Lamp Entertainment presents…

Our heroes are finally gathered, ready to stand united against the threat of the last pillar man. But the board is changing quickly. Whether it be through fate or simply coincidence, their foe has gained a few powerful allies of his own.

Old enemies are returning, new enemies emerge and a friend has already been turned against them.

The hardest trials have yet to come.

Chapter 18: Friends and Enemies, Act 1

We…

Trapped within a vast, featureless void, a great nothing filled with only herself and her despair. Occasionally, a glimpse into reality as if to torture her with visions of a life that wasn't hers anymore. Seeing those she called friends smile at the imposter who stole her life.

This was Lapis Lazuli's life now.

She was sitting in a large, empty space. There was nothing around her and nothing above her. The ground was hard and cold like glass. Everywhere she looked, she saw nothing but pale grey mist. Up, down, left, right, forward, and behind her. It was all covered in a thick fog, behind which was nothing but more emptiness. She had looked and found nothing. It was like she was stuck in only a half dimension, as if this space was struggling to exist in this reality. As if it could collapse at any moment.

She didn't know how much time had passed since she was trapped there. It could've been just a few hours, but it felt like an eternity. Every second was another thousand years in this empty hell. It was yet more millennia for Lapis to be imprisoned. She should be used to it by now.

Every now and then, a window would open before her and she could look out into the real world. She couldn't hear anything, only see. Usually, she only got short glimpses of her own body through its reflection on a shiny surface or in someone's eye. It felt like the demon possessing her body was mocking her by reminding her of what she lost.

That wasn't the worst part.

Sometimes she'd get a better picture of one of the Crystal Gems. They all talked to the impostor, yet no one seemed to notice anything wrong. Even Steven and Peridot didn't realize the person they were talking to was nothing more than a fake.

That was the worst part.

The few people on this wretched planet she dared to call friends couldn't even tell if the person they were talking to was really her or not. They smiled at the impostor stand possessing her body as if it was the real deal. As if it truly was their friend's eyes they were looking into and not the soulless orbs of a puppet.

Dark thoughts invaded her mind, slithering into her thoughts like poisonous snakes through a peaceful garden. On some level, she knew it wasn't true, that it couldn't be… but she could not stop the doubt from entering her head and invading her consciousness with its toxic influence.

If the impostor could so easily take over her life and deceive Steven and Peridot… then what did that say about their friendship? Surely, if they were truly her friends like she thought then… then they must be able to tell something's off, that it wasn't really her talking to them, that it was someone else controlling her body. Right? They must be able to tell, some stand wouldn't be able to trick them that easily, right? Even if it had access to her memories, her friends could tell the difference between the real her and the fake… right?

But they didn't.

Were… were they even her real friends? Or were they just putting up her, pretending to enjoy her company so she wouldn't turn on them as she had done before? When she stole the ocean. When she attacked and nearly killed the Crystal Gems. When she sold them out to Homeworld. When she treated Peridot like dirt, even though none of what had happened to Lapis was her fault. When she almost left them behind at the first sign of trouble.

Steven. Peridot. The Crystal Gems. Even the planet Earth itself. They had all been so kind and giving to her in so many ways. And she didn't deserve any of it. All she ever did was cause them more problems. They deserved someone better.

Maybe that's why they didn't spot the impostor? Because it was better than her?

Lapis sat with her face buried in her hands. Large tears rolled down her cheeks. They landed on the cold floor, forming a small puddle for her to sit in.

She should have left when she had the chance. At least if she was alone in space, she wouldn't have to know how little she mattered to those she thought were her friends.

These and many other dark thoughts continued to invade and intrude into her mind, like heavy clouds of poisonous gas slowly suffocating her, leaving her with only the bitter taste of despair in her mouth. She continued to cry as an eternity passed by. She cried until her eyes dried up and she couldn't anymore. Then she just sat there in silence waiting for it all to end.

Several more windows flickered by, showing short glimpses of the outside, but Lapis didn't even bother looking through them. No need to torture herself with further reminders of her lost life. They were too small and went by too fast for her to make out anything anyway.

Finally, a larger window opened and lingered for some time. Lapis was still sitting with her head buried in her arms, but she still saw the edges of it in the corner of her eyes. Deep within her, some shard of willpower managed to make her lift her head ever so slightly upwards to see what was going on.

Lapis saw her own back and gem. Maybe it was reflected in a window or something? Whatever it was, it was bigger than the usual reflections and let her see more than she usually did. In the background, she saw the Crystal Gems sans Steven. There were some humans walking and talking with them as well.

More importantly, she saw Peridot talking to the impostor. She still couldn't hear anything and she couldn't read lips, but she could read Peridot's expressions clearly. She had this face she made when she encountered something new she didn't understand. It was confusion, quickly followed by curiosity and determination to understand the new mystery.

Peridot was puzzled… puzzled by something the impostor had just said.

Lapis jumped back up on her feet, her shattered willpower restored in an instant. Peridot was puzzled, perplexed, confused by something the impostor said. And… if Lapis could see her in the reflection, then maybe… if Peridot turned her gaze only a few degrees to the right… if her eyes wandered just the tiniest fraction and looked behind Lapis' body and into the reflection in the window behind her…

"Peridot!" Lapis yelled as loud as she could. She banged on the window with her fists and waved, desperately trying to catch the green gem's attention. "Peridot! I'm trapped in here! Please, just look at me! The person you're talking to is a fake!" She waved and yelled at the top of her lungs, but Peridot didn't react. Not even for a moment did she seem to notice anything out of the ordinary in her peripheral vision.

"She can't hear you," a voice said. It seemed to come from everywhere all at once, as if the very space around Lapis was speaking to her. It sounded like a distorted imitation of her own voice, something slightly glassy and synthetic about it that sent shivers down her back.

"She can't see you either, for that matter," Lonely Heart said, sounding far more irritated than it had any right to be. "But I can. It's very annoying. Here I was, happy that you had finally stopped crying, but then you start screaming instead? Can't you just… be quiet? You're not gonna get out of here, so screaming about it won't help. It's useless. Useless, useless, useless."

