Chapter 1: A Broken Cage
Today was the day. The day that Shiro and Matt promised they would be back. They told him to hide away from the Galra guards standing around his castle -- not to talk to them, not even any eye contact. Keith had followed his mentors’ commands to the letter and he was still waiting. The castle was the most lavish cage anyone had ever set their eyes on, but it was still a cage. And Keith wanted nothing else but to be free.
The sun had begun to set when he climbed up to the highest balcony and watched from there for anyone to approach. The sun slipped away below the faraway forest and the moon had begun to rise when he spotted two figures riding far away, but the guards had no clue about them.
Keith was a clear-sighted human, and remembers telling random villagers at the age of six that there was a huge forest, to which they laughed and went on about their day. Only when he repeated this to Shiro and Matt at fourteen did they realise that Keith had the power to see through glamours and see the inner workings of the world they call home.
They were about an hour away and he packed some supplies and hid them under his coat, putting it on. He picked a book to read and sat at the main lobby so as to minimise any suspicion towards him. His sword was hidden under his table, ready to be drawn any second now.
And he waited.
Years ago, the old Queen of the Elves gave birth to a son, her second child. Lance and his older sister, Allura lived in joy and prosperity as the King and Queen ruled in love and fairness towards their subjects. Both siblings were gifted in archery but where Allura’s strength was in the magical arts, Lance’s strength could be found in his bow and arrow.
A great fire ravaged as a result of a Galra attempt to take over and the King and Queen perished fighting for their kingdom. Lance and Allura were grief-stricken but in the lack of a monarch, Allura was crowned the new Queen of Elves.
Lance enjoyed the solitude of the treetops as he leapt and bounded along the branches. The magic of the elves had healed the forest back to its century old glory. He went further and further to to the top where the moon and stars watched over him and kept the darkness at bay.
But there was another light close to the horizon and Lance recognised it as a fire. He could faintly hear the sounds of battle echoing through the plains.
Elves never cared much for anything outside the forest boundaries, but his instinct demanded he go see what was wrong. There has never been a time when Lance’s gut feeling has let him down and he was counting on it when he leapt down into the forest and left towards his home and then the stables.
Blue, a speedy mare capable of galloping through all kinds of terrain, brought Lance out into the plain that lay between the castle and the forest. Riding through the almost treeless grassland made him feel exposed, which in turn, made him want to go towards the castle even more. The clamour of the battle in the castle was louder this time, almost deafening, even though he was more than a mile away.
Lance soon realised that the fire was not from the Galra defending their own but the older men, who were wearing cowls to hide their identity and a youth hacking away at his enemies. Who were the intruders -- the Galra or the men?
Despite the humans’ use of fire, they were pinned down, strategically speaking. Lance decided that he is to take action. Besides, he is not letting another life fade away at the gnarled hands of the Galra.
They were in the heat of the battle: quite literally. Neither Shiro nor Matt had any magical ability with fire but they had made strange contraptions that threw out licks of flames, destroying the castle. Shiro had told Keith that if bad comes to worse, they may have to somehow destroy the castle -- after all, what the Galra were defending, even if they might not know it, lay under it.
However, the Galra were intending to corner them before finishing Keith and the others off. He thought that they were done for.
Of course, he thought they were done for.
The distant guards fell down by the dozen, a silver arrow sprouting from each neck. Everyone momentarily glanced around to spy for the new assassin, but to no avail. Galra continued to fall down, the number going past two scores. This gave Shiro, Matt and Keith an edge. They kept holding out until dawn as the fire engulfed the castle, killing the enemies by the thousand, and their invisible ally taking down the Galra like he was a hunter and they were the prey.
By the time dawn broke, the sky was as red as the blood that littered the battlefield. Keith’s mentors took their cowls off and smiled. Keith ran towards his mentors -- his friends -- and embraced them.
But in the moment, Keith almost forgot the archer, and promptly pulled himself away before calling out.
“Hey! Sharpshooter! Where are you?”
A voice called out from up on the crumbling rampart.
“Is it safe? Are they all dead?”
Keith glanced at Shiro to confirm. The other nodded.
“Yes, it is! You can come down now!”
It was the first time Keith had seen an elf from his years of solitude. He can clearly tell that it was the elf’s first time seeing humans too.
