumpled to the floor. ‘How irritating,’ Corona thought to herself. She was going to have to find the gem of the Gem she’d just proofed and she had to do it quickly, or else her first move would’ve been as redundant as it was skilful.
Just as she grasped the gem from somewhere inside the shirt, a glimmer in the corner of her eye made her throw herself forward onto the sloped floor. She rolled to the side not a moment too soon, because there was a ′thunk′ as a knife embedded in the ground where she had just been lying. She managed to block the third and fourth knives with her own blades, but she knew she wasn’t going to be alive for long unless she closed the distance between them.
Quickly thinking about what she had to hand, she spun out of the way of yet another knife, wincing as it slashed across her arm and back. Before the diamond could throw the sixth, Corona hurled the first diamond’s gem at her, hitting her hard where her cheek would be if not for her mask. The distraction lasted just long enough for Corona to sprint at her and tackle her to the ground, her newest projectile clattering to the floor. They rolled multiple times to the edge of the spiral, where the knife thrower ended up on top. She scrambled into a sitting position and summoned a new knife: just as she started to lower the blade, aiming for her opponent’s chest, Corona seized the opening and swept her arm across the diamonds midriff, cutting her deeply.
Apart from a gasp of pain the diamond never had the chance to react, because Corona put all of her energy into a huge shove, throwing the diamond off of her and over the edge of the spiral. She gave the area a quick scan and, seeing no immediate threats, had a look for the gem she’d thrown; it was nowhere to be seen, so she assumed that it had fallen off the spiral after hitting the second diamond. Peering over the edge, she saw the final moments of the knife thrower: arms flailing, desperately seeking something to hang onto. It was a futile exercise as she was too far away from the spiral, and then came the inevitable pulse of bright light signifying the shattering of her gem.
‘Corona two, team inferior; nil.’ she said smugly to herself, flopping onto her back for a moment of rest.
Pavilion was impressed with the diamond that had started at the top of the spiral: she had managed to dispatch her first opponent inside ten seconds of the starting explosion, and then maybe a minute later, she had sent the second falling to her death. But she was also impressed with another diamond exactly one loop below; this one wielded some kind of spear to a truly lethal degree. She had already shattered three that Pavilion had counted, and was now engaged in a three on one battle with a group that had decided to work together to put an end to her.
Stepping from under the shadow of the loop above she managed to disarm one of the three, and knock the one next to her on her back. She pointed her spear at the floor above, and an ear-splitting crack resounded around the stadium as a jagged line of teal-coloured lightning erupted from the end of it.
Corona was just about to get up and pick her next victim when she felt something punch against the ground nearby with explosive force; she rolled onto her front and hopped into a crouch, just in time to witness the completion of a thick line being carved into the floor by some bright light. The next thing she heard was a deafening ’SNAP’ as the section of the spiral that she was standing on gave way and started to fall through the air.
The impact with the floor below was enough to knock her onto her off her feet and onto her front again; slightly dazed, she watched as a diamond with a trident simultaneously engaged two adversaries. She was fast: Corona was slightly surprised by how easy she made fighting multiple opponents look, turning from one to the other to parry and then jab whenever there was the slightest room to. Her movements were a blur, switching between the two of them as though they were moving in slow motion.
Then she realised that the one with the trident was playing with them.
The word was that there was an energy manipulator among their aspirants this Refacetting; one that could take in the energy of physical contact and store it in her gem. Some of the others had spent days devising a strategy for neutralizing her before she became an unmanageable problem, and she’d joined them; then it hit her that she had been gifted with the perfect solution. Now that she was here in front of her, it was time to get close enough to do what only she could do.
The one with the trident had shattered one of the three she was fighting by causing a section of the spiral to fall on her.
’That was unexpected.’ was all Pavilion could think.
But the trident user obviously hadn’t counted on anyone being on the slab that had fallen, because she didn’t appear to be aware of the diamond carefully inching her way towards her…
She wondered how this was going to end: the one that had started at the top of the spiral was quick, but the one with the trident seemed to get faster every second she spent fighting (and apparently she could shoot lightning out of her weapon too). She was certain that one of them was going to win; she just couldn’t tell which one yet.
It couldn’t be possible, but the one with the trident was taking her outpacing of the two in front of her to new heights… and her trident was starting to glow. Corona didn’t know exactly what that meant, but if it had anything to do with her sudden relocation, then it was something to stop, as soon as possible. She stopped creeping towards the distracted diamond and broke into a run. When she was a short distance away, the one with the trident whipped her head around, pausing in surprise for a moment at seeing Corona sprint towards her; she turned back to the two she was fighting and took a step forward, impaling the one on the left with her trident. Without bothering to deal with the destabilised diamond’s Gem, her own weapon, or the diamond on the right, she span back around and charged at Corona, taking off with a crackle of electricity.
