Pearl still couldn’t believe it. Even after having a lengthy conversation and walking all the way to the old forge, she simply couldn’t believe that Bismuth was back with their group. Her mind swelled with excitement as Bismuth examined Amethyst’s whip for ways to improve it. In Pearl’s giddiness, she had even come close to dropping her shapeshifted single-gemstone disguise when Bismuth took her spear and handed her back a trident. (She had to hand it to herself, the slight of hand she had pulled to make it look like she had summoned the spear as a single weapon, and not a staff and dagger, was quite impressive.)
“Now… come show me what you got, soldiers!” Bismuth announced when Amethyst had had her fill of slapping rocks around the room. The forge master began to motion the group towards the exit, and Pearl’s face fell with disappointment. Why were they leaving so early when there were so many interesting things in here that Bismuth hadn’t even explained to them yet?
“Wait!” she called out as the group turned to leave. She pointed to a stunning silver sword mounted to the nearest wall. “What was that one called?” She then moved her finger towards what looked like a set of full plate armor. “And who did you make this for?”
“Aw, come on, P,” Amethyst whined. “No one wants to stand here getting weapon lectures. We wanna, y’know, try out our new weapons.”
Bismuth put her hands on her hips and laughed. “Now, that’s the Pearl I remember!” She stepped over and patted Pearl on the head. “Aw, man… every time I presented Rose Quartz with a new weapon design, you were right there with her, asking every little detail about how it worked. Sometimes poor Rose couldn’t even get a word in.”
“She couldn’t?” Pearl asked. Then realizing how awkward it sounded, she cleared her throat and said more confidently, “She couldn’t. Yes, that was me. Is me. Very inquisitive.”
Bismuth shook her head in a guess-I’ve-got-no-choice kind of way. “Okay, okay,” she said to the rest of the group, “‘you guys wait for me outside the forge. I’ll give Pearl a little personal tour in here.”
The group reluctantly agreed (Amethyst more reluctantly than the others, it seemed), and Bismuth began her tour. She explained how each item was crafted in response to some dilemma on the field — the armor, for example, was made to stand up to a Gem destabilizer, while a handsome-looking lance gave some Crystal Gem soldiers with short-range weapons the chance to strike their enemies from farther back. Pearl was especially happy to find that as Bismuth spoke, many of the details surrounding their battles with Homeworld still sounded familiar to her. At the very least, she could chime in with enough details so as not to rouse suspicions about the gaps in her memories.
“Oh, and what about this one?” Pearl reached for a tiny weapon on a nearby shelf — it looked like a miniature version of a Gem destabilizer. Or perhaps, a tuning fork with a pulsing blue glow was the best description for it. Pearl turned the item side-to-side and trying to figure out how one would even activate it. Of course, Bismuth being Bismuth would never tell point blank what a weapon did. She had a flare for the dramatic.
“Well, I’ll give you a little hint,” she said with a wink. “It wouldn’t have any effect on your or me, but it’d be a disaster for those mega-Rubies Homeworld loved to send against us.”
Pearl tilted her head. She thought she had found the switch on the thing, but wasn’t quite sure. “So… it only works on… red Gems?” she guessed, assuming there was more to it than that, but letting Bismuth have her fun.
Bismuth let out one of her full, joyful laughs. “Of course not!” she said. “It breaks apart fusions.”
“It does what?” In her surprise, Pearl tightened her grip on the weapon, activating what she now confirmed was the on switch. The weapon released a short blast of energy that dispersed itself into Pearl’s body. She let out a yelp, dropped it, and jumped backwards. Only, as she leapt off the ground, her body split into two, Sea Glass and Coral falling separately to the floor.
“What the–?” Bismuth stammered. She hurried to aid her friend, then paused mid-step as if she couldn’t decide which Pearl was the real one. Sea Glass sat up first, rubbing her head, then reached out her arm and helped her counterpart to her feet. The three Gems stood in a triangle, each looking hopelessly lost and confused at the others. A pop of molten iron from the forge made the silence all the more awkward.
“Okay, I know I was out a while,” Bismuth finally said. “But… what the… what happened to you, Pearl?” She narrowed her eyes at the two Gems before her. “I mean, are you even Pearl right now?”
Sea Glass rubbed her shoulder. “It’s a bit complicated…” she began.
“It’s not,” Coral disagreed. “Homeworld has a machine that can split Gems in two. Pearl got stuck in it, and now you have… well, us.” She held her hand between the two of them.
Sea Glass pouted a bit, apparently feeling that Coral had oversimplified things, but she nevertheless nodded in agreement. “We’re not exactly stable,” she clarified. “Our half-gems don’t have the power needed to hold our physical forms indefinitely. Hence why we stay fused most of the time.”
Again, the forge became silent except for the growling sounds of liquid metal shifting around. Coral had not thought it at all hot when they’d entered, but now the heat felt suffocating to her.
“Well, hey,” Bismuth said, cracking a smile once again (although it seemed a bit forced this time), “that’s… that different. I mean, I can’t complain, right? Now I’ve two Pearls to re-meet.” She reached out and picked up Sea Glass, tossing her in the air and catching her. Sea Glass giggled and pointed her toes in a ballerina-like pose. Coral felt her tension ease at the sight. All that worrying that Bismuth would somehow reject them in these new forms suddenly felt so stupid. Friends stayed friends no matter what happened. They–
“So, tell me, who do you belong to?” Bismuth joked.
Coral cringed, but before she could say anything, Sea Glass got caught up in the moment and happily yelled out, “Steven!”
