The ocean swayed lazily under the sky, the stars dusted like freckles on the mulberry hue of the night. Lance stroked the water contently, leaving little trails like the comets that flew high above. He smiled, soothed by the gentle rocking of his wooden boat as it floated upon the quiet, endless ocean. He gazed in the water, happy to ignore his reflection to watch the hazy image of the starry sky above. Two lights amongst the many, however, stole his attention. Two fireflies fluttered around his head, creating a colourful halo that glowed angelically. He looked up from the water towards his strange new companions, one the same fiery red colour as his boat, the other a colour that reminded him of home and rainy days. They glittered like fallen stars, longing to return to those high in the heavens. Lance smiled sadly, understanding their dilemma.
He watched them orbit him, stuck in his gravity yet lost all the same. They were like moths, fatally attracted to his light, unable to escape. Lance didn’t understand what they saw in him; his light was nothing like those that punctured the sky and ocean. He sunk into the boat wearily, the joy of the water forgotten, eyes lost in the blue and red lights that spun above him like a mobile. The stars far above died unceremoniously and faded away, leaving a blank darkness in their place. The boat shook with the motion of unseen waves, creaking with age and decay.
Lance stared tiredly at the fireflies, dutifully ignoring as the rest of the world fell away. He was scared if he turned away, they too would disappear and leave him alone in the encroaching darkness. Their uneasy trails of red and blue lulled him into an uneasy peace as black sand began to spill into the boat, pulling the vessel into the gloomy depths. As the boat sunk downwards, he saw the expanse around him. The ocean was gone, a dark desert having taken it’s place, greedy as it’s predecessor never was. He remained still when the sand scratched at his skin, and struggled to hide a whimper when it filled his mouth and vision, an all encompassing stranger dragging him down. The powdery veil of black dimmed the lights of the fireflies, and soon even their luminescence had disappeared as Lance sunk further and further down.
He closed his eyes and let himself fall through the bleak ocean of sand. Why keep his eyes open if there were no stars to brighten the abyss? Figures, he thought sullenly. The stars were too good for him anyhow.
“Lance. We ne-.....”
Allura’s voice echoed in the darkness, murky and distant but there nevertheless.
Her voice was like a untuned radio, struggling to remain clear. Lance clenched his fist in frustration. He couldn’t answer her, sand threatening to poison whatever was left of his oxygen. He couldn’t do anything. He was absolutely useless. Even in the cold oblivion, he felt the hot tears that fell from his closed eyes.
“Lance. Can you co-……-please?”
He screamed soundlessly into the abyss, sand flooding his lungs as he did, filling them like a hourglass awaiting the hour’s end. The mournful roars of far off creatures fell on deaf ears as Lance succumbed to the darkness.
Lance opened his eyes and blinked drowsily, feeling the darkness violently fade away, both in sight and memory. The ceiling of his room filtered into his vision, hazy with sleep. He stared at it, wondering blearily what time it was? Does time even move at the same time in space as it does on Earth? He shook that thought away. It was way too early (or way too late) to think about physics. He still felt tired, a product of an uneasy rest. He must have had a bad dream again. He quirked his head, trying to remember it. All he got were vague images of red and blue stars. He wondered what was bad about that?
He yawned as he rubbed his watery eyes, discarding easily his attempt to recall the evanescent dream, focusing instead on the immediate issue. As in, why was the Princess talking angrily about dancing? Do Alteans even dance? What kind of music was the more important question. He’d have to ask Coran about it some time. He pushed himself off his bed and stretched his long limbs out, feeling the kinks in his muscles ease out. He sighed in content.
“LANCE!” Allura shouted bluntly.
Lance jumped in surprise, alertness kicking his drowsiness right out the door.
“What!? P-princess! What’s happening? Are we being attacked?” he questioned hurriedly, pushing himself off the bed and stumbling into a standing position.
“No, no, we’re not being attacked,” her voice answered reassuringly over the comms.
Lance relaxed, letting out a relieved breath. He planted a cocky smile on his face.
“Phew. So, uh, what’s with the wake up call? I mean, my looks aren’t all genetics. I need beauty sleep just like the rest of us.....though maybe less so than the others.”
Even though he couldn’t see her, Lance knew her face was that of annoyance. He swore he could hear the accompanying sighs of Keith and Pidge in the background.
“I’ve been calling for you for three dobashes. We’ve arrived at the distress signal’s origin. The team is waiting for you.”
Lance wilted slightly.
“Oh...I’m sorry. I’ll be there in a tic,” he said sheepishly.
He didn’t listen for Allura’s reply as he rushed to get his armour on. He didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer than he had already. He had to hope they weren’t annoyed with him.
They were annoyed with him.
“Seriously, Lance, one of these days your tardiness is going to get us killed,” Keith muttered when Lance arrived, the doors hissing loudly so as to announce his belated presence to everyone.
“‘Or worse, expelled’, yes I know, you’ve told me on numerous occasions,” Lance muttered as he headed beeline to his seat. Which incidentally was in the far right corner of the room due to his newfound status as the Red Paladin, which meant he had to pass by everyone’s gazes. How humiliating.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Allura said primly, despite the hint of annoyance that lingered in her eyes. She pointed to the holograms that glowed before her. “The distress signal seems to be coming from the far side of the planet. We should be there soon.”
Lance gazed around the flight deck’s window, searching for the planet. His eyes widened in utter surprise when he discovered it far to the right of the ship, a complete eyesore now he’d noticed it. He jumped off his seat and ran to the glass, staring bug eyed at the planet.
“You’ve got to be kidding me? That’s the planet the distress call came from?” he asked to no one in particular. He just wanted to make clear how absurd it was. Because, come on, what the hell.