Anticipating where the diamond would be, Corona slowed down and slashed diagonally, glancing her neck with her right-arm blade. The literal shock she received from the contact made her cry out: it was like being hit with a military grade destabilizer, but without the dispersion of body that came with it. The diamond felt at her neck, and turned around to face Corona. She strode purposefully towards her, and when she was close enough Corona went for another slash, only to have her arm deflected with a hard upwards strike from the diamond. With her other hand, she grabbed Corona’s throat; the shock this time a hundred times worse: she felt like her body was on fire.
She remained calm though; after all, physical contact was necessary for the execution of her plan (though she would’ve preferred to be in the dominant position herself… but she could deal with setbacks). Placing her hands on the arm of the diamond, she began to use her own power.
Pavilion was enthralled by what happened next: the shorter diamond had the taller one by the neck, and the taller one was obviously trying to make her let go because she had her hands on her arm. For a short time the pair simply stood there, holding onto each other — then the taller one straightened up, and the shorter one looked like she was trying to get away from her; jerking her arm backwards in a panicked fashion. She managed to get free and summon her trident, but she wasn’t fast enough to use it: the taller one stepped forward and… hugged her?
The burning feeling had intensified when Corona had started trying to freeze the diamond. They both knew what being overwhelmed by the other meant, and the two masked faces stared at each other: one scowling hatefully, the other smirking. But she had held on, steadily dissipating all the energy that her foe was trying to overload her with, and eventually the diamond had no excess energy to attack with. By the time she wrenched herself free it was too late; Corona simply stepped towards her and embraced her: gradually the diamond got colder and colder, until she stopped squirming — becoming a motionless, frozen statue.
With one hand Corona pushed the statue, sending a second Gem off the edge of the spiral to an unceremonious shattering.
‘And then there were two.’ she said, looking down a couple of loops at her final adversary…
Corona looked down at the gem in her hand. It was beautiful: totally colourless, perfectly faceted… flawless, just like hers. It almost made her feel bad about having to shatter it.
She gripped the large diamond tighter and allowed the cold to flow out of her, into the gem. As its temperature dropped she could feel the changes in its physical structure, and when it was time she violently clenched her fist. With a discordant ring and a short flash of white light, the gem crumbled into grains and shards.
A boom from above made her look up, ‘the explosion… my explosion… I am the new White Diamond… And rightly so: who better for the title than me?’
The buzz of the arena floor subsided and once again she heard the roar of the crowd.
“Di - mond! Di - mond! Di - mond!-” they chanted. She laughed: they didn’t know her name yet, but they soon would…
When the arena floor had reverted to its original state and Corona was back on its flat surface, White Diamond stood up.
“White Shard aspirant; you have fulfilled all of the conditions that we have set out for you, and we are now able to accept your proposal to join our ranks. Please, step forward.”
Corona did. As she crossed the arena, the icon on the floor changed to a white triangle on a green background, and the steps to the seating area folded out of the first segment again.
“You may take off your mask.” White Diamond told her as Corona kneeled in front of her. With one hand she held her badly scratched mask to her face, and with a finger on the other she gently stroked the clasp that held it in place. With the whir of micromachinery, the mask loosened and she gently pulled it from her face; the empress gazed on the face of her successor for the first time:
Her face had an inverted triangular shape with sharp, well defined edges, and her lips and her round nose were thin. All at the same time her face managed to be innocent, serious and full of humour. Between her blue, almond-shaped eyes and deceptively cute and playful expression, White Diamond found her appearance quite captivating.
As pretty as she was, her hair was a dishevelled mess: a tangle of blonde with brown streaks, tied in a bun of questionable stability; she also looked like people with swords had been trying to kill her, such was the shredded state of her clothing.
The diamond smiled at her; it was a smile the people would trust. ‘Good.’ White Diamond thought, the ability to charm the public was something the white Shard was known for; naturally she had wanted a successor who would follow the trend.
“Diamond, what is your simplified name?” she asked.
“Corona the Flawless, Empress.”
“A fine name, Corona; for a fine Gem. May you continue to live up to it.” she said, laughing.
“Thank you, Empress.”
“I would love to converse with you at length, but my fellow Diamonds also need successors. We will share a few words later, but for now there is business to attend to. There is a seat for you behind us, so get comfortable and enjoy the rest of the ceremony.”
“Thank you, Empress.” said Corona, sauntering off to find her place.