Bismuth gasped. Coral slapped herself in the forehead. Bismuth slowly lowered Sea Glass to floor, as if setting down something explosive, staring at the half-Gem with wide, shocked eyes. Sea Glass’s cheeks flared a bright blue as she desperately tried to correct herself. “I-I… I mean nobody. I belong to nobody.”
“That’s not what you said first,” Bismuth said through gritted teeth.
“I-I… I…” Sea Glass began to stutter. Coral almost grabbed her hand and refused with her right then. She wanted to help, wanted to help steer Sea Glass’s thoughts away from her old habits. But what good would that do now? It wasn’t as if Bismuth could un-hear Sea Glass’s answer.
With everyone staring at her, no doubt pressing on her the idea that she’d done something horribly wrong, Sea Glass’s basic instincts took over. She leaned into a bow, and the apologies couldn’t spill out of her mouth fast enough. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that! I–”
“And now you’re bowing to me?” Bismuth said, making no attempt to hide her fury any more. “Did Homeworld erase everything Rose taught you?”
“It’s not like that!” Coral cut in. She took Sea Glass by the hand, but didn’t fuse with her. Not yet. Bismuth wanted to know what the two of them were like? This was as good a time for their friend to get a lesson as any. “I mean, it’s true that Sea Glass acts more like the Pearl before the Rebellion. But she’s also incredibly knowledgable, and–”
“Wait a minute.” Bismuth held up hand. “You’re saying that you… I’m sorry, give me your name?”
“Right. You’re saying that you, Coral, don’t feel like a Homeworld Pearl at all?”
Coral shook her head, but Bismuth still didn’t seem to quite believe her. “I mean, no offense,” she went on, “but the Pearl I knew still had some of that Homeworld junk in her head, always felt like she needed another Gem to lead her, felt like she could never measure up to us other Gems because Pearls weren’t made for it. But you…” Now she actually reached forward and cupped Coral’s face in her large hands. “You don’t feel any of that?”
“No, that’s definitely not a problem for me,” Coral said with a weak laugh. But I’ve got plenty of other problems to make up for it. I get overconfident, I act too quickly, I hold grudges, I–
“Wow, I can’t believe this!” Bismuth exclaimed, whacking Coral’s shoulder so hard she almost stumbled over. “Homeworld actually did something good!”
Coral blinked a few times and stared at Bismuth, trying to figure out if she’d misheard somehow. Sea Glass took a step forward. “Um, something good?” she asked.
“Well, yeah!” Bismuth said, speaking her words to Coral, even though Sea Glass had posed the question. “All this time you were struggling to believe you were worth something, that a Pearl could do whatever she wanted… all those doubts are just gone with you! Don’t you feel amazing?”
Coral felt herself blush just a bit. For a moment, she thought about how it felt to be outside of the fusion with Sea Glass, the pure freedom of knowing, and not just telling herself, that she could do anything. Be anything. “Well, it is… rather nice,” she admitted. Then the happiness faded. “But, like Sea Glass said, these bodies don’t last long outside of a fusion. We need to refuse quickly or one of us is probably going to start flickering.” She held out her hand towards Sea Glass, but Bismuth blocked it.
“Whoa, whoa, before you go and take drastic measures, let’s see if there’s something I can do to fix this little issue of yours.” She walked over to the jars of silvery powder that lines the walls of her forge. With careful consideration, she took small handfuls from each and shoved her bulging fist into the molten liquid. Her one hand morphed into a hammer, and Bismuth was in her element. The clang of metal echoed around the room, and Coral shielded her eyes from the flying sparks. Then, within a few minutes, Bismuth plunged her creation into a vat of water, sending pillars of steam everywhere. When the steam finally cleared, she held out what appeared to be a pair of shimmering white bracers. She held one of them out to Coral.
“Try it on,” she said gleefully. Coral took the bracer. It was small, and it hugged her slender wrist quite nicely. One it was fitted in place, she felt a sudden wave of energy filling her body. Not that she had felt tired before, but rather like there was a whole level of alertness she’d been missing all this time. She assumed it was a similar to the sensation Steven received when he downed two or three of his electric green Power Colas.
“What… is this doing, exactly?” she asked.
Bismuth wiped her brow, grinning like a maniac. “Not a bad piece of work. I was deigning armor at one point that would give Gems an extra burst of energy when they attacked. But I can apply that same principal to give your Gem enough of a boost to keep your form.” She gave Coral a wink. “It’s just a quick prototype, of course, but give me a few hours here, and I can make a much better version. Something that could probably keep you holding that form for a century or two before the energy ran dry.” She rubbed her chin and gave Coral another look-over, noting her single arm. “A guess a limb enhancer wouldn’t be bad for you, either. I can probably make the parts for it, though you’d be better off with a Peridot or someone putting it together.”
“I can put things together,” Sea Glass said, seemingly desperate right now for someone to acknowledge that she was still in the room.
“It’s true,” Coral said. “In the time you were gone, Pearl taught herself a whole host of skills. She even bested… well, almost bested a Peridot in an engineering competition.”
“Did she now?” Bismuth asked.
Sea Glass nodded enthusiastically, most likely waiting for the moment when someone would finally compliment her. But instead Bismuth told Coral, “Well, then, if Pearl could do it, I’m sure you can too! Come back tonight and I’ll have everything ready for you, okay?”
“Um… okay,” Coral said, nervously looking back at her counterpart. “That, uh… sounds great, Bismuth. Thanks so much.”