We Forge Our Own Crowns
Bismuth had to give this to quartzes: they sure knew how to party.
It felt like it had been no time at all since the Earth's first quartz vein had popped out of its first Kindergarten. There'd been celebrations across the planet— across the whole empire too, most likely. Gems of every caste and rank had taken it upon themselves to express just how thrilled they were by the widely broadcast, triumphant announcements that Pink Diamond's new colony was proving to be all that anyone could have hoped for.
By all accounts, these newmades were a high quality bunch. Earth was abundant with silica deposits— perfect for creating big, strong hunks of quartz, ones with good heads on their shoulders to boot. Their training had progressed at record speed and was almost over, so they'd had a big celebration the previous night— one last hurrah on the planet they'd emerged from, before being shipped off to the front lines, likely never to see the rocky outcroppings of their origin again.
Their abandoned quarters were left half-wrecked in the aftermath of it all. About a third of the cubbies were nothing but messy holes, without a single trace of the striking and immediately recognisable clear-cut silhouettes they'd started out as. Even the ones that had survived more or less intact were pockmarked with impact craters and fist imprints. The wrestling matches must've gotten seriously out of hand. And what exactly had gone down to account for the state of the floor was anyone's guess.
Bismuth wished she could have seen it. Must've been way more entertaining than the droning sing-alongs to ancient chants praising the glorious shine of the Diamonds that the elites hosted during their own celebrations. Or, well, Bismuth supposed that was what they did, like in all the holo-casts. She wasn't exactly the first (or tenth, or hundredth) pick whenever all the fancy little pearls were sent out with the formal invitations.
Among all the accidental damage, Bismuth found markings that were clearly deliberate graffiti. Small stuff, mostly. Gems who'd carved their full designations into their cubbies, or friendly insults into their comrades'. Tiny attempts at leaving a trace of themselves behind, as safe and as close to permanent as they could get. And as sacrilegious as it may have been, Bismuth had to admit that whoever carved the moustache into Yellow Diamond's statue had the soul of an artist.
Laying her buckets of mortar onto the ground, Bismuth realized she'd feel kinda bad about covering it all up.
She sighed, and cut her moment of reflection short. Never any point in thinking about that kind of stuff. No one knew when the second batch of Earth-quartzes would emerge, but when they did, they'd need nice, shiny quarters to live in. Bismuth had been ordered to make them, and fully intended to do so.
Bismuth stepped into the cubby nearest to her, surveying it with practiced eyes. Not too bad here— the cubbies that seemed to have taken the brunt of the damage were focused around the middle of the wall. She could tackle that first, but since the quarters were arranged like a grid, it'd be more efficient to work her way along the rows, then going up a level each time she completed one. She hummed a bit of acknowledgement to herself, got out her trowel, heaped it with mortar, and got to work on the web of cracks near the far cavern wall's base.
She worked diligently for the first row and a half. It wasn't particularly hard work, for either the body or the mind, but it was satisfying. Getting to fix something right up, seeing it become nice and whole again all thanks to her, always felt good. There was something soothing in the steady rhythm of the trowel, too. Up, down, up, down, up, down—
"What're you doing?"
Bismuth jerked up at the sudden question, gouging out the fresh bit of mortar she'd just been smoothing over. Without looking to see who had asked it, she called back, "My work."
There was another pause, long enough that the entire side wall was perfectly level and half-dry, and Bismuth thought the asker had been satisfied—
"What's your work?"
Bismuth huffed, lowered her trowel, turned, and leaned out of the cubby she had been working on. Staring up at her was a quartz. Some sort of picture jasper, judging by the thin banding in dark shades of grays and browns, though Bismuth wasn't sure which kind specifically.
"I'm fixing the cubbies up," Bismuth said, and then turned to go back to her job.
"Oh! Well, thank you!"
Bismuth grunted, and scooped more mortar onto her trowel.
"It's just, that's my cubby you're working on!"
