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Points of Pain

Chapter Text

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Pearl is much more prepared for the End of the Year Celebration than the first time.  Or is she?

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            “Today I need to take measurements for some alterations of the armored outfits, namely for a few of the higher ranked combat individuals.  The first appointment is at 08:00 and should be done by 09:00.  Normally you would join me, but I need you here to clean up the disaster this room has become.  I have appointments until 14:00, so once you’re done fixing everything in here, then you can join me.  Your scheduler should have updated with my location for each of the alterations,” Carnelian explained as she rushed about gathering her tools.

            Dull blue eyes cast a short glance at the object clinging to the side of her pants.  Pearl had seen them.  Right during breakfast the scheduler had chirped out several times.  While initially it had sent the pale woman into a panic, when she had read them she was able to calm down.

            “Organize the bolts of fabric, thread, bits and pieces, dispose of the trash, collect all loose pins, vacuum, and put away all of the loose designs into my cabinet and organize them.  If you run out of room, take any designs that are from last year or older to the archives.”  The plump woman grabbed one last item before rushing for the door.

            Pearl was able to react quickly enough to make it to the door and open it just in time.

            “Thank you, Pearl, see you soon!”

            With that the thin woman was left all alone in the room.  She didn’t mind that though, the space was nice to have for once.  Eyes looked over the messy office.  The order for the 250 of each armored level was right on schedule, a little ahead of schedule actually.  Pearl began to walk about the room gathering the large bolts of fabric and moving them to the shelves built for holding and displaying them.  Next, the larger pieces of fabric laying around were collected, folded, and either thrown into the trash or stored for future use.

            “Ow!”

            Pearl pulled her hand away from the grey Kevlar she was going to pick up.  A tiny dot of red began to bubble up on her finger.  Light blue eyes glared at the pin hiding in the fabric.  With a huff it was removed and stabbed into her pincushion wristband, and then the Kevlar was shoved into the bundle of scraps in her arms.  Now that she had encountered it, there was a high possibility that some of the other pieces were hiding a number of pins.  The thin woman grumbled as she walked over to the organized scraps and began to undo all of her work so she could find any pins.  Over twenty pins were pulled and poked into the pincushion wristband.  Pearl glanced at her watch.

            [09:48]

            Feet carried her over to Carnelian’s desk so she could open one of the top drawers and retrieve the tool she would need for her next task.  The object was an old, telescoping, antennae that had once been part of a car with a large, powerful, disk magnet welded to the tip.  Picking up pins quickly became a common and often frustrating task.  Carnelian’s office, like many of the nicer ones, had multicolored, industrial carpet flooring.  This made it very difficult to see pins before they embedded themselves in shoes or searching hands.  While finding them on the usual concrete floor wouldn’t be too much easier, by the time Pearl had been doing this for over a year she resolved to make it easier.  A quick trip to the Individual Gem Supply Station resulted in the purchase of the magnet and directions to where the bismuths generally worked.  From there Pearl got lucky in her interaction with one of the female bismuths.  After handing over thirty credits she was presented with the resulting tool.  Simple, compact, and effective.

            Pearl extended out the telescoping rod to its full length and began to sweep the magnet over the floor like she was some treasure hunter with a metal detector.  Every time the click of a pin sticking to the magnet was heard, the pale woman couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction.  Checking over the entire room took a good forty-five minutes as she had to pause and remove the gathering of pins to free up more space on the magnet two or three times.  The sharp objects were then stabbed into a tomato pincushion until it was full with the remainder put into a plastic case.  Next she was going to organize all of the files.  Papers were put into the correct folders, folders were then alphabetized and filed away.  There was enough room for everything, so no trips to the archives were necessary.

            As the thin woman was spacing out the folders before shutting the drawer a title caught her eye.

 

“Black Leather Jacket w/ Fleece Liner

 

            Eyebrows furrowed.  Pearl grabbed the folder, pulled it out, and flipped to the front.  Sketches and concept drawings for the article of clothing covered the first few pages, followed by detailed measurements and specifications; then patterns and a couple pictures of the end result.  The pale woman had to do a double take at the picture of the completed jacket and the person who was wearing it.  It was Garnet.

            Of course it’s Garnet you dummy, who else have you seen wearing a black leather jacket that looks exactly like the one in here?

            Pearl got to the end of the folder and saw the full title for it.

 

“Black Leather Jacket w/ Fleece Liner

Garnet 0001”

 

            So Garnet’s jacket was another gift then.  I wonder what she did to get that?

            Hands flipped back through the designs, pausing on the page that listed out all the measurements and details.  There were several pockets supposedly on the inside of the jacket, but Pearl had never felt them.  She read over the page carefully.  Two pockets, one on each side, were up by the chest and were no bigger than a hand.  Four pockets, two on each side, were located around the ribs and could hold small weapons or ammunition.  Pearl knew there hadn’t been any weapons in the jacket when she had worn it, but it made complete sense for Garnet’s attire to be outfitted in such a way.  As the folder was put away the pale woman began to wonder if Garnet’s other “casual” attire held secrets.  With a heavy exhale the cabinet drawer was closed and Pearl marched to the nearby janitorial closet to acquire the vacuum.

            Garnet was a topic she had been intentionally avoiding, again.  The week after their disastrous evening together she had endured more physical bullying from 00824 until she bent to the crazy pearl’s demands.  Physically Pearl was improving as her face and neck were finally clearing up from all the bruising of the initial attack, but her mind and thin sense of safety was in shambles.  Nightmares of her bully, Garnet’s anger, and other past traumas happened nearly every night, while throughout the day Pearl had to use her deep breathing techniques whenever someone burst into a room or came close to her without first being detected.  Her nerves felt frayed and jittery.  Nothing had been seen or heard of Garnet since that night as she had not appeared in the hallways and their scheduled regulation was cancelled days before it was to happen.  Pearl’s face was pulled sideways in a wince.

            That meant Garnet chose to have Yellow Diamond take care of things instead of me.

