7. The Centuries.
“What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting.”
― Mandy Hale
Their entire lives changed.
The winters stopped nipping at her. Hunger no longer sniffed at the door. Their need to take from the land around them ended. That part of their lives was finished forever.
Despite this, perhaps out of habit, they maintained their campsite religiously. They continually patched up their little cabin although it could go unused for years or decades at a time. The firepit, hardly used anymore, was dutifully kept clean of leaves. The water jug was tipped out and refilled when the blackened and stagnant water became a breeding ground for insects.
At first they attempted to merely wait out the centuries, stationary, from the safety and isolation of their little peninsula. But they quickly found that while they were both now pink, they still possessed minds. Minds that could still very easily become bored, especially now that there was not a single physiological need between them.
Hunting, cooking, searching and sleeping had kept them occupied, given them something to do with their time. Sure, they could have still gone about those same tasks, but there was no point in unnecessarily taking from the land. There was no point in risking everything looking for Rose - they no longer needed her, and already appeared to have her on speed dial anyway. There was no point in cooking, or sleeping, or any of it.
Now, all they had left to look forward to was interminable waiting for a distant future - one they weren’t entirely sure would come about anymore. But they worked very hard on keeping their hopes up. On not giving into despair.
It was still all they could do in this, their new normal.
Lars and Connie were driven to wander the Earth once again, but not for any sort of reason this time. This was a more errant, purposeless kind of wandering. One born of boredom and simple curiosity.
They’d had their fill of gemkind. Completely uninterested in seeking them out any longer, they instead explored the Earth for Earth’s sake and avoided those regions they knew to be hotbeds of gem activity.
So the duo sought out the open empty spaces like those they already knew from their prior lives of constant searching. They sought out new forests and lonely mountaintops. Vast tracts of desolate ocean. They looked for peace and solitude. With nothing else to do from these isolated areas, they began to watch the world.
They carefully watched massive herds migrate across vast swathes of land. Bison were easy ones. They were close to home and, since each massive beast was built like a truck, they were hard to miss. Also, there were millions of them.
This gave them an easy in to watching the wolves that preyed upon the weaker, slower members of the herds and so they quickly found it necessary to work on stealth. One wrong move, they figured, and they could inadvertently alter the course of an entire herd. Perhaps even the course of history.
They got better at hiding and over time they figured out more discrete ways of creating portals. It was easier by far to create by being loud, sure, but what it appeared to depend on most of all was a certain way of creating ripples. A kind of magic-soaked vibration that propagated out into the surrounding space, warping and rending it as it went.
These new techniques were tough to get the hang of, so they practiced often.
Training continued more intensely than ever in moments of boredom (and there were many). Connie, pink now, was more evenly matched against Lars in terms of strength, which made him feel better about not holding back. These days, their training sessions were intense fights, awesome sword versus awesome battle axe, during which neither one of them held back.
They hoped to never have to rely on their fighting abilities to get by, of course, but the fear lingered. To fix what was broken, they had to survive.
And gems were everywhere. The alien invaders were hard at work dismantling the efforts of humans, so there were plenty of roaming groups of nomads traversing the continents from afar, which occasionally gave them something besides animals to watch. But eventually they came to feel envious of the purpose these people had.
Of the simple necessity by which they were compelled to keep going.
These people had mouths to feed, shelter to seek. Connie and Lars hadn’t known the feel of hunger in decades, nor any pressing need to get indoors. As time went on, they struggled harder and harder to recall the sensation of needing anything in order to live.
“Are we ghosts?” Lars asked one day when they had been pink several times longer than they hadn’t.
“How do you figure?” Connie asked right back, somewhat concerned by the question.
He shrugged. “We died. Yet we wander the Earth, watching the living. We’re envious of them but we can’t take part. We can’t even blend in.”
His thought gave Connie pause.
They soon stopped going out of their way to watch humans and returned to the beauty of nature, for which they harbored no such awkward feelings.
One hundred years finally ticked by according to Connie’s tireless timekeeping system, and they returned at last to the site of one of their early failures. The Sea Shrine, down there below their soaked boots somewhere, must have reformed by now. They couldn’t make the structure out too well, but they were fairly sure it had.
Lars folded his arms. He eyed Connie, who was smiling at him, and waited patiently.
She shortly dropped the smile. Focusing her concentration, a bright glow emanated from her eyes. She raised her hand up and snapped her fingers.
Nothing happened. The sound merely drifted away on the choppy sea breeze.
Clapping her hands together didn’t seem to work either. She tried a number of times in a number of different ways but eventually she just began to feel as though she was applauding Lars.
It didn’t help that the guy had decided to start bowing, for all the world like a stage actor. “Thank you, thank you,” he snarked.