"Well, I'll be out of your hair soon," Bismuth said. As long as the jasper stopped talking, and let her get on with her work.
"No, no, it's okay!" There was a thud as the picture jasper leapt up into the next-door cubby. "I don't need it right now. And anyway, there's lots of empty ones I can use. I know no one'll mind!"
Bismuth hummed in half-hearted acknowledgement, not taking her eyes off her trowel. She was doing her best to stay focused on her work, but she swore she could feel the eyes on the back of her neck. Was the jasper watching her?
So it seemed, at a quick glance. And several such glances later, she still didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave or find something else to occupy herself with. Surely watching mortar dry couldn't be that fascinating? Still, the jasper hung around as Bismuth finished off the repair work on her cubby under her watchful gaze. Bismuth mumbled a quick warning at her to stop her from touching the mortar until it had dried and set, and then moved on to the next cubby, figuring that'd be the end of it. But even with her own cubby free for her use, the jasper followed, sticking her head out and craning her neck to watch as Bismuth worked.
It wasn't that Bismuth minded, exactly. It was just that the jasper was big, even for her type, and she was blocking what little light there was available.
Bismuth finished that cubby, and the two after it, when a new voice carried across the cavern: "BIGGS JASPER!"
"Oh," the jasper said, softly. Then she yelled back, "YES MA'AM?"
Bismuth didn't need to look to recognise that the voice belonged to an agate— to recognise that the jasper should move along and do as she was told.
But instead, the jasper called back, "ONE MINUTE!"
This jasper had just spoken back to an agate.
She waited, expecting the screaming to start. Or the beatings. Or both.
But when the agate shouted back, she didn't sound angry, just impatient.
"YOU HAVE TRAINING!"
The jasper sighed. "OKAY! COMING!" she shouted back, heaved out another sigh, and then perked up amusingly fast when she turned to face Bismuth again. "Thanks, Bismuth!"
"Uh… you're welcome?" Bismuth said. She paused her work to watch as the jasper jumped away and ran across the cavern to join the agate.
Training, huh? That explained it. This wasn't a fully fledged quartz warrior yet. Just a newmade, filled with all of a newmade's curiosity.
Bismuth shook her head. Lucky she had such a nice agate commander.
Turned out that the biggs jasper actually had two agate commanders.
One was the crazy lace agate that Bismuth had seen earlier, distinctive in bright patterns of swirling whites, reds and greens. The other was a snowflake obsidian, her gemstone riddled with impurities which caused her otherwise black body to be speckled with white.
While the jasper bore a Pink Diamond Insignia on her chest, the agates' uniforms bore the colors of all four Diamonds. They were proper, battle hardened quartz warriors— or they had been. It seemed they had been retired from formal military service and enlisted to whip Earth's newmades into shape— only to be left with nobody but the one biggs jasper to train.
The quartzes did a lot of practicing and sparring right there in the quarters, so Bismuth got to listen to their drills as she worked. The rhythmic clang, clang, clang of sword against sword was a pleasantly steady beat to follow.
Eventually, though, the rhythm was broken as she ran out of mortar, and had to make a quick errand for raw materials. Bismuth lugged each of them back to the quarters separately, deciding to prepare the mortar there and have it be nicely fresh. She measured out the sand, water, and cement into big containers, and began to stir. The work was simple enough that she could watch the quartzes train as she labored.
The obsidian was the one on active duty, taking the jasper on in one-on-one combat.
It should have been an obvious fight. Earth was a fertile planet, and the quartzes it had produced were fine specimens. This jasper was particularly big, with a barely-restrained, almost bouncy energy large enough to match. Obsidians, meanwhile, were an old model, real old, from before Bismuth had emerged, back when they were still getting quartzes from volcanoes. This obsidian was smaller than a modern agate, less muscular, and looked like the jasper could snap her in half.
But with age came experience. The obsidian rarely let the jasper land a blow, always sidestepping at the last moment, or ducking underneath large, crushing arms, or rolling away and out of reach. What hits she did take were obviously calculated, barely doing any damage, and getting her in a better position to counter-strike.