            She somewhat knew how regulation went for Garnet with Yellow Diamond, and if Garnet would rather deal with that than see her, then that meant she really had pushed things too far.

            I need to properly apologize to her.

The End of the Year Celebration was only a few days away and that meant that the next time Pearl would see the champion would be when she was killing whoever got put into The Cage.  After that she had no idea when she would see Garnet again.

            The plug was shoved in the outlet and Pearl hit the power button on the vacuum.  Much like the noise of the mechanical broom chased away the silence, Pearl chased the thoughts of Garnet away by running through her mental checklist of things that needed to be done in the next few days.  She knew she needed to face what had happened, what she learned, and how much she hurt Garnet, but for now she wasn’t going to think about it.

            Nothing is going to change until I can speak with Garnet again anyway and I need to stay on task.  Maybe during my personal time later tonight.

 

            The remaining days until the End of the Year Celebration went by too quickly for Pearl’s liking.  Carnelian was neck-deep in alterations and completing Yellow Diamond’s specialized, tactical suit.  Pearl was with the designer as much as possible, helping out in any way she could.

            Today, the day before the big event, she was supplying pin after pin as Carnelian pieced together the suit on Yellow Diamond as she stood there on a raised, cylindrical platform.  Right now, just the three of them were in the room as Pearl 00010 was nowhere to be seen.

            “I already like the feeling of this latest design of yours,” Yellow Diamond spoke up.

            “You do?” Carnelian returned, her voice filled with thinly veiled excitement.

            “A Kevlar lined suit with stainless steel woven into the silk fabric, built to be both fashionable yet effective and protective in combat, there is little to not like about it.  While it may be a bit heavier and restrictive than the others, it will serve me well.”

            “I am very flattered by your praise Yellow Diamond.  Once we have all the pinning complete it will only take a day or so to complete the rest of the sewing.  Your new suit should be ready for action in a few days.”

            “Good.  The sooner the better.”

            Carnelian continued to expertly line the side of the suit jacket with pins, tailoring the clothing to its wearer.  The door to Yellow Diamond’s office was opened and Pearl 00010 walked in, her face carrying a neutral expression.

            “What is the result?” Yellow Diamond asked without context.

            “Level 3, Yellow Diamond,” Pearl 00010 stated.

            “What?”

            Pearl didn’t like the sharp change of tone in her owner’s voice, it put her on edge.  She took a deep breath and exhaled, the voice wasn’t directed towards her.

            Yet…

            “Are you certain?”

            “Both of the spinels agree.  Agate 00016 has had to-”

            The blonde pearl stopped speaking the instant Yellow Diamond held up her hand.

            “Carnelian, I need a moment with Pearl, take yours and wait outside until you are called back in,” the businesswoman instructed.

            “Of course,” Carnelian bowed before heading towards the door.

            Pearl rushed after her and closed the door behind her.  The designer sighed and put her round hands on her hips.

            “I do hope it’s a short discussion, we have a schedule to keep.”

            For a few minutes they stood in the yellow hallway awaiting the moment when they would be let back in.  By the time they had, Carnelian had begun to pace around.  Yellow Diamond was back on the pedestal and Pearl 00010 had taken a seat in the large office chair.

            “We will proceed as planned, it’s been this high before,” the businesswoman spoke to her pearl.

            “Understood.”

            “You may resume Carnelian, I apologize for interrupting your work, but some things must be taken care of immediately and privately.”

            The pale woman stared at Yellow Diamond as if she had grown a second head.  Her owner apologizing for something?!  It was beyond comprehension.

            “No need to,” the designer waved off, “I totally understand.”

            It only took another half an hour or so to pin the rest of the suit.  Like usual, Yellow Diamond went into the connected room to take off the combat attire and change back into her other suit, except this time when she came out she was just wearing a blouse and a pair of slacks, no jacket.  Pearl had never seen Yellow Diamond wear anything less than a full suit.  It was an odd sight to actually see the woman’s subtly curved figure.  Light blue eyes noticed that Pearl 00010 was definitely admiring the tall woman’s backside.

            “Come now Pearl, back to my office to work on completing this,” Carnelian spoke up as the last of their things were gathered.

            Pearl silently nodded and followed the woman out the door.  As they were exiting, the thin woman stole a glance back.  Yellow Diamond was standing in front of Pearl 00010, hands braced on the armrests of the office chair and leaning in close enough so their faces were only a few inches apart.

            “You’re sitting in my chair,” came the deeper sensual tone.

            “Am I?” Pearl 00010 feigned innocence.

            The strawberry blonde shot her focus forward and shut the door as swiftly and soundlessly as possible.

 

            Several lengthy lines of gems ran through the wide blue hall; each one for a different gem type.  Pearl waited patiently as the slow-moving line of pearls carried forward.  It was just like the beginning of last year’s End of the Year Celebration, a designated entrance and time to get your unit reward for the year.  Even with using her units only when necessary and getting the extra hundred from Carnelian, Pearl had almost run out.  The slips of special paper in her case totaled to 13 units.  She was glad to be getting another one hundred.

            “Number?” the agate demanded once Pearl had arrived at the front of the line.

            “Pearl 01079.”

            “I know you’re a pearl,” the stern woman grumbled as she keyed in the number into her tablet.

            Pearl put her head down and waited for the next command.

            “Two hundred and fifty units, looks like you got a raise for your performance this year.”

            Eyes shot up to stare at the agate in disbelief.  “Two hundred and fifty?  That’s over double!”

            The agate rolled her dark brown eyes.  “Records state you only worked half a year last year so were allocated half of what you would have received for a full year,” she stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  “So you got a 25% raise, quite lucky if you ask me.”

            A nice neat stack of slips of ten unit value each were handed over to Pearl, whose mouth was just hanging open.

            “Now remember, just as you can get a raise, you can also get a cut for decreased performance.”

            “Thank you ma’am,” Pearl bowed.

            “Hurry on, this line isn’t getting any shorter,” the agate shooed her away.