But she wasn’t in the mood. “Screw you, Lars.”
“Have you tried belching?” he asked, standing upright again. This also earned him the briefest of glares.
Finally she screamed. The sound rolled out over the waves without bringing forth a portal. It was the least civilized yet the simplest way to create a portal and it failed spectacularly - exactly as it had roughly one hundred years prior.
“You’ve had your turn to mess around with warp pads. This, too, was a bust - again. Do you believe me yet?” Lars asked. “It’s impossible!”
“I suppose,” she admitted as she tapped a foot onto the surface of the sea, peering down into the murky depths. She belatedly lifted her eyes back up to his. “Listen, it’s not that I didn’t believe you did your best, but... I needed to try it for myself. It’s nothing against you-“
Lars sliced a hand through the air, cutting her off. “I get it, it’s fine.” He closed his eyes and scratched his forehead. "I was surprised you wanted to try for it again in the first place. Being able to get there sooner means we die for real sooner, remember?”
“My main thought was that being in control of time might be sort of fun.” She waved an arm around. “At least, until we decide to go off and do something silly like save younger versions of ourselves from having to do all this, for instance.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but the idea behind the concept was too cool to argue with. Instead, he was deeply impressed. “Damn, Connie.”
“Yeah,” she said wistfully. “Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a win? Just once?”
The stone city on the plain had fallen. Another of many little eras was over.
It wasn’t a recent thing - the place was layered in dirt, dust and leaves. Whatever was left of the half-destroyed buildings were slowly crumbling. But for the first time in more than two hundred years, they were able to walk through what remained of its streets without fear of being called out for being some kind of gem and dealt with as such.
They stood where they guessed the old market to have once been and looked around the empty square.
“Well, this makes me sad,” said Connie in a very casual manner.
Lars wandered over to some nearby stone steps, covered in leaves and dirt. He noticed something down amongst it and dropped down to pluck an object from the sediment. Dusting it off, he found it was a tiny stone carving in the simple shape resembling a feather. Perhaps it had been a pendant, once. If so, the string was long gone.
“I told you we shouldn’t have come back here,” he called over, somewhat belatedly. “We knew it was going to fall to the gems at some point.”
Connie stood with her arms folded, trying to picture what the market used to look like. “Do you remember the raspberry guy?”
The question took Lars way back. “Yeah, he was alright. What do you think he’s up to now-” Without missing a beat he continued, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Connie nodded briefly as she gazed up at the sky. “He would be very dead by now.”
A moment of silence passed between them until Lars spoke again. “He... Uh. He really liked out-of-season raspberries.”
Connie exhaled, nodding somberly. “And he made great water bottles. Hm. I don’t seem to recall his name-”
She blinked in surprise as he held the carving out for her. “What’s this?” she asked as she automatically took it.
He shrugged. “Some kind of thing I found. Do you like it? You usually like nice rocks.”
“It’s amazing, thanks,” she said, smiling. She caressed its grooves with her thumb absently. A second later, she snapped her head up in alarm. “Oh! I forgot. I have something for you, too.”
Lars raised his eyebrows in interest as, from her head, Connie produced a couple of little white spikes.
“Yeah.” She smiled. “I cleaned up some fangs I found for you.”
“What? Thanks!” He was chuffed as he accepted the gift. “Where did you even find these?”
“A skull,” she said, smiling as she watched him replace his centuries-old bone spirals in these century-old ruins.
“Mine was quick,” he said out of nowhere.
They were sitting together at the summit of what they figured would someday become known as Mount Everest. They often went there when they wanted to train, or just to feel the chilly gusts of wind blowing their hair.
Either way, it was a place where they could be assured of complete isolation - nothing up here interested gems of either faction and it was a dangerous place for humans. But the cold could never penetrate pink skin, nor did the lack of oxygen affect them.
“It was this light,” he continued. “I guess it was the robonoid exploding. Anyway, it filled my head. I could hear it, I could taste it, smell it - it was everywhere and everything. It was so bright.”
She turned her head to look at him, resting her chin on her fist as she did. “Did it hurt?”
“I think it should have. Something sliced my head open anyway,” Lars traced the feel of his facial scar with a finger before shrugging. “Something ripped into my chest. Maybe it was more like, pressure. A lot of it. And... this feeling of falling.”
Connie watched him as he spoke, the somber expression on his face. He was ostensibly staring off at the cloudy mountain range receding off into the distance below them, but she could tell he was actually studying the empty space between.
“And then... Hm. I don’t remember what I expected death to be,” he continued. “But I guess I didn’t expect there to be nothing.”
“Why are you telling me this?” She asked quietly.
There passed a long moment of silence punctuated by the whistling wind.