He eyed the planet with a skeptical expression. It was about the size of Earth’s Moon, the horizons curving distinctly and glimmering with the light of the system’s far off star, but that was where the similarities ended. The planet’s surface was almost entirely water, save for the huge crystal spires that disrupted the endless ocean instead of continental land masses, jutting out towards the rims of the atmosphere. The poles of the planet seemed to be a strange mixture of ice and crystal, too hard to tell apart from a distance. Far off, the planet’s dwarfish moon could be seen, a purple-gray oval of rock and dust orbiting relatively close to the planet. But, no, those certain peculiarities weren’t what made the planet so weird.
It was the fact that the planet was entirely pink. The ocean, the ice, the crystals. All pink. The planet looked like a giant strawberry flavoured bubble. In space. Lance had seen a lot of weird crap, but this was the pink cherry on top. Pun so incredibly intended.
“Why is it pink?! Please tell me I’m not the only one bothered by that,” he said incredulously, looking around to the others.
Allura turned her head away from her hologram monitors, giving him a perplexed look.
“I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Yeah, well, uh, you’re an alien, so you’re probably used to space logic. I guess I should be as well, but...it’s just that the water. Is. Pink,” he replied, emphasising so to get his main concern across. He threw his hands up dramatically. “Water should not pink.”
“Well actually,” Pidge drawled from her chair, hand rubbing her chin evilly, “it is possible...”
“Oh, I bet there is some scientific explanation I’m too tired to understand that you were ‘bout to tell me about. Please don-”
“I'm glad you asked,” she interrupted, nudging her glasses as she smiled at her own intellectual prowess. Lance’s face fell, and he sighed sulkily, unwilling to experience the wrath of Pidge if he disturbed her science rant. She continued, eyes twinkling with cunning that even the best Slytherin would be jealous of.
“I suspect that with the large, presumably Rhodochrosite crystals that are littering the planet that there is huge deposits of manganese on the planet’s crust. The basic diagrams I’ve seen of the planet internal structure show it has a molten structure much like Earth, and seeing as there’s no land masses, I think there are loads of deep sea volcanoes. These are probably spewing out a bunch of chemicals that are eroding the manganese and mixing with it to make salts like manganese chloride and manganese sulfate that dissolve into water, therefore turning it a nice shade of pink. Sort of like potassium permanganate, the chemical they use to treat water on Earth, but like a natural version of that. It’s just a theory though, so don’t take my word for it.”
“I think I’m turning manganese, you said it that many times,” Lance murmured. Pidge gave him a cutting look.
“What if it’s bacteria?” Hunk chipped it. Lance facepalmed theatrically as the scientific discussion continued. Hunk ignored him as he voiced his theory. “I mean, your idea is great, and very thought out, seriously, have you been thinking about that all morning? It’s amazing. Buutt, just saying, it could be as simple as bacteria. There’s a few pink lakes on Earth, and that’s all because there’s halobacteria in them. What if it’s the same here?”
“I don’t know much about science, but it could be that the water is more translucent than normal water, and the pink we’re seeing is actually the surface of the crust,” Shiro mentioned offhandedly. He followed it with a shrug to show he was just throwing the idea out and wasn’t actually certain.
“Or, Lance chirped loudly, deciding he might as well get a word in, “maybe it’s not water at all. What if it’s some naturally pink liquid? Or, or!, it could be that there’s some sort of underwater plant that dyes it p-”
“Does it really matter?” Keith interrupted irritably, giving each of them the stink eye. “Right now, we need to focus on the mission.”
Pidge and Hunk frowned, but didn’t continue the discussion. Shiro, on the other hand, looked kind of proud, watching Keith with a fond smile. Meanwhile, Lance heaved a sigh to show he’d do what was asked but wasn’t exactly happy with it. A small part of him flared with annoyance at the fact that Keith had told them to shut up only when he’d been the one talking. A more prevalent part of him, however, knew that the Black Lion’s Paladin was stressed, and that his grumpiness was not directed towards any one individual. Lance wasn’t so narrow-minded as to think Keith had a vendetta against him; they were rivals, but they were not enemies. He let his annoyance fade almost as quickly as it had arose.
“There is a problem,” Allura interjected, bringing the attention back to herself. She frowned as she looked at Shiro. “Given the aquatic nature of the planet, and the absence of flat land, we’ll have to leave the Castle in orbit and take the Lions to the surface.”
Shiro nodded, hearing the subtext of her message, and shrugged his shoulders calmly.
“It’s fine, Allura, really. I’ll stick here with Coran and help work the Castle in case anything occurs.”
Coran perked up, fiddling with his moustache as he smiled cheerfully.
“Don’t worry Princess. We’ll be the best backup you could ask for. The Castle will be in good hands.”
Allura’s mouth twisted upwards.
“I never thought otherwise. Paladins,” she called out, looking to the four other members in the group, “to your Lions.”
The pink water was more unsettling up close, and Lance stared at it with a heated expression as Red flew over it, her vibrant red turned blushing pink in her reflection. The shade just seemed wrong on the liquid. Lance was used to the endless blue of Earth's ocean, glimmering with a lane of golden sunlight to the far horizon, only softening to a gray hue on cloudy days. This planet’s sky was blue as well, but the ocean contrasted startlingly against it. Rosy waves rose almost to where Red’s paws hovered in the air, and crashed back down in explosions of strawberry froth. The crystals arose like jagged spear tips from the ocean, conquering more of the blue with the planet’s ridiculous colouring. It was like a typical five year old girl’s fantasy, missing only the necessary unicorns and rainbows. Lance pouted.
“I don’t like it here,” he voiced petulantly as he drove Red towards the distress signal. Red seemed to dislike it too, her paws drawn close to her body, persistent in remaining dry and untouched by the waves.
“What, do you have a thing against pink or something?” Keith’s voice asked through the comms, smile evident in his tone.
Lance looked to the Black Lion that flew ahead, giving it a pointed expression, knowing Keith wouldn’t see it.
“No,” he droned. “Just not used to it, is all.”