            The pale woman made her way through the crowds and into the underground stadium on level 0 of building 4.  Light blue eyes darted around for a familiar face.  Pearl 00687 had promised to meet her in section TT.  The seats were filling up fast as gems and guests poured in from the numerous gates all around the room.

            “01079!” the recognizable voice called out.

            Pearl zeroed in on the sound and spotted Pearl 00687 standing and waving at her amongst a number of the dancers and a few quartz guards.  She returned the gesture, feet adjusting to carry her over to her friends.

            “How are you?  Ready to have some fun on our partial day off?” the shorter pearl smiled.

            “Yeah, I am,” the pale woman returned after a moment of thought.

            They took their seats and before too long the lights dimmed and Yellow Diamond appeared on the fenceless octagon platform.  Just like last year the intimidating woman stood there in her tailored, solid yellow suit, and gave a memorized presentation of their successes of the year that included a short motivational speech, a rundown of the activities that had been set up for the evening, and then a final instruction to be back in the stadium by 21:00 for the mandatory final show.  A pit settled in the strawberry blonde’s stomach at the implied mention of The Cage.  Pearl 00687 placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.  Pearl nodded to her friend in appreciation.  The mass of attendees filed out of the stadium and began to disperse among the open levels of building 4.

            Unlike her first year, this year Pearl had the assignment to help with the selection of dancers that were performing for the first half of the evening while Pearl 00687 would cover the second half.  It was run just like a Friday night event.  Get water, get food, help with stretching, find a lost item, stand around waiting for another command, retrieve food and drink orders, etc.  Thankfully it wasn’t too crazy and before long she was wishing her friend well as they traded posts.

            It was hard not to get caught up in the exciting festivities despite the impending dreaded final event coming closer with each minute.  Bright lights danced around, catchy music was pumped from the hidden sound system, delicious food smells wafted through the air, and cheers and laughter came from the various games and activities.  Pearl went around exploring her options before deciding on what she wanted to do in the three hours she had until 21:00.  For three hours she was going to escape her cruel reality and pretend everything was as bright and as colorful as the party.  Mechanical whirring drew her attention to a group of peridots huddled around a clear plastic cage.

            “Your feeble attempts to thwart my unstoppable mech are futile!” Peridot 00231 cackled.

            Light blue eyes peered into the cage to see two remote controlled robots battling each other in a tiny ring.  The one Pearl assumed Peridot 00231 was controlling had just successfully ripped the arms off the other robot and had begun to beat it down with its own detached arms.

            “YOU CLOD!” the other peridot raged.  “Next year I’ll wipe that smug grin off your face!”

            “I’d love to see you try!  You ULTRA CLOD!”

            Watching the mech fights was extremely entertaining, from the amazing small robots that had been constructed over the year and how well they performed to the expressions and exclamations of the gems controlling them.  After a few matches Pearl moved on.  A visit to the dunk tank was always a good decision.  This year an amethyst was in it.  Pearl sent them in for a swim twice after a handful of attempts.  Gurgling in her stomach made the thin woman stop and buy some food.  This time she didn’t go overboard and made sure to finish everything well in advance for The Cage later on.  On one floor there was an inflatable Velcro wall where one would don a Velcro suit and run and jump at the wall to see how high up they could stick to it.  Pearl had to do it several times since it was so much fun and she ended up sticking fairly high up due to her low weight and decent power in her legs.  Two more puzzle books were purchased; the ones she had were almost completely used up from all of the long road trips.  The pale woman glanced at her watch.

            [20:32]

            Less than a half an hour…

            By that time a number of the booths were closing up so the pale woman made her way to the dance floor and lost herself in the music until it was cut off.  At 20:47 Pearl found herself sitting with her friends a dozen rows away from the octagon platform.  All of her enjoyment and happiness from the evening slowly oozed out of her body as the executions approached.  Pearl 000687 sat next to her with an equally glum face.

            I hope Garnet is doing okay.

            “Welcome ladies, gents, and gems to the final event of the night!  I am Beryl 00012 and will be commentating on The Cage matches along with my co-commentator Idocrase 00008,” the animated female voice rang out from the speakers.

            “Greetings!”

            Pearl tuned out the rest of the introduction as her eyes watched the barred structure lower from the ceiling and get locked into place with the quartz guards taking their positions around it.  She knew what was about to happen, she didn’t need hear another explanation of it.

            “GAAARRNEEEEEET!”

            The muscular figure all but sprinted into the cage and began to pace around inside, throwing her arms up into the air, encouraging the crowds’ cheers.  Pearl tensed in her seat when Garnet’s face looked in her general direction.  She had no way of knowing if Garnet saw her or not, but it still affected her all the same.  Watching this wasn’t going to be easy.

            “The first contender for their lives is Margaret Smith!” Beryl 00012 announced as a middle-aged woman with shoulder length, bleach blonde hair and stylish but modest clothes was tossed into the ring.

            The woman’s hair was pulled back into a bun and had two out of place, metal chopsticks sticking through it.  It seemed odd to Pearl mostly due to the fact that the rest of the woman’s ensemble was very western influenced with her fashionably stressed jeans, name brand, athletic shoes, loose fitting, pastel, monotone shirt, and name brand, athletic, zip-up hoodie.

            “Not only has this woman delivered counterfeit products on more than one occasion, she is known for being a real pain in the ass to the gems who were unfortunate enough to have to deal with her.”

            “It’s a fight to the death!  Only one can leave The Cage alive,” Idocrase 00008’s voice rang out with the bell.

            Margaret focused her attention on Garnet and began to walk towards her, “Now I’ll give you a chance to call this off before I get real nasty.  Go call to your owner Yellow Diamond and have her stop this ridiculous show.” She pointed a finger at the fighter like she was scolding her.

            Garnet simply took one swift step forward, hooked her foot around the curvy woman’s ankle and tripped her.  Margaret fell face first onto the floor with a loud thud.  Gems roared out in laughter.  She scrambled back onto her feet; her red face contorted into a livid expression.