“It’s my final Fun Fact, I think,” he replied at last. “And it’s been, what, three hundred years? More than?” He shrugged. “Gotta talk about it sometime.”
“You were there for mine,” she said simply.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. If you want to,” he added.
“It’s okay, I don’t feel pressured,” she smiled slightly before frowning again, her brow betraying her curiosity. “Did you see anything from your life? Like, anything flash before your eyes?”
He narrowed his eyes, almost imperceptibly. “No. It was, like-“ he waved a hand around briefly. “It was just... the light. Then it was over.”
He shrugged with a snort. “It’s not like I didn’t get better.”
They lowered their eyes back down to continue taking in the grand, snowy mountainscape before them.
“Mine was different,” Connie began after a while. “I didn’t feel the blade go in, not really. I thought I was okay. Then? I wasn’t.”
He watched her as he asked, “Did it hurt?”
“I don’t remember. Maybe not.” She blinked. “I tried to get back up - I tried to get back up. Then I saw you. You looked really scared, and I tried... to just tell you that I was okay.”
She went silent a moment.
“But I wasn’t.”
“It’s fine if-“ he started, but she interrupted.
“Dying was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. The way everything that was me seeped out of my body was...” She trailed off, frowning at the rises and ridges in the landscape before her. “Frightening,” she said at last.
Lars nodded as she leaned back into the snow, causing her non-waterproof clothing to compromise immediately, but it didn’t matter to her.
All the clouds were far below them. Above, she could see their sky was blue.
“Sight went first,” she continued. “I could still hear the battle going on, you freaking out. Then, when that all drowned out, my brain was still on. And it was like I could see things.”
Lars had been listening, spellbound, this whole time. Her description of dying was so vastly different from his, after all.
“Like what?” He asked with interest.
“Memories. My parents. And-” She hesitated. “Him. And I remembered how happy they made me. I saw their faces. They… seemed so clear. Like they were right there. Almost like I was never taken from them.”
Lars wiped an eye to find himself comforted by Connie raising a hand and placing it on his arm.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “About everything.”
She was on him like a ton of bricks for that one. “This is not your fault, Lars.”
“Yeah, but see, it is. Everything that happened to you? It’s all on me.”
“It’s on Moldavite.” Her voice was flat. “I’m going through the same thing you are because of her, not you. And… if I have to, I’ll remind you of that every single day until the end.”
“That’s a lot of days,” he warned her in a quiet voice.
“The better part of two million days,” came her casual reply.
The only sound was that of the wind wooshing past them for awhile. She eventually moved her eyes from the distant mountains to see him hunched forward, hugging his knees into his chest. She was well aware that the fact that Moldavite had brought her along just for his benefit often weighed on his mind and here he was, mulling uselessly over it once more.
She nudged his thigh with her foot.
“But hey, you know what?” she asked when she had his attention.
“What?” His voice was flat, but she was grinning.
“I’m glad you’re my little brother.”
This made him smile despite himself. “Excuse you? Big brother.”
“Baby,” came her retort as she lobbed a handful of snow directly into his face. “Baby boy.”
“I’m taller!” He scoffed as he scraped it from his face with a bare hand.
“I’m older!” Connie kicked herself away from him and came up into a crouching position, hoarding up more snow as she went.
Lars was outraged. “I’m older!” He insisted. “I just- I can’t prove it!” He added as he dug some snow up and began shaping it into a ball himself.
A magical mountaintop snow fight ensued, which soon turned into an intense sparring session, sword against battle axe. It lasted a few days short of a month.
On rare occasions during their wanderings, they would happen upon something that gave them cause to split up. They’d lose track of each other for a time, but never before like this.
An explosive battle sliced in between the two of them suddenly and without warning like a violent wedge. They were immediately lost to each other - the conditions happened to be so dry that it kicked up what could have been mistaken for a dust storm. It lay across the land like a dense blanket, but it was anything but comforting.
Lars swiftly pulled the awesome battle axe from his head and cast about. He swung it suddenly to catch an amethyst’s blade mid-swing. Teeth grit, his hardened eyes locked with hers and he put every inch of himself into pushing back. The air was thick with particles, he could barely see beyond her, but there were dark figures obscured by dust racing around, fighting each other.
Screams, grunts and the clashing of wrought iron and steel against the other filled his ears. Occasionally a bolt would zip past them and thwack into the ground nearby-
This was not a safe place. He was wasting time that could be better spent finding her.
He had to stop messing about. The amethyst’s eyes widened in surprise as his lit up. He took a breath, only to find it immediately kicked out of him as he fell back hard onto his butt. He’d managed to hold onto the axe, however, and held it ready to swing at her as she advanced on him.
There was nothing else for it - he took a breath and, eyes aglow, screamed. The least elegant method of using his powers violently blew the gem warrior backwards into dusty obscurity.