Bismuth couldn't help but admire her— her speed, her strategy, the sleek shape of her body, the way the light reflecting off her form made her seem to sparkle with every bit of movement…
"It's a shame," the lace agate said.
Bismuth almost jumped. She hadn't even noticed the other Gem coming to join her, which was impressive, for someone as big as an agate.
"What is?" Bismuth asked, looking back down at the container in her lap and stirring her mortar more quickly. Didn't want to look like she was slacking.
"Biggs Jasper," the lace agate said with a sigh. "Having to keep her back like this."
'Keep her back'? Ah, so that was the reason she'd stayed here, when the rest of her vein had already been sent off-colony. Bismuth wouldn't have dared to pry, but since the agate had so conveniently brought it up…
"She looks fine to me. Sure, no match for a vet, but that's just gotta be experience."
"It wasn't just against us. Even against the other newmades…" She shook her head. "Don't get me wrong. She's big and strong. And she tries. Stars, she tries. But when it comes to focusing, you'd probably make a better warrior."
Bismuth laughed. "Maybe we should test that out." She flexed an arm. "I mean, have you taken a look at these?"
The crazy lace agate giggled. "Oh my. We better not. You might go and put all us quartzes out of a job."
Bismuth was trying to come up with a witty retort, when there came a loud clang! from the fighters. She looked up just in time to see the jasper's sword go flying out of her hand.
Disarmed. The jasper's mouth flew open in surprise as she tried to dodge the obsidian's saber. She didn't last long. There was a flash of light as the blade caught the sun, and then the saber was being pressed against jasper's belly, right next to her gem. A single move, and her form would have been destroyed.
Instead, the obsidian withdrew her sword. She wasn't scowling; she wasn't smiling. Her face was cool and unreadable.
"Stop watching the weapon," she said. "Watch your opponent's body. It will tell you where the weapon will go, instead of where it is."
"But—" the jasper began.
The obsidian shook her head, and pointed for the jasper to go retrieve her sword.
Bismuth stopped her stirring and checked the mortar's consistency. Nicely even and just the right thickness. She looked over at the wide, bowed shoulders of the defeated jasper one last time and sighed. It wouldn't do to let the mortar set.
"Gotta get back to work," she mumbled in passing to the Lace Agate, and hefted her pots up.
After nearly two straight days of work, Bismuth had almost finished up all the repairs— only two rows of cubbies left— when she got interrupted yet again. Not by the jasper, this time, but the Lace Agate. "Messenger here for you!"
Bismuth was already drawing breath to shout back that the messenger could come up and say whatever needed to be said herself , when she looked down the cliff-face to see that this wasn't actually true.
The messenger was a pearl.
("Whoa!" she could hear the biggs jasper saying from across the field. "Is that a pearl, Snowflake? She's so pretty!")
Of course she was pretty, with her sharp features and pale purple skirts. That was what a pearl was made for. And of course a pearl wouldn't be clambering up quartz cubbies or screaming her voice raw. So Bismuth jumped down to her, landing right beside her. The ground shook a little at the force, but the pearl didn't even blink.
"You are required by my master Iolite," the pearl said, simply and evenly, her hands clasped demurely in front of her.
"Can't it wait?" Bismuth grumbled. "I'm almost finished here."
The pearl's voice wavered only a tiny bit. "You are required by my master Iolite immediately."
Bismuth was tempted to dismiss her, to finish her work and head off only as soon as she was done. But an order was an order, and Bismuth knew that if she didn't obey, the pearl would be the one taking the brunt of punishment for their tardiness.
She sighed. "All right then. Let's go."
They warped off. It took a moment for Bismuth to figure out where she'd been taken; the air was so full of dust and grit. She blinked it out of her eyes, and focused on the four looming silhouettes in front of her.
Ah. Right. The Memorial of Life.