            “Listen you bitch!  I’m being real patient here, but one more move like that and I will make you and Yellow Diamond regret ever messing with me!”

            The champion folded her arms across her chest and stood still.  It wasn’t hard to tell that the dark woman was waiting for Margaret to take another step towards her.  And step she did.  In the blink of an eye Garnet slipped behind the woman, brought her foot up and front kicked the blonde woman in the butt.  Once again, a loud thud echoed through the place as Margaret was shoved to the ground.  More laughter roared along with a few suggestions from the crowd, one particularly loud voice called for Garnet to bitch-slap her to death.

            “YOU ASKED FOR IT!  I WARNED YOU!” spit flew from the woman’s mouth as she reached up and pulled both of the chopsticks out of her bun.

            However, they weren’t chopsticks, but thin, pointy blades fashioned to look like the utensil when viewed from a distance.  Pearl sucked in a breath.

            That’s not fair!

            Margaret wasted no time in lunging for the champion, swiping her dangerous blades this way and that.  Each attack met the air as Garnet effortlessly dodged them with a bored yet focused expression.  The majority of the crowd called out and cheered Garnet on to kill her while some had begun to side with the chopstick-welding lady.  Pearl tensed as another swipe came dangerously close to the fighter’s chest.  Garnet grabbed one of Margaret’s wrists and twisted the blade out of her hand instants before she could be stabbed with the other.  Long legs hopped back, established a wide base, and dropped low as Garnet held up her weapon in a fencing pose.  The chopstick looked comically small in her large hands.

            “You little twat!”

            The blonde woman took a more defensive stance for a few moments before attempting to thrust her blade forward.  Garnet lunged, parried the attack, and sliced the blade up the top of Margaret’s forearm to her elbow all in one seamless movement.  A metal ping sounded as the woman’s chopstick was dropped from a trembling hand.  Wide blue eyes stared down at the blood gushing from the deep injury, feet stumbling back as the red liquid began to drip onto the octagon platform.  The champion didn’t waste a second as she struck once again making a similar slice up the other forearm.  Red burst out on Margaret’s quads as Garnet’s blade continued its war path down one thigh and up the other.

            “My…my…arms…”

            Garnet slashed the blade horizontally through the air.  Tear filled eyes gazed down at the blood rolling from her stomach and staining her nice pastel blue shirt and white zip-up hoodie.  They then looked up into emotionless mismatched eyes.

            “I…”

            Pearl’s stomach churned at the sight of so much blood steadily covering the woman.  The curly haired woman thrust forward one last time, piercing the front of the woman’s throat and shoving the blade in far enough that it poked out the back of her neck.  Blood gurgled up and dribbled down the blonde woman’s chin as she struggled to breathe.  Garnet yanked the chopstick out and stood back.  Margaret collapsed onto all fours vomiting and coughing up more red gore.  Pearl squirmed in her seat at the awful sight and sounds.  In what felt like forever, the lifeless corpse finally fell into the puddle of blood with a sickening splash.  Celebratory cries rose up from the mass of gems.

            The gate to The Cage was opened and three amethysts ran in as a fourth stayed back to ensure it didn’t close.  Two grabbed the body, while the other collected the blades from the ground and from Garnet.  Surprisingly the weapon was surrendered without protest.

            Must be another rule, that way Garnet just can’t easily kill each one.

            “Ahhh, a nice fitting end to one really annoying and deceitful person, don’t you think so Idocrase 00008?” Beryl 00012 sighed.

            “Agreed, and it sets a great tone for the rest of the matchups we have for tonight!”

            Light blue eyes were finally torn from the horrid sight and closed as Pearl put her head between her knees and plugged her ears.  Measured inhales and exhales were repeated until her stomach settled down.  It was no accident that the chopsticks had made their way into The Cage, Yellow Diamond had let them in.  That realization only made Pearl want to puke more.  Garnet was intentionally being put at risk of injury just for a more entertaining show.  The pale woman spared a glance up to see what was happening only to regret it.  Garnet was in the middle of practically ripping the lower half of a man’s leg off due the angle she had it bent to.  Cries of agony coming from his bloodied face were drowned out by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction, but Pearl felt like she could still hear his pain in her mind.  Fingers plugged her ears once again as she put her head down.  She didn’t want to watch this.  She didn’t want to see Garnet doing this.  She didn’t want to have the sight of people getting brutally murdered seared into her brain.

            While it was effective in blocking out most of the stimulus of the environment around her, she could still hear pieces of the announcer’s commentary, she could still feel the way the stadium seats shook from the ebb and rise of the crowd’s celebration, she could still imagine what was happening despite how hard she tried to focus on anything else.  There was no way to know how much time had passed or if they were even close to the end of all the executions without opening herself to hear or see what was going on.  Pearl finally decided to quickly unplug one of her ears in favor of glancing at her watch.

            [21:32]

            “Where the fuck are you?  You ugly bitch!  Come out and fucking fight me!”

            It came from The Cage.

            What?

            Curiosity got the better of her.  Light blue eyes were opened and lifted up.  Stumbling around on unsteady feet in The Cage was an average height, chubby man.  There were a number of blood splatters on his face and clothing, an indication that Garnet had already engaged with him, but other than that and a few lumps on his head, he seemed fine.  Pearl looked around but couldn’t find the champion.

            Where is she?

            “Looks like Richard is still trying to locate his opponent.  Do you want to take bets on if he finds her first or if she takes action first?” Idocrase 00008 tossed out.

            “That’s an easy bet, I’ll take five units for Garnet making a move before he finds her,” Beryl 00012 quickly agreed.

            “Well there aren’t that many places she could hide, I’m sure Richard will spot her in no time.  Five on Richard.”

            “Given that he probably has a concussion or two from Garnet already brutally knocking him out twice, he’s not going to be able to think clearly on where to look.”

