The words of the Black Paladin rattled on, and Lalli committed each word to memory. How the Castle of the Lions managed to take each spoken language in the universe and translate it in a language understandable to the listener was astounding, but Lalli had to actively stop himself from being distracted by the mechanics of the alien building. What the leader of the Paladins was saying was important and relevant for him to hear, and none of his own team — for that was what they were to be now to each other — were around to receive the information.
Neither did Lalli allow himself to get too distracted by the man’s bionic arm, as much as his gaze kept falling back to it. The man before him was young; he could not hardly be a few years older than Lalli himself. It wasn’t immediately clear from a distance, but sitting before him, Lalli could peer into the man’s soul, could see his spirit. His magic allowed him that. This leader was a very young man. Yet trauma and torture had weathered him with notable physical signs (and others, just lingering under the skin, which Lalli’s heightened senses could pick up.)
What he had experienced in a world so far and unreachable by the naked eye at night had aged him to well beyond what any of the Nordic crew-mates had endured together out in the Silent World. Lalli suppressed a shiver at the thought of what lay outside the comforts of their world’s atmosphere; ghosts and trolls and giants were home enough.
Next to the leader stood the Red Paladin, slightly younger and extremely protective, standing close to him like an endless flame and shadow who would take out any threat endangering his leader’s life. Their bond was not hard to miss, and it filled Lalli with a sort of envy. How far back their relationship went wasn’t something his magic allowed him to glean from their spirits. But their lives had obviously worked in their favor, despite coming from different backgrounds. Language did not seem to be a barrier. They at least must have known one another before having stepped into the Castle. At least that was how their stories have made it sound. They were lucky not to have had only dreams and misunderstandings link themselves to one another.
If language was not Lalli Achilles’ heel, to use a phrase he picked up from the humans of the past, then perhaps they could have been like Takashi Shirogane and Keith Kwon.
Lalli rocked in his seat for a few moments as he mentally kicked himself back to the present. Focus.
The seconds ticked by, painfully slow and maddeningly too fast that he wished for time to stop. He didn’t want this. It wasn’t fair. None of this was.
The black mesh of the bodysuit he wore hugged and molded around his body like second skin, tight, constricting. He missed the swish of his long Icelandic coat, knitted with care by his mother, despite how worn out it had gotten since he foolishly snuck out of home weeks ago.
A series of beeps interrupted the thick silence of the room and the door slid open. Lalli stepped inside, already fully suited up saved for a helmet. The silver of his armor swirled, a suggestion of iridescence, a hint of moonlight passing behind clouds.
The armor were the works of the Elves who had been reformed in time for the final battle. Reynir feared them. He liked them well enough when he had read about them in the safety and comfort of his own home, but he hated when they had returned to Earth. He did not know they were real. Then again, the world had not known ghosts and trolls were real at one time. Or aliens for that matter.
And sitting in front of a bunch of them, nearly naked and being asked questions while they took measurements and prodded his body to gauge how strong (weak) he was before making this suit. One of them in particular was the worst. They called him Fëanor. He was the most celebrated elf, and his eyes burned like white suns. Most of the Calaquendi did, but he was exceptional. The Albert Einstein of Elves, Hunk had called them. The Moriquendi were a little more humble in appearance but no less terrifying, towering over Reynir who was himself among the tallest of his crew.
He hated — no, Reynir Árnason was not someone who hated anything or anyone. But he certainly feared the Elves. And now thousands of them swarmed around the Castle, having offered their services to Princess Allura and the Paladins.
Remembering that painful morning, Reynir glanced across the room. His own armor’s color swirled in gold and amber and red. The Sun Paladin, as the great leader and black smith Fëanor had deemed him before declaring Lalli the Moon Paladin, the other mage and Reynir’s equal on the battlefield. They were to form the arms of the second Voltron to fight alongside the original Paladins and the army of Elves and Dwarves.
And Reynir wanted none of this. He was not supposed to be here, no in this black suit, not about to be locked into armor made of galvorn and forced inside a giant mechanical Sun Panther to navigate with his teammates.