He had a lithe figure, built for speed, and more importantly, stealth. His brown hair was matted and his skin gleaming with sweat but the elf was unscathed save for a few grazes on his palms, elbows and knees.
“Who are you?” he warily asked the group. “Why are they after you?”
Shiro and Matt had told him as to how nobody is to be trusted with the secret of their castle, but Matt’s response to Keith’s glance at them was;
“Keith, if there’s anybody we can trust when it comes to beating the Galra, it’s an Altean elf. Go ahead. You can tell him.”
He nodded and replied, “Our castle has been held by the Galra for years -- almost for as long I can remember -- because there’s something under it. Shiro, Matt and I have been trying to find out what, and whatever it is, the Galra want to find it too.”
Lance replied, “Then I assume it has great power…”
“It does,” Shiro answered, “But nobody knows what kind, nor what it does. It’ll take a while to figure out how to get inside and use it.
Lance looked around the ruined castle. “This isn't safe. If you are to have a base, you need to have one somewhere else. I’ll see if I am able to convince my sister to give you accommodation.”
Matt and Shiro both shared a strong, mighty stallion, who they called Shadow, and Blue was waiting a quarter of a mile or so outside the castle. Keith rode another mare, whom he called Sangria.
The company of four rode as the sun rose up above the horizon, turning the red sky blue, second by second. The bloody mess that was the castle they left behind, as Lance steeled himself for what Allura might say at her new guests.
The stallion’s riders followed behind the mares and their riders, who were neck and neck. Lance looked over towards Keith, his eyes, focused straight ahead, and suddenly, Keith’s lips curved up into a smile as he realised where they were heading.
“You… can see our forest?” Lance asked.
Keith looked back, and replied, “I’m clear-sighted,” and then with a laugh, “People thought I was insane.”
They turned their heads, looking back towards the forest line, as the steeds powered through miles of land, never halting, never stopping, until they reached his home.
Chapter 2: Arus and Beyond
Allura had the right to be suspicious, Lance thought to himself, But why like this?
The tiredness in his sister’s face was barely noticeable, but he could tell, in the way her hair lacked its usual iridescence and her gaze glaring at Lance, as if threatening to rain down hell on earth.
“Lance, the Galra are now provoked, specifically because of these humans and what do you do? You bring them here.”
“What choice did I have? If it weren't for me they may have died!”
“Allura,” Lance steadied himself, lest he fall dead from fear, “The humans have told me that there is something under their castle. Something of huge power that they are trying to keep away from the Galra. That is why I brought them to you.”
A moment’s silence ensued as his sister’s quick mind weighed the situation.
“Fine,” she relented, turning back to her scrolls, “One week. And they better stay in line.”
That night, at dinner, the conversation moved from small talk into plans for the next few months.
“We can’t keep staying in your kingdom, Your Majesty,” Shiro said, “I believe we would be able to camp outside the forest borders.”
“What about the castle?” Keith asked, “It is only burnt to the ground. Maybe we -- and the Galra -- can still access whatever’s under it.”
Matt, who was thinking about this very problem, suddenly sat up and snapped his fingers. “Why don’t we camp a little closer to the castle rather than just outside the forest borders?”
“We can then keep watch of the castle for any invaders! Matthew, you genius,” Shiro smiled at him.
The rest of dinner quickly turned into stories of the nearby village from Shiro and Matt, and of the customs outside the kingdom to which both Keith and Lance silently, but intently, listened.
For the next few days, Lance was instructed to accompany Shiro, Matt and Keith in visiting a cloaked human camp on the other side of the village Shiro and Matt talked so fondly about, which he soon learned was called Arus.
The village was indeed small, but quiet it was not. Lance heard a clamour from the village three hours before he reached it to which he muttered, “I can’t go in like this,” and willed his appearance to mimic his human companions’, one of which gawked at him in surprise.
“I didn’t know elves could do that,” Keith remarked.
“We can,” Lance replied to this with a smirk.
What set Altean elves apart to the others was their ability to shapeshift their features similar to those of other races, of orcs as well as humans. Elven children learned how to change shape but rarely used this ability in their later life. Lance figured that if he were an undercover ambassador for the elves as he was now, he may need to keep practicing in his spare time.