            “True, and at this point she’s merely just playing with him, there’s been plenty of opportunities for her to finish him off but she has stepped back each time to let him get back up.  So! Take your bets if you want as we watch the rest of this match!” the challenge was issued to the audience.

            Pearl scoured the bars, trying to locate Garnet.  She was about to give up when she finally spotted her.  The champion had climbed up to the inside of the top of the metal prison and had positioned her body near the bright lights that were shining down on the platform.  Hands and feet gripped the metal bars in a partially spread-eagle fashion.  Looking up at her would temporarily blind the man, so the only way for him to figure out her location was for him to notice Garnet’s ever so subtle shadow on the floor.  Richard took a staggering step forward.

            “Where are you bitch!  Come and fight me!  I’ll rip your head off!”

            Another step put the man even closer to the edge of the platform and the wall of metal rods running vertically and horizontally.  Ever so slowly, Garnet unhooked her feet and lowered her body so she was just hanging by her hands.  She stealthily swung from one to the next like she was on a set of monkey bars; moving closer to her target.

            “Show your face coward!” he swung his fists about like a drunken man, attacking one way, then the other.

            Once his back was turned to her, Garnet’s feet were pulled back then kicked forward as the fighter let go of the bars.  She jumped on his back with her feet in a position similar to that of a skateboarder and used the momentum of her descent to throw him towards the bars while still remaining on top of him.  Arms flailed about to try and stop the impending crash of skull against steel, but it was a futile attempt.  The rapid clang of bone meeting metal sounded six times as he was shoved to the ground.  Garnet’s usually neutral face sported a sadistic grin as she gazed down on her victim.  A roar of approval rung out from the crowd at the sick move.  Pearl winced.  Richard’s face was now a mashed mess as his teeth had been knocked in along with his jaw and nose being obviously broken.  He lay there with his head propped up by the last bar, putting his neck in a very dangerous position.  Garnet wasted no time in swiftly stomping on the back of his vulnerable spine using the cage as a leverage point.  The resulting snap killed Richard instantly.  Garnet hopped off the corpse and crouched down with her hands taking hold of the corpse’s shirt collar and belt.  With a loud cry, the champion lifted the body off the ground and pressed it over her head, arms locking out and bulging muscles straining at the difficult movement and maintaining the balance to continue holding it up.  The stadium went wild!  Several of the quartz guards sitting near Pearl and the dancers had jumped onto their feet and were adding their voices to Garnet’s; fists pumping into the air.  The champion rotated a full 180 degrees and then threw the body hard enough that it landed a couple of yards away from her.  Bloodied fists were held high and one last triumphant exclamation was let out.

            “Wow that was impressive!” Beryl 00012’s awed voice drifted from the speakers.

            “Not just how she killed him in such a stunning move but being able to do that right there.  It’s one thing to lift 230 pounds or so over your head with a barbell, but to be able to do that with a limp human body, even more impressive!  Gotta wonder what it’s like to be on such a level like that.”

            Garnet paced around in the now empty cage, hands curled into fists, lips pulled back into a snarl, and wild, mismatched eyes glued to the gate; waiting for the next individual to be pushed in.

            “I don’t think I’ll ever know, but it’s time for you to pay up Idocrase,” Beryl 00012 smugly stated.

            “That was an easy one,” came the sigh.

            “And yet you still took it.”

            A shuffling of paper could be heard.

            “We have only a couple more exciting match ups left for the night, so sit tight and don’t look away!”

            Pearl retreated back to her previous position, she wasn’t going to watch anymore, it didn’t matter how curious she was as to who was going to be put in and why, knowing and seeing wasn’t worth it.  Before the thin woman plugged her ears, she took off her watch and held it between her legs.  Now she would be able to make a better guess on when things ended.  For the first few minutes she was able to tune out the environment, but then the atmosphere shifted and a distinct voice could be heard crying out.  She knew that one, it was Garnet’s.  Fingers were pushed harder against her ears, she didn’t like that angry sound or the accompanying thuds of the next victim’s body hitting the metal cage over and over.  There was no concern for Garnet’s safety, if the champion was somehow losing, the crowd wouldn’t be cheering as much as it was.

            I just want this to be over.

            Eventually the crowd seemed to settle down and the muffled voices of the announcers took over until those stopped as well.  Pearl nearly jumped out of her skin when a hand gently touched her upper back.  The pale woman shot into an upright seated position with her fists pulled up in a defensive manner.  Pearl 00687 stared at her with wide eyes.  It was just her friend.  A sigh of relief was let out through the thin woman’s burning cheeks.

            “The matches are done, we can go now,” Pearl 00687 offered with a small smile.

            “Thanks,” Pearl barely mumbled.

            “Eight people and no gems, that’s a surprise, I guess everyone was on good behavior this year,” an older sunstone commented as she stood up and stretched.

            The other dancers agreed as they too stood up and began to make their way towards the exits.  Light blue eyes were turned to the lone figure in The Cage.  Like last year, Garnet had her back pressed against the metal bars as she was crouched down on the balls of her feet.  However, this time hands were tangled in her thick afro as eyes were strewn shut; face contorted as if she were in extreme pain.  Pearl felt a pang in her chest. 

            What kind of mental toll does this take on Garnet?

            She was torn between wanting to reach out to try and comfort the fighter and wanting to retreat and hide from the terrifying figure.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Pearl 00687 rest her hand on her shoulder.  This time she didn’t jump at the anticipated touch.

            “You two coming?” the sunstone directed down at the two pearls.

            “In a moment, we won’t be too far behind,” Pearl 00687 answered as she rubbed Pearl’s back.

            “You’ll get used to it,” the dancer shrugged off.  “Give it a couple more years.  Have a good night!” she finished with a wave.

            The pale gem continued to stare at The Cage, watching as two amethysts walked in holding a set of handcuffs.  Garnet’s hands were quickly pulled away from her afro as her eyes snapped open and zeroed in on the approaching gems.  Pearl tensed.

            Those aren’t her usual guards.