A stunning tribute to the Empire's leaders, and the gift they had bestowed upon this humble colony. Four full-sized statues of the Diamonds, standing in a circle, arms stretched out towards the seed of all Gem-kind: the Injector.
At least, that was how the Memorial was supposed to look. Right now, there was a giant crater where the Injector statue used to be, and the Diamonds looked like their fronts had been burned off.
Bismuth stared. "What happened here?"
The pearl said nothing, just pointed towards a tight pack of bismuths standing next to the foot of Blue Diamond's statue, then backed away, head bowed. Bismuth headed towards them and repeated the question.
"It was those rebels," answered one of them. (Cut-2AI, Bismuth was pretty sure.)
"Those terrorists, you mean," sneered bismuth Cut-5AL.
Bismuth shook her head. Those crazy rebels were persistently annoying, but this? "How'd they do it?"
"Got their hands on some Core fuel," said a bismuth that Bismuth didn't immediately recognise.
Bismuth whistled, low and long. That stuff was used in the most advanced of space crafts— it packed a real punch. It was a while ago, but Bismuth clearly remembered the day-to-day of working on the foundations of a shipyard's maintenance hangar, and the depths to which she'd been required to dig when it came to the fuel storage, just to be safe. "Anyone hurt?"
"No, miraculously," said Cut-5AI. "A few bruised beryls, and a morganite got poofed."
"It was close, though," said another bismuth. "They shoved that canister right under the Injector and totally out of sight. No one woulda known it was about to blow if the rebels themselves hadn't been screaming their heads off."
Bismuth was just about to wonder out loud why anyone would go to the lengths of arranging an attack like that only to ruin their own plans at the last minute, but then the Iolite supervising the reconstruction yelled, "You weren't made to yammer!"
Her fellow bismuths had done well, it seemed— clearing away debris, putting in temporary supports, fixing up what damage they could, and keeping it from getting worse. But the monument was so massive, there were some things they just couldn't do separately. Like filling in the crater, or raising the replacement Injector statue high and proud.
The five bismuths held hands, became one, and got to work.
When she unfused, Bismuth didn't come back to herself. She had always been herself. But she did come back to a smaller herself.
She cracked her knuckles as she readjusted, taking a moment to survey the work they'd done. As she did so, she noticed a little purple figure still waiting at the edge of the construction area. Iolite's pearl, from earlier. Her gaze kept flicking from bismuth to bismuth with an air of something resembling consternation, clearly trying (and failing) to pick out the one she needed.
Bismuth decided to extend a metaphorical helping hand. She strolled over and asked, "Looking for someone specific?"
"Yes. Bismuth Facet-3X1W Cut-4AB?"
"You're in luck. That's me."
That barest ghost of relief flashed across the pearl's face. "You have another assignment."
Bismuth groaned. "Seriously? This again? I haven't even finished my current one."
The pearl said nothing.
"Fine. Can you tell me what it is, then?"
"I have not been authorized to give that information, ma'am."
Of course not. That would be too easy.
But Bismuth perked up when the pearl rattled off her carefully memorized message about how her master Iolite was waiting at this sector's Forge to give Bismuth Facet-3X1W Cut-4AB her new assignment briefing.
Bismuth loved forges.
Oh, she knew how some of her fellows felt. They complained, whenever they couldn't put off going to fetch that girder any longer, that forges were too cramped, too hot, too busy, too dirty. But all of that just made this particular Bismuth love them all the more. The dancing firelight was exhilarating, filled with power and promise. The constant clank of hammers on anvils, of metal against metal. The detail that went into every individual piece, from weapons to jewelry to magical tools, each one unique, something wholly its own.
(And she wouldn't be much of a bismuth if she didn't love getting her hands dirty.)
