They sparred almost daily, complaining about how slow change was coming and how unnecessary so much of their work was until the whirling and striking consumed all of their breath.

She envied his mastery of the form, the way his art tied him to his ancestors, how he was seen as dedicated rather than odd. He knew what he was doing-his motions were seamless, perfect. Her own style (the word was a stretch) was a mix of Jade's utilitarian technique and her own underhanded tricks.

"What do you think this is, a dance parlour?"

He won, on average, seven times out of every ten. When she won, she gloated, and when she lost, she insisted it didn't matter because she could out-shoot him any day of the week.

They shared interests, history and weaponry and military strategy, and played out private war-games on datapads held in their laps.

She read the treaties Femur prepared before Pyrus signed them, and laughed when he asked her if she found anything.

He helped her prepare her speeches, and laughed when she asked him for a polite way to say fuck off in public.

A few months after the disappearance (she would not say defeat) of the Beast Planet, she started to grow.

Apparently, maintaining any kind of dignity during the process was impossible.

Her skin cracked and flaked from from her joints. Every morning she peeled off what she could, but as soon as the skin hardened, she'd shot up another two inches.

She ached all over, and worst of all, she started loosing fights she should have won.

He threw her four times in the first fifteen minutes. And in their fifth match, she tripped.

"I do not need a break." She muttered as he sat down beside her.

"Well, I could use one." He quietly sipped his drink. After a moment, he nudged her arm, stretching his out besides hers. "You're going to have a pretty powerful reach."

She didn't quite have enough time to run back to her ship for more nanites, so she went to the meeting with a bruise on her arm.

"That from Pyrus?" Femur slid up beside her. "Always knew you were going to be a wild thing, but…"

She reached over and grabed him by the fronds under his chin, pulling hard and using the momentum to flip him over the table.

He hit the wall just as Pyrus walked in.

Femur brushed himself off as he rolled to his feet. "Bad news, kid. You've got a crazy one."

Pyrus laughed it off. "You just noticed? She's been training with Jade for…"

She shook her head, turning to grab a datapad from her bag-and caught Sternum looking directly at her.

She nodded, once, and never made that mistake again.

She caught his arm, twisting it behind his back and pushing him to his knees. Their staves fell to the ground with a clatter. "Got you!"

He tested her grip as she shoved him forward, her knee pushing into the small of his back. "Yeah, you win that one."

She gave him a final push as she let go. "You needent sound so surprised. You left your left side wide open."

"You know, I really shouldn't be." He took her hand, letting her pull him up. There was a note of hesitation in his voice that she didn't trust. "Listen, Zera…"


"I was going to ask you if you wanted to go shooting tomorrow." He was still holding her hand. She stared at it. "No need to be so prickly."

"Have you forgotten already? I'm a much, much better shot than you are."

"So what? I'm a better staff fighter than you…"

"Not much better."

"The point is…I don't do this to get one over on you." He squeezed her hand gently, pulling her closer. She could still feel heat through the forcefield generator, completely divorced from pain. The sweat on her palm sizzled.

"It's going to come back."

He nodded, leaning in and gently nuzzling her cheek. She laughed in response, turning and kissing him hard enough to leave her mouth dry and raw.

"Alright then." She pushed him away. "Next round."