The village square was bustling in the afternoon, merchants and vendors selling their wares and produce.
“Fresh fruit, picked today!” a farmer cried, “Sir, would you like to try a peach?” she held a round pink fruit out to Lance, who politely declined and went on to join his companions.
The villagers stared at the group of travellers walking past, especially at Lance. He was only able to shapeshift small details of his appearance, like changing the shape of his ears from leaf-shaped to round ears, not larger ones like the colour of his skin. Lance heard each whisper from the villagers, who were all secretly trying to catch a glimpse of his tanned face (which he desperately tried to hide using his hood).
The company travelled to the edge of the village and out into a slightly wooded area and realised that the villagers were turning away, but not because of what lay ahead. Lance asked one of the villagers:
“Excuse me, but has anyone gone outside the village?”
“No, no-one’s bothered, really. Can’t say I have either.”
“Oh, alright. Thanks.”
Soon there were no villagers to be seen, but behind the glamours that coated it, the human camp revealed itself to be a shelter for four. It was empty, but not abandoned. A teenage girl sat on the ground, drawing up what may be plans for something on a crafted table, and there was a man about his age, tinkering with a small metal contraption. Lance wondered if he was the one who built those machines that threw out licks of flame at the castle.
The girl looked up at the guests and beamed at their entrance.
“Matt! Shiro!” she exclaimed, but then trailed off, frowning.
“I’ve heard of you,” she pointed at Keith, and then looked at Lance “But who are you?”
The way she asked wasn’t unkind, but curious. However, Lance still couldn’t help but be a little suspicious. After all, when it came to human interaction, he was already out of his depth.
Lance cleared his throat and smiled amicably as he introduced himself. “I’m Lance, prince of the Altean elves.”
She quickly realised her mistake and stood up, curtsying awkwardly. “Oh! Pleased to meet you, Your Highness. My name is Katie”
Katie’s appearance was so unlike the other women he had seen in the village. Her blonde hair was cut off at the nape of her neck. She wore a robe over a simple tunic and leggings and she seemed to be kitted out with so many strange objects, which seemed to be the very height of what humans called technology fused with basic magic.
The contraption which was now being worked on, suddenly exploded accompanied by the startled shriek of its maker.
“Hunk!” Katie whipped her head around, “Did you use the coated wires?”
“Uh…” Hunk sheepishly smiled at his friends and his guests and then sighed, “No.”
Katie rolled her eyes “For the love of the gods..." and excused herself so as to help Hunk.
Matt stepped in beside the newcomers. “So, what do you two think of our camp?”
Keith found the camp more or less homely. A mixture of candles and napalm lanterns gave the environment a soft, warm glow, making everything and everyone, both elf and human, seem ethereal and dreamlike.
As the sun set, both Keith and Lance had completed their tour, courtesy of Shiro, to find the table laden with food, both foraged from the woods and bought from the village. Katie, Matt and Shiro had taken their seats and were being served by Hunk. They laughed and chattered as the sweet scents drifted from the platters and intoxicated even the two new guests.
“It all looks so simple. So easy,” Lance remarked, gazing at the people seated around the table.
“Come on over here and take a seat!” Matt waved at them. The elf soon snapped out of his reverie and smiled youthfully at Keith, the evening sun kissing his cheeks before walking towards the table.
The outside world had given him so many emotions in the past few weeks and Keith simply turned his back on this… this fire that stoked his heart at the moment, because when he looked at Lance, he was sure of it. There was something in the way he looked at the others that lay behind his smiles, his quips and his formalities.
Something sad, and something ancient.
Chapter 3: Her Story
The afternoon breeze played in the leaves, tugging them off their branches, singing of ripening apples and dances around the bonfire. The villagers were going about their day, and were shouting and calling for customers as warm sunlight caressed their faces and their hands.
But something in the shadows caught Shiro’s eye. A woman weeping silently. He stepped over to her and sat on the other side of the alleyway. The woman looked up to meet his gaze before shamefully lowering her bloodshot eyes. Her blouse and skirt were all scuffed up and torn around the edges, her bare feet bleeding from what Shiro assumed to be hours, even days of walking. He stood up, dusted off his clothes and stepped out of the alleyway into the light of the village square.
