It began two weeks after Shiro’s disappearance.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I said I don’t want to talk!”
Lance stared at his hands; they were shaking. His entire body itched with the need to escape his own skin. Stop staring at me, it’s not me. The bridge was quiet, the scattered circle of paladins watching him intently, waiting.
“She responded to you-“
He stood abruptly, scraping his chair along the floor. Five sets of eyes followed him up expectantly, as if he was their goddam leader already. Lance’s hands tightened into fists, fingers twitching as he fought to focus.
“Shiro is the black paladin,” he said. “And we are going to find him.”
One stupid accident, that’s what started it. Just Keith and his hot-headed tendencies, going full on kamikaze on a stray Galra fighter. Lance replayed the morning’s events in his head as he sped toward his room. The rest of them had been planet-side, investigating a potential crash site in search of their missing leader, with Keith doing an air sweep. Lance had no idea why they thought that was a good idea, leaving Keith to scout the sky alone in the state he was in. The red paladin had been a mess since Shiro disappeared, whatever bonds he and Lance had built before hand were being put to the test as he simultaneously resisted and took-up responsibility as their leader. The black lion hadn’t responded to Keith yet, but Lance got the feeling Keith wasn’t responding to it either. He was an emotional time bomb, a loose thread that didn’t know how to act accordingly when the only member of their team who really understood the pressure of it was gone. So of course when the lost Galra fighter ship showed up, a remnant from their final battle with Zarkon, Keith took it upon himself to launch into battle without so much as a whisper of warning. And did he stop attacking, once Red took one to many hits? Nope. Keith turned that lion right around and turned suicide bomber, and all they could do was watch as he hurtled toward the surface, taking the ship with him, like a meteorite burning up on its way through the atmosphere.
Lance hadn’t been anywhere near Blue; then again, he’d been even further from the black lion. He wanted to think this was simply evidence that the black lion was finally accepting Keith as its new pilot, but instinct was telling him otherwise, as was everyone else. Because it wasn’t Blue who landed forcefully in front of him as he ran toward the location of their lions, screaming at Keith over the coms- it was the black lion. Black? Did Shiro ever refer to his lion by a name like that, like Lance did? Lance would’ve been shocked if that had occurred at any other time, but in the heat of the moment he hadn’t thought twice about leaping into the black lion’s cockpit and taking off toward the fireball streaking toward the surface. He practically collided with Keith, grabbing the red lion out of the air and flying them to safety as the Galra fighter burst into flames when it smashed into the hard rock. And that was that. Lance had piloted the black lion. The black lion, who’d refused every one of Keith’s attempts to bond with it, had let Lance pilot it.
A knock on the door startled him. He groaned, not in the mood for more talking.
“Lance? Are you in there?”
Coran; he could deal with Coran. Lance sighed, running fingers through his tousled hair.
“Yeah, come in.”
The door slid open, revealing Coran. Lance frowned at his feet as the elder Altean came and took a seat beside him on the bed.
“Sorry for running off,” Lance mumbled.
“It’s understandable, my boy.”
Was it? Was anything understandable? The conversation between them all when they returned to the castle should have been about Keith. It should have been Allura looking disappointed, it should have been them berating Keith for his recklessness. Instead, all eyes turned to Lance as he stepped from the black lion, the only one ready to give Keith a mouthful. But Keith couldn’t even respond, staring at Lance as if he might’ve grown a third head.
“This just means the black lions responding to Keith, right? Like when Shiro was hurt, and it helped Keith save him."
Coran sighed, tugging absently on his moustache.
“You feel it, don’t you?”
Coran only waited, he knew Lance wasn’t stupid.
“I can feel all of them.”
All the lions. It was the same energy he’d felt with Blue, but each was so different in its own way; it was overwhelming.
“It’s just, so much,” Lance whispered.
And it was. The moment he first felt them, he’d pinned it on adrenaline. He’d been halfway to Keith, barely thinking as he threw the black lion into a sharp accent, when his mind was assaulted by a shockwave of various sentient thoughts. Blue was still there, her voice like a tune on a small radio, muffled, playing off in some other room, but there. But now they were all there, and it was almost dizzying.
Coran rested a hand on his shoulder.
“But you know its true then.”
Lance hunched his shoulders, choosing not to respond. Is this what Shiro had felt? Did this mean Shiro was really dead? He didn’t want this responsibility; he was only nineteen for god’s sake.
“I don’t… its not meant to be me, Coran. I’m not a leader. And Shiro’s not dead.”
Coran sighed, and Lance avoided his pensive gaze.
“Shiro may still be alive, but at the moment he’s not here. We need a pilot for the black lion, and you have shown your ability to lead more times than you think.”
“Shiro picked Keith,” Lance muttered.
“But it’s the lion that makes the final choice.”
Lance didn’t say anymore, he didn’t feel like it.
“Get some sleep,” Coran suggested. “It’s been a long day. We can reconvene in the morning.”