But he suspected she was merely downed and not out, so he lurched back up onto his feet. There was no way to tell in the dusty din where anything was but he was determined to find his friend.
Instead, all he found was that running around alone with a sweet battle axe in a dust storm surrounded by fighting aliens was a bad idea, cut off at every turn by darkened figures as he was. Gritting his teeth, he lit up his eyes and stomped a foot into the dirt - seconds later, he exited his portal and glared furiously down at the vast dust blanket as he plummeted from the sky.
He couldn’t imagine any way he could possibly find her in all this, but before he could decide his next move, a disturbance took place almost directly below him.
It was as though a gigantic unseen hand had punched a hole up through the dust. The effects of it hit him shortly afterward, slowing his fall slightly for a moment. Ruffling his clothes even more-
And he saw her.
A green being, distinctly familiar in shape, stood at the epicenter of the blast. The way she held herself, the way she held her staff aloft as some unseen force blew the airborne dust outward and away from her like a propagating wave, revealing the fighting going on around her as it went-
For the first time in hundreds of years, he felt it. Anger. Unrestrained and in a freezing, bitter wave that washed out everything else.
He gripped the axe handle tighter as all thought of his only friend fled his mind. Tensing, he allowed himself to continue to fall towards her.
Raising the axe above his head, his eyes pure light, he could see an immediate future of shattered gem shards, glimmering green, sullied by dust and dirt as they fell to the Earth.
And in the present he watched as the valiant Moldavite, one of the original Crystal Gems, blasted a troop of oncoming gems with her staff. Most fell back, some destabilized, but they were all citrine soldiers made by Yellow Diamond. Soldiers that, in some other timeline, could have otherwise gone on to play a deciding factor in this battle.
Which could have turned the tide of the war.
In a clarity flashing anew, he saw the path before him was that of ruin. Of a future that would swing wildly and irreparably out of control if only it could.
He gritted his teeth, biting back the bile. Then, swearing to himself, he fell instead through a portal.
On the ground below, Moldavite continued her heroic efforts against the forces of the invasion, oblivious.
Connie found herself knee-deep in gems and the tide was coming in. Every move she made to get out of it only drew her back.
Twice now she’d made portals to the safety of the distant hills. Twice now she’d been too distracted, deflecting the blades of enemy gems to make her escape. Twice, the portals blinked out, unused.
This was the main reason they’d continued their training, besides that of boredom - in preparation of life or death emergencies exactly like this. To be able to fix what had been broken, they had to survive long enough to do it.
She couldn’t see much beyond what was directly in front of her, but she could see she was swimming in quartz soldiers, primarily bearing insignias of either yellow or pink, both of which were on the same side.
Finally, she had her opening. Her eyes lit up and she swung her blade out, expertly slicing a portal into the air. She took a running leap through it.
Suddenly, she was in the sky. But falling was easy these days.
Connie took this long breather to scope out the situation. Dust covered the landscape for what looked like miles, but it seemed thinner toward what she quickly gathered was the west. Whatever had happened back there, the dust was quickly filling back in.
She twisted in the air as she fell, using the sword in her hand to help her steer. There was nothing up here with her - no flying gems, nor ships, much less any falling pink friends...
Oh wait. There was something pink down there, in another clear area that had just been punched out of the dust cloud. Her eyes widened as she recognized the magenta ringlets. It was Rose Quartz.
She was fighting. And despite herself, Connie's curiosity took over.
Connie decided to change her trajectory. Muscles tensing with effort, she swung her sword against the air rushing past her and fell through the resulting rip in space. Exiting closer to the situation and on a better path, she had a few moments to take it in.
She watched one of
Rose’s Pink’s own soldiers make for the disguised diamond. A jasper, much bigger and bulkier than any other jasper she’d come across, was at the front, her nose gem glinting in the light.
Recognition dawned. Her eyes widened as she took in Rose who, not one to stand on the sidelines of her own war, stood braced with her sword drawn and shield up. She was unaware the oncoming attack, fighting against a topaz fusion instead, and even from the distance involved Connie saw the look of contention on Pearl’s face as she rushed past the disguised diamond, her own sword drawn in offense against the jasper.
Connie gasped as old impulses flooded over her. Once again her love for her mentor compelled her to act.
She gripped the sword handle tighter as she drew a lungful…
And let it out again, her breath impotent on the rushing air.
It hurt to watch, but watch she did. The sword and the will of a lowly pearl meant nothing to a battle-crazed jasper, and Pearl’s inevitable poofing sent a large billow of haze up into the dusty air. But Pearl’s sacrifice had snapped Rose’s attention to the jasper at hand, and Rose promptly poofed the topaz in order to provide Jasper with her undivided attention instead.