A few minutes later, to the woman’s surprise, he was sitting across from her again, this time, with a pitcher of water, and a loaf of bread.
“I thought these may help you survive until you find some help,” he explained, “I’m Takashi”
She reached for the pitcher of water and took a sip. “Thank you,” she replied.
As she kept drinking the water and eating the bread, he wondered how she even ended up here.
Maybe she had gone bankrupt? Maybe her family had chased her out of her home? Rambled his mind.
But some quiet voice told him that there was more to her story than meets the eye.
Oh, the things they made her do.
She could still see the fear in the prisoners’ eyes, as they were herded like cattle into the shooting range. The soldiers aiming their arrows as the prisoners were tied to the stone pillars.
“Whenever you’re ready, Krolia,” her commander would say, and she would nod, and turn around to face the archers.
She had taught herself to block out the sounds. The whistling of the arrows, the thud they made as they hit their target, and the screams of the prisoners as the life sapped out of them.
As long as she was surrounded by violet flames, she was in hell, and she made sure to have human flames, the reddish-yellow kind, in her home. The other Galra may have thought her to be strange, but they didn’t know why and she couldn’t care less, because those human flames carried so many memories that stuck even now when she was all scuffed up and starving on the streets.
Akira was his name, and they had the world in their hands. He was a human explorer who had simply stumbled on a run-down shack near the edge of the citadel, and, as it turned out, met her. Soon, love took its course, as it does. One gruff, low voice, was accompanied by another clearer one, in conversations, in bickering and in laughter for four happy years.
On the fifth year, there was a third voice, an infant’s wail.
“Oh, don’t cry, little one,” Krolia reassured her son, “Mama’s here.”
The baby’s cries softened into a coo as he huddled closer to his mother’s chest.
“How’s our big boy doing?” Akira walked into their nursery and stroked his son’s head.
“I think he’s just hungry,” she replied.
Akira named him Keith, after his late friend, and Krolia insisted their son keep his father’s first name.
Keith Akira Kogane.
She remembered her hands shaking as she hastily wrote down his name on a piece of paper and tied it to the infant’s leg before he was taken by a gang of children who were his only hope in the midst of a Galra raid as they expanded their territory.
The one who took him away was a seven year old, with raven hair which got in the way of his eyes.
“He’ll be safe with us--”
“Shiro! We need to leave! Now!” Another voice called out, prompting him to run away into the violet haze left by the Galra explosives.
She had scavenged around the household, desperate for anything that might help her survive in the long months to come. Her scraped hands found a charm which let its wearer assume a human appearance. Akira had given it to her as a gift so that she may, one day, come with him into the human world and see its beauties with her own eyes.
A few months later, she had found herself as a double agent in the Blade of Marmora, this time harbouring dangerous secrets as she commanded the archers to fire. She had trained at the base and become a double agent for the Blade, passing information about Emperor Zarkon’s ascension to victory. She had prospered and in her own time and began to look for her son but to no avail.
A decade after she had joined the Blade, the Galra; the ones who were working for the Emperor, found out about the secret organisation. She and the rest of the members were forced to disband and make their own way, as the Galra hunted each and every member down.
Thanks to Akira’s amulet, she was able to blend in with the humans and managed to find the bare essentials as she wandered from village to lonely village until she came here, to Arus. Every rare kind act moved her to, and past, the verge of grateful tears, and Takashi’s was no exception.
Arms full of produce from the markets, Shiro found his way out of the village and into the camp. He remembered how Keith would mutter under his breath in his lessons: “What was that word again? It’s on the tip of my tongue!” and realised he felt the same about that woman. Something seemed so familiar about her, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. As time ticked by from seconds into minutes, Shiro realised that he was frustrated for a reason that he, out of all people, doesn't even know and let the matter rest.
As he made his way out of the square he vowed to see her again, because he had only scratched the surface of a great mystery.
Chapter 4: Somewhat Safer
It had only been three days since the company set up camp near the castle and Lance had already spotted a newly built Galra outpost. He had been on reconnaissance duty on the ruins because Shiro and Matt were sure about whatever it is was down there (Keith took a while to convince, but he relented in the end).
Lance heard the conversations of the guards as they plotted to capture what was left of the castle.
“Zarkon has commanded us to guard this outpost should those humans come back to claim it, and scour the ruins for any hint of this treasure.”
