Branches broke with each step, leaves and gravel scattering like dust in the wind. His breath came in ragged gasps. The mask hindered his breathing, its muzzle digging in to the bridge of his nose, drawing rivers of blood down his face. His heart thundered in his ears.
“After him! Don’t let him escape!” It was the woman. The witch that had screamed after him, the one that did all these terrible things to him. The burning pain from his stump coursed through his body dragging out a wail. Faster he pleaded. He pushed harder chest heaving, tears staining his face. The branches tore at him, stay they whispered. He’d been here long enough. He needed to get away. He’d been plucked up with the rest of his unit, he can’t even remember how long ago. His friends, his lover. The emotions stole his breath away completely. His chest burned. With a thud he hit the ground, blood splattering everywhere. The fall had loosened the mask enough for oxygen to flood his lungs. Please , he pleaded. The forest sang in answer, a path lit up ahead, dark and spongy enough to suck up his trail of blood. He pushed off the ground, careening forward, balance off without a limb. Some champion he was, the tears soothed his burning face, coward they breathed.
“ In the beginning there were seven primal sources of energy; lightning, fire, water, forest, earth, the wind, and raw energy. Each source was guarded by a deity of sorts, that was eventually gifted the power to humans, fae, nymphs, and spirits. Though it was a gift some creatures spited the deities, and absorbed more magic than they were given and became ghouls and other horrific creatures, like wendigos, sirens, banshees, orcs, or worst of all the druids.
Man became beast, and beast knew no bounds. The corruption of magic desmated the forests and rivers, sucking the energy from the innocent. The tribe elders called a meeting, a peaceful arrangement to determine how to combat the growing plague. They met on the sacred ground, in hopes that the Gods and Goddesses would take pity on them.
The elders devised a plan, they nominated one host from each of their respective peoples that exhibited the best qualities as valued by the tribe. Zarkon of Daibazaal, for his warrior strength and leadership. Alfor of Altea for his connection to the world, leadership, and strategies. Blaytz of Nalquod for his adaptability and unparalleled ability to sense emotions. Trigel of Dalterion for her inquisitive nature and courage. Gyrgan of Rygnirath for his steady and strength of heart. Finally, Honerva of Altea for her connection to the spirits. Each one possessed unique qualities that balanced the others out. The Elders believed they’d found the solution to combating the magical corruption. The band of six swore an oath in front of the gods and goddesses for their loyalty and went to find the source of the corruption. In swearing their oath, the Gods blessed them with their power. Zarkon of lighting, Alfor of fire, Blaytz of water, Trigel of forest, Gyrgen of earth, and Honerva of spirit. They became the Paladins of old. Beings blessed with a God’s supply of magic, to whom the natural laws and oreders of magic did not apply. ”
“Lance are you even listening” Coran paused looking up from the ancient tome. Lance who had in fact not been listening, mumbled something unintelligible, flipping his body so his legs were no longer draped over the back of the chaise, the new clothes were confining and fighting the motions. He heaved a sigh and motioned for Coran to continue.
“You know Lance, its expected that those of the Court know our history. Back in my day with King Alfor-” He rambled.
“Coran I get it. I just don’t see how its useful. What good is knowing this going to do?” Coran sighed and sat next to Lance patting his back soothingly. “I know we sprung this on you rather suddenly but-”
“But nothing!” He yelled, immediately regretting it when it drew the attention of scholars around them. He took a deep breath, fighting back tears. “I lived my whole life thinking I was nothing more than a common kid, only to find mylife is a lie? That my parents and siblings aren’t related to me? That I’m a long lost child Alfor hid? How is that supposed to make me feel better?” He hissed. Coran smiled apologetically.
“Do you want to continue the lesson or take a break for the day?” It was a simple choice, but somehow Lance felt guilty for wanting to leave, but Coran had that effect on people.
“No continue,” he bit out as nicely as he could. Coran squeezed his shoulder and stood to resume reading from the tome. He only half listened from there, still milling over how his life had been flipped upside down. Almost everyone knew of their history. The band of six bravely takes on the Plague and half of them are lost in the final battle. Most of it was common knowledge, though Coran paused seeming to sense this.