The white Shard liked its traps, the blue Shard embraced the natural creativity of its aspirants, but the yellow Shard only ever opted for a fight in the simplest sense of the word:
“The first explosion signifies the beginning, and the second explosion signifies the end: in between, you will fight to the death. The last Gem standing will join the Triumvirate; no such privilege will be afforded to any Gem who wins through shapeshifting or additional magic, because our Shard does not allow the use of shapeshifting or additional magic.” Yellow Diamond said very clearly in her sonorous, moderately accented speech.
Pavilion looked up at her as she spoke, feeling a sense of pride at the way her Shard’s representative commanded the crowd’s attention, and also at being a yellow diamond herself; standing among the finest of their variety and colour. She smiled when the only change to the arena was the switching of the design on the floor to the outline of a large yellow triangle on a black background. They were to fight on a flat surface with only their weapons to help them.
‘Perfect.’ she thought. Though she appreciated the artistry and added challenges that the white and blue arenas held, she much preferred how the yellow Shard did things. White Diamond was right, this was a test to see who would lead, and the conditions of their battle made for the simplest selection process possible.
For once, she could focus all her attention on the enemy…
‘Well… enemies.’ she said too herself with a grin.
“Aspirants! Summon your weapons!” ordered Yellow Diamond.
Pavilion’s smile disappeared, replaced by an unseen look of cold determination. From the emerald cut diamond embedded just below the line of her waist, she brought forth her sword: a wide, perfectly rectangular blade, maybe two thirds of her height, sharpened the whole length along on every edge except the one that connected it to its long hilt. It was a heavy blade; she’d crafted it to cut through even the most heavily armoured targets.
She didn’t bother looking at whoever was going to shoot the arrow, the explosion was going to go off no matter what, and she had twenty three opponents to be mindful of. She adjusted the grip on her sword.
This was it.
The thunderclap of the exploding arrow threw the yellow diamonds into action.
The battle was in constant motion, fluidly switching between one-on-one showdowns, impromptu teams and pairings battling each other, to large scale fights involving all the diamonds in the arena. It was a glorious mess; the individual skill of everybody present meant that every diamond had to adapt to whoever they were fighting, and to how they were moving (or being forced to move) relative to the movement of every other Gem in the arena. If that meant leaving one battle to engage in another, that’s what they did.
All things considered Corona thought it made for a terribly dull match, and wished for a mirror. What she got instead was a development in the fight, as something went whirling across the arena with a faint yellow trail, hitting no less than three Gems in the process.
‘This is taking too long…’ Pavilion thought. She surveyed the field and decided that something drastic needed to happen, or else the fight was never going to end. That was seconds before she’d twisted her body around and hurled her sword straight through the middle of the arena:
Diamond number eight had skillfully sidestepped a downwards strike from diamond number fifteen, but in avoiding one danger she had unwittingly stepped into the path of another, and was taken off her feet and dissipated by an inexplicable flying object (much to the amusement and relief of number fifteen).
Diamond number three was running towards diamonds number sixteen and twenty, having just shattered number eleven. Expecting the expected, she hadn’t even thought to check for something like Pavilion’s sword, and was shattered instantaneously as it passed through her upper body, ejecting the shards of her gem from the contact in a sparkling spray.
Diamonds seventeen and six were in a duel when number two stampeded through them: seventeen had noticed her at the last second and dived out of the way, but six was not so lucky and was sent flying by a backhand strike from the monstrous Gem. Surprised to still be alive, six had started to get up as the sword left Pavilion’s hand, and was in the worst position when it reached her. The flight path of the airborne blade was completely unaffected when it struck her, sending her spinning to the floor with a substantial chunk of her head missing. She withdrew to her gem as she hit the ground.
Pavilion’s move didn’t have quite the game changing effect that she’d hoped for, but she’d seen a couple clouds of smoke and at least one shattering, so it wasn’t totally pointless.
Unless you were caught unaware in its path, or failed to get out of the way in time, then there was no way that you would miss the yellow trail that her sword left as it cut through the air. As such, a diamond straight in front of her (who’s opponent had mysteriously vanished before her eyes) and another to her left focused their attention on Pavilion, weapons at the ready. With a glow her sword was back in her hands and she took an offensive stance, equally ready to take down the misguided Gems.
‘If only they knew.’ she thought to herself.
“HYAHH!” Pavilion yelled; her diagonal cleave had the desired effect, snapping the sword of the diamond who had attempted to block the attack. Her blade went straight through the shoulder and partway through the chest of her screaming opponent before her form dispersed. Wasting no time, Pavilion raised her sword past her right shoulder and brought it down on the yellow gem that had rolled out of the bodysuit, splitting it cleanly in half with a visible flash.