"N-no…" Lapis whispered. It couldn't be true. She banged her fists on the window, hitting it over and over again. Her hands started hurting, she nearly broke them against the indomitable glass, but she was numb to the pain. That pain was so small compared to what she felt in her soul at that moment. Peridot's eyes wandered to the side just a bit, hovering at the reflection for a moment… before wandering back to the impostor.

"Peridot, no… please…" She was so close, yet she might as well have been a million lightyears away. Even though her she had cried her eyes dry earlier, a single tear still found its way down her cheek.

"Ugh, finally," Lonely Heart muttered. "Are you done? Do you get it? Or do I have to repeat myself six more times? It doesn't matter how much you yell or wave, Peridot can't see or hear you, and she never will. Just… just give up." Suddenly, the stand's tone changed from irritated to smug. "Although… you really don't need to worry about her… I'll take good care of her."

Lapis did not like the sound of that at all. Nor did she like the way Lonely Heart in her body was leaning down and putting her face way too close to Peridot's…

She realized what was going on. Lapis must've seen this image playing out before her eyes a hundred times during her and Peridot's Camp Pining Heart marathons. The recognition and realization filled her soul with cold terror.

"No! Don't!" she cried, but she was powerless to stop the impending catastrophe from happening.

Lonely Heart kissed Peridot. A big awkward kiss, right on the mouth, tongues and everything. Just like on TV. Except instead of kissing back like someone on TV would, Peridot instead recoiled, her eyes wide with shock.

"What the hell are you doing!?" Lapis screeched from within the mirror world. She didn't even notice, nor care about a human expression slipping through her mouth. All she cared about was the proverbial train wreck she just witnessed.

Out in the real world, Lonely Heart backed away from Peridot, who was blushing so heavily her entire face practically shifted color. Lapis wasn't sure if it was from embarrassment or disgust, only that those emotions were what she was feeling at the moment… alongside another emotion, one far greater and more powerful.

"I… I kissed her," Lonely heart said sheepishly. It sounded unsure of itself for the first time since Lapis met it. "Isn't that… I thought…"

"Well, you thought wrong, dumbass!" Lapis yelled. She saw Lonely Heart saying something to Peridot out in the real world, but Peridot wasn't listening. She simply turned around and started running away as fast as her clumsy little legs could carry her. Lonely heart stayed behind, the cheeks it had stolen colored deep blue with what Lapis hoped was a lot of shame and embarrassment. "Oh, I swear, if I get out of here and Peridot hates me because of you, I will…"

"You won't!" Lonely Heart suddenly screamed, the entire dimension Lapis was trapped in shaking.

Without warning, Lonely Heart punched the window, shattering it into a dozen pieces. The pieces fell to the ground, and Lapis found herself looking up at her own body through a dozen fractured pieces.

"You will never get out of here!"Lonely Heart screamed. It started stomping on on the broken window glass, crushing and grinding it down into smaller pieces. Lapis couldn't help but wince at the thought of her exposed feet stepping on sharp glass. But Lonely Heart didn't seem to care about any pain, it just kept stomping on the glass and yelling. "You won't! Not ever! Never, never, never! This is my life now! Mine!"

It continued to scream and crush the glass shards until all that remained was dust and the last of Lapis' windows into reality closed. Lonely Heart's furious howls stopped soon thereafter and everything became quiet again. Lapis was alone once more.

This time, however… something was different. The overwhelming, paralyzing despair that had taken hold of her before was gone. The anguish and feeling of hopelessness that had rendered her unable to anything but weep was now gone. It was replaced by two new feelings lighting the way through the darkness like two flashlights.

The first emotion was hope. The small part of her brain that wasn't dedicated to the second, more dominant emotion realized the mistake Lonely Heart had made. The stand wasn't at all a perfect copy of her, far from it. Its cover was starting to slip and exposing the truth. And if the others caught on to that, they might be able to figure out a way to free her.

Of course, the hope was only background noise in Lapis' mind. A cool, soothing pool of water next to the enormous boiling sea that was her unyielding rage. There was only so much despair a gem could take before it turned into hot flaming anger, pure and unrestrained wrath. And you better believe Lapis was far beyond that point by now.

She had once heard an expression somewhere, she couldn't quite recall where. She didn't really care. All she needed were the right words o describe her emotions at that moment, and this human expression did the job perfectly;

Lapis Lazuli was fucking pissed off!

xxXXxx

The Beach House…

Steven sighed and hung up the phone. Pearl nearly fainted when he told her what happened and Garnet had to take over. He told her that they were safe and back at the house. She told him about the stand users, that they saw Santana, but he got away, that Lapis and Peridot had found them and that they'd be back at the house in a few minutes.

After Santana left them in the woods, he, Joseph, and Connie used one of Lion's portals to get back to the house. The house now had a nice addition of a large hole in the floor, courtesy of Santana. According to Joseph, Santana broke it and dragged both him and Connie down with him. He hypothesized that there might've been some sort of portal hidden underneath the house, which is how they could disappear and reappear in the forest. Though when they tried to throw some debris around under the house to see if the portal was still there, nothing happened, so it was probably closed by now.

While Steven called the gems, Joseph showed Connie some hamon tricks. It sounded really cool and interesting and Steven was tempted to stand by and watch. But… there was something else he had to do. Another phone call. One he dreaded even more than calling Pearl.

Still, he had to do it. He scrolled down his list of contacts and chose "Mayor Nanefua."

"Hello? Mayor Nanefua, this is…"

"Steven!" Even on the phone, Steven could hear the worry in her voice. "Have you seen Jenny and Kiki? They've been gone all night and they haven't answered any of my calls or text messages. I tried calling some of their friends, but none of them are answering either."

Steven glanced at Kiki lying on his bed. Joseph carried her back to the house after they got back. She was still unconscious.

"Kiki… is here with me," he said. "She can't talk right now, b-but she's alright, I promise."

"…and Jenny…?"

"I… I don't know where she is," Steven said slowly. he took a deep breath, bracing himself for what he had to say next. "But… I know she's in danger." Each word in that sentence hurt like a punch to the gut for him to say. And if that's how bad he felt, he could only imagine what it was like for Nanefua to hear him say it. "She and… several others."

There was a silence before Nanefua spoke up again.

"Is-is this another abduction?"