“Breathe, idiot,” Lalli said with a sigh. He was standing a couple inches from Reynir, studying him with a frown. Shaking his head, he reached for the pair of scissors on the table he had placed earlier this morning and reached forward. Reynir had half a mind to wrestle him away; instinctually, he jerked back.
“We can’t have your braid coming undone out there,” Lalli said gruffly. “It’s longer than the space princess’s, and she commented your hair’s too thick to wrap into a helmet. If she thinks that, then it’s a problem. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can work on what Takashi Shirogane had planned for us.”
“Most of the elves have long hair!” Reynir argued.
“Not down to their knees,” Lalli said gruffly. “And they’re not traveling in space. It’ll get in the way, like what happened to Glorfindel. Twice now. It’s stupid.”
Reynir felt the blade flit between his braid, close to his scalp.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
The twin blades cut through his hair, severing his long braid. It dropped to the floor, right beside his foot. Reynir let out a little gasp as his head instantly felt the sudden lack of weight, but the feeling of constriction worsened, as if a new weight came closing in from every angle.
Lalli studied his work. “You look…nice this way,” he commented cooly and went to work on trimming around the edges, as best as someone like Lalli could. Thankfully he didn’t take any more large chunks, and from a mirror on the table, Reynir could at least see that he wasn’t giving him a bigger undercut than Shiro.
“You look like a rockstar from one of the pictures the Blue Paladin showed me,” Lalli said. “He said it was from the 1980s, pre-Rash era.”
“Is that what inspired you to, um, give me this new look?”
Lalli shrugged. “You don’t look stupid this way.”
“That’s nice to know.”
He glanced back down on the floor, frowning. The scissors finally left him alone, as did Lalli. The scissors were placed back on the counter; Lalli made for the armor.
Reynir remembered gentle hands combing his hair, marveling at the long red hair like his father’s, and braiding it up as she hummed a song under a bright sun, his mother with a voice like a songbird. He’s worn his hair like that ever since.
By the time Lalli returned with the armor pieces, Reynir was fighting back tears.
“Give me your arm.”
Reynir gasped while handcuffs as long as his forearm swung around and tightened, pressed against first his right, then his left. A belt swept around his waist, hugging him as a constant reminder of who now owned him. By the time the chest piece came over his head, he was visibly shaking.
The wind knocked out of him as the pieces fastened into place, caging him completely.
“I can’t breathe.”
“It’s a mix of Altean and galvorn,” Lalli said, though he himself didn’t understand the full mechanics of those terms. “They form around your body.”
“I can’t do this.”
Lalli glanced off to the side, giving a deep sigh over Reynir’s ridiculousness, before collecting himself.
“This morning the space princess was training Tuuri,” he said. “She looks like she’s liking it so far.”
“Your cousin left the healing pod?” Reynir said, amazed. After the troll had bitten her, hope had seemed lost until Princess Allura had offered a chance of healing their friend.
Lalli nodded. “She took Tuuri under her wing. She will be communicating with us from the Castle. Sigrun has been training with the Gladiator all of yesterday and today, and the only timeout she’s taken was to talk with Fëanor and Gil-galad. Mikkel and Emil have been with Coran, Hunk, and Pidge, and they’re traveling around the Silent World with a host of Elves. Fëanor’s sons, I think they said. Everyone is doing their part. Why are you hesitating? Didn’t you keep saying you wanted to help?”
Reynir winced. “It’s not that I don’t want to help — I do! It’s just…I’m scared.”
Lalli leaned his head one side slightly. “What are you afraid of?”
The armor around his chest could barely allow him to breathe.
“A cage,” Reynir said. “Like we had just been handed as slaves under two rulers: an alien Princess with her human warriors from the past and Elves who have been fighting — fighting! — these trolls all this time but never lifted a finger as we searched for years for a cure for the Illness!”
He drew in a deep breath when he was done and cast his head down in shame.
“Funny,” Lalli said after a while, “I heard of another person who feared a cage. She was said to have felt trapped, just like you. She fought hoping she would die in battle as a way of freeing herself. She triumphed on the battlefield, but after she was healed, she decided she would grow things instead of dying. She was human, but the Elves spoke of her fondly.”