As soon as she had brought her sword back to a more practical position, another target skidded to a stop just in front of her. The unfortunate diamond clutched her chest, writhing on the ground in obvious agony before falling still: in a ’poof!’ her body was gone, and her irreparably fractured gem disintegrated. Just in time, Pavilion realised that to be sliding across the floor like that the diamond must have been thrown or hit by something very large. Sure enough, stomping towards her with alarming speed was the burliest Gem she had ever laid eyes on.
Never one to run from a challenge, she dissipated her sword and planted her feet, ready to meet her gargantuan attacker. As the diamond made the last few steps, she extended her arm to punch Pavilion in the head with a huge studded glove. When she was too close to change hr mind about the attack, Pavilion summoned her weapon again; with two hands firmly on the handle, she thrust the sword at the diamond as hard as she could.
With all her momentum, the big diamond was never going to be stopped by Pavilion’s attack; but that didn’t matter, because Pavilion wasn’t trying to stop her as such. The diamond hit her with almost as much force as intended, violently smacking her to the ground and creating a person sized dent in the floor.
Her face hurt.
Her eyes hurt.
Her back hurt.
Her head hurt.
The pain washed over her in waves, and she started to wish that she’d thought of a different idea until she heard a bellow somewhere behind her. Now was not the time to complain; while she could still fight, she had to fight; as long as she wasn’t dead, she had to work until she heard that second explosion. From the blow and her subsequent meeting with the floor, her mask was completely broken, falling away from her face as she stood up. When she turned around, she saw the source of the bellow:
The diamond that had so expertly demonstrated how to punch someone in the face, was in the process of pulling Pavilion’s sword out of her chest; roaring angrily when she caught sight of the smaller Gem. Ready to take her revenge, she grasped the blade with her gloved hand and pulled the final length of the weapon out of her body, dropping it to the floor with a metallic ’clang’. She began to walk towards her.
Pavilion brought her hands together and her sword reappeared in her grip, just as the diamond broke into a run. Before she managed three steps she stumbled, almost falling over. Seeing her chance to end the battle, Pavilion ran at lumbering Gem with her sword held behind her: with a swift upwards strike she sliced a line all the way up the front of the Gem, making her head snap back when the blade hit her chin.
It was the diamond’s turn to land on her back.
As she stood in front of the defeated Gem, Pavilion noticed a twinkling in her hand. Realising what Pavilion had seen, the diamond clenched her fist in a final (useless) effort to protect her gem, summoning her studded glove over the top as a barrier.
She could have cut off the diamonds arm or hand and then dealt with the gem, but the well-built diamond had managed to bring out the worst in her. In a rare moment of overwhelming anger, she lifted her sword over her head and slammed the corner down on the balled fist, hard enough to pierce through it, shatter the gem and lodge her blade into the arena floor.
The arrow exploded, partially obscuring her view of the Triumvirate with a shower of yellow sparks.
Looking around, Pavilion saw no Gems: only masks, bodysuits, fragments of yellow diamond, and one totally wrecked arena.
‘And so begins my era. There is nothing left to say, there is nothing left to prove. There are just the next thousand years, and what I chose do with them. This is our victory, Gems. Celebrate with me.’
She closed her eyes and listened to the crowd as they cheered:
“Di - mond! Di - mond! Di - mond! Di - mond! Di - mond! Di -mo…”
Then they stopped, and Yellow Diamond spoke.
“Yellow Shard aspirant; we laid out the conditions, and you have fulfilled them. We find your proposal to enter the Triumvirate acceptable, so please, join us here.”
At the top of the stairs, Yellow Diamond stood waiting for her in all her glory. The black pinstriped suit jacket she wore was well filled out by her sturdy frame, and the matching skirt revealed most of her powerful legs. Her platinum-blonde hair was drawn into a tight ponytail, threaded through a black version of the cylinders that the escort Gems wore in their hair; on top of her head sat a yellow headband, adorned with short spikes and encrusted with yellow diamonds. The thin gold lines that decorated the suit went well with her watchful, deep green eyes, and the high, sharp cheekbones on her oval-shaped face contributed to a grave appearance. But the smile on her thin lips took off some of the intensity.
Pavilion kneeled before her.
“What is your name, Gem? Your short name and chosen title.”
“Pavilion the Fearless, Empress.”
“Ahhh, you are the Fearless One. Your reputation precedes you: my generals have spoken of your actions on more than one occasion; I am glad to have had the chance to see you for myself. You fought most excellently.”