“Lance, now might be an important time to tune back in.” Lance jolts, flushing red when he realizes he was caught. He looks up to meet Coran’s eyes.
“While it is believed that they were lost in the fight, there is more to the story,” This piques his interest. An alternate history to the one everyone is taught?
“What happened out there on the rift was kept a secret, to protect the people from learning the true horrors of what happened. When confronting the plague on the rift, Honerva fell prey to due to her close connection to the spirits it was draining. It captured her, corrupted her in unfathomable ways, and while it lent her unimaginable power and knowledge, it stole her humanity.
Zarkon was inconsolable as the plague ate away at his wife, turning her before his very eyes. The small seed of doubt was enough for the plague to take him too. Raw quintessence eating away at them, bit by bit. Honerva’s connection was corrupted and she began stealing magic from the other Paladins, experimenting with the raw energy. In doing so it cost her and Zarkon their lives, and left behind destruction, the likes of which had never been seen before. Alfor pleaded and fought with Zarkon, to try to get him to maintain his humanity, but in a final bout of magical rage, Zarkon landed a fatal blow on King Alfor. The remaining paladins watched as Zarkon and Honerva escaped, though only as mere husks of what they’d once been. Claiming the rift as their own. Blaytz, Trigel, and Gyrgan used almost every ounce of their magic to contain the rift and seal away what was left of Daibazaal to prevent a future plague. It’s been ages and we thought that the rift had vanished, but strange magic has been stirring lately. You heard about the commander that went missing from Kem right?”
“Yeah wasn’t his name Takashi Shirogane? Like the commander of one of the Blade’s factions? The one from the Onyx cliffs mission?” Lance gushes. “He’s like a hero to me. He’s a great leader, and he’s smart, and respected, and-” Coran cuts him off with a pointed cough.
“I mean yes. Yes, I’ve heard of him.”
“Well, some of our scouts returned saying that druid presence increased and there were reports of Commander Shirogane's group being captured. Most of the band was split up and sent to other remote camps in the Galra empire, among those captured was Commander Holt, and his son Matthew, both joined the expedition to run tests on the rift for the council to have for the next meeting. But it was recently learned that commander Shirogane has escaped.”
Lance blinks away his shock, “You think Zarkon and Honerva were behind it?” Coran sighs. “Sadly yes, that’s what we currently believe. So while you’ve only been here for a few months, we had to rush through much of the history, and etiquette for you to be a representative of Altea at the meeting. The next council meeting is supposed to take place in 3 weeks.” Lance feels an icy chill run up his spine, something telling him, not right, danger . He ignores it in favor nodding at Coran before heading back to his room.
It had been a crazy past month to say the least. One day he was a normal Altean kid, worrying about chores and exams to do around the Altean Garrison, and the next he was some long lost prince. The council order him not to say a word to anyone, but Coran or the Queen until the time came to tell the princess. To ensure his secrecy they’d branded him with the court mark, it would alert him of when the time was right. He was sworn in as Princess Allura’s protector, and while the first week may have been rocky they got along much better after that. Lance had joined the Altea guard prior to learning he was in fact of royal blood. He had been unparalleled when it came to bow and arrow. Long bow, short bow, crossbow, recurve, or compound bow he never missed. He rose through the ranks, training harder and harder to be assigned be a protector of the Royal court. Lance paused to glance out the window. The Castle of Lions was a magnificent place, full of the newest technology, standing proudly on the east side of the city. The city itself was a series of winding, grid-like streets, intersected by glowing canals that fed to the main bay. However, the best part of Altea was the Large waterfall that protected them from intruders and concealed their society. They had a few scattered territories beyond the falls that to outsiders seemed like the main city. Lance hadn’t really been out much beyond the falls, actually that’s a lie, but from his few trips as guard, the towns were humble in comparison to the city. Lance had friends in the neutral territories. His best friend Hunk was a mechanic and used to experiment with magic and Altean tech. He was a genius and the only person Lance had never kept any secret from. Hunk was like this big ray of sunshine, and managed to get along with everyone. Then there was Pidge. She was a force to be reckoned with. Lance is still convinced she's part gremlin, so tiny and fierce. Pidge’s skill lay with technology. She could integrate magic into technology and even created her own golem side kick, Rover. Humming an off kilter tune, Lance retired to his room, he had to be up early to supervise the princesses training.