“Is there even a treasure, Prorok? Those humans burnt the place to the ground and I didn’t even see any molten artefacts,” another guard skeptically replied.
It was only a matter of time, Lance realised, before they managed to figure out what the humans have told him -- that the treasure was entombed underneath the castle. Lance fled the scene with a leap back into the foliage.
The guards heard a faint rustle in the nearby trees and whipped their heads around to see the source of the noise, only to see the southwestern boundary of the forest.
“Nothing,” Prorok grunted, “This place is already driving us insane.”
“I say we launch an attack,” suggested Keith.
“And I say we don’t,” Shiro calmly interjected.
“The window of time for an ambush is getting smaller and smaller by the second, Shiro. The guards are starting to get a hint of the true location of this so called ‘treasure’” Keith replied.
“Keith has a point, sir,” Lance remarked, “Who knows when the guards will realise where it is?”
“But we are too small and too weak to take on a Galra outpost. We barely managed to hold out at the castle without you showing up,” Shiro was right on the line between professionalism and panic.
“Then we ask for the other humans’ assistance,” the elf replied to this. “Katie and Matt and Hunk. They can make our weapons and help us from afar. Did they not make those… flamethrowers, I believe they were called?”
Shiro sighed at this compromise. “Fine. the three of us will lead the ambush, once we get the weapons from the others. Lance, where would you suggest is the best opening for us to get in undetected?”
Lance drummed his fingers on the table as he thought of the structure of the base. “There is an eastern entrance in the base. It’s not a main entrance but one for transporting supplies for the soldiers. There’s also a south western entrance similar to this, but it is much more guarded.”
“Then we go under the cover of night. Take them by surprise.”
“The guards all switch over at once, two times a day,” Lance replied, “At dawn and dusk. Would that be a good opportunity to strike?”
“We’ll take the chance,” Shiro answered.
“Then we confer with the others,” Keith stood up, and began to walk towards the horses.
Shiro had offered to stay back and guard the new base, while Keith and Lance rode back to the camp. Blue and Sangria carried their riders across the boundary of the plain, where the Galra could not see them traverse.
Soon they were back at the camp, the rooms empty once again, save for Katie and Hunk, emerging from the small forge at the old camp, as Keith and Lance explained their need for cutting-edge weapons for their ambush.
“Well, we have a few flamethrowers I managed to modify, but…” she paused for a while, trying to find any other solutions. “Your Highness --”
“Please, you can call me Lance,” he interjected, as she looked at him, as if to ask for confirmation.
“Lance, remember when I asked you to teach me those enchantments? Well, I finished what I needed them for!” Katie beamed up at the anticipating elf and his companion, “Follow me!”
The workshop was a mess, but a beautiful one. Lamplight scattered off stray bits of scrap metal. Shards of glass and the occasional gemstone reflected the dying rays of the sun, and ornate weapons and gadgets lay on benches and tables unattended.
But the pinnacle of the duo’s creation stood at the very back of the room. Four sets of armour, shining as if they were made of moonlight.
“Mine and Hunk’s are stored away right now, but we needed you two, Shiro and Matt to calibrate the armour. I guess we could test two of them right now.”
Keith was eyeing the armour standing tall and regal in front of him.
“Alright, what do we have to do first?”
“Put your hand in the middle of the breast plate. Like so.” She turned and placed her palm flat on Hunk’s chest.
Keith mimicked them, and gasped as the embellishments of the armour glowed with a fiery shade of red.
“Ahh, we forgot they could do that,” Hunk’s smile feigned innocence, but showed satisfaction at Keith’s awed expression.
“Amazing,” Lance replied, before placing his own palm on an unused set, which glowed with the colour of a tropical sea, “The Identity Charm. It’s basic magic for elves, but for humans…”
“Not just the Identity Charm,” said the girl, “Try them on.”
Soon Keith and Lance were in the full set of armour, the metal weighing on their shoulders and limbs.
“Now you need to imagine you’re hidden from sight, and that you are nature, not in it,” Hunk instructed.
Lance excitedly followed these instructions, which were second nature (no pun intended) for him. Keith tried, and tried. He tried to think of all the books he had read, the paintings he had seen, the gardens of the castle but to no avail.