Get some sleep. Yeah, that was a good one. Nothing had Lance cozy-ing into the covers quite like the knowledge that he was supposed to be the new black paladin. Night Lance, sweet dreams Lance. He ground his teeth together anxiously, staring up at the dark ceiling. He didn’t believe it. Even if the black lion refused Keith as its new pilot, then surely Allura would be the next choice. She was their leader anyway, Shiro’s equal; in fact, she was who Shiro looked up to. Lance was no leader; the seventh wheel and a nuisance more often that not, and now the black lion had picked him? It was a joke. But apparently it was true, according to the others at least. That terrified Lance; he didn’t think he could lead Voltron, let alone give up his beloved Blue. Who would pilot Blue? Lance vowed to speak with his lion in the morning, straighten things up, prove it was all just a mistake. He tossed and turned, eventually managing to drift off to sleep.
He was underground. This was a different sort of dream, because he knew immediately he was dreaming. He was aware of it, yet he wasn’t in control. There was no preordained knowledge telling him he was underground, it was only what he assumed from the looks of the dark tunnel he stood in, wet clumps of dirt forming an unstable wall around him. Lance shuddered, he hated being underground. Water was his element, it was so freeing, it allowed him to move anywhere. Earth… rock and dirt, darkness, he feared it and the way it could trap one. The memory of a windy day and a dark cave mouth looming before him overtook his mind; a girl’s voice, Lance? He shook them away quickly; he didn’t want this to become one of those dreams.
He had control over his own body but not the scene around him. That was strange; Lance read that once someone realised they were dreaming, they should have full control of the setting. He sure as hell wasn’t in control of this. The darkness was stifling, but the walls almost glowed a soft grey, casting just enough light to see by. That made it worse. Lance could make out the crumbling dirt walls, the ceiling that looked ready to cave in, the slick wet mud where earthworms wriggled. He could smell it, the stench of damp earth, and felt the clamminess of his own palms as his heart beat faster. Should it be this vivid? His dreams weren’t normally this… real.
He forced himself to breathe evenly, which shouldn’t have been a problem given this was a dream. Stay calm, just figure out where you are. Lance didn’t want to look around, but he didn’t have much of a choice. He stood at the end of a long tunnel, whose other end disappeared into the darkness hundreds of feet away. And… that was it. Lance swallowed the lump in his throat, feeling very claustrophobic. Stretching both arms out, he could just touch the sides of the wall, but withdrew quickly as his fingers brushed the wet soil. Water leaked from little cracks, and Lance felt ill with fear at how unstable this underground tunnel must be. There were no doors leading out, just the walls, floor, and ceiling, pressing in from all sides. The only way to go was forward, along the tunnel that sloped steadily downwards into… Lance didn’t want to think about what was down there. He already felt in his bones that he was deep down in the earth.
The tunnel didn’t look manmade, it was rough and sagging, as if dug out by an animal, except it was much too large. Lance really, really didn’t want to investigate any further. The ghost of a hand around his own, leaving his. Lance? Sighing, he shuffled around a bit and- was his leg chained to the ground? Lance crouched down to investigate, and found there was indeed a rusted metal clasp around his ankle, bolted to a chain that ran into the ground. He gave the chain a tug; there was nothing holding it to the ground, it just plunged into the soft mud, disappearing. It felt to deeply buried to pull free. What the hell? Now Lance was feeling scared. Being underground was one thing, but alone, chained down, trapped, facing off with a dark pit… Lance was starting to panic.
His eyes were wide with fear, staring at the end of the tunnel, trying to see further, deeper. There shouldn’t have been a breath of wind down hear, and yet he thought- Lance frowned. That wasn’t wind. But there was something. Whispers. His stomach lurched, blood rushing to his head and roaring in his ears. His lip trembled, almost whimpering, because he could hear whispers. They were almost indistinguishable at first, whips of words that could have been mistaken for the slide of water over dirt or the shuffling of his toes in the mud, but with every passing second they were growing stronger, frantically so, grains of sand gradually budding into a swirling tornado of noise.
Lance tugged on the chain, eyes fixed on the end of the tunnel. He couldn’t tell where the voices were coming from, they seemed to sprout from the very walls of the place, a thousand voices and a thousand warnings, all screaming the same thing.
You woke it. It’s coming.
So many voices were screaming at him, men, women, children, it became indistinguishable. They sounded so afraid, as if each voice was chained down as he was, thrashing, fighting, driven to insanity but the terror that overtook them. Each word was a cry for help, a disaster, a scream too terrible to ignore.
You woke it, its coming, its coming, its coming-
Lance clamped his hands over his ears, but it couldn’t stop the noise. A particularly loud voice, like an old woman’s, that didn’t even shout, just croaked right into his ear in a broken sob.
He whipped around, but there was no one there. Just him and the voices and the tunnel where… Lance squirmed, trying to twist his ankle out of the clasp. Something was coming up the tunnel. He couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it, but he knew. Something ancient, clawing and crawling its way toward him through the dirt and muck. Centuries of isolation, something sinister and otherworldly, dragging itself up from the depths of the cold earth.