"No, it's… it's something else," Steven said. It might actually be worse. The zoo was at least made to keep the humans inside of it alive. "But listen to me. You need to call for a total evacuation of the town." This was the real reason for his call. He, the Crystal Gems, and Nanefua had established a couple of emergency plans in case of any invasions. Now it was time to use them. "Get everyone as far from Beach City as possible. Stay together in the sunlight and call me immediately if anything happens."

"But what…?"

"Please," Steven interrupted her. "I'm sorry I can't tell you right now, it's… complicated. But please, you have to trust me. Get everyone out of Beach City and… I-I promise you… the next time you see Kiki and Jenny, they'll be smiling at you!" He blurted that last part out without thinking. He should know better than to make a promise like that. Still… he felt a desire in his heart to make sure those words became truth. He wanted nothing more than to save everyone and make everyone happy.

There was another short pause before Mayor Nanefua said anything.

"I'll hold you to that promise," she said. Her voice had now shifted tone. She sounded determined, like the strong-willed woman Beach City had chosen as its mayor. "And you better have a really good explanation for this when it's all over." She hung up and Steven could finally breathe properly again.

That was a pretty awful experience. Easily the worst phone call Steven has had to make in his life as of yet. But it was a necessary one. He might not have been able to kill Santana when he had the chance, but he was going to do everything he could to protect his friends, family, and the people of Beach City… heck, if Santana got his hands on the Aja, he'd be a threat to the entire world. And even if Steven couldn't kill him, he'd still push himself and his powers to their limits and beyond to protect the world.

Although there wasn't much he could do for the moment, other than pace back and forth and wait for the others to come back with the stand users. Fortunately, he didn't have to wait too long.

Peridot slammed the door open, startling everyone in the house. Steven had his back to the door, and he nearly jumped right out of his own skin, that's how startled he was. He turned to Peridot and immediately noticed she was blushing heavily and muttering something under her breath. He tried to ask her what was up, but she ignored him and instead quickly marched up to the kitchen counter. She hopped up on a stool and started tinkering with the gadget she was working on earlier, continuing to mutter gem curses.

She was soon followed by Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven spotted four strangers behind them, but he only caught a short glimpse before Pearl tackled him to the ground with a hug.

"Oh Steven!" she cried and squeezed him tightly. Her arms might be thins like sticks, but she could conjure up a surprising amount of strength when she really wanted to. " What were we thinking leaving you alone like that!? Thank the stars you're alright! You're alright, right? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"N-no," Steven wheezed. "I'm fine, we're all fine," he said, neglecting to mention the injuries Joseph, Connie, and Lion had gotten. No need to upset her any more than she already was.

"Thank goodness," Pearl said, relieved, though she did not let Steven go. Instead, she lifted him into the air, and held him there, as if she was afraid he'd suddenly be in danger again if she let go.

Someone behind her cleared their throat and Pearl snapped back to the moment.

"Oh, where are my manners?" she said and turned to the four strangers standing by the door, all of whom looked pretty awkward. Steven noticed that Lapis was there too. It almost looked like she was hiding behind them. She was blushing and staring down at the floor. "Please, come in! We've got a lot to talk about."

"Yeah, just mind the hole," Steven said while he wiggled himself free from Pearl's grip. He gestured towards the large opening in the floor.

"Uh, yeah, about that…" Amethyst said. "Is that hole a new addition? Or has it always been there and I just never thought about it?"

"It's… a present from Santana," Steven said.

"No worries!" One of the strangers said and stepped forward. "I can fix it!" He was quite tall and wore some kind of uniform, with two golden pins on his chest. One was shaped like a heart and the other like a peace sign. His most striking feature however was the large and insanely cool pompadour on his head.

The pompadour stranger walked up to the hole and placed his had on some of the debris. The pieces started moving, splinters and broken planks reassembling themselves before their eyes. In only a few seconds, the hole was entirely fixed, as good as new.

"Wow! " Steven said, stars in his eyes. "Was that your stand?"

"Ah-ha," the stranger said with a confident smile."That was my stand, Crazy Diamond!"

A very sudden and very awkward silence fell over the room as every gem flinched and became a few shades paler.

"Wha-what… did I say something…?" the pompadour stranger asked, picking up on the mood shift his words caused.

"N-no, it's nothing," Steven said quickly. He extended his hand to the stranger. "My name is Steven Universe. Nice to meet you."

The pompadour stranger still looked a bit confused, but he took Steven's hand.

"Nice to meet you too," he said with a large smile. "I'm Josuke Higashikata." He turned and gestured toward the three other strangers. "And these are…"

"My name is Koichi Hirose," the shortest one out of the bunch. He almost looked a bit out of place with the others, but Steven knew not to judge anyone on their appearance. This went double for stand users.

"I'm, uh… Hi, I am Okuyasu Nijimura," said the third teenager. He was rough-looking, with a large scar across that formed a big X on his face. He looked kinda scary, but his awkward smile and the way he stumbled over his words revealed a much softer person inside. Or maybe it was the fact that he was holding two small cats in his arms.

One of them was the cat from the cornfield. Connie had wanted to call her "Tigereye," but all the gems had agreed on "Cat Steven," so that's what they called her. Steven didn't recognize the other cat, but it looked to be the same size as Cat Steven. It was an adorable little grey dappled cutie. "I, uh… find these cats," Okuyasu explained. He pointed at the grey dappled one. "This one had a big, um… bite bug?"

"A tick?" Steven suggested.

"Yeah. That," Okuyasu said, still looking unsure if that was the right word. "I erased it."

"Cats love Okuyasu," Josuke explained. "He saw these two hiding under the stairs, picked them up, and they instantly fell in love with him. I swear, he could probably tame a wild l-LION!" He stumbled over the last word as Lion bumped into him and walked up to Okuyasu. The giant pink feline looked up at him. Okuyasu hesitated a bit, before scratching Lion behind the ears, and Lion immediately nuzzled the teen like they were old friends. Incredible! It had taken Steven months to find Lion's weak spot, yet Okuyasu did so in a matter of seconds! He must truly be a prodigy when it came to cats.