“Glad to hear it,” Allura remarked from Blue, whose paws were tapping happily against the water as she soared forward. Lance offered a hasty yet sincere apology, remembering the colour the Princess had chosen to wear, and the significance of it. Lance nevertheless inwardly sighed at the irony of the situation: the colour he missed the most in the possession of the colour that was now the focus of his irritation.
“How long ‘til we get there?” he asked, trying to change the topic.
“Not long. The signal is coming from that mountain up ahead,” Pidge replied. “Wait, no, I think it’s coming from inside it. Uh, okay, might have to scan this.”
Lance let her do that, quietly observing the oncoming crystal peak. It was huge, greater in size than any he had passed already. The Lions seemed miniscule in it’s presence, far away as it was, it’s shadow painting all the water around it fuschia. It seemed to darken as it ascended, pink fading into a light red, with ribbons of white and magenta playing in the shimmering geometric structure. Even Lance could admit it was beautiful. Despite it being pink.
“Oh, that makes sense,” Pidge voice mumbled in the comms, more so to herself. “That’s actually brilliant.”
“Maybe tell us what it is and then we can agree with you,” Lance commented dryly.
“Oh, right! Sorry. Well, the scans show it’s not solid. It just looks like it is, so from a distance it seems uninhabitable. It’s actually more like ring of crystals that have grown from the crust and formed a mountainous structure. The internal structure seems to be kind of like an aquatic cave, with it being filled with both water and air. The entrance is hidden really far under the water, and leads into the water part, so if not for the distress signal, we probably would have flown right past this. I wonder if it’s natural. Or, maybe the inhabitants carved it out. Oh my gosh I can’t wait to ask.” Pidge began mumbling to herself but by the point Lance had stopped listening.
And it seemed so had everyone else.
“Okay guys, we're going to have to dive, but continue in formation. We don't know if it's a trap yet so until we're sure, we need to stay together,” Keith ordered.
Agreements chorused through the comms, and the Lions began to descend. Red seemed to whine in annoyance at the command, her paws twitching as they grew closer and closer to the tips of the dancing waves, but she didn’t alter Lance’s course despite her obvious discomfort. It was moments like these that made Lance wonder how he ended up in a Lion who hated water almost more than he loved it. Blue had shared that certain passion, but it wasn’t enough to keep them together, it seemed. Lance let out a quiet breath, before giving Red’s dash a reassuring pat, easing on the controls so that his descent was slower. He missed Blue and his bond with her a lot, but that was in the past now; Red shouldn’t be forced to adopt his interests just because she didn’t reflect his personality as much as Blue had. Opposites attract, right. He smirked when that thought gave him a grand idea.
“You can do it, Red. It’s just water. You’ll still be as hot as ever when we get out. I believe in you, you sexy beast you,” he said in the most flirtatious voice he could muster, struggling not to laugh when he got the response he’d been hoping for from Red’s former paladin.
“Are you flirting with Red?!” Keith asked incredulously. Lance imagined the hothead with an outraged expression, and exploded with laughter, no longer able to hold it. Keith’s dark mutterings made it all the worse.
“Nooo,” he said, biting down the remaining chuckles after a few moments had passed. “I’m just giving Red a pep talk. Aren’t I allowed to make her feel special?”
“Oh, Lance, you really have such a way with words,” Pidge intoned as her Lion sunk into in the water, sprays of pink exploding around the Green Lion. The other three Lions were also half-submerged, tails of froth following them as they continued to rush towards the crystal mountain. Red still seemed herself hesitant to plunge in, only her claws touching the pink liquid, cutting into the water surface. She really must be hydrophobic if she was being this cautious, Lance thought, having heard of - and seen - the many, many, reckless exploits she and Keith had gone and done. Still, he wasn’t going to force her to dive; he’d let her go at her own pace.
Keith, impatient as ever, seemed to disregard this.
“Lance, are you coming or not? Or do you wanna run into the mountain?”
“Hold your Lions, Keith. Red here isn’t a big fan of water, okay. You can lead a Lion to water but you can’t make it swim. I’m giving her free rein. Don’t get on your high Lion about it.”
“Okay, okay, stop with the horse idioms,” Keith replied acquiescently.
“I think you mean Lion idioms,” Lance replied cheekily, smiling triumphantly when he heard the weary sigh of the Black Paladin.
Red seemed to be calmed by the banter, her paws falling further into the ocean. With another soothing stroke from Lance, she finally dipped her body into the water and sunk into the cool pink depths, which Lance congratulated with loud praise, both sincere and purposefully flirty so as to annoy Keith. Soon, she and the others were all fully submerged, bubbles roaring behind them as they blasted down towards the entrance hidden deep under the water.
Red propelled herself forwards, racing ahead of the other Lions. Lance just shrugged and let her do it; he’d get to the signal sooner, so what was the point of arguing.
“Lance, what are you doing? Stay in formation,” Keith said sternly.
“Hey, man, you should know more than anyone that when Red decides to do something, nothing in the universe can stop her,” Lance replied airily. “At this point, I just go with it. I really don’t want to tick her off. Hell hath no fury like a Lion scorned.”
“Yeah, yeah, I agree with Lance,” Hunk readily agreed. “I’ve seen the Red Lion in battle and I’d rather not get on it’s bad side.”
The Yellow Paladin shuddered as he imagined the horrible scenario. Well, Lance assumed he had anyway. It sounded like something Hunk would do.
Lance peered back to the other Lions, and blinked when he had to look back further than he expected. They were waaaay back, tinted by the pink expanse that was growing between him and the others. He gave an approving nod.
“Wow, Red, you really are a speed demon. Gotta ask, though, what’s the rush?”
Red grumbled audibly, causing bubbles to float forth from her mouth. Even without their bond, Lance could tell she was disgruntled, and given how she had reacted to water, it wasn’t hard to guess why.
“You wanna get out the water quickly, huh?” A guttural hum answered him, and Lance took that as a yes. “Well, then, full steam ahead, buddy.”