“I…I don’t want to die,” Reynir said. “But I don’t want to be trapped either.”
“You’re not trapped. You have magic and a Panther that chose you to be its Paladin. You’re in a better spot than Éowyn. You’re in a better spot than the Paladins. Their Earth was over ninety years gone when they returned. Their families have either all perished over time or have been reduced down to tiny communities fighting against monsters in their hometowns. The Elves were reformed to return to Earth again, but this is nothing like the ‘Arda’ they knew and loved. All of their cities and castles are gone. They are only here to fight the greatest battle of their lives before they disappear into oblivion, or whatever they think will happen to themselves. That cannot be a worse feeling of slavery!”
“You’re right, but…” Reynir glanced at the braid again, remembering the song, the gentle hands braiding his hair. “My mom…”
“She won’t be free once the Galra reach Iceland!” Lalli spat, and something inside Reynir finally clicked.
“You said you have siblings? What makes you think they’re not fighting the Galra right now? We all are. They brought this Illness into the world ninety years ago!”
“And they’re coming back to reap what they’ve sown…”
“And by creating pockets of darkness in the world, they’re breeding more monsters of the kind this world had not seen for Ages. They hope it’ll trigger the release of Morgoth, so he and Zarkon will join forces, and then what? This world will not handle the two foes together. It will need two Voltrons! And when that happens, if I am to be a slave? Then let me be one under kind hands!”
Reynir said nothing but kept nodding.
“You’re a mage. You made those runes that exploded in face of the ghosts during that fight.”
“I’ve only been a mage in the past few weeks!”
Lalli paused, staring at him with a deadly glare.
“You never told me!”
“You never let me speak with you in your Haven! I’ve been trying to tell you!”
He heaved a sigh. “Then we’ll train. We all need training. I’ll help you. Icelandic and Finnish magic are different, but we’ll figure something out. The princess and Coran and the Elves can help us figure something out. We’re all a team in this and we have to start acting like one. Or we really become slaves under Morgoth and Zarkon, and then we’re really trapped with no way out. At least now, we have something.”
He picked up the last item for Reynir’s suit: the helmet. It shined in his hands before he raised himself on tiptoe (Reynir helped him by bending his knees), and slipped the helmet over his head.
Lalli offered a small smile. “Your silly hair isn’t in the way any more…you look nice.”
Cupping Reynir’s chin, he leaned close and pressed their lips together.
At first taken by surprise, Reynir almost stepped back before keeping still and kissing Lalli back, bringing a hand to cup his cheek, mirroring how Lalli was touching him.
A series of beeps and the sliding of the door stole their attention, and they broke apart, but not before Shiro and Keith had walked in along with Princess Allura, Fëanor, and Eöl. The first two had clearly seen the kiss, and the two Paladins shared a knowing smile despite Reynir looking away, embarrassed. Lalli, however, looked pleased with himself. That is, until another red-haired human came from behind Fëanor. Also sporting a long braid, he was covered in soot from working in the smithy. He studied Reynir’s braid on the floor with forlorn.
“Aw, ya cut off in the end?” he said.
Lalli rolled his eyes.
“You want to keep it as a souvenir?” he called out to Jaakko, but before the immortal smith apprentice could respond, Reynir’s braid was already sent fly for him to catch. The others pretended they had not just witnessed that.
“You did a wonderful job on the suits of armor,” Princess Allura said to Fëanor and Eöl, pressing her hands together as she always did when pleased. “Are their Panthers ready?”
As Lalli put on his helmet, Reynir felt a vibration in his. Images flashed in his visor of a tall and lean black robot Panther with markings in the colors of the sun. Its eyes bore into his, but when Reynir looked back up, he was back in his room.
“The Lions and Panthers choose their Paladins,” Princess Allura had explained to the Nordic expedition crew as the Elves worked out a design. It had been only a few days ago, but it felt like a month already.
Then I will be its Paladin, Reynir thought. He glanced back at the Black and Red Paladins, who stood side by side and watching them with encouraging smiles, from one pair of lovers to another.
Reynir turned to Lalli. “Let’s start our training.”