“Thank you, Empress.”
“Arise, Pavilion. For the moment we are equals, you need not kneel in my presence.”
“Thank you, Empress.” she said, getting to her feet.
“The first of your fellows is behind us somewhere, and your seat is near hers. The two of you have a long rule ahead of you, so go now and get acquainted.”
When the Gem had gone to find her seat Yellow Diamond moved to sit on her throne again, smirking triumphantly at White Diamond on the way.
She recognised the Gem in the chair immediately: her hair had fallen out of its bun, but it had the same colour, attached to that same lank, distinctive figure. It was finger-twirl…
As Pavilion approached, the Gem removed her legs from the armrest of the adjacent seat, smiling slyly.
“You certainly took your time getting here; I was beginning to think that I would be here by myself all day.”
“Pleased to meet you too,” Pavilion said wearily, sitting on the left of the white diamond. “My name is Pavilion.” she extended a hand.
“Cor— Oh! I know you! I recognise your eyes, and… stature.” she said, her smile widening. “You’re number twenty four; I met you in the tunnel.”
“We didn’t really meet… but yes, I recognise you as well.”
“Of course you do. My title is ‘the Recognisable’.”
‘The Recognisible? What an odd title.’ she thought to herself.
“I’m only joking,” said the diamond on seeing her puzzled expression, “I, am Corona the Flawless.” she shook Pavilion’s hand: her fingers were long and thin, like the rest of her; and extremely cold.
’Yes… that made a lot more sense.’
“I knew you were different from the moment you threw your sword across the arena. I think that must’ve been the highlight of the battle. Oh! No, the highlight was at the end, when the big one tried to flatten you; so comical.” said Corona with an airy laugh. “But that way you recovered so from it so rapidly… is getting knocked about like that a regular occurrence for you?”
“No. Oddly enough it only tends to happen at special events.”
“Really? Now that is interesting.” Corona said with mock astonishment. “Rather you than me though: I wouldn’t have wanted to fight her. I still would’ve won of course, but not having the added hassle was fortunate.”
“I’m sure it was.”
“I’m not surprised that you’re here, you’re different: any other diamond from your Shard would’ve tried to fight me in that tunnel.”
“Then it seems that you’ve been fortunate in more ways than one today.”
“Indeed it does. Your resilience — especially out of combat — is admirable; I’ve never met a yellow diamond so equable before.”
Corona was beginning to irritate her; she hoped that she’d stop talking soon.
“I only fight when I feel it’s necessary. At other times I prefer to close my mouth, and keep my eyes and ears open.”
“Very wise. Homeworld is lucky to be receiving a leader like you.”
“Thank you.” Pavilion said, not returning the compliment.
Corona meant it though; this yellow diamond was different. She decided that she liked Pavilion: she could take her jesting and even give some back, and she was a yellow diamond! She hoped that their blue counterpart had a sense of humour as well, if so then the next thousand years were going to be a lot of fun…
She stopped talking and went back to watching the ceremony, and the people nearby.
‘I won’t push her too much, not yet. It wouldn’t be fair to commence the fun without our third member present.’ she mused.
Essence was envious and restless, an incredibly unfortunate combination for the nine other blue diamonds taking part in the fourth Refacetting. For what felt like hours she had carefully watched the battles of the other two Shards: the first was more interesting to watch overall, with its magic users and unusual layout, but certain moments of the second were definitely not going to be forgotten anytime soon, and she wished she could’ve been part of that long, crowded contest. The blue Shard’s contribution to the ceremony was going to be the shortest; she would make sure of that…
Whatever reasons the other diamonds had for being in the Ceremony of the Sword were irrelevant: Essence knew that they just weren’t in the same class as her. Not that she underestimated them, but there were blue diamonds, and there was her. The Department of Clarity had pressed the army to discharge her because of what she had proved she could do, because of what she was willing to do, and because of what she was capable of doing; they had wanted to employ her for their own purposes, and with the help of some ‘offers that nobody could refuse’ (coercion), they had succeeded. Her ferocity and skills were virtually unmatched: products of her disjointed youth and extended Period of Wandering. The time spent learning from the rich variety of Gems that Homeworld was home to, was time very well spent.
On her journey through life she had unknowingly completed many of the tasks that a blue Shard aspirant was required complete: it was only because there was no other way to move forward in the direction that she wanted that she had chosen to complete the rest, and now fight to the death for a position in the Triumvirate. Really, if the Authority had just given her the freedom to pursue information as she pleased, then they wouldn’t now be faced with the prospect of her as a leader.
