It was night when they came for him.
He should have known better.
He should have known he wouldn’t get away with this.
He should have known he couldn’t trust his employers when they said not to worry.
“There’s no need to flee the country,” they said.
“That’ll only make you seem suspicious,” they said.
“We’ve got it covered,” they said.
They clearly didn’t have it covered. Because here he was, spending the night in a cell, awaiting his fate.
“KEITH KOGANE?!” He was abruptly woken up by the loud voice of the guard in front of his cell. The cell he was shoved into merely hours ago.
He didn’t know cells like this still existed. Cells with basically a fence for a door, with rough stone walls and windows too high and too small to climb through. Without any furniture, except for some hay to sleep on. The ones you used to see in the castles of old.
“That’s me. I’m here, I’m awake,” he answered. He felt awful, like he didn’t sleep at all that night. Which wasn’t far from the truth. He looked through the tiny barred window behind him and saw that the sun had only just begun to rise.
“YOU HAVE A VISITOR. THE HIGH PRIEST OF THE ROYAL COURT IS HERE TO SEE YOU.” The guard stepped aside to allow the other man to come forward.
‘Damn, does this guy have a volume switch? Wait… High priest??? Why does that guy want to talk to a criminal?’
“Keith, I presume?” The high priest asked. He sounded way friendlier than Keith had expected. The man wasn’t even wearing his ceremonial robes, probably because it was early morning. Instead, he wore casual pants and a tunic, with a pair of sandals. A typical ‘it’s my day off’ outfit. “It’s an honour to meet you! Of course I’ve known you were chosen for a few days now but it’s nice to finally put a face to the name.”
“Chosen?” was the only thing Keith could bring out.
“Yes, chosen!” came the enthusiastic answer.
“Euhm… I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The priest seemed appalled by his confusion. “Did nobody tell you yet? Didn’t you get the letters notifying you of your royal duty? You can’t miss them, they’re fancy blue envelopes with a wax seal and everything. Real pretty things.”
Keith shrugged. He hadn’t left his room since his crime. He certainly hadn’t gone outside to collect his mail. The mailman probably thought he had moved away by now. Good.
“Let’s get to the point then. You must’ve heard about the passing of the youngest member of our dear royal family, Prince Lance? Of course you have. Well, you’ve been chosen to be his guide in the Underworld. Your duty is to help our Prince get to the end of the Eternal Road and face the challenges he will encounter there so that one day he may be reborn! Isn’t that exiting?”
Exiting? To be honest, he felt mostly sick to his stomach. Because that religious bullshit was only a story to conceal what would really become of him.
He was a sacrifice.
When someone important dies, they apparently need a companion. Someone who dies with them and is buried with them. To ‘make sure they don’t stray and reach the end of the Eternal Road’. Those rich assholes clearly aren’t used to taking care of themselves.
When he was arrested, he thought he was going to be punished for his crime. That was something he could come to terms with. The justice system was tough, but it was at least fair. But this… This was much worse. Because if the priest was wrong and there is no Underworld, his death was pointless. But if the priest was right, he’d have to spend eternity with the guy he had killed just days before.
His day was spent in the company of servants who bathed and groomed him. You can’t have a scruffy guy who hasn’t showered in days be in the company of royalty. Or at least, that’s how they explained it to him. But Keith already knew he was a sacrifice. And this treatment only confirmed that.
He was bathed with luxurious soaps, the water decorated with flower petals. He was massaged with perfumed oils. His small beard was shaved and his hair was cut to fit the latest fashion trends. He was truly spoiled.
He really tried not to enjoy any of it. But to be honest, it wasn’t the worst way to spend his last day in the Overworld.
When in the late afternoon the servants brought him his assigned clothes, he was surprised. He’d expected some kind of long, flowy robe. Something white to make the blood stand out more. Maybe he’d get some ritual face paint. The people loved their dramatic rituals.
The clothes he was brought were warrior clothes. The tight undersuit was plain and black but made out of a sturdy knitted fabric. It would allow for easy movement but was probably enchanted to act as protection too. With that, he was given actual armour, a breastplate, leg plates, the entire thing. There even was a helmet. It was entirely white though, so he was at least right about one thing. There was only one thing missing for it to be a full set.
“Doesn’t this outfit come with a weapon of some sort,” he asked. “Not that I’m being ungrateful,” he added for good measure. These clothes were more than he’d hoped for, but they made him question what exactly was to come.
The servant closest to him nodded. “Of course, you can’t face the challenges of the Eternal Road without a weapon. You’ll receive it tonight.”
Tonight came earlier than he had hoped. When the sun began to set, he was brought to the altar outside of the palace. A huge crowd had gathered in front of it, there were people as far as the eye could see.
The guards ordered him to lie down on the altar. They didn’t tie him down but they didn’t have to. Keith had known he was a dead man since that morning. If he’d do something out of line he’d be shot instantly by the guards. At least if the people didn’t get to him first. Because they really believed in this Underworld scheme. They truly believed that the Prince needed a companion or else the Overworld would be ruined by the gods. Or something. Keith preferred to sleep in those classes rather than pay attention.