A small cough drew Steven's attention away from Okuyasu and towards the fourth stand user. He was probably the most eye-catching one, so much so that it was kinda weird that Steven hadn't noticed him earlier. To start off, he was huge, almost two meters tall, with enormous shoulders and muscular arms. He looked like he could wrestle a corrupted gem if he wanted to. His coat and hat were also bright white, with several golden pins, which made him stand out. He looked quite scary, though for some reason, Steven didn't feel all that intimidated by him. Maybe it was the pin of the dolphins forming a heart on his chest? Few people could make that look scary.

"I'm Jotaro Kujo," he said with a deep dark voice. "I have several questions. Two of them require immediate answers. Firstly, where's Joseph Joestar? He's supposed to be here."

Joseph, who had been staying out of the spotlight cleared his throat loudly. The four stand users looked confusedly at what must've looked like a random young man they didn't know calling for their attention.

"Hey," Joseph said and waved. He started walking up to the group, as if to let them get a better look. " Koichi, Okuyasu. Nice to see you again. Josuke, Jotaro. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

A few seconds passed with deafening silence before Josuke broke it.

"N-nani!?" he yelled. Steven didn't speak Japanese, but he got the gist of what it meant from the shocked expression on Josuke's face. He stumbled backward and almost fell over. Okuyasu had to catch him with the one arm that wasn't' holding the cats. Koichi looked shocked too and started speaking rapidly in Japanese to Josuke and Okuyasu both.

"Explain," Jotaro said through gritted teeth. His face betrayed little emotion, but his right eye was twitching.

"Santana," Joseph said as if that single name explained everything. "His stand can reverse aging. Apparently, he wanted to have a fight with me at my 'peak.' For old times sake, I suppose." His sigh revealed the older man inside the young body. He suddenly chuckled and patted Jotaro on the shoulder. "Oh, come on Jotaro, no need to look so horrified. I know you've seen a stand with a similar ability before."

"I'd rather forget about that one," Jotaro said before muttering something in Japanese.

"Second question," that requires an immediate answer," he said, quickly switching topics. He raised a finger and pointed at the group of gems, standing opposite to his own group of stand users. "Who are you?" In particular, his finger seemed to be aimed towards Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. "You possess superhuman abilities, but you are neither vampires, not stand users. So who are you? What are you?"

"Oh dear…" Pearl mumbled. Steven agreed. How to best broach this subject?

Garnet suddenly chuckled like she just remembered a funny joke at a bad time. Or perhaps… like she foresaw a funny joke. She leaned down and whispered something into Steven's ear. He couldn't help but giggle at her suggestion. It would be really funny… but should they really?

Yes. Yes, they should.

Steven jumped up to his bedroom and grabbed his ukulele while Garnet whispered her idea to the others. He then leaped down, floating slowly and safely to the floor. For a second he thought Koichi looked… disappointed? Strange.

He landed next to the others. Pearl was rolling her eyes, but she was smiling too, clearly entertained by the idea. Amethyst was struggling to hold back her laughter. Connie and Peridot were also excited, but Lapis backed off, clearly not interested in singing.

Seven cleared his throat, savoring the puzzled looks the stand users shot him when he started playing the first few chords.

"If you're evil and you're on the rise

You can count on all of us taking you down

Cause we're good and evil never beats us

We'll win the fight and then go out for pizzas"

The gems and Connie joined in by clapping their hands.

"We are the Crystal Gems

We'll always save the day

And if you think we can't

We'll always find a way

That's why the people of this world

Believe in…"

"Garnet!"

"Amethyst!"

"And Pearl!"

"And Steven!"

"And Peridot!"

"And Connie!"

Lion roared for good measure. And even though the five stand users all looked stunned, the Crystal Gems were still not done yet.

Pearl continued with the next verse.

"If you could only know

What we really are

When we arrived on Earth

From out beyond your star

We were amazed to find

Your beauty and your worth

And we will protect your kind

And we will protect your Earth

And we will protect your Earth

And we will protect you!"

Now it was Garnet's turn.

"I will fight for the place where I'm free

To live together and exist as me!"

Pearl again.

"I will fight in the name of Rose Quartz

And everything she believed in!"

Amethyst.

"I will fight for the world I was made in

The Earth is everything I've ever known!"

And Steven!

"I will fight to be everything

That everybody wants me to be when I'm grown!"

Connie!

"I will fight for the sake of humanity

And every creature that calls this planet their home!"

And Peridot!

"I will fight for this strange little world

Where you can be yourself and grow!"

All together!

"The odds are against us

It won't be easy, but we're not gonna do it alone!"

"We are the Crystal Gems!

We'll always save the day

And if you think we can't

We'll always find a way

That's why the people of this world

Believe in…"

Garnet summoned her gauntlets, standing ready for battle should anyone be foolish enough to try.

"Garnet!"

Amethyst twirled her whip around in a stunning display of natural talent and skill.

"Amethyst!"

Pearl spun her spear and planted the blunt end on the floor, taking a stance against the forces of evil.

"And Pearl!"

Steven summoned his shield and stood firm in place to protect the entire world if he had to.

"And Steven!"

Connie drew Rose's sword and stood in a battle stance, ready to take on anyone who threatened her home.

"And Connie!"

Peridot summoned forth some metal scraps with a series of wild gestures, pointing dramatically at the imagined enemy in the distance.

"And Peridot!"

The Crystal Gems ended the performance by striking a group pose. It was powerful and dynamic, sure to instill fear into the hearts of evil, hope into the souls of the innocent, and shock into the five stand users watching the spectacle.

"So…" Garnet said, her normal stoic facade cracking as she struggled to hold back her laughter. "Does that answer your question?"

"…no," Jotaro said after a few seconds. His hat was somehow casting a dark shadow across his face, so Steven couldn't see his eyes twitching in disbelief.

"Fantastic song," Joseph said and clapped his hands slowly. "Very impressive. Was that rehearsed, or was it an improvised piece?"

"Oh, I wrote that song years ago," Steven explained. "I should probably make a new version of it sometime… Well, Connie's and Peridot's verses were improvised!"

"You could probably tell," Connie said, ever humble. "I totally botched the melody on my verse…"

"Nono, you were gre-" Steven started to say before he was interrupted.

"W-wait a minute!" Josuke exclaimed, pointing a finger at the Crystal Gems like he was accusing them of some serious crime. "What exactly is 'from out beyond your star' supposed to mean? Are you space aliens!?"