The forest loomed around him. Trees ancient and standing proud, casting out any semblance of light. Bioluminescent algae and moss covered the earth. Small critters humming about, following him with interest. Shiro grit his teeth, blood dripping from the bridge of his nose, Galra mask discarded somewhere along the mossy earth. His shirt forming a makeshift tourniquet around his right bicep. Body torn up, and changed. It’d been so long since he’d seen the world outside the prison camp. He escaped, barely, but he did. His breath clouded in front of him in shallow puffs. He’s lost so much blood. He feels more than sees his surroundings shift. The world coming into focus with stunning clarity. Senses razor sharp, fangs worrying his lower lip. He was too delirious to care, then an agonizing pain shook his his body. Shiro doubled over with a scream, hand clutching at his head, the blinding pain feeling like it was splitting him in two. A small tendril of black ink curling around inside his head, burrowing down, down, down. “ Champion ” it cooed. He welcomes the darkness that takes over.
The hair on the back of Keith’s neck stand on end, a sense of wrongness lingering in the shadows. It was happening again. He could feel it, the darkness in himself, that monster gnawing at the back of his consciousness, raking its ugly claws down his senses, glowing eyes searching his soul for any sense of weakness. “ He’s not coming back ”, it would hiss, like hell he wasn’t Keith thought. He kicked a rock off the edge of the towering red canyon. He knew Kem like the back of his hand. He’d been raised by his father, a simple human trying anything and everything to provide and care for him. To be an example. But impulsiveness was a family trait apparently. They told him not to go but he did, and that’s how Keith ended up on the streets at the age of eight, a punk, fending for himself in the maze of valleys. He’d been alone for so long but one day, when a boy with a dorky smile, and clean clothes approached him he’d longed for the warmth of belonging. If even for a little bit.
The boy’s name was Takashi, he said he’d been rescued by the balde years ago. He’d been unlucky enough to become a target of the Dark Witch Haggar. As a child Shiro had been experimented on, and been taken in by Ulaz and Thace a year or so later. He extended the offer to Keith, simply because, “Your cool and I think you don’t deserve to be alone,” It was so simple. Kind even, more kindness than Keith had seen in a long time. So when Shiro ran to Thace and Ulaz dragging a teary eyed Keith behind him, there was no question, he was home.
Some years later Ulaz and Thace sat Keith down alone, tone serious. They’d been talking about his mother. He pretended it didn’t bother him. It did. He lied. It bothered him, that monster kept taking his pain and feeding on it, true to its parasitic form. He’d been abandoned, she’d left him. No matter that they said she didn’t want to, it didn’t change the fact that she did. He’d cried and cried til he was an empty shell. Eyes glowing and claws bared, curled up in his closet. That's how Shiro found him. It was from that moment on that Keith realized how important Shiro was to him. He was terrified, of himself, of what he might do, but Shiro wasn’t afraid, never , he’d assured Keith. Shiro calmed him down, soft soothing words and gentle rocking. Shiro was strong and brave, no matter what happened. He never judged anyone, only ever tried to understand them. He began to realize that Shiro had always been his stability. Shiro’s reassurance and calmness kept the monster in Keith at bay. They were inseparable, a troublesome duo. Skills honed by high officers of the Blade. Where Shiro was calm collected and a leader, Keith was his opposite as impulsive as ever. Shiro’s leadership was nothing short of amazing. It was no surprise as he climbed the ranks in the Balde. He was well respected both in Kem and outside.
When the news of Shiro’s disappearance reached him Keith had lost it. Like, actually lost it. He’d just comeback from a mission with the Blade to find Ulaz, frown etched deep with worry. “Keith,” He began. Keith felt the walls collapsing, felt the air being pulled from his lungs, felt the cold claws creeping up his spine, ready to shoot out at any moment. He blinked furiously, eyes beginning to glow, teeth shifting and piercing his lip. “No” Ulaz sighed. “Keith listen there's something you need to hear,” “No” Keith repeated, voice hoarse. “Please sit down it’s about your brother,” Keith snapped. Hissing and growling, the beast had taken over, dragging Keith lower and lower below the surface, into the burning pit of despair.