It’s coming, it’s coming.
The voices grew louder, unbearably so. Lance thrashed, pulling on the chain as the dark tunnel beckoned to him, whatever lay within it coming ever closer.
He screamed, the mud quivering beneath his feet.
IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT AWAKENS IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S COMING IT’S-
Lance gasped, shooting bolt upright in bed. His entire body was shaking, drenched in sweat as his heart beat its way out of his chest. He could barely adjust to his new surroundings though, as the alarm that had woken him was still blaring. Cursing, Lance threw his feet over the bed, standing on shaky legs to move toward the door. Alarm lights flashed along the castle hallway as Lance ran toward the bridge, not having bothered with his armour and feeling severely disorientated. Could it be Shiro? He pushed the dream out of his mind, though it hung around at the back, testing him by pushing insistently at his consciousness. He was still scared.
Keith and Pidge were already on the bridge when he arrived, and he could hear Hunk thundering down the hall behind him. They were all still in their pyjamas, save Keith, who looked ready for a fight.
“What’s happening?” Lance demanded, wiping sleep from his eyes and willing the tremble in his hands to stop.
It’s gone, it was just a dream. But it was underground. You promised you’d never go back there.
“The castle’s being weird again,” Pidge muttered, as Allura and Coran raced between various screen displays.
“Like… ghost kinda weird? Cause I’m staying away from any airlocks in that case.”
“That wasn’t ghosts,” he heard Keith mutter, and turned to the other boy.
Keith looked like shit. Lance would usually tell him that to piss him off, as a joke of course- but tonight he really looked awful. His hair was unwashed, hanging over his face in dark bangs, where his eyes were marred with dark circles, lips pulled thin and tight. Had anyone spoken to him about his suicidal nosedive yesterday?
“You look like shit.”
The words were out before Lance could stop them. He was really tired, alright? Keith turned to him, expression sour.
“Perhaps you should take a better look at yourself, jackass.”
Lance faltered, unable to stop himself glancing at his reflection in one of the windows. Okay, kudos to Keith, Lance looked even worse. Why though? He’d skipped one night-time routine cause of all this black paladin nonsense, only one, he shouldn’t look like someone who’d just walked out’ve a goddam horror show. His hair was a mess, forehead still a little sweaty and sticking to the longer strands, and his eyes looked hollow and spent. Some dream, huh.
“Just… what’s up with the castle?”
“The castle!” Coran all but yelled, as Hunk finally made it into the room, “has gone beserk!”
“Calm down, Coran,” Allura muttered, looking in no mood to deal with her advisor’s antics this early in the morning. “It’s just a malfunction.”
“A malfunction Hah! You won’t be saying that when it’s spewing us out into space as we sleep!”
“Is this important or not?” Keith snapped, arms folded tightly across his chest. “I’ve got stuff to do.”
Lance frowned. “At what? Three in the morning?”
Keith ignored him. “Just tell us what’s happening.”
There was a second there where Keith’s voice broke, but no one chose to mention it. There was hope in that sentence, as much as Keith tried to hide it; he was hoping they’d received news on Shiro. Lance felt a twinge of sadness.
Coran slamming his hand down on the consuls brought them all back to attention.
“Coran,” Allura sighed.
“Right!” He said briskly, far too alive and awake for this hour. “The facts are, at some point during the night, the castle has… uh, well, it piloted itself.”
Five pairs of eyes blinked blearily at him.
Allura shook her head, moving over to where Coran stood. Lance could have been imagining things, but she looked a little green.
“I’ll explain,” she muttered.
Taking a deep breath and righting herself, Allura prepared for a speech.
“Look out the window.”
They did. Lance frowned; they were within a solar system, a small white star burning fiercely far off.
“Where are we?” Questioned Pidge.
“We don’t know yet,” Allura answered stiffly. “I was woken just a short while ago, with the feeling that something was wrong. It appears the castle brought us here of its own accord, I don’t know why, but we’re far away from where we were before.”
“Like, couple of planets over kinda far, or…” Lance raised a brow.
Allura sighed, pinching her nose. “A couple of light-years kind of far. We… we wormholed here.”
“A wormhole?” Hunk was biting his nail, looking anxious. “But did you open one?”
“No, I didn’t. I was asleep. By all accounts it makes no sense. Coran is trying to find out exactly where we are, but we have no clues as to how the castle got us here.”
“Oh boy,” Lance muttered. “I do not like it when the caslte starts getting all freaky on its own.”
“We should go back,” said Keith suddenly. “Wormhole out of here. That last spot we were was the closest to Shiro.”
Allura looked sad suddenly. “I agree, it’s simply that…”
She looked to Coran, who gave a shake of his head.
“Oh, now what?” Mumbled Pidge.
“The castle is broken,” Allura announced. “Its still functioning, but I can’t get it to move. We… for the moment, we’re stuck here.”