            With minimal resistance the champion was jerked to her feet and had her hands cuffed behind her back.  As the three were making their way to the open gate, a jasper walked up and sealed off the exit.  The loud clang echoed through the stadium drawing the dispersing audience’s attention.  The two amethysts shared a worried and confused look, their hands tightening their grip on the champion.  Garnet didn’t waste a second.  The champion twisted out of their hold as she dropped low and rolled between Amethyst 00895’s legs.  Before they could even throw one punch, Garnet was back on her feet and had delivered a solid push kick to the center of the man’s chest.

            “And for our surprise final match of the night, Garnet versus Amethyst 01528 and Amethyst 00895!  Two gems that have been running a little business on the side that has endangered a number gems on The List by accepting and arranging bids that were not approved through the system and pocketing the money for themselves,” Beryl 00012’s voice jumped from the speakers.

            Gems rushed to grab nearby seats and watch this exciting match unfold.  Pearl began to worry her hands.  The odds were more against Garnet than ever before, two capable opponents and being handcuffed.  However, that didn’t even seem to faze the dark woman.  While the two amethysts were working together to try and corner Garnet, she was able to always outmaneuver and strike in just the right spots with her legs to make them falter or back off.  Once she had secured enough space and time, she jumped over her arms, successfully bringing her cuffed hands to her front.  Defense was immediately switched to offense as the champion charged at Amethyst 01528.  The one backed up on instinct and Amethyst 00895 moved to close in on Garnet’s back.  Suddenly Garnet changed directions and shot after Amethyst 00895.  Elbows and feet smashed through the virtually nonexistent defenses Amethyst 00895 had up.  Just before Amethyst 01528 could attack her blind spot, the fighter jumped away and danced around so they were both facing her while standing side by side.

            “Rush her together!  We can’t let her split us up!” Amethyst 00895 shouted through the blood in his mouth.

            Garnet bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet as they cautiously approached.  Punches and kicks were thrown, each one was either blocked or avoided with a few that landed.  Inch by inch they were pushing her towards a corner of the cage.  If they got her there, she would be trapped and then killed.  The pale woman pressed her hands to her mouth terrified of what was to come next.  Just as it seemed the two amethysts had Garnet cornered, she lunged forward, grabbed one of Amethyst 01528’s calves at the same time her shoulder collided with his thighs, swiftly carried him a few yards, and dropped him to the ground.  Amethyst 00895 chased after and was on her in seconds, kicking and stomping every inch of her he could land a hit on.  The man didn’t dare go to the ground with her, they knew she could easily kill them there.  The trapped man tried to escape, but the champion’s iron hold gave no such room to.  Minimal effort was put towards avoiding the strikes from Amethyst 00895, as Garnet’s legs and arms rapidly trapped one of Amethyst 01528’s heels and viciously twisted it.  The younger quartz cried out in pain, hands shooting to his knee.  Cheers erupted from the remaining audience.  Garnet immediately abandoned the injured man and brought up her defenses.  Amethyst 00895 backed off, his eyes darting between the bleeding dark woman and the other amethyst.

            “Get on your feet!” he shouted.

            “Fucking hell!  She blew out my ACL!  SHIT!” he cried.

            Amethyst 00895 breathed out evenly, focusing solely on Garnet.  The champion hopped to her feet and pushed forward like it was a regular match, not at all hindered by the hard hits that had landed on her.  Kicks struck out and chipped away at the man’s legs, joints, and torso before Garnet would close in and land a few decent elbows.  There was no playing around here, the fighter was going to kill him as quickly as she could even with her hands being cuffed.  Amethyst 00895 stumbled forward after a painful hit to his leading leg’s knee.  The champion closed the distance between them and tackled him to the ground.  They scrambled for a few tense moments, both fighting for a position of control.  It ended, much to Pearl’s relief, with Garnet claiming the mount position.  From there Amethyst 00895 was dealt blow after blow to his forearms and face.

            Movement off to the side drew Pearl’s attention towards Amethyst 01528 who was slowly crawling closer to the two fighting; face strewn with pain, yet still determined not to die.  The pale woman wanted to shout out a warning but she couldn’t get her vocal cords to work.

            Watch out Garnet!

            The crowd shouted on as the amethyst got closer and closer to Garnet’s back.  However, as he was shifting in his crawl he moved his injured leg enough that it made a squeak of pain jump past his lips.  Garnet halted her beat down of the barely conscious amethyst and whipped her head around to focus in on him.  Amethyst 01528 visibly gulped.  One more elbow was crashed against Amethyst 00895’s skull.  Garnet cautiously stepped off her current victim and then sprinted at the other.  A powerful leg was lifted up to deliver several axe kicks to the younger man’s torso and legs.  One hit was without a doubt intentionally given to the injured leg.  The champion then dropped down to take side control of his body and then aggressively slipped into back control; positioning them so she could keep an eye on the other amethyst that was starting to sit up onto his elbows.  Frustrated exclamations were let out as Garnet was unable to get a solid blood choke on due to the restrictive handcuffs and the amethyst’s defense.  So instead, the dark woman worked to forcefully sneak the handcuff’s short chain around his neck by pulling it over and down his face.  Amethyst 00895 got to his feet.  The champion swiftly moved her feet from where they hooked between the younger amethyst’s legs to the area behind her so she could lean all of her weight on Amethyst 01528’s back, nearly folding him in half.  There was little he could do in his position aside from try and pull at the chain that was tightly wrapped around his neck. Amethyst 00895 took two unsteady steps towards them.  A knee was braced against the Amethyst 01528’s spine and then Garnet used her whole upper body to jerk the chain back as hard as possible.  The front of his throat collapsed in from the brutal force, leaving him gasping for rattling breaths.  Garnet didn’t have time to finish him off completely as the other Amethyst had finally regained his bearings.  This one would just have to suffocate to death.