“Lance, I advise against going on without us. We must stick together,” Allura warned, still way back with the others. Blue must be so jealous of Red right now. Lance knew if Allura let her loose in the water, she’d be faster than even Red. Blue was amazing in water. Lance buried his longing before it could grow, putting on a respectful smile.
“I’m sorry, Princess. I don’t want to make Red uncomfortable by making her stay in the water longer. I’ll wait for you guys when we’re out.”
Allura hummed thoughtfully.
Lance smiled gratefully for her understanding. He went to reply, but an abrupt and loud roar interrupted him before he had even said a word. He looked back in confusion, and blinked in surprise when he saw Blue charging forward like a raging comet.
“Allura, what are you doing?” Pidge asked curiously, voicing what Lance had himself been wondering.
“The Red Lion is the Guardian of Fire, and therefore has every right to be unhappy with the aquatic situation. It does not however mean we should allow Lance to venture alone. As Blue is the only one capable of matching the Red Lion’s speed in this environment, I’ll accompany him.”
A moment passed as the others awaited their leader’s decision on the matter.
“Fine, but stick together,” Keith assented after a few tics. Lance and Allura agreed readily to his request.
“Aww, thanks, Princess,” Lance cooed when Allura and Blue arrived beside him. “Didn’t know you cared.”
“I care for your safety, but if you blather on, I might just rethink my decision,” the Altean replied curtly, Blue turning her head to give what Lance could only assume was the Lion version of the stink eye. Traiter. Allura was such a bad influence on her.
“I’ll be quiet, promise,” Lance vowed with a grin.
“That’s a first,” Pidge and Keith said simultaneously.
Lance scowled, but remained silent, more out of spite than anything. They could eat his bubbles along with their words. Red and Blue soared through the water, and soon the others disappeared out of view, forgotten in the imaginary race through the depths. They steadily descended deeper and deeper, the pink ocean darkening as the sunlight trickled away. Lance didn’t make a comment when Allura laughed happily, nor when he felt Blue distantly tickle his mind with the same emotion. He was content to just listen to them with a small smile, ignoring the occasional checkup by the others. Soon, the crystals of the mountain were imposing all of Lance’s view, glistening like underwater stars. Maybe this pink world wasn’t so bad after all.
That perception didn’t last long, however. The entrance to the mountain finally appeared in the veil of darkened pink, and the moment Lance saw it, he broke his fleeting silence.
“Guys, I think you need to hurry up and get here. Now.”
“Why? What’s wrong,” Hunk queried anxiously.
“Oh no….” Allura whispered in horror when she spotted what had caught Lance’s attention.
“What is it?” Keith asked apprehensively.
Silence lingered for several tics as Allura and Lance stared at the approaching destruction, unable to speak. The entrance was something Lance knew would have been beautiful once. Rhodochrosite arches lay broken on the uneven ground, creating a trail of rubble that ran towards the grand, carved archway. It was huge, dwarfing the Lions tenfold. The silver structure cut into the crystals around it, studded with pink orbs that matched the surrounding landscape. From a distance, however, cracks could be seen adorning the archway, some deep and some faint, all suggesting instability. Underneath the archway, the pink of the water faded in black as the interior disappeared beyond his vision, hiding with it untold secrets.
Even in the landscape of destroyed beauty, it was the blood, stained upon the pinks and silvers, that sent shivers down Lance’s body. It was splattered everywhere, painting much of the entrance in it’s dreadful red tones. The water itself seemed of a darker hue, seemingly deepened by the liquid. Lance felt guilty relief when he couldn’t find any bodies to which the blood belonged, happy that he didn’t have to see that. Not yet, anyway.
Lance hastily described the scene to the others, hearing their gasps and upset comments.
“Okay, we need for a plan. Allura, Lance, wait there for us. We don’t know what’s in there,” Keith instructed.
“No,” Allura argued sharply. “Whoever is in there is in danger, and they have requested our help. We mustn’t make them wait any longer.”
“No, she’s right, Keith,” Lance interrupted. “We can’t waste time arguing. We’re going in.”
“Lance, we can't have you being reckless right now,” Keith stated irritatedly.
Lance’s anger flared. Seriously? Did Keith realise how hypocritical that was? How dare he think now he’s the leader that he was above being reckless. Keith had got them into countless situations due to his own rash decisions. Now, with lives at stake, he was telling them to not to be. Lance couldn’t stop the words the flew from his mouth in retaliation.
“I’m the Red Paladin now. It’s my job to be reckless. It’s also my job to save lives. So, here I am, doing my damn job. Don’t try to stop us. We’ll see you in there,” he answered heatedly, voice threatening to break into a shout.
He huffed a sullen sigh when he realised what he done, but his stubbornness refused to allow him to apologise. Not yet. He wasn’t exactly in the wrong, anyway. Still, he didn’t want to hear what the others had to say. He muted everyone’s comms save for Allura’s, cutting off the other's voices before he could listen to their replies.
“Come on, Princess.”
He pushed Red’s controls forward, feeling her begin to surge towards the entrance. He looked back to see Blue following behind, the inhabitant quiet until the entrance was just before them.
“....Lance,” Allura began softly.
“Princess, please, can we talk about what happened later? Now is really not the time.”
“I...,“ she answered with an uncertainty that Lance almost never heard from her, “I just wanted to say that was a very b-”
She never finished her sentence. A deep rumble echoed out from the cave, and the water around them trembled slightly. Not even a moment passed before the crystals began to shake madly around them. The already present cracks on the archway deepened as more darted across it, the crystals agitating the already weak structure with their quivering. Shards of debris began to fall from the archway as it began to tremble.
The entrance was collapsing, Lance realised. His eyes flicked around the entrance, assessing the structure. He didn’t have to look too hard to realise it had a matter of seconds before it fell, blocking the entry point into the cave. If they didn’t get into the mountain, they’d be shut out, unable to save the people inside. Lance didn’t hesitate at all as he pushed Red’s controls further, begging for her to increase her speed. Red seemed happy to comply, going even faster than before, the entrance zooming towards them viciously.