"Yes!" Steven said. "Well… I mean, Connie and Lion are from Earth, I'm only half-gem and Amethyst was made here on Earth, so she's technically not an alien… but Garnet, Pearl, and Lapis are all from space."

There was a silence in the room. It was quiet enough to hear a feather hit the floor.

"Eh, that seems about right," Josuke said with a shrug after a short while. "I've seen a lot of weird stuff. Aliens are just barely acceptable within my worldview. "Heh, I guess we owe Mikitaka an apology, eh?" he said and elbowed Okuyasu in the side. "The cray bastard really was an alien all along, wasn't he?"

"I still don't think Mikitaka is an alien though," Koichi said. "I mean, he doesn't look anything like any of these ones, does he?"

Despite their light-hearted banter, Steven could tell that they were at least a little bit shaken. Which made sense. They thought they were coming here to battle an ancient super vampire with a psychic ghost power, but now there were suddenly aliens too. Anyone would be at least a little bit taken aback by that.

Jotaro had been standing very still and remaining very still during the past few minutes. Without a single word, he reached for a pocket inside his coat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He lit one and took a long and deep drag on it.

"I thought you stopped smoking," Joseph scolded him. "You could at least go outside."

"I thought aliens weren't real," Jotaro said. "And I thought my own grandfather would tell me if he knew actual goddamn aliens existed and were living on Earth.

"…touché," Joseph said. "Look, I realize it's a lot to take in…"

"Correct. And we don't have a lot of time to spare," Jotaro said. He sighed and the cigarette in his mouth crumbled under an invisible hand. He turned towards the group of extraterrestrials, all of whom were now feeling kinda awkward. "You. I want the full story and I want it fast."

"Oh stars, where to start…" Pearl mumbled. She gestured towards the sofa. "You might wanna sit down, it's a long story. It all started about six thousand years ago when the gem empire set its sight on a small planet called Earth…"

xxXXxx

It was about thirty minutes later, Josuke was wondering if he should've been taking notes. He might need them for later because these honest-to-God aliens had extensive lore and history that made Santana's backstory look simple and straightforward.

Ancient alien empires and daring rebels fighting over this planet in times long forgotten by man. It was sounding like something out of some epic space opera, but no, it was reality, and the survivors of that war were sitting right in front of him.

Also, Pearl was apparently at least ten thousand years old, yet she was acting more like a cross between a nervous mom and an overenthusiastic teacher than an ancient immortal spacewoman. She was very happy to explain and answer any questions he or anyone else had. Which were a lot. Cause let's face it if you had just discovered aliens, wouldn't you want to ask a few questions too?

Oh, and that little boy Steven? He was half-alien. He mentioned it before, but it sorta flew over Josuke's head until he heard it the second time. Most people wouldn't mention the fact that they were half extraterrestrial so casually.

And as it turned out, not only had Okuyasu managed to charm a giant pink lion, he had tamed a giant magical pink lion. Which was also undead, apparently?

How truly bizarre.

Jotaro had been quiet almost the entire time, only asking a few questions here and there. He'd been sitting with his hands coupled in front of his face, absorbing information like a sponge. While he was hard to read at the best of times, Josuke knew him well enough to tell just how shaken he was by this whole space alien business.

It wasn't something Josuke was proud of, but he did feel kinda glad that he and Jotaro were on the same page for once. Ever since he strolled into his life a little over a year ago, Jotaro had always been the man with the answers, the man who knew what to do. It was… different, almost refreshing to see him be as lost as anyone else.

Really, this entire day had been like a roller coaster. A roller coaster where the ride starts with the train shooting backward at forty kilometers an hour. Yet, he had the feeling it could still get worse.

"…after that, Santana left us there. We used one of Lion's portals to get back here and Steven called you," Joseph said and nodded towards Pearl.

Josuke didn't know how to describe the feelings that seeing his father young again gave him, so he decided to suppress and lock them away for now. He could untangle that mess when they weren't under the threat of a super vampire or discovering that they weren't alone in the universe.

"…and we already know the rest," Jotaro said, putting a cap on the recap.

One question had been gnawing at the back (and front) of Josuke's mind for… well, ever since he first met the Crystal Gems and got a good look at them. And he figured Jotaro was probably thinking the same thing too, even if he hadn't found the right opportunity to ask yet either.

"I've got a question," Josuke spoke up, turning everyone's attention towards him. "Do you know of anyone named Moonstone or Ruby?"

Most of the gems, Steven and Connie looked confused at the question, but Josuke noticed Garnet tense up for a second in a way that didn't quite come of as surprise to him. Recognition? Did she know who they were?

"Well, I know a lot of Rubies," Steven said. He was sitting in Pearl's lap and looked up at her. "But I've never heard of a Moonstone before?"

"Well, Moonstones are a type of tactical advisors in gem armies," Pearl explained. "And Rubies are typically foot soldiers or bodyguards," she quickly exposited for the less gem savvy people in the room. "But… why are you asking?"

"Because someone called Moonstone showed up in Empire City looking for me. Apparently, she followed me all the way from Japan. She and someone called Ruby blew up a restaurant and nearly killed Jotaro, alongside a bunch of innocent bystanders.

There was a pregnant pause. All of the gems looked absolutely bewildered. In a way, it felt a bit like karma for before, when they had confused him.

"And… they were gems?" Pearl asked after a while.

"Yes," Jotaro answered. "Of course, at the time, I didn't know what a gem was. But now that I do, I feel confident in saying that they were both gems. Aside from Moonstone and Ruby, who approached me, I also heard one of them mention a third person, someone called Titanium."

"Titanium?" Steven asked. "But that's not a gem, that's a metal, right?" He looked up at Pearl, who started mumbling something.

"Well… there was an experiment here on Earth… to create a new type of gem soldiers called Titanium Quartzes… but those experiments were supposed to have all failed and been canceled…"

"Uh, that's very worrying and all," Amethyst cut in. "But can we go back a few lines of dialogue? What was that about a restaurant exploding!?"

"Ruby got hit with a bullet from a policeman's gun," Jotaro said. "It didn't seem to harm her, but she started to glow and radiate heat until she exploded. The explosion nearly killed me and two other people. She seemed fine afterward though."