            Amethyst 00895 charged.  The champion untangled her hands from around the younger amethyst’s neck and jumped back.  However, her fatigued legs didn’t move fast enough and she ended up stumbling and falling onto her butt.  He landed on her, taking full advantage of her misstep.  Fists and elbows rained down on her defenses until she was able to weave her legs up into a protective guard from the desperate quartz.  The two paused, assessing their advantages and disadvantages.  Garnet exhaled heavily from her nose, blood spraying from her nostrils and leaking from a number of gashes on her face and mouth.  Everyone waited on pins and needles, dying to see what would happen next.  Amethyst 00895 seemed to fully realize his predicament.  If he went on the offensive Garnet was sure to reverse things and kill him.  If he stayed on the defensive it was only a matter of time before Garnet would cleverly tangle him up and kill him.  In that moment of hesitation, the seasoned fighter broke his grip and posture, and then slipped around to take control of his back.  Legs were locked into a body triangle around his midsection as vertical elbows were delivered to the back of Amethyst 00895’s head.  After only a few hits the man became unresponsive.  Garnet then pressed the handcuff chain against his throat and began to saw her hands back and forth.  The dull chain did nothing at first but as more pressure was added it broke through the skin and continued to work its way slowly through his neck, tearing through muscle, tissue, and more.  Blood squirted out and splattered all over the section of the platform in front of them.

            Pearl couldn’t look away; her eyes were transfixed to the gruesome, gut-churning scene.

            As the chain hit the man’s spine, Garnet well out a furious cry, hands moving faster until with one mighty tug the chain broke completely through and severed the amethyst’s head from his body.

            “A decapitation with a dull chain!  A first for The Cage!” Idocrase 00008 exclaimed.

            Bile rose up in the pale woman’s throat forcing her to dash to the nearest trashcan and empty the contents of her stomach into it.  Watery eyes eventually looked back up after Pearl couldn’t spit up anymore.  Garnet’s yelling hadn’t ceased, she stood there slightly hunched over with blood coating her arms from the elbows down.  The pale woman shakily backed away from the trashcan, a hand reached out to locate a nearby seat for her to sit on.  Three jaspers moved to enter and remove the bodies, but Garnet charged at them, mismatched eyes wide and screaming death to any who dared to come in.  They quickly jumped out and closed the gate in time for the champion to latch onto it and try to rip it off its hinges.

            “RAAAGHH!!!”

            “That will be all for tonight!” Beryl 00012 tried to cheerily state despite the nervousness in her voice, “Please exit quickly and orderly.  Another big year ahead of us!  Thanks to the visiting Diamonds, Blue and Pink Diamond, and to the leaders of Facets 3, 11, 12, 16, and 21 for joining us!  I hope you all had a grand time here tonight!”

            The gems that had stayed to watch the extra executions rose up from their seats and headed for the exits.  Casual conversations drifted about.  Pearl caught a few comments about the champion still locked in The Cage as she sat there letting her stomach settle down a little more.  Lips were pressed into a thin line as she watched Garnet rattle the gate a few more times and try a variety of methods to break her handcuffs using either the cage or one of the dead bodies.  However, as each attempt failed the fighter’s rage seemed to only increase.  The quartz guards that typically stood around The Cage were standing a little farther away than usual.  None of them wanted to be too close.  Pearl 00687 approached the thin woman.

            “Are you coming?” she motioned with her head to the exit.

            Light blue eyes glanced back and forth from the double doors and the dark woman’s unstable form.

            “Yeah, I’m coming,” came the hesitant response.

            The two pearls began to make their way up the steep stairs.  Another loud cry echoed in the nearly empty stadium.  Pearl paused and glanced over her shoulder at Garnet.

            She needs help.

            And you think you could help her?  She’ll rip your face off it you get close.

            I can’t just leave her like this.

            Feet halted their ascent.

            You really want to help that monster? Don’t you remember how close she came to hurting you?

            Pearl winced at the memory.  Despite how much she did want to just retreat to her bed to recover from the night, leaving while Garnet was in such a state felt wrong.

            I have to try.

            “Go on without me,” she spoke up.

            “Are you serious?” Pearl 00687 turned back toward her.

            “I am.  I want to try and maybe help Garnet calm down, she’s probably just shot with adrenaline and isn’t completely aware that it’s over or something.”

            Pearl 00687 raised an eyebrow.  “Approaching Garnet is a bad idea right now.  I doubt the guards will let you get close enough to talk to her anyways.  She’ll be taken care of, don’t worry.”

            Feet continued to refuse to move upwards.

            “It hurts to see her like this.  This isn’t her.  That’s not Garnet.”

            The older pearl sighed.

            “I’m not going to stop you,” Pearl 00687 relented.  “Good luck, be sure to keep a good distance from The Cage, make it quick, and hope the amethysts and jaspers don’t get mad at you for staying.  The chrysocollas will be arriving any minute to start cleaning this place; you don’t want to get in their way.”

            “I won’t, thank you.”

            Her friend turned to continue her journey up, then paused.

            “You’ll need to learn to accept that that is part of her.  No matter how nice she is around you, that is still her,” she pointed to the champion.

            Pearl swallowed as she watched the pearl with the yellow shirt depart with the remains of the audience. The thin woman took a deep breath and then began the steep journey down the concrete steps.  Light blue eyes panned over the two jaspers closest to her.  So far they hadn’t noticed her, but they were sure to do something as she got closer.  Pearl dashed behind a row of seats, watched for them to glance away, then moved a couple rows closer; making sure to stay as low as possible.

            You’re not going to be able to help her.

            I have to try.

            It was eerie how quiet the stadium had become.  Garnet’s harsh breathing and heavy footfalls echoed about.   Pearl slipped behind another section of seats just as one of the jaspers faced her direction.  When she peeked up they were definitely staring at her.  Immediately she ducked back down and swallowed.  She was still a dozen or so rows away, too far to be able to try and communicate with Garnet.  However, Pearl didn’t dare to look up and risk forcing the jasper into action.

            Maybe they will just stay there and I can sneak over to another section and make my way closer.