But Homeworld could do with a leader like her. It needed at least one ruler that could do whatever needed to be done — no matter how dark — without a moment’s hesitation.
‘And if they don’t like it,’ she thought, ‘they can be rid of me in a thousand years.’
A thousand years was more than enough time to alter the course of history…
The arena floor had been replaced with an undamaged one, and for the final time the seal of the Authority vanished. The blue Shard aspirants stood in a ring on top of the fourth of six concentric, sand coloured circles on a blue background.
Blue Diamond arose. The noise of the crowd died.
“In a moment an arrow will be fired. It will explode, and that will be your signal to fight. When your trial is at an end, one of you will stand victorious; the victory of that Gem will be declared by the explosion of a second arrow. Do not try to leave the arena before you hear that sound. Lastly, your Shard permits the use of both shapeshifting and any additional magic to aid you in your trial.”
Immediately after she had announced the conditions of the match, a slow and menacing ticking reverberated around the stadium:
“TICK… TICK… TICK… TICK… CLICK!” went some unseen mechanism. Corona imagined the stadium as the centre of some enormous clock…
When whatever it was clicked into place the circles started to slide upwards from the floor, starting from the outermost ring. The resulting structure was a wide, circular step pyramid in the middle of the arena. But the stage was still being set, and apertures opened all around the wall of the arena: there was a rumbling and then a rushing sound as water began to spray out of the holes, quickly covering the bottom of the arena and rising steadily up the bottom tier of the pyramid.
‘Why couldn’t we have had an arena with water in it?’ Corona complained silently. Had the arena been like the blue Shard’s, or the weather not conspired against her, then her outfit would be in much better condition than it currently was…
Just as the water level threatened to wet the feet of the Gems on the fourth tier, the running water came to an abrupt stop and the apertures closed as quickly as they had opened.
Towards the end of the arena’s rearrangement a Gem had walked passed where Pavilion and Corona were seated. She carried the long black case that held the ceremonial bow, but it wasn’t the same person that Pavilion had seen holding it before the white Shard’s battle.
“Corona, do you know who that is?”
“I don’t know exactly, but she looks like a pearl, and I heard that each of the three Diamonds has a pearl as personal assistant.”
“Thanks.” Pavilion replied, not taking her eyes off the Gem.
It would make sense if what Corona had heard was true: the Gem was of the palest white, and had the same lithe build that pearls… that the one pearl she had seen before had. Her gem — an unfaceted white oval — was in the centre of her forehead; it certainly looked like a pearl. She was dressed in a cornflower blue blouse with flat, strappy sandals to match, and very pale pink trousers that ended at the middle of her calves.
When she was closer the pair got a good view of her face: it was oval in shape with wide, pastel blue eyes and a short, pointed nose. Her hair was a noticeable shade of dark orange, arranged in a complicated looking spiral updo. Totally unmissable were the dark blue stud earrings that contrasted both her skin and hair. Despite her serious expression she smiled as she passed, politely tilting her head towards Pavilion and Corona before carrying on to Blue Diamond’s side.
“Aspirants, you may now summon your weapons.” called the bluest member of the Triumvirate.
She extended a hand to the might-be-a-pearl, who aimed and fired her weapon.
The boom of the starting arrow shook the arena.
Essence smiled maniacally. This was what she lived for.
The second she heard the explosion she jumped, launching herself into the air to take advantage of the high ground that was the pyramid’s top tier. She hadn’t even finished her ascent when her first victim came into view. The diamond’s jump wasn’t as high as hers, but she was obviously planning to remain in the air because a large pair of wings was forming on her back; in her hand she carried a bow, and was already pulling her arm back to shoot an arrow. Though she would never know anything about it, the diamond on the third tier had been saved by Essence: also pulling her arm back she aimed and then sent one of her hook swords sailing through the air, hitting the archer in her left wing and making her miss completely.
They both fell back to the ground: Essence rolling forward as she landed, the archer slamming into the ground painfully. She sprang out of her roll and ran towards the crumpled heap that was her opponent; as she reached the archer she swung her right foot forward and kicked her hard in the jaw. Hastily, she patted down the diamond and on finding the gem to the right of her chest, summoned one of her hook swords and drove the shorter end through it.
In the time it had taken her to shatter the archer, someone had climbed to the top of the pyramid and was running towards Essence, who had just stood up. Though Gems favoured a bipedal form, she knew from experience that a quadrupedal body type was also a very useful for some applications, and that it would serve her well right now: she assumed a digitigrade form, fairly low to the ground, with an elongated muzzle with far too many sharp teeth. It was a crude imitation of something she had seen before (probably), but she was going for performance, not physical accuracy. The diamond actually stopped as Essence galloped towards her, petrified as the… thing, raced towards her.