Iolite's pearl led Bismuth through the Forge, past the many hematites working diligently at their stations. Bismuth did her best to catch glimpses of what they did as she passed, no matter how brief. Finally, she was presented to Iolite herself. The pearl drifted to stand at her master's left-hand side, and Bismuth straightened, fixing all her attention on her supervisor. Despite her efforts, she was uncomfortably aware of the Fire Agate standing just to the right of the Iolite, constantly scanning the entire Forge for any sign of disobedience or delay.
Thankfully, it turned out to be a routine debriefing. A check-up, for the most part, with Bismuth reporting on the progress at both the Memorial of Life and the Quartz Quarters. She got a little worried when she admitted she still hadn't finished the repairs and the Iolite's brows furrowed, but it turned out not to matter after all. "You'll continue to be stationed there," Iolite ordered. "We need more cubbies."
Bismuth blinked. "Already?"
"Yes. Latest reports indicate that the next batch from the Kindergarten is going to be even larger than the first. Estimated 20% increase in quartz production. We'll need at least another fifty cubbies."
Bismuth couldn't restrain herself. "That's wonderful!"
"Yes." Iolite smiled, a smug combination of pleased and proud. "Those terrorists can blow up as many monuments as they like, but they can't stop progress."
Bismuth was dismissed shortly afterwards, and given the direction to go get blueprints and equipment. She didn't need either— she'd been building quartz quarters for centuries, and could practically do it with her eyes closed. The only tools she needed for the job were her own two hands.
She didn't say any of that out loud, though. It would have been disrespectful, and anyway, the errand gave Bismuth an excuse to poke around the Forge a little longer.
Not too long, though. As much as she appreciated the chance to bask in the lovely waves of heat as she watched the hematites at their stations, she found herself unexpectedly eager to get back to her own.
Quartzes were the sturdy pillars that held up every colonisation effort. Big and strong and obvious, and undeniably necessary. But the foundations— crucial to success but buried deep underground; heads bowed as they quietly did their duty, bearing the load without protest— were bismuths.
At least, that was how it was supposed to be, according to every overseer on every colony-in-the-making Bismuth had ever answered to.
Earth was shaping up to be... something a bit different.
"Hey, Bis, you done with that soon?" said Crazy Lace Agate, always oddly cheery for an agate, always lively, and always impatient.
"You shouldn't be talking to her," muttered Snowflake Obsidian, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Why not? It's our quarters she's working on," chimed in Biggs Jasper, her arms casually, almost irreverently, folded behind her head. "We know best what we need 'em to be like."
"You don't know anything, Biggs."
"Come on. It's draughty. Leave Biggs alone and let Bis fix the stuff up already," said Lace.
Snowflake Obsidian had never been a Gem of many words, so a put-upon harumph was her only reply.
Bismuth scraped the last of the mortar off of her trowel. "Actually," she called, "all the 'stuff' has been fixed."
She hopped down from the top row of cubbies, and the quartzes left behind any pretense of their training to wander towards her. The four took a moment to stand back and appreciate the work, slowly taking it in. The Quartz Quarters looked as good as new now, each cubby clean and cozy and tidy as if no wild wrestling match or spin-dash competition had ever taken place.
"They look real nice," Crazy Lace Agate said. "Real nice."
Snowflake nodded, and even gave one of her rare smiles. Bismuth couldn't help but beam right back, feeling prouder of this simple patch-up job than of any magnificent spire she'd ever taken part in building.
Biggs, however, didn't seem happy at all. "So you'll be heading off now… right?"
"Well, I have been given another assignment…" Bismuth trailed off, catching Crazy Lace's knowing eye.
Biggs still hadn't really learned that plain common Gems like them served at the pleasure of the elite ones. She should have by now, having been left behind while the rest of her vein went off to war and glory. There wasn't anything to be had from hoping, but hurting. But Biggs's face fell so far it seemed to drag her whole body with it. Even her shoulders slumped theatrically.
"Oh," she said in a voice far too small for such a big gem.
Bismuth could have left her hanging, drawn the news out for a bit more of a reaction… but Biggs' eyes were so pleading, her pout so dejected, that Bismuth couldn't stand to.