Even after all these centuries, it hurt, but Connie forced herself to leave this moment to the hallowed annals of time since passed. Turning her regretful gaze away from the scene, she promptly passed through a portal to another part of the sky.
The morning at the cliffside turned into afternoon. Lars had returned to the site of the battlefield a couple of times. Now that the brutal skirmish was over, the place looked like an ugly, dusty scar that had been seared into the Earth.
He didn’t see any sign of her in this barren place so he returned to the Delmarvan cliffside. With nothing else to do, he resigned himself to waiting.
Connie made excellent company and, with her, the days had just kind of skimmed along. They did things together, and when they got bored, they went and did something else.
Without her, every passing moment dragged on. Each one became its own dark and lonely eternity.
At last, a portal opened up. He snapped his head around to see. Before she had even properly stepped out of it, he was on her, hugging her. In the same breath, both laughing and berating her.
“You evil witch!" he exclaimed. "Where did you go? I looked for you, I-“
She hugged him back tightly, laughing in relief. “Lars! I looked for you too-“
“But what?” He let go of her, serious all of a sudden. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m fine! Listen, the battle was crazy.”
He spread his arms wide. “I know, right!? The fighting these days - there was no way I could find you-”
Waving a hand around, she cut him off. “Listen. I saw Jasper take out Pearl.”
It took a long moment, but eventually he understood who she was talking about. He side-eyed her. “The Jasper? Feral cave-in-the-woods Jasper?”
“The very same.” She nodded.
“The beta quartzes emerged already?”
Connie’s eyes were wide as she nodded once more. “The war is becoming more and more desperate. The rebellion is swelling in number. Homeworld has been pushed into sending and creating more soldiers to help the colonization.” She frowned. “All the while, Pink- Rose is just... trying to keep her head above water. Things are coming to a head-“
Connie paused briefly under Lars’ concerned gaze and frowned harder. “She’ll start thinking more closely about Bismuth’s advice soon. If she hasn’t already.”
Lars sucked air in through his teeth. “Which means we need to avoid all this more than ever.”
She couldn’t agree more. She balled her fists. “I was so close to running in and saving Pearl again - Again! Like I never learned anything the first time!”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Connie, you did fine.”
She breathed deeply. At the end of the breath, she relaxed her fist. “I guess so. But for a moment, I felt like I’d lost my mind.”
His eyes narrowed. “I had a chance to do something stupid, too, you know. I... saw Moldavite.”
He said it in such a low voice that she almost missed it. When she realized what he’d said, she spun on him. “Lars! What did you do!?“
“Nothing, nothing!” He quickly reassured her. “But I wanted to. I started making the motions to. Then she did something that might have mattered and I-” He shrugged. “We’ve already risked the timeline enough.”
They recognized in each other the frustration they felt. Even now, after centuries of staying on the sidelines, they found themselves struggling with this path of inaction they needed to take.
“Anyway,” said Connie. “I couldn’t find you. That dust cloud was miles long, wasn’t it?”
He nodded, eyes bulging. He knew.
“Well, one thing led to another. I was looking for you but I came across- argh, no!” She grabbed his arm excitedly. “I’d much rather show you!”
She snapped her fingers. And so it was that Lars found himself being pulled through one of her portals before he realized what was happening.
The portal disappeared and they stood at the edge of a clearing in a woods in the late afternoon. The weather here was sunny, vaguely dusty. He realized they must not have been far from where the battle had taken place. Connie smiled.
“Recognize this place?” she asked a confused Lars.
He looked around. He really didn’t. “Uhhh-”
“It’s Stonehenge!” She interrupted, swinging an arm out to indicate it. “See the circular earthen mound?”
Lars was unimpressed as he looked out over the bare grassy plateau that, at this point in history, was flanked by woods. “This is not Stonehenge. Stonehenge has... huge stones! That’s why it’s not just called Henge.”
“Yeah, but the stones will be here in the future. The near future, Lars!”
“I birds-eyed this whole area from as high as I could. There’s a settlement to the east... We’re in the right place. No one knows when it was built exactly, but we’re roughly in the right time. Construction should be starting soon - construction on Stonehenge, Lars!”
Connie was someone who was rarely wrong and he knew it. Every single word she’d ever said to him had been backed by either common sense or some kind of more specific sense. There was no point in doing anything else other than accepting what she was saying in a situation like this.
“Alright, alright, I believe you. And I’m assuming you want to… watch?"
There was a burning fire in her magenta eyes as she nodded, smiling, and Lars couldn’t help but smile back. He hadn’t seen that fire in so long.
A few weeks of hiding in wait later and the only visitors the mound had were locals passing by to get to other places.