"B-but… but rubies aren't supposed to explode!" Pearl stammered, grabbing ahold of Garnet's arm. "Right?"

"…no, they're not," Garnet said slowly.

"They're most certainly not supposed to explode!" the little green gem Peridot exclaimed. "At least… well, I suppose if it was an off-c…" She interrupted herself midway through the sentence. "Um, I mean… hypothetically speaking, if a ruby's gem had an imbalance of certain chemicals in such a way as to be considered… deviant from the norm… that Ruby's pyrokinetic abilities might mutate to a point where they become volatile enough to cause a release of energy similar to an explosion." She paused for a moment. Josuke wasn't sure what all of the words she just said were supposed to mean, but he figured she probably knew what she was talking about. "But that raises the question… why would a Homeworld gem bring a ruby like that with them on any sort of mission?

"More importantly, why would they be looking for Josuke?" Steven asked. "What could they possibly want from him?"

"And for that matter, how would she even know about him?" Pearl added. "Most gems don't exactly care about humans."

"I… I don't know," Josuke said. Whatever schadenfreude he'd felt before faded away. It seemed like he had gone and made an already ridiculously complicated situation even more convoluted. "I thought that maybe you'd know since, well… she's a gem, you're gems…"

Saying that out loud made it sound pretty dumb. After all, Josuke was human, but he had no idea what most humans on the planet were up to, so why should the Crystal Gems know what every gem was up to?

"Hey, don't worry about it," Steven said. He smiled s great warm smile that felt strangely reassuring. "We'll help you figure out what it is this gem wants. And if she tries to put anyone else in danger, we'll stop her. That is the Crystal Gems job after all. To protect all life on this planet."

"Yeah, we'll kick her sorry butt off of our planet!" Amethyst added.

Josuke couldn't help but chuckle a little. He smiled back. It was kinda strange getting reassurance from someone so much younger than him. But it was nice. Steven seemed like a good kid.

"That sounds good, but for now, we should probably focus on Santana," Jotaro said, bringing the conversation back on track. "All of his traps may have failed so far, but it got way too close for comfort in some cases. He also managed to slip through our fingers and get away mostly unscathed."

"Agreed," Joseph said. "What we mustn't ever forget is that Santana's physical power and might is backed up with a keen intellect. He is likely planning his next move as we sit here right now."

xxXXxx

Outside Beach City…

Hayato had been in a lot of danger throughout his short life. Arguably too much. At some point, he had started to get a bit numb. Sure, he was kidnapped and held hostage by aliens. Oh no, or whatever. After a while, his fears subsided and were replaced by rational thought and the will to get himself out of the situation.

That fear had come back in full and doubled the second he got close to Santana.

Even when he first saw him lying on the ground covered in torn up clothes, Hayato could still feel some primal fear embedded within his DNA telling him to run away as fast as he could. He felt a primitive urge to scream and yell at Moonstone not to talk to the monster in front of her, but the sound never escaped his lips. The fear inside of him was like a monster in and of itself. Its sharp claws grabbed hold of his heart and tongue, its cold breath froze his blood, its drool soaked his skin in sweat and its heavy body rested on his shoulder, weighing him down, trapped in place.

That was all before he saw its stand, a horrible green monstrosity that kicked away Titanium effortlessly. The same Titanium that could throw around fully grown adults like they were nothing but dolls. The same Titanium that could catch shrapnel from an explosion with one hand. The same Titanium whose strength Moonstone had such unbreakable confidence in.

Hayato was only dimly aware of what happened after that point. He didn't know it, but he went into something of a shocked state. It was partially due to fear and stress, but also hunger and dehydration. The fact that he nearly peed himself didn't help him remain calm either. It took a few minutes and a visit to the bathroom before the mist in his head started clearing.

Not that things looked much better just because he was fully aware of his surroundings again. As far as he was concerned, he was still stuck between a rock and a hard place, except the rock was hurtling towards him and the hard place was also on fire.

Still, Hayato did notice something strange about the monster, Santana, as he was called. He only started taking off his many layers of clothes once he was inside the villa and the door was both closed and locked. And the inside of the house was dim and dingy. There were only a few small lamps and candles providing any light. All the windows were covered. Hayato could've sworn some of the curtains were taped together or covered with blankets. Not a ray of sunlight made it inside.

Was… was Santana a vampire?

Strangely enough… it sorta made sense. It explained the level of fear Hayato had felt when he first saw him. And considering the stuff that had happened the last few days? Hayato could believe it.

…wait, did that mean that Josuke and Okuyasu weren't kidding when they told him a vampire turned Okuyasu's dad into the bizarre creature he was today?

E-either way, Hayato couldn't be a hundred percent sure. He didn't dare attempt putting a sticky note on Santana, at least not yet. He was keeping a very close eye on both him and the gems.

Santana led them to the kitchen, where several humans stood waiting. All of them had a really strange look in their eyes, as if they weren't fully conscious or aware of what was going on. Almost like they were possessed…

Suddenly, Santana grabbed Hayato by the shoulder and shoved him towards the dinner table. He held out his other arm, stopping the gems from entering.

"Sit," he said and pointed towards one of the chairs. Hayato obeyed.

"You, stand over there," he continued, pointing at Titanium and gesturing towards the far end of the room. Titanium rolled her eye but did as he told her. He then motioned towards Ruby and Peridot, placing them midway through the room, alongside one of the walls. He then ordered Moonstone to stand by the table, at the opposite end of where Hayato was sitting. Santana remained where he was standing, on the right side of the table, from Hayato's perspective.

Clever. If the gems tried to attack him, he could easily see them coming and flee through the doorway. Titanium, who he had probably figured was strong at close range, was positioned furthest away from him. Meanwhile, Moonstone, the leader, was the closest to him Of course, it wasn't a flawless plan; he put Ruby and Peridot right next to each other. According to some of the notes Hayato had gotten on them, that was a bad idea.

"Kevin," Santana said and pointed towards a teenage boy sitting atop the kitchen counter. "Yellow Tail." A man wearing a bright yellow jacket. "Ronaldo." A teen with strangely shaped hair that reminded Hayato of some kind of food. "Barb." A large woman in some kind of uniform. A postwoman? "Sour Cream." A third teenage boy. He was sitting on the floor, petting a couple of cats. "Vidalia." Finally, the last person, who looked like she had a large onion on her head.