“QUICK, ALLURA! Before it falls!” he called out to his companion, hastily looking around to check she was following him.
“Don’t worry about me! Keep going!”
Lance gave a passing smile when he saw Blue, soaring towards the falling entrance right alongside him. He turned his focus back to the structure, now looming above him as they zoomed towards the darkness. Larger pieces of it were falling, plummeting down through the water. One such piece was heading right for Red.
Lance pulled the left control sharply, and he felt Red turn quickly, just missing the debris as it crashed into the ground. He easily dodged the smaller slivers that broke from the shivering doorway, noticing Allura doing it with as much ease as he did. Even with the archways plunging down towards them, the two Lions manoeuvred through the destruction gracefully, almost as if it were a game. Given Lance’s thudding heart, he couldn’t say he felt the same way.
Lance slowed when he realised he was outside of the falling archway’s path of destruction, turning Red’s head to watch the final moments of it’s life before it crashed into the ground. The seafloor exploded in a cloud of black sand, the debris disappearing into the smog.
The surrounding area didn’t seem done with breaking, however. The crystals, now without the structure to hold them up, decided to join the party. Lance pulled himself from his momentary pause to escape the rain of crystals the began to fall in a twisted imitation of loyalty towards the corpse of the archway that once had held them up. Allura and Blue were already ahead, wise enough to not stop for the show. He could still here the thuds of crystals meeting their demise when he caught up to her. Lance didn’t look back this time. He needed to stay focused.
Light spilled from Red and Blue’s eyes when the dark became impenetrable, the light tinged the same colour as the planet. The pink crystals danced under their newfound spotlights, casting the light so soon the whole cave was alight with the rosy colour. It was almost like a hallway, leading to something grand.
Or something terrible, Lance thought sombrely. They’d find out eventually what awaited them.
“I’ll tell the others what happened,” Allura said after a while, when the silence became suffocating.
“Go ahead, by all means. I really don’t want to hear Keith’s ‘I told you so’s right now,” Lance answered bitterly.
He listened distantly to Allura telling the others about what had happened, unwilling to join in. They were probably displeased with him. Given the state of the entry when he’d last seen it, Lance could assume that the entrance was no longer a viable way in. The others were stuck outside until the found a new entry point into the mountain.
Yeah, they wouldn’t be happy with that. Still, if Lance and Allura hadn’t gone ahead, none of them would be in the mountain. So, it was a win-lose situation, really.
The hallway began to widen, crystal walls withdrawing away from the Lions, until it abruptly ended, the floor dropping away just as suddenly, the sea floor hidden away in a veil of black. Red and Blue’s light weren’t strong enough to illuminate the whole area, but it was fair to say they’d reached the internal structure of the mountain. They continued at a horribly slow pace, unable to see where they were going, and unable to use Blue’s sonic cannon lest they disturb the already unstable crystals. Lance felt Keith-esque impatience as his hands twitched over the controls, desperate to speed ahead and help the inhabitants of the mountain.
Lance looked to his screen, seeing the little beeping dot on his map.
“The distress signal seems to be coming from the centre of the mountain. So, let’s just keeping going forward ‘til we spot something.”
Allura chuckled as if he’d something absurd.
“What?” Lance asked in confusion, a tinge of hurt scratching at his skin at her strange laughter. He replayed what he said in his head, trying to find the humour in his statement. “Did I say something stupid?”
“Oh, no, sorry, Lance, I wasn’t laughing at you,” she apologised soberly. “It’s just…..I grew up to be a leader. I was expected to lead my citizens, be their Queen. Now....well, it’s a new experience to be outranked. It is quite strange.”
Lance gave an awkward laugh.
“Look at it from my perspective; I’m the one commanding a Princess.”
She chuckled again, more naturally than before.
“It seems we’re all readjusting.”
Lance looked at Blue with despondent eyes.
“Yeah. I guess we are.”
He returned his gaze ahead of him, peering into the murkiness. Either they were really deep under the water or the crystals weren’t as translucent as he thought they’d be. Red’s eye-lights barely lit up anything. It was so freaking dark. He hoped whoever was in distress had some way of getting their attention.
The darkness quirked as a sudden flash of movement swept past Red, startling her pilot and causing him to squeak with surprise. The thing was huge, whatever it was, but Lance didn’t get much of a look, as it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Lance twisted Red’s head to search for the anomaly, anxious as her lights gazed into the darkness. His body tightened with anticipation when he couldn’t find it.
“Did you see that?” he asked his companion, struggling to hide the high pitch sound of his voice.
“What?” Allura’s voice answered, confused.
“I think….“ he gulped, trying to return his voice to normal and absolutely failing, “I think I saw something in the water. And not the mermaid kind of something.”
“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t see anything.”
Lance nodded, letting out a shaky breath. Maybe he was just seeing things. Probably his mind tricking him into thinking something was hiding out there. He never was much a fan of the dark, or the quiet. Right now he was surrounded by both, and he was far from pleased. His fingers tapped nervously against the controls, the soft beat relaxing him as they ventured forward towards the distress signal's point of origin.
Red’s lights flickered, and Lance’s legs leaped into his chair as they darkness blinked in and out. It took of all his willpower not to wrap his arms around himself and assume a fetal position. For a second, there was no light at all, save for the red hue of the cockpit and the distant glimmer of Blue’s eye-lights that hid behind the thick layer of black. When Red’s lights returned from their stuttering absence, Lance’s shoulders were wound all the way up to his ears.
“N-not funny, Red,” he whimpered, looking around helplessly into the still dim environment. “Definitely not funny.”
Red mewled sadly, as if she was hurt. Lance relaxed slightly, ignoring his own fear to focus on Red. She sounded distressed, and he patted her console, eyes drawn sympathetically.