Eventually they got bored of waiting and resumed their pointless travels and nature hikes, but they often returned to check for progress. Even Lars could admit that, doomed or not, the chance to watch an enduring monument go up was worth going out of one’s way for.
“There it is again,” said Connie.
He glanced across at her. “What?”
She nodded toward the horizon and he followed her gaze to the red full moonrise against the darkening blue sky. “Oh. That old thing.”
They watched a long moment as it slowly pulled itself up from the horizon and once again it hung free in the sky, still climbing.
“What if,” Lars began at last, “she hasn’t faked her shattering yet and she’s just... over there. Looking right at us.”
“What, right now?”
“Looking at us? Specifically?”
“Hmm, no. I change my mind.” He leaned back in the breezy grasses. “She’d be much too busy with everything else going on.”
“Well, you made enough of an impact on her.” She rested her head on her hand as she continued watching the moonrise. “You said she recognized you instantly after fourteen years.”
“Fourteen years is nothing compared to five hundred,” he said quietly.
A long moment unrolled between them, during which the moon climbed imperceptibly higher and higher into the darkening sky made darker by the sun dropping lower into the mountains far behind them.
Perhaps the rising moon looked out over some battle or other going on somewhere else, alongside this quiet moment. Perhaps it contained a rebel diamond, planning her next move. Or perhaps it stood empty as some game-changing event played out this very moment in what would later be known as Korea.
They weren’t interested in finding out.
One thing they were interested in, though, was the earthen mound in the south of what would later be called the British Isles. They visited at least once a decade or so, each time expecting construction to be under way. Each time, they wound up disappointed.
The wooden ruins they found there were new and interesting, but not what they expected.
“I don’t understand,” said Connie with an edge to her voice. “They’re supposed to have started laying the megaliths down by now. Why haven’t they started?”
“Could it be us?”
“Maybe. But I don’t understand how anyone would see us.”
She shot him a glance. “We’ve been hiding.”
Lars rolled his eyes. “We’re not hiding now. We’re standing in the open.”
It was true. They were. Connie narrowed her eyes. “Hmm. The village looked pretty abandoned to me. We couldn’t have scared off a whole settlement.”
The answer seemed obvious, but Lars wanted to say it anyway. “Gems likely ran them off.” He shrugged. “Or worse.”
“But-“ For the umpteenth time, she performed the same dubious maths. “Unless I’m forgetting something, we should be seeing something by now.”
He caught her eye. “What if we do it?”
Connie narrowed her eyes.
She stepped back to gaze at their handiwork.
What would later become known as Stonehenge gazed back at her.
It had been quite the undertaking, even in possession of pink powers. The hardest part was cutting the stones from the bluestone quarry almost 200 miles away on the Welsh coast, but between the two of them, once the gigantic blocks were freed from the Earth, they could lift and jump them through portals with relative ease.
However, she was troubled. It still didn’t look right, not even after nigh-on a decade of arranging and rearranging the stones. Her memory of the monument from
hundreds of years earlier far in the future was nebulous, much like everything else from that part of her long life.
She pondered the problem for a long moment, as she had done countless times before. Suddenly, she squinted as she caught sight of some movement. He was somewhat obscured by one of the stones, but she could tell her lanky cohort was up to something. She snapped her fingers, stepped through a portal, and stood behind him a moment later.
“Lars, what are you- LARS.”
He stood there, chisel in hand, surprised to see her. “Just carvin’ our names in!“
The letters L A R and S graced the stone, big and bold. Connie screamed silently.
“What?” He asked, for all the world genuinely surprised by this reaction.
“You’re insane!” She finally screeched. “You can’t do this!”
“What? Why not?” He smiled, all teeth. “It’ll be funny.”
He had no answer for her, but he moved the chisel out of her way as she made a grab for it. She tried for it again but he held it out of her reach. Suddenly she tackled him around the waist, instantly knocking him off balance.
“Gak!” Falling backward, he hit the ground with her on top. “Stop! No!”
She fought him until she managed to wrench it from his grip. He pleaded with her as she rose from him and began rendering the word unreadable.
“Connie, c’mon. We already messed up! We built freakin’ Stonehenge! I don’t see-“
“Yeah, we messed up!” She spread her arm, indicating the nearest stone block to reinforce her point. “We messed up huge with this! And autographing it? That’s how we make it worse!” She huffed before chiding him some more, exasperated by all this. “Are you actually insane?!”
“Of course I am! We both are!” he exclaimed. “That’s why we friggin’ built Stonehenge even after we agreed not to screw with things anymore.”
She sighed and wiped at her face with a regretful hand. His cavalier approach to what they’d done was starting to rub off on her. “We did build Stonehenge, didn’t we?”