"Yeah," she said, and felt a grin bigger than Biggs herself stretch her mouth wide. "Another assignment right here in this quarry!"
The Jasper stared at her in disbelief for a moment, before throwing her hands into the air, and releasing a loud 'WHOO!'
Behind her, Snowflake slowly shook her head.
But even her small smile grew wider.
Building quartz cubbies might have been more difficult than repairing them, but it was hardly the most complex thing Bismuth had ever built. Not by a long shot. Stars, it was the first thing she'd been taught to make, back when she'd been a newmade herself.
She could still remember her teacher. Good ol' Bismuth Facet-1A2B Cut-2CJ. Real patient Gem. Always took time with her work.
Bismuth wondered where she was, now. The other side of the galaxy, most likely.
Regardless: point was, cubbies were pretty easy. First, she got her measuring tool from her belt, just to double check the sizes. She marked the shapes out in chalk. Then she shapeshifted her arm into a pickaxe, and went at the stones with all her might.
Crazy Lace Agate gave her a long whistle of appreciation at the show of strength.
Bismuth grinned, accepting the praise, even though it wasn't particularly well earned in this case. The rock there was limestone, one of the softest minerals out there. You could make Gems out of it, but not particularly high quality ones, which was probably why this stretch of land had been reserved for living space.
They should see her carving out granite. That would really give 'em something to whistle about.
Biggs, too, was impressed by her work, though not nearly so much for her strength as for her skill. Bismuth caught the Jasper standing a little off to the side one day, scowling at her hand, pressing the fingers together and bending them into weird, uncomfortable shapes.
"How do you do it?" Biggs finally cried, her frustration winning out.
'Do what?' Bismuth was about to ask, when something about how intently Biggs was focusing on her own hand suddenly clicked. "Shapeshifting?" Bismuth said instead, with a chuckle. "Well, it ain't hard. You just gotta—"
She cut herself off, not sure if it was something she should be teaching anyone, let alone Gems of a different cut— and let alone quartzes.
It wasn't. Crazy Lace Agate was clear enough about that. "It's just not done."
"Bismuth does it," pointed out Biggs.
"Bismuths are meant to be adaptable," said Bismuth, allowing herself a touch of pride.
"We quartzes are ready-made with the most ideal form for our job." Crazy's voice was gentle, but she was frowning; the expression looked odd on her face. "To change the shape of our forms… most would call it a disgrace."
"Better disgraced than dead," Snowflake muttered.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
It was only broken by a strange red creature with pointy, twitchy ears creeping into the valley. Biggs, fascinated and immediately distracted from her earlier disappointment, tried to approach it, but the small, furry thing startled too easily. She made to run after it, and went crashing into the nearby forest. The Agates, in turn, were at her heels, while Bismuth was left behind to fend for herself. She didn't have to wait long, however. The quartzes returned a few minutes later, leaves and twigs sticking out from their thoroughly mussed hair, the creature nowhere in sight— but all of them looking immensely pleased with themselves regardless.
The subject of shapeshifting, it seemed, had been dropped and forgotten for good.
Except 'for good' only lasted until the next practice spar. Biggs had taken her usual sword before pacing the makeshift arena, while Snowflake had seemingly entered the fight unarmed. She was standing in a deceptively casual stance, calmly waiting for Biggs to make a move without taking her eyes off her for a single moment. Something was going on there all right, and Bismuth found herself completely distracted from the blocks she'd been measuring out, enthralled by the palpable tension simmering in the air.
As soon as Biggs decided she'd had enough waiting and made a bold step forward, Snowflake moved, too— and fluidly transformed one white-speckled arm into a sword, just in time to meet and block her opponent's blade.
Beside Bismuth, Crazy Lace scowled, but kept silent, refusing to undermine her partner.
Snowflake didn't keep her arm confined to the form of a sword, however. As the battle progressed, it changed into half a dozen different weapons, all of them clearly not foreign to Snowflake's arsenal— a staff, a whip, a glaive, whatever suited the moment. She came out decisively victorious, and left Biggs too impressed to even care about her own defeat.