Being a foreigner, he wasn’t raised with this religion.
Being an orphan, he wasn’t raised with false hope.
He knew the ritual had begun when the spectators stopped talking. All the noise died down and only a pair of heavy footsteps could be heard. The high priest had arrived.
This time, he was wearing ceremonial robes. They were black as the night, but with a purple sheen. He was wearing several beaded necklaces. Every bead had a meaning, but Keith had forgotten what that meaning was. The priest was actually an imposing man when dressed like that. His face was stern, nothing like the jovial expression he had worn that morning.
He was carrying a body. The Prince. The guy was dressed in exactly the same armour Keith was wearing. Undersuit, armour, helmet, all pure black and white. Maybe Keith should have paid more attention in school. Then he’d known how events like these usually went down.
The lifeless body was laid on the altar next to Keith and the high priest turned to the people. “We are gathered here today to witness the wonder of life and death. To celebrate the passing of our dearest Prince to the Underworld and to mourn the loss of his presence in the Overworld. He may have been taken from us by force, but know that no death is in vain. To ensure that he may one day be reborn, this man has volunteered to be his companion in the treacherous Underworld.”
‘Volunteered? Did I miss something? What part of being arrested in the middle of the night made him think I wanted this?’
Keith filtered out the rest of the speech and tried to look around him. Which was difficult because he didn’t want to move his head too much. First of all, left of him there was the corpse. He actually looked remarkably good for being dead for a few days. There wasn’t even a foul smell. If he hadn’t seen the life force flow out of those eyes himself, he’d have sworn the Prince was simply sleeping.
He could see the people on their left side, dead quiet, fully taken by what the priest was saying. By his head stood the priest. On his right side, before the palace, stood the important people. Some court members, some high-up religious people, some people who were simply rich enough to be friendly with the royal family. The remaining members of the royal family stood on the balcony above them. The King, the Queen and the Princes and Princesses. Truly, there were way to many of them. Nobody would miss the youngest one. He was barely even an adult.
Judging by the fact the royal family wasn’t actively trying to off Keith themselves, they likely didn’t know he was a hitman. Well, he wasn’t just a hitman. He just was a loyal employee to someone who needed people killed a lot. But he’d do other jobs too from time to time.
Could this really be just a big coincidence?
He was brought back to reality by the priest who was trying to poor something into his mouth. “A potion,” he said “to bond with the Prince. There’s some painkillers in here too. You’re going to need those.” As he opened his mouth and drank the warm liquid, the priest started to chant in an ancient language.
‘That’s what this night was missing, some bullshit chanting nobody understands anymore. Now it looks like a real ritual.’
The priest linked Keith’s hand with the Prince’s and continued his incantations. Suddenly, their hands started to glow. The effect was stronger since the sun had almost fully set by now. The glow then spread to their arms until it enveloped both of their bodies entirely. Keith closed his eyes and tried to resist it but the light didn’t harm him. If anything, it made him feel at ease. “It’s okay,” the light tried to tell him. “You’re safe now. I will protect you. There is no need for fear.” The light only grew brighter and brighter, he could now see it through his closed eyes. “I will come with you on your journey, I will bond you to him. There’s no need to worry, you’ll see.” It was too intense and still growing stronger and stronger, the light was too bright, the voice was too loud, any more and he’d snap-
The light started to fade. Keith was left panting on the altar, his hand still in the Prince’s.
“They have been chosen by the goddess Voltron!” the priest exclaimed. “She has sent two of her lion spirits, Blue and Red, to assist the Prince and his companion on their transition to the world underneath our own.” Keith looked down at himself and saw that parts of his armour had taken a red colour. The body next to him was now dressed in blue.
‘Red and Blue, what did they stand for again? Oh no, I’m starting to believe this nonsense! They probably made this armour with some kind of light sensitive paint. And I’m hearing voices because I’m tired. This is no proof anything that old fool says could possibly be real.’
“Because they bear the colors of the lions, they’ll also bear their weapons. These weapons have magic and can transform in whatever is needed to protect their holder.” And truth be told, two servants came forward and each one put a strange device on the altar, by their feet. The devices didn’t look like weapons at all, more like handles with nothing on them.
“Now the time has come for these younglings to say goodbye to our world for it is no longer theirs. To their loved ones: mourn their deaths, but know that death is but the beginning of another life. Pray that they’ll only encounter prosperity, and pray that you might meet them again in the future.” Then softer, to Keith: “Turn on your stomach.”
“To ensure the bond between guide and guided, they will leave life in the same way.” Keith sighed. Arrow to the neck it is. At least it was a quick death. He was a good hitman, thank you very much.
Right before the arrow hit its target, Keith noticed someone in the group of nobles. A face. Smiling. His employer, Zarkon. The one who had ordered the hit was now standing in between those in favour of the royal family.
Keith was right after all, it wasn’t a coincidence he was chosen as a sacrifice.
It was a clean-up.