He had lost himself there, it could have been minutes, hours, days, weeks. When he came too he was chained to the wall, no longer looking into the red abyss of the canyon. Kolivan ran a cold critical eye over him, Thace sending a sympathetic look.
“It happened again didn’t it.” Kolivon only nodded. Thace stepped forward, but Keith was groggy slowly recovering from the haze, barely noticed the movement.
“We found him though.” Kolivan nodded again. Keith was a mess. It always happened like this. He’d become a completely different creature whenever Shiro was involved. Lose all traces of humanity. That foul creature would take the reins. Keith would wake hours later with blood on his hands and no memory of what happened. The night they lost Shiro, Keith had accidentally maimed Ulaz, leaving him with set of ugly, jagged, scars across his face, and their twins on Thace’s arms ashe struggled to contain Keith. It took months before he could even look at him, even longer still before he could forgive himself. When scouts had said that they had reports from the forest creatures of a young man resembling Shiro in the forest beyond the canyon Keith took off, grappling with the monster, only to fall prey to it. He’d found him lying in a pool of his own blood, breathing shallow, ears ending in delicate points, canines sharper than a human’s, and he knew. He could smell what they did to him. They forced him to settle, forced his dormant bloodline to the surface. Keith raged. Tearing into the trees, growling ferociously, swearing to pay back whoever did that to Shiro. He cradled Shiro against him, tears leaking from his glowing eyes, carefully running his claws through his hair, it was soaked with blood and sweat. When other Blades arrived, Keith's lip pulled back, snarling low in his throat, cradling Shiro’s limp form closer. That was all it took before he felt a sharp pain at the back of his head, darkness closed in.
Shiro awoke with a splitting headache. He tried to sit up, fighting off waves of dizziness and nausea. He knew this room, recognized the pale purple veins in the black granite, knew the curtains, and the scents of those surrounding his bed. What the hell had happened?
“Relax you still need to rest,” Ulaz urged, gently pushing him back down. Shiro turned his attention to the male. Ulaz smiled gently, the expression widening when Thace laid his hand upon his shoulder. To say Shiro was in shock was an understatement. A series of angry pink lines marred his face, Thace had a matching set on his arms. Shiro opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
“Take it easy commander,” Kolivan stated. Shiros attention focused on him instead. “I suppose you want to know what happened but-”
“Where’s Keith?” Shiro shouted before he could really think about it. Everyone in the room held a collective breath. Tension wound tight. Kolivan sighed.
“That, is a matter for another time, first I have a few questions for you,”
“I asked where Keith is. Please” He hated the way his voice broke on the word. Kolivan clenched his jaw, Thace’s hand tightening where it was resting on Ulaz’s shoulder.
“When you are well enough, we will allow you to see him, but for now you are to remain here, now I have a few questions.”
The cells in the mountain were cold. The granite darker than a starless night. Cool to the touch, a stark contrast to the freshly burnt line across his face. All Keith can smell is the iron of his blood thats staining the floor. He should have known better than to mouth off, especially in front of the leader, but when Shiro left so did his ability to think rationally. He was more hot headed and impulsive than ever. He’d made his way through the ranks through sheer will and ridiculous amounts of training. He liked the numbness it brought, the ability to blindly follow, and hone his rage like the edge of his blade.
One of the bone lamps glowed brighter, casting the cell in a lime green light. He squinted against the light. Snarl already on his lips. They’d chained him to teach him a lesson. All he wanted was to know if Shiro was alright. But he wouldn’t stop so the guards roughed him up. Granted he deserved some of it, but the burn was overkill. He didn’t think that would heal well.
The snarl was gone the second he recognized who was walking towards him in this miserable cell.
“Keith,” He said, voice soft and level as ever, even if there were tears in the corner of his eyes. “Thank you for saving me,”