Afterwards, Snowflake sat with Biggs by the forest's edge, and lectured for a long, long time. It was too far away to hear, but Bismuth assumed it was something similar to the shapeshifting instruction she herself had once received. Crazy Lace had gone off to sulk, and Bismuth made sure to make her stone-strikes extra loud for her benefit.
When Bismuth had the rough shape of the first cubby almost finished, Crazy Lace did her a favour, and stood in it, just to check the size and depth. Fit like a glove.
She committed the dimensions to memory, and was prepared to duplicate it fifty times over. A few days into the process, though, something stopped her.
The quartzes had established a sparring routine with Snowflake Obsidian and Crazy Lace Agate taking turns as Biggs Jasper's partner, building up her speed and stamina, drilling her in a variety of weapons and techniques. That day, though, they were trying something different. The two of them sparred against each other while Biggs stayed out of the way, watching. Once the fight was over, she'd need to give detailed notes about what had happened, what had been done right, what could be improved— they were building up her focus, her awareness, and her perception.
The way the two experienced and remarkably different quartzes went at each other was so impressive, Bismuth stopped in her own work to watch. Blade against blade, the strikes so loud they sent flocks of birds up into the trees, Crazy Lace roaring insults and taunts while Snowflake took them all stone-faced…
The dioptases could paint all the frescoes they wanted, but this… this was an artistry of its own.
Biggs sat hunched up in her cubby as her teachers fought, her wide eyes visibly straining to take it all in without missing a single step or swing or feint. The determination on her usually jovial features served as a sharp reminder that, no matter what ridiculous jokes Bismuth had heard her laugh at or what silly Earth creature Bismuth had seen her play with, this was still an elite quartz warrior.
When they were done, Bismuth let them get on with the debrief, not even trying to pretend she wasn't listening.
Crazy Lace should have made better use of her superior reach before they got within grappling distance, Bismuth carefully filed the words away as Biggs listed her observations. Just in case. In case of what? Well... she could figure that one out later. Snowflake was quick and stayed light on her feet, but she let her opponent linger in her blind spots too often to be safe. Both of them took care to use the terrain to their advantage.
Once all that was finished and Biggs Jasper was left to her own devices while her teachers discussed her progress among themselves, Bismuth wandered over to her cubby. "Hey. Let me see how tall you are."
The grunt of effort Biggs produced while slowly unfolding from her cramped position only served to strengthen Bismuth's hunch. And sure enough, when she lined Biggs up next to the newly completed cubby, the hulking jasper stood nearly a full head taller. Bismuth shook her head. "Thought so. Your name is well earned."
Biggs gave a small shrug and blushed, drawing into herself slightly. "I figured the cubbies were just meant to be that small."
"Normally, they are. They're built to fit an average quartz, but you came out a little bigger than average. C'mon, stand over here," Bismuth pointed her towards a clear patch of cliff-face, "put your back against the wall. Keep straight."
Bismuth got her chalk back out, and made an outline for a bigger cubby, just the proper size for Biggs. Then she drew out four others just like it, just in case the planet spat out any more giants.
"No more slouching or awkward crouching for you. A Gem deserves to be comfy," she told a still-flustered, bashful, and— she had to admit— highly endearing Biggs. And she meant it. Which was why Biggs's bespoke cubby flew straight to the top of her priority list. She worked hard to have it finished as quickly as possible, all the sooner for Biggs to move into it.
"Wow," Biggs said once the cubby was done. She stepped inside, snuggling all the way to the back, one hand running along the smooth stone walls. It fit perfectly around her body. "Wow, Bismuth. Thanks. It's perfect."
Bismuth shrugged. "No problem. It's my job."
(It wasn't quite her job. She wasn't meant to build cubbies for specific individuals. But nobody had ever told her not to, and it was nice, having some control over what she made, for once. Plus getting to see the recipient so openly and honestly pleased with the result was a new kind of rewarding.)