All of them had the same look in their eyes and on their faces. They didn't even acknowledge Santana when he said their names. It was like they were nothing but puppets hanging from their strings, waiting for their master to tug at them.

"A pleasure," Moonstone said stiffly. She tried to remain calm and composed, but Hayato could tell she was unnerved by the possessed humans. "And these are your… allies?"

"Yes," Santana said. "But most people wouldn't use that word." He snapped his fingers, which seemed to tug at Barb's strings because she sprang to life. She smiled a big empty smile and started rummaging through some of the cabinets and the fridge. "These humans are currently slaves to my will. They shall carry out any order I give them without question or hesitation."

"I-I see," Moonstone mumbled. "Are they all stand users as well?"

"Yes," Santana said. He looked over at Hayato and reached for his head, placing a finger on his head. "Should I dominate the mind of this one too? He'd be a lot more cooperative than he might be otherwise."

"N-no need," Moonstone quickly said to Hayato's great relief. He didn't know what Santana's possession looked like, and frankly, he could live the rest of his life a little bit happier if he didn't find out. "He's harmless and well behaved."

Santana didn't say anything, but he removed his finger from Hayato's forehead.

A few moments later, Barb finished what she was doing and walked over to the table. She placed a plate with some sandwiches and a large glass of juice in front of Hayato. At the same time, a large rectangular object appeared from thin air on the table as well. It looked like a big map, with small figures walking around on it. Her stand?

"There you go," Barb said. "Mr. Santana told me you were hungry. Be sure to tell me if you want more, alright?"

"S-sure," Hayato said. Oh man, this was freaky! Barb looked and sounded like a friendly and motherly figure, but her words rang hollow and her smile was empty. Forced. Fabricated. False. The clash of genuine good and the evil possessing her was almost as creepy to behold as Santana himself.

In some ways, it reminded Hayato of Kira. When he stole his dad's face and identity. He looked and acted like a real human. At times, he could be friendly and caring, if somewhat detached. Yet, there was always this aura coming from him, like the stench of his rotting soul penetrating his skin and demonic light shining through his stolen eyes.

However, Hayato was not about to say no to food, he was starving. Though he did wonder if the sandwiches being cut into triangles was the result of Santana's evil influence over Barb as well. Who does that?

"As you can see, Barb's stand allows her to create a map of Beach City and its inhabitants." Santana said, gesturing towards the map. Indeed, looking a bit closer, Hayato recognized a few of the figures as Josuke, Jotaro, Okuyasu, and Koichi. They were gathered in a house alongside a bunch of colorful people Hayato could only assume were other gems. The Crystal Gems, as Moonstone had called them.

Moonstone raised her eyebrow at Santana's comment.

"No, I can't," she said. "I can't see stands, remember? I'm fairly certain we established that fact already." She smiled slyly.

It took Hayato a second to realize exactly what was going on. It was a test by Santana. To see if she really was unable to perceive stands. He clearly did not trust them, hence why he split them up like he did. Distrust was already running deep within this alliance. Santana had zero trust in her, and frankly, Hayato would not be surprised to find out that Moonstone didn't trust Santana either. Perhaps she was just better at hiding it, or she was confident she and her gems could take on Santana and the stand users.

Such distrust… could be useful. If he could find a way to exploit it… get them to turn on each other…

Santana didn't say anything, he just cocked his head to the side. One of the teenagers, Ronaldo, walked over with mechanical steps. For a moment, a black aura flickered around him, and Hayato caught a glimpse of the outline of a stand. It was a dark figure, a black angel with strange protrusions on its body. However, before it could manifest entirely, Santana shook his head and the stand disappeared again. Instead, Ronaldo grabbed a notebook and some pens from the kitchen counter. He handed them to Santana, who set them down next to Barb's stand and started drawing.

"There," he said after about half a minute later. He handed Moonstone a smaller, cruder, and non-moving version of the big map on the table. "The Crystal Gems and the stand users, including Josuke Higashikata are currently gathered in the house by the large statue on the beach. Most likely, they're discussing what to do next, as the stand user's reason for coming here was to kill me." He took another piece of paper and started rapidly writing on it. "These are the stands that my… allies possess and what their abilities are," he said while handling Moonstone the piece of paper.

Moonstone nodded and read through the list, looking very impressed with some of them.

"Fascinating," she mumbled. "A Lapis Lazuli under your control? That could be very useful…" She pointed at some of the markings on the paper map. "And are these just ordinary humans?"

"Yes," Santana said. He glanced at the map. "It appears some of them have started moving out of the town."

"It's probably an evacuation," Barb said, her voice cold and distant. "After a couple of gems abducted some people, Steven and Mayor Nanefua made sure that everyone was ready to evacuate on a moment's notice, just in case more gems show up to cause trouble."

"Of course… to protect all human," Moonstone muttered. "And this here is the Crystal Gems' base then?" she pointed at the house by the statue on her map.

"Yes," Santana said. "Inside the house is a door which leads to the inner sanctums. It's sealed by a mysterious force that I've been unable to break."

"And if the Crystal Gems have an Aja, it's in there, yes, yes." Moonstone muttered. She turned to Peridot for a moment and winked at her. "What do you say Peridot, do you think you can crack the security system on a door that's six thousand years out of date?"

"Possibly," Peridot said flatly.

"Great," Moonstone said. She turned her attention back to Santana. For a moment, she looked like she was contemplating something. "One more question," she said. "What exactly is it you need the Aja for? To my knowledge, they were supposed to refract sunlight and cultivate those green Earth creatures. You're not green, nor do you seem to like sunlight all that much, so what use do you have for an Aja?"

Santana seemed to hesitate. He stood silent for a few seconds thinking.

"I… seek to evolve," he said finally. "To grow beyond what I am. And though I may be a creature of the night and dark, the path towards a greater truth lies in the sky and the heavenly light of the sun. The Aja is the key I need to unlock the gate to that path."

"…okay," Moonstone said after a moment's hesitation. "And, ah… would this process damage the Aja in any way?" She shivered as if a mean ghost decided to suddenly hug her.

