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Chapter Text

The end was welcome. Hardin smiled at its pending uncertainty. Oh, he had taught Diane well, but so far she had never been tested in life. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be that test. The final lesson.

She had fought him well so far. Not enough to best him, but enough to draw blood, enough to require full contact. His pistol lay not far from their hands. It was not strictly necessary to intertwine their fingers as he held the back of her hand firmly against the ground.

It was throwing her off-balance a little though. So it was worth it. And so was the feeling of the barrel of her pistol digging into his stomach as he straddled her. The anger on her face was priceless. But was it enough?

His left cupped Diane’s hand that held the weapon, index finger on the trigger. Hardin remembered the first time she had pulled it. Just a small training weapon, just a cardboard target. Years ago. She had shown a proclivity for fighting as art, shooting as sport. This was reality.

“Pull the trigger, Little Miss,” Hardin still smiled, feeling a trickle of blood run down his chin. “I taught you that much.”

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It was his first thought after Hardin's betrayal, the first and the last. Protect Diane.

Yes, life had been good. Yes, he had double-crossed the Imperium more than once. But he had always gotten away with it. Him and Hardin, the man now pointing a gun at him, the same determination on his face, Weiss had exploited.

"Leave her alone." It was his last plea and unanswered by the man pulling the trigger. For the split second before blackness, Weiss wondered why he had never thought about putting a safeguard for his daughter into place.

Now it was too late.

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"You can't be serious!" Isander threw her arms up.

"Why not? He worked for me well enough all grown-up." Diane looked at the tiny splotch of black in her palm. Huge eyes blinked up at her. "I'm sure he'll be even more cooperative if we relieve him from this pitiful state, no?"

"Or he'll kill us all for having seen him like that." Isander pointed the torch at the blob.

Diane had to admit that this was a likely option as well. "So, what shall it be?" She poked the mini-demon with her index finger. "Sudden death or sweet degradation?"

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In retrospect, Diane mused leaning back, it had been a grave oversight, though probably a forgiveable one; certainly a human one.

Liquid smoke ran down her arms, pooled between her fingers until it gained enough shape to intertwine with them. Shard's ability to solidify at will was not something she had given enough conscious thought. His fingers squeezed hers just at the same moment and Diane sighed deeply.

An unforgivable oversight. Shard knew exactly how to, what to, when to-

She closed her eyes biting her lip, realising that only a true fool would ever relinquish their power of Shard.