“You weren’t messing with me, were you?” he asked kindly, checking her systems as he did so. There seemed to be some malfunctioning, he noticed, with a few red bars popping up here and there. Red gave a weak yet somehow passionate hum, halfway between ashamed and furious.
Blue floated closer to Red, seeming to give the smaller Lion a quick look over. Lance picked up on a quick, faded feeling of worry from his old Lion before he heard her Paladin speak.
“Is the Red Lion okay?” Allura asked, her voice more so concerned than inquisitive. “Is it the water?”
“Yeah, I...I think so. Why, has this happened before?”
The quiet rustle of Allura’s nodding could be heard over the comms.
“The Red Lion has never reacted to water very well. It, as you are well aware of by now, has a great distaste for anything aquatic. My father realised this quite early on, and made sure to never make it endure an aquatic environment unless there was an emergency. Even then, it was never exposed to water for very long. The Red Lion has never been in water for as long as it has right now, and I am uncertain of what will happen if you remain underwater for any longer. If I had known we were to endeavour in water, and at such a period of time as we have, I would have advised against you joining us on this mission. Unfortunately, it is too late for us to change our decision. I'm sorry I didn't mention it sooner,” she finished in a remorseful tone.
Lance looked to his console with a contrite frown.
“Oh, Red, I’m so sorry. I thought you just didn’t like water. I should have known.”
“Lance, it’s not fault,” assured Allura. “It’s mine, if we are to place blame.”
“Princess, it’s not your fault at all! I’m the one who got us stuck in a giant mountain filled with water,” Lance answered in a bitter tone. “All because I was angry at Keith for being a hypocrite about recklessness. Looks like I’m the real hypocrite; I’m meant to keep everyone in check. Turns out I can’t even keep myself in check. Now Red’s in pain and the people who need us are no closer to being helped. So, yeah, it is my fault, Allura. Please don't think otherwise. You've done nothing wrong. It's all on me...”
The Princess went to reply, but Lance inadvertently interrupted her.
“Holy Crow, look at me, I’m wasting even more time whining about it. C’mon, we need to go.”
Allura gave a hesitant hum of agreement. Lance looked around Red's cockpit.
“Can you hang on for just a little bit longer, buddy?”
Red murmured an agreement. Lance grinned, thanking her through their bond. His grin fell instantly when movement graced the darkness once again. The sea monster was back, rustling swiftly in the darkness.
“Allura, Allura!, the thing, can you see it, it’s there!” he shouted hastily, trying to track the thing with Red’s lights. He only managed to showcase a long, insanely big, finned tail that flicked into view for barely a tic before it was back in the murky black. If there was something, it was playing with them. And not in the nice way.
Lance's heart began thudding in his chest, beating all the harder when he heard Allura speak, her own voice shocked.
“Yes, yes, I saw it.”
“Oh no, it’s real,” Lance moaned. “I was kind of hoping I was just seeing things.”
“That’s probably what's terrorising the citizens of this planet.”
Lance cheered grumpily. Wonderful. A giant monster in the dark. Just his cup of tea.
The sound of a roar, loud and all-consuming, stopped his sarcastic thoughts in their tracks. Lance’s stomach sunk when he realised it was the same rumble that had caused the entrance to fall. The darkness began to waver around him, and he felt Red begin to shake violently with the surrounding vibrations. A crystal stabbed down through the light in front of him, and then another.
“Lance!” Allura called desperately. “ We need to-”
Allura’s words were cut off by her anguished cry, and the pained roar of Blue.
“ALLURA!” Lance screamed into the darkness, sweeping Red’s light through the water, searching for a glimpse of blue in the black. “ALLURA!”
No answer. Lance breaths came in sharp and quick as his anxiety grew. Red spun and spun, but Blue never came into view. Red’s lights began flickering.
“No no no nononono, Red, please, you gotta hang on, please,” he pleaded hopelessly. The darkness was closing in.
Red let out a miserable, apologetic wail, before all her lights died, both in the cockpit and outside. Darkness flooded to replace it, and Lance was drowned in the pitch black. Before he could react, the cockpit dropped suddenly as Red’s dead weight was tugged down sharply by gravity. He gripped his seat tightly as the room shook, a sick feeling permeating in his gut as Red dropped heavily downwards. His shoulders tensed up, awaiting the inevitable crash into the sea floor.
It didn’t come for some time, but when it did, the jarring motion threw Lance off his chair, despite his tight grip, and right onto the floor, left side first. He flung his left arm out, but it crumpled when it awkwardly met the floor, sending a sharp pain throughout the limb. Without the arm to stop his fall, he plummeted, somehow managing to land head first, helmet thankfully taking the brunt of the hit. He hissed when his body landed on his injured arm, rolling over quickly to cradle it to his chest. A persistent twinge of pain lingered as he got up, grabbing at the pilot seat with his other hand and using it as a crutch to get up once he had located it in the dark. The room was on a tilt, enough to be obvious but not too bad as to hinder him standing on the floor, so once he was up, he adjusted his balance to compensate for the angle.
He tapped his right wrist, ignoring the lash of pain the movement caused for his left arm. At his touch, a small blue halo appeared. Not even a moment later, a concentrated beam of light shot out from his armour, providing him with a torch that only made the dark slightly more bearable, a blue tinge painting the shadows that swallowed most of the room. He looked around, hoping fervently for any sign of awareness by Red. His fruitless search turned up empty, with no console, system or anything seeming to be on. He knew though, before he even tried, that nothing would show up: he no longer felt Red in his head, those small ember-like thoughts extinguished, not even a smoulder left to fill Lance’s mind. Lance breaths began to pick up again as raw panic settled into his bones.
“Allura, are you there?” he asked quietly, his voice coming out small and afraid.
Lance swallowed. Okay, not good. But the others were probably still okay, right? Lance unmuted their comms, hoping silently that they weren’t annoyed with him for shutting them out. That could wait for later, after the situation was over.