She pounced on the Gem, trapping her underneath her increased bulk. Essence roared for good measure, and then went to the task of tearing the shrieking diamond apart with her teeth. After a well-placed bite to the neck (and head, and upper body… such was the shape of her new mouth) the diamond retreated to her Gem; Essence reformed one of her paws into a hammer, and brought it crashing down on the gem before regaining her default form.
“Did you see that thing!” a shocked Corona asked Pavilion.
“I did.” was the simple reply.
“That has got to be against the rules… Of nature.”
“Well their Shard does allow shapeshifting, and that looked like shapeshifting to me.”
“Ugh,” said the white diamond with a shiver, “well I’m glad I didn’t have to fight her. That was just distasteful...”
Distasteful or not it had worked, and Pavilion was intrigued by the shapeshifter. Already she got the feeling that she was the one that would be joining them soon.
The clash of swords was music to Essence’s ears. The only thing she enjoyed more than shattering people was shattering people who put up a good fight, and the diamond she had chosen to engage was giving her the best fight she’d had for a while.
The diamond’s blade glinted in the sunlight with every upwards swipe that she took at Essence, each stroke coming closer to cutting her than the last. She did a series of backflips to create some space between them, but it proved to be pointless because the diamond raced after her, sword readied for a diagonal slash. By the time she landed the diamond was almost upon her; she just had time to summon her swords and block the strike, feeling the enemy weapon stop inches from her face.
Seeing an opportunity to put an end to the relentless assault, she kneed her opponent in the groin and then shoved her backwards with her crossed swords. Before she could recover, Essence elongated her arms and sent the curved ends of both of her hook swords rocketing through the diamond. To add injury to injury she then wrenched the blades out; the cruel hooks tearing even larger holes in her as they made their return journey, drawing forth an anguished scream at the same time.
The Gem made no other noise and fell forward.
Her body was gone before she hit the ground.
At the opposite edge of the top tier, two diamonds were busy with their own struggle. Rapidly forming a plan, Essence picked up the gem of her defeated foe and jumped down a tier, smashing it against the floor as she touched the ground. She crept around the edge of the second tier, listening all the while to gauge where to make her surprise attack.
“OOF!” was all the warning she got before someone went flying overhead.
The diamond wasn’t out of the match yet though: she summoned a harpoon-like spear in each hand and shot her arms out, lengthening them until the spears embedded themselves in the pyramid near where Essence was standing. She used the point of contact to alter her direction and launched herself towards Essence at full speed, hitting her in the chest with both feet.
Essence sailed through the air and landed with a splash some distance away. The harpoon diamond — wanting to capitalise on her first attack — hurried across the surface of the water, looking for Essence.
‘You might be able to walk on water, but that isn’t going to help you this time…’ Essence thought to herself.
The diamond yelped in surprise as something coiled around her ankle and lifted her off her feet.
“She’s very resourceful isn’t she?” said Corona. It was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes, amongst other things...” remarked Pavilion.
She was a bit concerned: the blue diamond was remarkably aggressive, very quick to adapt and rarely made a wrong move. If she was like that with everything then Pavilion knew that she would have to be very careful while working with her. Depending on what the blue diamond’s motivations were she could become a powerful ally, or a very serious problem. As insufferable as she found Corona, Pavilion didn’t get any bad vibes from her; that might prove to be world changing if things got ugly…
Some tentacle like thing whipped the harpoon diamond one way and then snapped the complete opposite direction, releasing its hold and flinging her across the arena. They watched as the diamond bounced off the wall and landed in the water below with a large splash.
“Ouch. She’ll be cursing herself for being so hasty.” said Corona with a laugh.
The Gem disappeared under the surface and the water foamed vigorously, then they saw the tell-tale flash of a shattered gem, and once again there was calm.
Essence swam back to the pyramid and climbed up to the top level, where her final adversary was waiting for her. The diamond summoned her sword and waited for Essence to make her move. She smirked: there wouldn’t be another fight between diamonds like this for the next thousand years; it was time to give the people something to remember…
Some diamonds seemed to believe that kindergarten Gems were beneath them, but Essence had never held such a bias; Gems were Gems, and those from the kindergarten had developed some interesting moves that were worth learning. She took a few steps forward and took a small jump: her head went down and the rest of her body began to follow; as she started to roll forwards in mid-air she tucked in her arms and legs, greatly accelerating her spin. By the time she touched ground again she was nothing but a whirling black ball, and she sped towards the diamond for the first of many passes.