“Who cares?” Lars, standing again, thumbed unhappily at his ruined graffiti. “We waited forever. No one else was going to.”
She frowned up at the towering megaliths, the way they’d managed to haphazardly stack them on one another.
“It doesn’t look right, though,” she said, to which Lars shrugged.
“We didn’t do a great job. It’s gunna fall down, so don’t even worry.”
A powerful anxiety took hold anew. She snapped her head up to study the pillars once more. “What!?”
“Look, it’s okay!” He tried to calm her down. “The way I see it, the real builders will stumble along someday, find our mess and redo it. Properly.”
She drew a deep breath and ran fingers through her hair. He was making sense, as he often did. “Hnnn. We may need to find less messed-up ways to pass time.”
He couldn’t help but agree, but this monument to boredom and ennui they’d built looked so pretty against the sunset. It cast such beautiful complex shadows on the ground that they couldn’t help but harbor an unfamiliar sense of pride within their weird and lonely little hearts for having built it.
Although Stonehenge had been a far cry from an amazing feat of engineering, their next project was much less complex.
They decided to dig. After a series of heated debates, the middle of a searing desert seemed the least likely place to be disturbed. The only rule was that they weren’t to use tools. Hands only.
The only goal was to dig as deep as possible for as long as possible.
They fixated single-mindedly on their task, evacuating the place on occasion to avoid detection from passing gem ships. The burning sun above them only seemed to energize them. In the darkness of every night, as the weeks turned to months and the years once again into decades, the two ageless toiled by the light provided by their own glowing eyes.
They were often forced to cut to a nearby river to clean off the grime they accumulated.
Connie stared at her reflection a long minute as she cleaned sand and grit from her fingernails. She’d had a good long stretch of time to become used to her new reflection, but every time she caught sight of it now she began to wonder more and more.
“I should be crazy,” she said unto it.
She jumped a little. Somehow, she hadn’t expected Lars to be within earshot. But she opened up to him, because who else could she do that with?
“It doesn’t make sense that we’re still sane, right?” she said quietly. “After all this time?”
“You realize that if we were never taken, everyone we used to know would have been long dead by now.”
Although he felt a pang of anxiety about his question, he asked it anyway. “Do you still think about them?”
Connie glanced away. “Sometimes. Do you?”
He knelt down beside her and summoned a jug from his head. He dunked it into the river as he spoke. “Not often. I’m not sure I should.” He upended the jug of water over his head. “It’s not like it’s something we’re going to be able to go back to. Or,” he added as he side-eyed her, “have you forgotten again?”
She shook her head as she accepted the jug from him. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“Good,” he said as he used his sleeve to wipe the damp grime from his face. Connie held the waterjug idly in her hands as she let her mind linger in the past.
“But I do wonder what he’d be like. Steven, I mean-” She shrugged as she lowered the receptacle into the water. “If I’d never lost him. Like, would he be grey? Would he have a beard? What would he be doing?” She paused. “What would he think of me?”
“Little Stevie,” Lars snorted.
“No. He was tall.”
“Maybe,” he shrugged. “I just remember an annoying kid, I guess. But I also remember he was alright.”
Connie pulled a breath and let it out slowly. “Well, I wish I could have spent more time with him-“ She trailed off, voice flat. “Look. I don’t mean to go on about all this. I know you and your Sadie weren’t going to make it.”
He flinched a little at the name. He hadn’t heard it in a long time. “It’s… okay. Er, it would have been okay. Younger me, he had plans.” He paused. “At least, I think he did.”
Together they stared a long moment into the waters rushing by. They generally felt like phantoms, cursed merely to observe the vibrant world around them, but in this moment they felt the ghosts of their old lives staring back at them through their own worn expressions.
“Will have plans, I mean.”
Some other place, some other time, although they were expecting it, it happened so suddenly.
Off in the distance, through a half-closed eye, Lars noticed a single point of light rising up from beyond the darkened horizon before disappearing in a brief flash. It was the familiar sight of a Homeworld ship leaving the atmosphere - little reverse meteors disappearing off into space, bound for the stars. Nothing to worry about.
Before he could close his eyes again and return to his simple enjoyment of this moment’s rest on the gently rocking surface of the Atlantic Ocean, he noticed two more tiny pricks of light follow suit.
Then a fourth and a fifth, and from there on, each new point of light caused him more alarm.
And the night sky quickly filled with them.
Wide-eyed, he scrambled up into a sitting position, his wet clothes slapping around as he did. Unable to wrench his worried gaze from the evacuation going on in the distance, he called out.
“Connie, it’s going down.“
“I see it,” she said. She was already standing not very far away from him. Her stance was wide, her eyes fixated on the distant sky. Her sword was in her hand out of pure instinct, but she knew there was no one to fight. No way could she fight this.