And Biggs, never one for subtlety, was pleased, that much was rather overwhelmingly obvious. She was grinning ear to ear, practically vibrating with excitement—
— and then she threw herself at Bismuth.
And hugged her.
Bismuth stiffened. And then, gently but firmly, pushed the the quartz away.
"Uhhhh," the Jasper said. "S-sorry? Did I do something wrong?"
"Yes," Bismuth said, not unkindly. "It's alright. Just don't do that again."
Biggs Jasper was frowning, looking utterly lost, and Bismuth wasn't sure where to begin. Thankfully, the Agates were never far away. They'd seen what had happened, and were already rushing over.
"You don't touch other Gems," Crazy Lace explained.
"Huh? But we touch all the time," Biggs said.
"No, other Gem types," Crazy Lace clarified, and Bismuth found herself once again feeling intensely grateful for this particular Agate's unusually forgiving nature. "Quartzes can touch quartzes, but that's it."
"What about when you're fighting?"
"Fighting's different," said Lace.
Bismuth stepped back, turning away. Best to go back to actually focusing on her work and let the quartzes handle their own business.
"But why not?" she still heard Biggs Jasper ask. "Why shouldn't we touch?"
There were about as many different explanations to offer for that as there were types of Gems in the Empire. Some were more believable than others. A few, Bismuth had been able to tell in time, were little more than weak excuses. A lot of talk about purity, about respect. About knowing your place and not defiling yourself or your station. About the menacing risk of fusion. Wouldn't want to end up like that freak sapphire-ruby that had gotten Blue's court so riled up, after all.
Snowflake Obsidian didn't explain it with any of those, however. She simply said, "It's just not done."
There was silence for a long, taut moment. Then, out of the corner of her eye, Bismuth saw Biggs Jasper turn and stalk into her brand new cubby, stubbornly facing the back wall and curling up inside it as if it were still her old cramped one. When Crazy Lace put a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to bodily pull her back out, Biggs jerked away and snapped, "Don't touch me!"
The slight tension grew into a heavy, almost tangible wall between them. Bismuth briefly abandoned her increasingly weak pretense of focusing on her work, and shared a look with the Agates. Snowflake had her hands on her hips. Crazy Lace was biting her lip. All Bismuth could do was shrug and hope this would pass sooner rather than later.
Newmade had to learn sometime.
Biggs stayed in her hole for three days straight.
She refused to talk, no matter what the Agates did to coax her out. They had tried ordering her, yelling at her, even pleading with her, but nothing seemed to work.
Bismuth had seen Gems of lesser cuts shattered for far slighter disobediences. But not once did these Agates, for all their strength and might and rightful authority, threaten their charge with violence.
There was no telling how long Biggs would have persisted in her sulking, had she been allowed to. But two suns later, an order came that even she couldn't refuse, and it came in the form of a pearl.
Not Iolite's pearl, all but drowning in endless layers of purple ruffles. Bismuth had never seen this one before, but even her uncouth commoner self could recognise quality when she saw it— shimmering sheer pink skirts, short wispy hair, long gauzy sleeves...
The pearl's gem sat in her navel. It wasn't hard to guess who she belonged to.
The pearl didn't even look at Bismuth when she warped in. She went directly to the Agates and addressed them in a whisper as subtle as winds through the trees, too quiet for Bismuth to hear. Snowflake stalked up to Biggs's cubby, and whatever she said to her was enough to get the newmade up and moving within moments. The three Quartzes marched to the warp pad, the pearl trailing behind them like a spectre. They straightened out their uniforms and squared their shoulders, stood tall and strong and respectable, and then vanished in a beam of light.
Bismuth had helped build Pink Diamond's palace. She hoped they'd like it.
Authors' Note: This story is part of The Rewriter series, and serves as a prequel for "Selaginella Lepidophylla". Although the two fics are interrelated, they can both be read independently.