Frustrated with this failure Keith turned to face the elf prince.
“Lance-- holy shit!”
He was looking at… well, Keith wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Where Lance had been standing there was now nothing at all.
“Language!” An invisible smack landed on Keith’s armoured shoulder, “I’m still a prince, after all.”
They agreed to keep the armour for Shiro and Matt while Lance decided to consult Allura for weapons better suited for the company, and Keith set off to the camp so that he could protect it while Shiro and Matt came back for a surprise indeed.
“You have a good point, brother,” Allura conceded, “These humans cannot use those flamethrowers of theirs, unless they want to cause more damage than they already have.”
“So? Am I allowed to bring them the bayards?”
“Yes. Yes you may. But you keep your own. Understood?”
Lance paused, waiting for his sister to say anything more.
“What now?” she looked at him once again.
“Are you not going to tell me to be careful with them? Not to break them?”
“Oh, trust me, it’s not the bayards I’m worried about. Any sane elf would agree with me.”
Chapter 5: Moonshards
The autumn sun shone down on the forest, seemingly setting it on fire with shades of the falling leaves. Shiro and Keith were laying down, resting on the ground after their training session.
“How are you feeling about all this?”
“Hmm?” Keith’s eyes turned towards his mentor.
“All this adventure,” he replied, “You used to be so sheltered in that castle.”
“I have to admit,” Keith turned to face Shiro. “I… what is that noise? Is that one of the horses?”
His ear, pressed to the ground heard an echo like distant thunder, beating again and again.
Blue was galloping towards them, her elven rider carrying a considerably heavy bag. Lance commanded her mare to stop, and leapt off, gently resting the bag. Shiro and Keith stood up, greeting him.
“I convinced my sister to get you some weapons,” he said, “Do you want to take a look at them?”
“Yes, sure, if it helps our ambush,” Shiro replied.
Soon the three of them walked inside the makeshift quarters of the camp, and Lance laid out the bayards.
Both Shiro and Keith’s expressions were that of confusion.
“They’re…” Shiro trailed off.
“Hilts. They’re hilts,” Keith replied, reaching for one of them. He grasped the hilt in his hand, and the next thing he knew, in a glow of red light, the hilt had extended into an ornate, yet sharp sabre.
“Alright, they’re not just hilts,” Keith grinned as he swung the blade to and fro, slicing the air with each slash. (The elf may have blushed a little)
“They’re not,” Lance remarked, “They’re bayards from our very own armoury.”
“Oh,” Keith put the sabre down, which instantly turned back into its old form. “What about you, Shiro? You should try one.”
“Yes, but which one?” Shiro wondered. His hand hovered over each of the bayards, undecided as to which one it would pick. Obviously not Keith’s but as it seemed, and none of the others.
“Maybe that is a question to be answered another day,” he relented.
Katie and Hunk walked in, and stood by the table.
“These seem interesting,” Hunk remarked, grabbing a gold-plated hilt, which immediately changed form, turning into a mace capable of doing some serious damage.
“Ohhh-ho-ho my God!” Hunk’s eyes were wide with amazement, “How do you… just… how!?”
“I feel like I can’t say anything other than ‘elven magic’ to explain it.”
“Try us.” Katie slammed her hands on the table.
“We should start with the basics,” Lance began, “Every single being in this world, human, elf, Galra, animal, and even plants have a sort of energy in them called quintessence. What you call magic is actually manipulating this quintessence to go through with certain actions.
“Now these bayards actually look at your quintessence, in a way, and manifest themselves according to it. At least, that’s what Mama said when she showed Allura and I our bayards.”
He patted a hilt inset with blue stones, that hung off his belt. Katie took the bayard with veins of emeralds, creeping all over the hilt, like vines of ivy, which, emitting a bright light turned into a grappling hook, the end the shape of a farmer’s scythe.
“Wow!” she breathed, “But...how does it change? Does it have a different shape for each bearer?”
She glanced back at the elf. “What’s yours like?”
Lance smirked, “Watch,” he replied, grabbing at his own bayard. A dazzling glare of blue light almost blinded the others, before they found an intricately carved bow, the tips of his arrows glowing blue.
Shiro glanced at the three humans and the elf, marvelling at their new weapons, in their new armour.