He whipped his head around and they exchanged troubled glances. “How long-”
“I.” She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know. But, we should make sure.“
He understood and exhaled, taking a second to think of Rose. Rising to his feet, eyes aglow, he clapped his hands together like tinder striking flint. A portal sparked to life in front of them.
This was the second time Lars had conjured up a portal directly to Rose. The reason why was obvious, but it was partially also because they could never have been sure what situation they would have been stepping into. This was a risk, but one they considered worthwhile taking.
There was no other way to convince themselves that history was playing out as required after everything they'd done.
Gems were sprinting all around them. It was havoc, but at least the havoc hid them in the low light. They hadn’t been this close to gemkind in centuries and the sheer terror of it all sent their hearts into the pink equivalent of racing.
Lars stumbled as a gem pushed past them in her haste. He was stunned to catch a glimpse of an unscarred blue agate - a face that drummed up a distant memory of a much simpler time in what would someday be termed a pastry shop. With that, she was gone, leaving them in her dust.
It hit him. All these fleeing gems would be corrupted soon.
All, except for-
Connie pulled air in sharply when she saw the familiar shock of flowing pink curls. The white dress. She grabbed Lars and pointed. He saw it too and they moved with the quickly dispersing body of gems, leaping into a portal as they did.
A second later, materializing on a rise several miles away, they immediately ducked behind a bush. Peeking out, branches poking them uncomfortably, they watched the scene unfold.
Their eyes darted to the sky - they couldn’t not. Three bright lights of white, yellow and blue without warning lit up the sky, dwarfing the stars.
Far below them, Rose raised her shield. Grabbing Pearl and Garnet, she pulled both of them in and held them close. Together, the three of them closed their eyes and hunkered down with only the shield to protect them from the ensuing blast.
From the sky - a sound. A song? Regardless, it pierced Lars and Connie’s minds. They wondered if they’d made a terrible mistake in allowing themselves to be caught up in it, but there was no time to do anything more than cling to the other.
The initial forces involved shook the ground and jolted the very air around them. The atmosphere lit up bright - a raging, burning white light that filled their vision. It was everything.
They could smell it, taste it, feel it. It simultaneously filled them and consumed them. It was everywhere and it was like fire, burning on forever.
And when it finally faded off again, it was like it never happened.
When their eyes re-adjusted, the sky was dark again and the air still once more. They let each other go to wipe away tears, to stifle their own sobs with ragged sleeves.
In the distance through bleary eyes, they could see the way the shield lowered - disappearing belatedly in the air. Rose stood, staring at the night sky. Her two remaining friends, still in her arms.
Around them were strewn the inactive gems of dozens of their friends who had been fleeing mere moments beforehand.
Rose carefully lowered Pearl and Garnet back onto their own feet.
The three last gems on Earth, blissfully unaware of what was in store for them, cast about in confusion.
Connie stiffened as Lars made a move as if to stand. She successfully snapped her fingers on the third try. A portal opened up below them, and they both fell through.
Connie exhaled slowly and brushed back her hair as she took in their age-old campsite. After several decades of absence, everything was overgrown with brambles. The cabin had suffered a fallen tree at some point and was in ruins. But it didn’t matter. They’d left nothing of value inside.
The firepit was still probably somewhere under all these leaves, presumably near where they’d left the canoe, which was - huh. Oh, there it was. The last of it rotting under some leaves.
She belatedly realized her portal was still open and closed it. She needed to focus on what made sense for now.
It made sense to come back here. It was safe here. Sure, they could have abandoned their humble campsite. They could have let the wild forces of nature reclaim it, but they were far too attached to it. It was home, and they always returned to their safe home.
Her line of vision soon drifted to Lars. The guy paced anxiously, upsetting the leaves as he went.
Lars made sense, too. His agitation made the most sense of all.
“We should have warned them,” he said, still in a daze from what they’d just borne witness to. “We could have helped them save more of their friends - our friends-”
He caught Connie’s eye and realized how ridiculous he sounded. He stopped in his tracks. Then, turning away from her, he hunched forward and clutched at his face with pent fingers.
The only sound was her footsteps crunching in the leaves, and he felt her hand on his back. Exhaling, he lowered hands from his face.
She rubbed his back a moment. He dropped down to sit amongst the leaves, and she did too, folding her knees below her.
Although the region didn’t seem to be too deep into autumn just yet, the forest sloping down and away from them was stripped of leaves. One could presume it was due to the effects of the blast that had not long since swept the Earth.
It was beautiful and skeletal all at once. They leaned against the other as they gazed at it a long while through empty eyes.
“We can’t help them,” she said with a heart as heavy and as guilty as his. “Not ever.”