Zarya Delmara was a normal girl living a normal life. She went to school, looked after her siblings, and hung out with her friends. But everything changed one day when she went with her family to the beach to celebrate her birthday. They played in the sand, ate the picnic they had brought, and sang "Happy Birthday". As the sky grew dim, Zarya went on one last swim before she had to go home. She swam farther and farther from shore, enjoying the peacefulness of the night. She swam so far that she could see a small island off in the distance. As she swam closer to it, a grove of palm trees off to one side came into view. The sand soft under her bare feet, she walked over and saw that they were surrounding a shallow pool sparkling in the moonlight. She waded in, closing her eyes and smiling gently. Everything else seemed to slip away as she relaxed in the warm water. After a while, the loud call of a bird broke her out of her trance. Spotting the glowing moon high above her, she realized how late it had gotten and headed back to her family.
For the next day or so, nothing was different. But as the moon rose the next night, she was woken by a loud crash. She sat bolt upright in bed to find a strange woman glaring at her from what remained of her window, curly red hair and orange dress flowing in the wind.
"Seriously? She picked a child? She couldn't have at least picked something challenging?" the woman complained, scoffing.
Zarya shook her head, utterly confused, "What? Who are you? What are you doing in my room? What are you talking about?"
"I am Seraphine," the woman laughed, "You really are clueless, aren't you?"
Zarya's lips pursed but she kept quiet, waiting for an explanation.
"You have been picked to face me in battle."
Her eyes widened in shock, "Why me? I can't fight. I'm just a kid."
Seraphine shrugged, "Don't ask me. I'm not the one who picked you."
"Then who did?"
"The moon goddess. You're her champion."
By this time, Zarya was having a hard time keeping a straight face. She couldn't be serious. Moon goddess? Champion? Battle? What nonsense. But Seraphine's expression was earnest and her amber eyes didn't betray any manipulation.
Zarya sighed, deciding to go along with it for now, "I'm guessing you're the other champion."
She nodded, "I was picked by the sun god. Apparently, they're having some kind of lovers' quarrel. We're basically proxies. The prize is the earth. If you win, everything pretty much returns to normal. If I win, my people take over."
"Your people?" Zarya questioned slowly.
"I'm what you would call an alien."
Zarya, unable to take the shock and confusion any longer, promptly fainted.
When she woke, she wasn't in her bedroom anymore. Instead, an empty field with tall grass swaying softly in the wind surrounded her. Well, mostly empty. On the other side stood Seraphine, tense with pent up energy.
She smiled sadly when she noticed Zarya getting to her feet, "Sorry about this. You seem like a nice girl. If things were different, maybe we could've even been friends. But I don't make the rules, I follow them."
Before Zarya could think, a ball of fire shot towards her. Not knowing what to do, she threw her hands up in front of her in an attempt at defense, eyes screwing tightly shut. But the searing heat she expected to wash over her never came. She slowly opened her eyes to find a bubble of water surrounding her. Cautiously, she reached out toward the shimmering sphere, which rippled under her touch. When she waved her hand experimentally to one side, a stream of water followed in its wake. She pushed her hand forwards, the water shot forwards. She could control it!
Seraphine stared, shocked into stillness, before the corners of her lips turned upwards and she shot another fireball at Zarya, testing her. She was able to block it with some focus this time, steam hissing angrily as the water doused the flames. Another came and then another and another in quick succession, only to be stopped midair at the swift wave of the hand. They flew at her, pummeling her shield, getting faster and more creatively thrown by the second. Zarya's breath started to get heavier with exertion, while the woman advancing closer seemed to only grow more energetic, darting around for better angles and surprise attacks. The shield began to waver, cracks starting to appear. She struggled to keep herself upright, the strain of the focus needed to keep the water between her and the fire taking its heavy toll. Seraphine laughed, completely absorbed in winning now. She increased the intensity of the attacks even more, targeting the weak points in the shield and evading the sluggish attempts at defense. The fireballs kept coming, pounding the glassy water until, finally, it burst, splashing down to the scorched ground.
Zarya stumbled back, trying to escape, only to find a wall of fire springing up behind her. It encircled them, providing no way out. Seraphine stalked forwards, eyes wild with the thrill of the fight, leaving Zarya frozen, unable to do anything but stare wide eyed. The alien touched her fingertips to the girl's chest, sending her falling to the ground, pain radiating from the burn. Tears welled in Zarya's eyes as Seraphine kneeled next to her, tension from the fight evaporating.
Her voice was gentle and kind now, as if one loud sound or sharp movement would send Zarya tumbling over the edge, "Hush, little one. Just relax. Don't try to fight it. It's so much easier that way, to just accept it."
Zarya choked out a bitter laugh, "Relax? You're telling me to relax and just accept the fact that you just killed me?"
"A rather unfortunate sacrifice, but it had to be done," she smiled apologetically, "I don't make the rules."
"I know, I know. You only follow them," she shook her head indignantly, immediately regretting it as pain exploded like fireworks in her skull, causing to groan softly and wince.
"Come on, Zarya. You know you can't fight it forever. It's easy, simply close your eyes and let yourself drift off."
The pain had snaked its way down to her extremities by now, making even the smallest movement a very bad idea. Her lungs burned with the effort of pulling air in and pushing it out, interrupted every so often by grating coughing fits, the mundane process getting harder by the second. Zarya felt herself drifting off despite her desperate attempts to stay awake. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier, the world grew dimmer and dimmer, as she sunk deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. She fought in vain against the encroaching darkness until she could bear it no longer.
The last thing Zarya heard was Seraphine murmuring softly, "I truly am sorry."
The words were barely out of her mouth before the world grew blindingly bright and Seraphine had to cover her eyes. When the light faded enough to see clearly, she was left staring at the empty space where Zarya had been, her body having disappeared. She made no attempt to wipe away the tears that stained her cheeks, barely noticing them as her aloof facade crumbled and the full weight of what she'd done hit her all at once.
"I won," she muttered.
If only she could truly believe that Zarya's death had been worth it.