“Alright, everyone, I think we’re ready to lay out the plan.”
The company sat in the common tent, around a makeshift table made out of empty wooden crates. Their dinner was more or less cleared, and they were discussing their next step.
The scheme was as follows; Lance would go ahead of the company, serving as their eyes and scanning for any threat. Once he positioned himself in the suitable position, he would take out the four archers in the northern, eastern, southern and western sides of the base. This would allow the other four to get in. Shiro and Keith are their offensive, and would lay siege to the place.
“Wait,” Keith interjected, as Shiro was describing the plan, “The two of us going in there is nothing but a death wish.”
“Exactly,” Shiro replied, “that’s why Katie and Hunk will set the explosives in the back door, barricading it, and move to defend the main gate. Lance, as soon as we’re in, you need to do your thing.”
“My thing .” Lance arched his eyebrow.
“Yes,” Keith said, “With the arrows?”
“Right,” Lance nodded sagely, letting Shiro continue.
“The Galra may draw attention to their allies. Try not to take any lives at this point, but shoot them in the legs, so they cannot move.”
“And then?” Hunk asked. “We can’t move back, otherwise they’ll just build a newer stronger base.”
“They’ve built outposts, but they haven’t begun to guard the castle just yet. Meaning, we only need to seize the outpost to seize the castle.”
Keith rose from the table.
“Then, we strike at first light.”
Keith regretted saying that, now that he found himself walking around the campground under the night sky. Pacing up and down, he had tried to count sheep, think about nothing, then everything in the hopes that he could get to sleep. But to no avail, and here he was. Far away he could see tiny lights dancing, deep in the woods. He stepped towards them with slow, cautious steps.
A gentle rustle interrupted him, and when he looked around to find the source, he saw nothing…
...except a pair of gleaming blue eyes.
With a gasp he stepped back, ready to flee. Or die. His arm itched to grab at his sword, which, in reality was lying back in his makeshift quarters.
The eyes came closer, and closer, rising from a crouch to a standing position until--
“Let me guess,” Lance remarked, “Couldn’t sleep?”
Keith sighed in relief. “No, I couldn’t,” he replied, “It’s just that… maybe something could go wrong.”
“We’ll do fine,” replied Lance, in an effort to reassure Keith.
“Look, Lance, if it wasn’t for you showing up at the castle, we would have been dead!”
“I’ll be with you on the mission, Keith. Please,” he stared in earnest, “You need to have faith in a plan for it to truly work.”
“Alright,” Keith still seemed nervous, and almost jumped when he felt Lance's hand on his shoulder.
“Tell you what,” he said, noticing Keith’s fear in his face, “I want to show you something. See those lights?”
Looking past the elf, Keith saw the light flicker dimly in the forest floor. “Yes. What are they?”
“Follow me.” Lance reached for Keith's wrist, holding it gently and guiding him forward.
The first thing that Keith noticed was the sweet smell of a type of wildflower that grew practically everywhere near the castle. It was delicate, yet familiar. But as soon as the two stepped into the little clearing, another surprise met their eyes.
Thousands upon thousands of tiny butterflies, glowing with the light of the moon captured within their wings, burst up out of the undergrowth, swirling around them.
“Oh, my God,” Keith whispered, standing in the eye of a silent, glowing storm. The butterflies soon registered there was no real threat and descended down to their precious wildflowers.
“They’re… they’re beautiful,” he knelt down near the flowers, feeling immediately calmer.
“Moonshards,” he replied. “That’s what we call them. The stories say that they are pieces of the moon that fell from the skies long before elves walked the earth.”
The butterflies soon came over their dread towards the newcomers as some of them began to land on Keith’s shoulder and hair. He stood absolutely still, moving only his eyes to look at them.
“Adorable, aren’t they?” Lance said, the butterfly on his knuckles slowly flapping its wings.
Keith looked up to see him getting more and more covered by butterflies, and beaming down.
“Oh, uh, yes,” he stuttered, “Yes, they are. Um… listen, we should go back before Shiro finds out.”
“Alright, teacher’s pet,” the elf teased, causing Keith to roll his eyes as he stood up, butterflies swirling around him, most likely annoyed at being disturbed so abruptly. “Let’s go get some sleep.”
Lance led the way back, and Keith followed him into the dark.