“Guys, can you hear me? I think Allura's hurt, and Red’s not responding. We need you to get here really quickly.” He paused, awaiting their replies. He couldn't hear them. “Hello?”
Still nothing. Not even the near silent hum of white noise.
He tapped at his helmet, wondering if it was just playing up, but it remained eerily silent. It always had some crackle of noise lingering whenever it was on. There wasn't even the sound of the others breathing. He always felt comforted by that. It helped him know they were okay. But now....oh no. His heart fell in realisation. His fall must have damaged some wires somehow, and destroyed his communications. His friends couldn’t hear a word he was saying, and he couldn't hear them either. All he had was the quiet and the dark.
Lance began pacing up and down Red’s cockpit anxiously, awkward though it was with the slant of the room, thoughts firing away manically in his head. What was he going to do? The others were probably still stuck outside the mountain, Allura was hurt (he tried to avoid thinking about the horrible alternative) and Red was down for the count until he could manage to get her out of the water, which frankly wasn’t happening anytime soon. And the distress signal, though no longer blinking on his console, was still there and awaiting him. Along with the unseeable sea monster.
Lance stopped and let out a deep breath. Okay, he could work with this. He could. He just had to figure out how to make sure he could get to the beacon without Red guiding him or keeping him safe, and without being attacked by a monster, whilst also alerting his friends of Allura’s probable injury once he had somehow managed to fix his comms using his less than skillful knowledge in extraterrestrial electronics.
Yeah, okay, he had no idea what to do. He wrapped his right arm around his torso, below where his left was nestled, and he sunk to the floor, the torch becoming smothered by his legs as he drew them close to his torso, allowing the room to return to it’s original unlit state. He closed his eyes, to be greeted by much of the same nothingness. It was more to shut it out and retreat inwards than anything. There was nothing really to do except venture out into the dark ocean without Red and hope for the best, but even then he’d be lost, merely prey for the creature that lurked in the waters. He sighed wearily.
A gentle voice whispered in his mind, startling him from his thoughts. It was a soothing sound, like water gurgling in a stream. Though frantic, the noise was as beautiful as ever. Lance shot up from his dejected position, trying to locate the sound in his head once again, knowing all too well to whom it belonged. He’d missed that voice greatly, having only heard muffled caricatures of it for some time. She called to him again.
“Blue,” he sighed happily, a small grateful smile appearing on his face. It fell when he remembered what had happened to Blue when he last saw her. “Are you and Allura okay?”
Blue didn’t seem to hear him however, her calls becoming all the more desperate. Lance shut his eyes and tried to mentally connect with her, but all he met was a two-way mirror, his old Lion's feelings rushing through to him whilst his remained stagnant and out of view, trapped behind the barrier forged unwillingly between them. Lance eye’s began to sting as he tried to answer her, yelling her name and Allura’s, to no avail. It seemed she could no longer hear him, despite the fact he could hear her sorrowful pleas clearer than ever. Nobody could hear him.
He slammed his fist to the ground in frustration, the bang echoing out in the room. He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t wait for the others to eventually find him. Blue, Allura, the denizens of this mountain, they all needed help. And he was all they had until the others arrived. He needed to do something.
He needed to go outside.
He took a forceful breath, and jumped up off the floor, eyes gleaming with newfound determination. He jogged uphill to the entry of the jaw ramp. The door was closed, barring his exit. He pulled at it, inserting his fingers in the indent and tugging, trying to separate it away from the wall. It didn’t budge, locked and unresponsive. That, or he was just not strong enough to pull it open. Though, seeing as he was down an arm, it wasn't all too humiliating. He huffed, wondering how he to get pass this measly obstacle. It usually slid open automatically, but then again, that was when the Lion was working. There must be so form of manual override somewhere. He began searching around the door, torch sweeping around to find anything that seemed like an override button. He’d never used it so he had no idea where exactly it was or what it looked like. He perked up in triumph when his torch found a bayard powered dial, much like the one in the cockpit, on the perpendicular wall from the door.
He summoned his bayard, the red light briefly illuminating the room as it materialised in his hand in it’s dormant form, and hovered it in front of the dial. He paused, remembering the conditions of the external environment, and clicked on his helmet’s full mask visor, hoping it still worked, and cheering quietly when it did. He pushed the bayard into the dial slot, and twisted.
The door unlocked, and hissed as it glided open. Water spilled lazily into the room, and Lance let a breath of relief, grateful that the water hadn’t rushed in and swamped the room, the air pocket protecting the interior from such an event from happening. Red would appreciate not having more water in her systems. He looked back in the direction of her cockpit, and gave a small smile as he patted the side of the door fondly.
“I’ll be back soon, Red. Don’t you worry. When I find Blue and Allura and save those people, I’m coming right back for you. I swear.”
He took a steadying breath and stepped onto the waterlogged ramp, and waded into the ocean. There was a sudden drop at the end of Red’s jaw, and Lance shone his light down, trying to find the ground. A pillar of smoke appeared in the spotlight, and with an observation of the surrounding area, Lance concluded it was from some sort of underwater vent. He smirked, remembering Pidge’s theory about manganese and underwater volcanoes. When he saw her again, he was going to tell her about his findings.
So, he was near the seafloor. That was good. It would help him know which way was up. He flew forward, jets blasting off muted fizzes of energy. When he was near the smoke column, he turned and danced his torch over Red. She had landed on a short crystal which had caught her in the crock of her armpit, holding her upper body at the opposite angle of her head, which was tilted down as if she was mourning. She looked really uncomfortable, but there was nothing Lance could do about it. Even though she wasn’t awake, Lance gave her a sad wave as he turned away and headed towards Blue.