"No. It wasn't last time," Santana said.

"And you'd need it for how long?"

Santana tilted his head to the side and leaned down a bit to stare directly into Moonstone's eyes. To her credit, she didn't budge or flinch and met his gaze. Hayato wasn't sure he'd be able to do that even if he was as strong as Josuke or Jotaro.

"A few minutes perhaps. Why are you wondering?" His cold gaze didn't waver from her for even a millisecond.

"Because the Aja is a very, very rare and valuable type of gem," Moonstone said without missing a beat. "It'd be a shame to see it come to harm. I'd like to bring it with me when we leave Earth."

Santana stood back up straight again.

"Once I'm done, you can have it," he said. "I'll have no use for it once it's served its purpose."

Through his words, Hayato could sense some suspicion, much like what he himself felt. Was Moonstone really interested in the Aja because it was rare and valuable, or did she have some ulterior motive? Did she want it for some reason?

"Very well, I appreciate it," Moonstone said casually. She turned her attention towards the map again. She picked up a pen and tapped the paper with it a few times. She then experimentally traced a line on the paper, something that seemed to amuse her a lot. "Draw them out," she mumbled. "Split them up… contain and apprehend…"

It was at that moment that Hayato became aware of something hovering just above his shoulder. A hand. A green hand with long, thin, pointed fingers that almost looked like claws.

The blood froze in his veins and he nearly dropped the glass he was holding.

Sh-shit! Santana must've noticed him looking at Barb's map when he wasn't supposed to be able to see it!

"Say nothing. Don't turn around." Its voice was slightly distorted but still recognizable as Santana's. Looking up at him, Hayato found the monster's gaze turned away from Moonstone and towards him. The gem didn't seem to hear the stand speak. She just continued drawing on the map in front of her. The horrifying stand placed its hand around his throat, its sharp fingers digging into his soft skin. It didn't draw blood, but he could feel the power coursing through the stand. It could easily crush his throat or tear through vital blood vessels as easily as breaking a straw. One wrong move and Hayato would be dead within seconds. "Summon your stand."

Hayato obeyed, summoning Under Pressure next to him.

"Speak through your stand," Santana commanded through his own stand. "What is your ability?"

Hayato concentrated, trying to do something he didn't even know his stand could do until just a few seconds ago. And while his stand remained silent, words appeared on its chest, displayed on the many sticky notes that made up its skin.

[Under Pressure. It creates notes that display information about people and objects,] the note said. To demonstrate, Hayato made Under Pressure slowly move to place a note on the map in front of him.

[She's Not There

User: Barb Miller

Monitors Beach City,] it said.

"Does it have any destructive capabilities?" Santana asked through his stand. His physical body said something to Moonstone, but Hayato was only dimly aware of that. He had to focus on this sudden new life or death situation he found himself in. This time, a single wrong word might get him killed.

[No. It can only transform its body into sticky notes,] the next note said. Hayato hoped and prayed to whatever benevolent gods might be out there that Santana would fall for the lie. His stand did have some destructive power, though he wasn't sure just how much yet. Hopefully, he wouldn't be forced to figure it out in the coming few seconds.

Santana stood still for a few moments, pretending to be looking at Moonstone while he was actually keeping his gaze focused on Hayato. He was probably contemplating if the young boy would make for a good light lunch.

"I can sense an invisible presence in the room," his stand said finally. Hayato afforded himself the smallest relieved sigh possible. His bluff worked… for now at least. At the bare minimum, Santana didn't deem it necessary to kill him right away. "It's not a stand and it has no body heat and it doesn't breathe either." The green stand raised a finger and pointed at someplace next to its master, supposedly at this invisible presence. "What is it?"

[I don't know,] Under Pressure said. This was not a lie. From the notes he got of Moonstone, he'd figured it was another gem, but annoyingly enough, his stand hadn't told him anything about the invisible gem, not even her name. [It's a gem. Don't know what type. Moonstone calls it "her invisible friend."]

Santana thought for a few more moments before his stand spoke again.

"There might come a time when I and these gems become… opposed. If I mention the words 'Under Pressure,' you are to do everything in your power to assist me. If you do, I will allow you to live. Do you understand?"

Ah… this was a dilemma, wasn't it? On one hand, if a fight broke out between Santana and the gems, he'd be caught in the middle. And regardless of which side he helped, he'd likely end up in trouble. Or dead. Hell, as far as he knew, Santana might still choose to kill him or make him his slave. After all, if he wasn't going to bother with keeping his word to Moonstone, why would he care to honor a deal with some human kid? As for Moonstone, well, she had kidnapped him and planned to keep him as a hostage. This was a lose-lose situation.

However, if he didn't accept Santana's offer, his loss would come very much faster than if he played along for a while longer. With that in mind, he did the only thing he could.

[Yes. I will do what you tell me‚] his stand said.

Santana seemed satisfied with the answer and his ghastly stand started to slowly fade away. Hayato decided it was probably for the best if he dismissed his own stand as well. He did so and looked up just in time to hear Moonstone make an announcement.

"I have a plan," she said.

This begins part 3: Homeworld Crusaders

To be continued…


AUTHOR'S NOTES

I'm back once again! To make a long story short, I got burnt out with writing, took a break, the break became a month or two longer than I thought it would be, and then I had a very hard time getting back into writing again.

Fun Fact: At 10 287 words, this chapter stands as the second-longest chapter so far after Sweet and the Psycho, Act 3 at 10 781.

Even funnier (to me at least) is that the first draft of this chapter was one word longer. Exactly one word. Usually, the final version of the chapter is longer than the first draft, but I ended up removing a large chunk from the first draft because it was garbage.

Here's a bit of good news; During the hiatus, I started a liveblog! For those of you uninitiated, liveblogging is basically like a reaction video, except with still images and text. You can find me over on tumblr as lampmanliveblogs. I'm currently watching The Owl House, and I'm having a lot of fun.

Due to circumstances, I'm afraid I can't give a good answer for when the next chapter will be out. I'm working on it, but don't expect anything soon. But don't think for a moment that this story is dead. We'll meet again. Until then, take care of the planet Earth and remember that anything can happen in space!