            The sound of a door opening and closing made the pale woman freeze.  Clicking footfalls and low voices were added to Garnet’s pacing.  Pearl tried to figure out where they were coming from and where they were headed.  It seemed like the sound was coming from the other side of The Cage.  The pale woman began crawling behind the row of seats towards another section and father from the suspicious jasper.  Light blue eyes dared to peek up once again only for her to dive back down as she saw the figure clad in all yellow step up to the gate of The Cage.  The sounds of the gate opening and more of the heeled steps followed.

            “Shut the gate,” Yellow Diamond’s voice commanded.

            “Wh-what?!” came a stuttered response.

            “DO as I SAY!”

            “Y-yes, ma’am!”

            The pale woman moved closer to the other section and paused to peer out from behind her cover.  She couldn’t believe what she saw.  Upon the gate closing and the lock sliding into place, Garnet’s tense, coiled body sprang loose as she charged at Yellow Diamond. The business woman stood tall with her hands behind her back and round lips pulled down into a frown.

            “RRAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” the champion cried out as she was just a couple of strides from her owner.

            “On your knees,” came the even order.

            Bare feet slammed against the octagon platform as Garnet stopped mere inches away; blood-stained hands almost grabbing the front of the pristine yellow suit, lips pulled back into a snarl as crazed mismatched eyes stared into stern, golden hazel ones.  Yellow Diamond didn’t even flinch.

            “I said, ON YOUR KNEES.”

            Pearl observed with rapt attention, her mouth hanging open.  Garnet made a movement to kneel, but it was quickly changed into a halted swipe at her master.

            “ON YOUR KNEES!”

            Garnet dropped to one knee with both of her fists pressed against the floor and her head bowed.  The pale woman had to admire the insane guts of steel Yellow Diamond had to have to face-off against Garnet while she was in such an instable condition.  A few long moments passed with just Yellow Diamond staring down at the champion.  The fighter’s ragged breaths being the only sound in the stadium.

            “Calm down,” Yellow Diamond spoke.

            Garnet twitched like she was about to jump back onto her feet.

            “Calm down.” The phrase was repeated in a soothing tone.

            For several seconds Pearl watched as Garnet pulled in and exhaled large lungfuls of air.

            “I have the keys to the gate, as well as to your restraints.”

            The shiny metal objects were pulled out a suit jacket pocket.

            “Three jaspers are going to come in here and remove the bodies, you are to stay exactly where you are.  You will not be fighting them, you are done for the night,” Yellow Diamond issued the clear instructions.  “Nod your head if you understood me.”

            Slowly the head covered in thick curls moved up and down.

            “Good.  Now nod your head that you’re going to obey.”

            Another nod.

            “Good.”

            The businesswoman motioned for the jaspers standing by the gate to come in and take care of business.  Garnet’s kneeling body jerked and flexed, itching to lunge at the gems in The Cage.

            “Stay…” Yellow Diamond warned.

            Even breathing was becoming shorter.         

            “Stay.”

            In less than a minute the bodies were cleared out and the two were locked in again.  Pearl let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.  Out of the corner of her eye she made note that none of the jaspers had made any movements towards her.  Maybe they all were silently listening in too.  Unfortunately, Garnet’s agitation and breathing wasn’t settling down even though it was just her and Yellow Diamond.

            “Calm down.”

            A strange sound came from the champion that reminded Pearl of strangled sob, but this one was laced with pain and anger.

            “Calm down, my Garnet.”

            “AGGRRRAAAHHH!” the dark woman gasped out, her whole frame shaking.

            “My Garnet,” Yellow Diamond crouched down in front of the fighter, “my pride, my joy, my pain, and my anger,” she reached out to cup Garnet’s bloodied face only for the fighter to pull away from her.  “My Garnet,” came the sigh.

            Yellow Diamond reached for the turned away face and guided it so they were looking into each other’s eyes.

            “You have done well tonight.”

            “Why did you do that!” came the anguished demand.  “You had them wait until I was bound!”

            Pearl jumped a little at Garnet’s surprising injection.

            “To challenge you and to prove that you are force to be feared.  They all make light of your skill when they see you demolish those far beneath you.  So I leveled the plane a little to make them see.”

            Garnet tried to pull out of Yellow Diamond’s hands, but the woman maintained her firm hold.

            “I can’t let you become stagnant in your abilities, you won’t always be able to fight on your terms and in your comfort zone.  That is why I arranged for the surprise.  And you performed phenomenally.  Not only did you take down two semi-competent fighters, but with your hands restricted.  I am proud of you Garnet.  My Garnet.”

            The champion stared into Yellow Diamond’s eyes for a few seconds before bowing her head again.  Finally, her ragged breathing seemed to settle down.

            “Now if I remove your handcuffs will you come quietly and calmly with me to have you looked over?”

            A slow nod.

            “Good.”

            Yellow Diamond reached down and with two twists the blood-soaked handcuffs fell away from Garnet’s wrists.  Without any further instructions the woman stood and walked to the gate.  Garnet rose to her feet and followed her master.  In another twist the gate was opened and they disappeared from view.

            Pearl breathed out a huge sigh of relief.  Garnet was going to be okay.  Movement off to the side brought her attention to the jasper moving in her direction, a frown set on the muscular woman’s face.  The pale woman was suddenly sent into a wave of panic.  Now she needed to get out of there before she got into any trouble.  Pearl was on her feet, dashing to the end of the row and up the set of stairs in seconds.  The thuds of heavy feet chased her as the jasper called out at her.

            If I don’t get caught they can’t punish me.

            Long arms pumped at her sides as she made short work of the stairs and passed through the set of double doors without getting caught.  However, she couldn’t stop, the jasper could still be heard running after her.  Pearl sprinted down the hallway, not daring to look back.  At the first chance she had to slip down another hallway she took it.  The pearl continued to weave through hallways of varying colors until she couldn’t hear the sounds of pursuit anymore.  A sigh of relief was let out in tandem with her gasps for air.  The pale woman stood tall and began to make her way back to her dormitory.