Her call, still ringing in his head, was like a magnet, leading him straight to where she was, which thankfully wasn’t too great a distance. Probably about a mile or so. He had his jetpack on full blast, hasty to reach Blue and her paladin, and to have a working Lion who could locate the distress signal. His left arm remained cradled to his chest so not to jostle it, his other arm held up to guide his way, whilst his legs were kicking wildly as he tried to increase his speed. To an observer, the weird armless swimming would have looked ridiculous, but Lance managed to make it work, making steady progress towards his target. He kept his torch vigil, scouring his flank and what lay ahead of him, wary of whatever lay past the light’s reach. He knew it was a risk to have the light on in the first place, but without he’d wouldn’t be able to see if there was any obstacles in his way. Though, admittedly, it made him feel a little safer to have something guiding him through the dark.
He manoeuvred through the billows of smoke, short turns here and there, but continued on a pretty much straight course towards Blue. He felt a relieved smile begin to form on his mouth when he saw the distant star of Blue’s eyes, glowing strongly in the dark. He kicked his legs even faster than before.
Something brushed against his leg.
Lance flinched as his stomach burned with fright, and pulled his legs towards himself, swinging his light behind him, eyes roving the area frantically. There was nothing to be seen, and he hesitantly withdrew his legs away from his body, and began kicking again, more frantically than before. He looked to Blue’s lights longingly, wishing he was there already. He stifled a whimper when he felt the water tremble beside him, not even attempting to shine the light on the creature. It was too fast, and it would waste time. He was so close. He could see Blue’s outline far ahead on the ocean floor, her eyes staring into the distance. She wasn’t moving, and Lance bit his lip as horrible images of Allura bloody and bruised in Blue’s cockpit began tormenting him. Maybe that’s why she was calling so desperately.
Exhaustion and fear played with his breath, causing it to come in heavy pants. His visor fogged up, and the dim world became even more obscured, blurry with moisture. He squinted, trying to compete with the newfound hindrance, unable to wipe if off until he took off his helmet.
A shadow flitted to the left of his light, and only seconds later to the right. Lance gritted his teeth. It was playing, of that he was certain, and he was the game. He willed his jets to work faster somehow, despairingly wishing the monster would stop. He had no way of stopping the creature until he had reached Blue.
A sickening growl ripped through the quiet, and Lance felt his eyes burn in absolute dread. The monster was bored with it’s little fun.
It was going in for the kill now.
Lance threw away any restraint he had held onto, and began using all his limbs to pulls himself through the water. His left arm whined painfully at the movement, and the torch beam on his other arm swung erratically around into the darkness like a child operated spotlight. He beat at the water viciously, his determination burning as brightly as the jets on his back. Blue was nearly completely in view, her body distinct and clear, shards of broken crystals visibly digging into her head and back. She was only a few hundred feet away. He just had to keep up his speed and he’d reach her in less than a minute. Then he’d be okay.
He never made it too her, though. She never even saw him, or heard his fraught breaths as he struggled towards her.
The monster got to him first. Lance never even saw it coming, only the impact of it’s enormous hand as it met his left side. He screeched in pain as the impact sent him flying through the water, away from Allura and Blue. The water slowed his unwilling flight through it, until he came to a stop. He hung in the water like a broken puppet, half his body burning with agony, his own harsh gasps echoing in his ears. His eyes fluttered as unconsciousness beckoned him towards it’s warm clutches. It seemed so tempting.
The torch’s light descended towards the ground as his arm lay limp at his side, showering the nearby crystals with a limelight the darkness had denied them, the pink structures shimmering with what the pale beam provided to them. Lance didn’t have the strength to admire them, eyeing them tiredly as he watched the creature dance in the shadows around the light.
He whimpered as he watched the weaving movements of the hidden creature as it circled around him, still unable to make out it's appearance no matter how hard he tried. He began batting the water weakly with his right arm and leg, struggling towards the safety of the crystals. It hurt to move - it hurt so much - but it was his only hope of getting away from the monster.
When he finally did see the creature, it was for only a moment. But that moment was enough to see it’s great, piercing yellow eye, gleaming iridescently in the light and slitted like that of a cat. It eyed him greedily as it swept past him. Lance didn’t have time to react before it’s hand slammed into his back, knocking the air from his lungs, and began dragging him through the water, scaly fingers constricted around his body.
He couldn’t breath, the clawed hand tightening its grip around him as the creature twisted through the water. Lance squirmed pathetically, pushing his whole body feebly against the entwined fingers, stoically ignoring the pain the wracked every part of him. The hand tightened all the more around his figure, and the world flickered as he felt his ribs crack under the pressure. For some time, everything was merely vignettes of pain and darkness, and everlasting roar of water as it rushed passed him.
The creature came to a stop after a few minutes, seeming to have finally tired, and for a moment Lance thought the worse was over. But when he felt the fingers tense around him, the hope withered away like a sunflower on Pluto. The monster’s arm shot forward forcefully. Lance’s eyes widened when he saw the oncoming crystal, unable to stop it’s rapid approach.
Lance’s visor met the jagged corner of the crystal, then again and again. Each strike sent collateral force through his helmet, causing a headache to peal in his head, worsening each time he met the crystal. Faint cracks began to appear, deepening with each hit against the surface. Drips of water leaked through, and Lance eyed them in horror, watching them trail down the interior of his vial.
The monster kept beating his head head against the crystal’s edge, showing no sign of stopping. Lance knew that it would though, eventually, not because it was going to tire, but because he’d be dead. The cracks would not held out for much longer.
When it did break, Lance felt only a cacophony of pain. The crystal edge pierced his forehead and brushed against his skull, and stray shards of glass cut into his skin. He screamed miserably, only to be silenced by the water that flooded into his throat. The grievous infliction caused his head to roar in torment, his lungs singing along with it’s own anguished tune. Lance felt his body start to shut down, unable to stand the pain and unwilling to endure it any longer. Lance couldn’t fight unconsciousness anymore, oblivion eating everything away. He didn't struggle against it. He welcomed it, desiring it's promise of painlessness. Yellow eyes faded along with everything else as he fell away into unconsciousness.
The last thing he heard before true darkness consumed him was Blue’s doleful call, howling into the dark ocean under the mountain for it's Paladin.