The blue diamond barely managed to avoid her the first time, flopping heavily onto her front and then hastening to her feet to see where her foe had gotten to. After turning a wide circle, Essence went for her again, this time even faster: the diamond dodged again with a sidestep, but the strength of Essence’s wake was enough to pull her to the floor. The third time the diamond was not so lucky and the ball of Gem hit her hard in the middle, making her roll ungracefully over the surface of the floor. From then on, Essence continued to beat her mercilessly; slamming into her from what seemed like every direction at once.
On her final pass she let the diamond stand up, just so she could take out her legs from behind. The black blur zipped underneath her, knocking her onto her back.
Blue diamond number seven was in a state of shock: everything had been going to well, and then… this. The little Gem had totally overwhelmed her, by rolling across the stage! She hated her, more than anyone she’d ever hated before. She willed herself to stand and make another attempt to fend her off, but she was in so much pain. If she did get back up, then the other diamond would only lay her down again, like she had last time.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the decision to get up or not was no longer in her hands. The other diamond roughly grabbed her by the front of her shirt and hauled her to her feet. Her face was little, like the rest of her, a heart shaped affair with wide brown eyes; framed by an expanse of voluminous black hair. She noticed that the Gem’s gem was in her forehead, like hers: the only difference was that her own was square in shape, and the other diamond’s was like an upside-down teardrop. The Gem smiled at her in a very genial way with her small, plump lips. She was beautiful. She pulled her closer and whispered sensuously into her ear:
“You never stood a chance.”
“You spiteful little—!”
Essence tilted her head back and then rammed it forwards, straight into the face of the other diamond. There was a hard ’clack’, followed by a thump as Essence dropped the Gem. The diamond raised a trembling hand to her forehead, but disappeared in a cloud of shimmering smoke before she could touch it.
A pulse of white light met her eyes.
A thunderous explosion met her ears.
Her task was complete.
Corona could hear the applause of the audience, but it had a different quality to that which she and Pavilion had received. There was something less…positive, about it. An applause ignited largely by awe and fear; the crowd didn’t quite know what to make of the blue diamond, and neither did she.
It took a relatively long time for Blue Diamond to stand up, talking animatedly with White and Yellow Diamond as she was. Corona would have shattered someone to know what they were saying…
The bottom two tiers of the pyramid came back into view as the water level slowly dropped. Towards the end, the surface of the water was disturbed by several large whirlpools, and a noisy gurgle was heard as the last of the water disappeared below the arena. The pyramid concertinaed in on itself, returning the arena to its usual state.
“Blue Shard Aspirant; we are pleased to accept your proposal, and now welcome you to the Triumvirate because you have fulfilled all of our conditions. I invite you to join us here, so that we might look upon you.”
Essence began to walk forwards, her smile broad beneath her glittering eye mask.
Meeting the other two for the first time was going to be interesting, she thought as the blue triangle appeared on the arena floor. Normally she didn’t play well with others, but the Triumvirate was different, she would have to work with them for the next millennium. It was certain that neither of them had ever met a diamond (maybe even a Gem) like her before, and they were going to have to adapt to her; but equally she would also have to adapt to them if they were going to get anything done.
And there was so much to get done…
She had carried out operations on worlds that only the first class spotters knew existed, fought against races with abilities rivalling even Gems, and she had detailed knowledge of the creatures that existed in the nowhere outside of the warp streams. She had seen and done so much in her time and still, there was so much more that she knew was out there to be discovered and exploited. For all that must exist in the universe, she had really only learned as much as the Authority had allow her to learn. That would change today. No longer was she be bound by the rules and secrets of some order, because she had just become one of the heads of that order. Entry to the Triumvirate meant access to everything that Gems knew of, and now that she had that base to work from, she could only increase the already formidable power inside her gem.
When it was required she could be exceptionally beguiling, and given long enough the other Triumvirs would surely come to see things her way. As for the rest of Homeworld: as long as no-one tried to stand in the way of her quest, then they were welcome to share in its rewards…
“Wow. She’s even shorter than you; I didn’t think that was possible.” Corona said, eliciting a glare from Pavilion.
With an exaggerated sway of her hips, their blue counterpart made her way to the top of the stairs and kneeled in front of Blue Diamond.
“Please, show us your face.” requested Blue Diamond in warm yet firm voice. Essence’s face glowed for a second as she removed the illusory mask from her illusory body. “Congratulations, Gem; you have taken a most interesting approach to the proceedings, but effective nonetheless. If you would oblige me, I am most curious as to what name one such as you has chosen for herself.”
“You honour me with your interest, Empress. My chosen name is Centura, Essence of the Dragon.”