Work Header

Legends of the Witchpire: The Cursed Amulet

Chapter Text

Since the dawn of evolution and apes began to walk upright, develop and use tools and slowly amble their way towards a sort of civilization, they have believed themselves to be the soul inheritors of the Earth and all it's treasures. But the truth remains that when mortal humans first arrived there were other beings who had existed already before their coming and in the wake of this new plague of destructive beings, these other beings retreated.

Those few that tried to interact with the humans were met with fear and hatred and chased from their once beautiful free home, with flaming brands and weapons. And thus the world was split in twain and the mortals seemed to encompass the globe, but the First Ones who had owned it originally, lurked in the dark forgotten places and survived and developed their own people in their own ways.

They were different from the mortals. Stronger, more skilled, their minds and bodies open to great powers that the spirits of divinity had blessed them with, they had the power of transformation, and control of the elements and many other wonderful skills. On occasion secrets from this world would slip from the shadows and reach the ears of the mortals and they would form the basis of their fairy tales and ghost stories and other legends. But these wonders thought merely to be fiction were true. Were real.

The first great clan was the witches, the originators of earthly-magic and the ones who the divine spirits powers shone most strongly from, next the therianthropes wolves, bears, cats and other animals that could take human form. after them many denizens of the spirit world of a less divine origin, ghouls and ghosts and vampires and other undead, these beings a greater mystery to their living breathing brethren. Other magical beings existed also, in fact any species that was thought myth by the mortals dwelled within their closed off sanctuaries, guarded and obscured from the outside world by darkness and the protective wards of the witches.

Most clans existed in harmony near enough, though the vampires eventually became a source of trouble to the other denizens of their world, having a greed and thirst for more than just blood, similar to the mortals. Indeed many whispered that vampires were human intruders who had delved too deeply into territory they should not and had been killed by the magics protecting this reality, revived by the spirits in some unfathomable act of mercy but ultimately still doomed by their warlike origins to bring chaos to the peace of the Other World until they too were wiped out.

The last great vampire leader had been a noble by the name of Baron von Zarkon, a humourless and dark being whose heart was as cold as the blood in his veins. Alone he should not have been so powerful but many had been enticed by this greedy ideals and the promise of power and betrayed their peoples. One of the great witch sages Honerva had betrayed her people to serve as his magic aid, among other able-bodied warriors.

After domineering and tyrannizing the other clans, leading to many deaths of the other clan leaders and disarray he disappeared in a battle to the death with a young hero from the wolf clan, both seemingly slain and the world was once more free to nurse their wounds and try to repair the damages that the vampires had done. Honerva known now by the traitor's name of 'Haggar' disappeared too though no body was ever found of her to confirm her passing.




Many years later the proceeding generation began to groom their new clan leaders. From the witches a boy of exceeding natural gifts was chosen. Tan freckled skin, and thickly curled locks and a pair of bright sapphire blue eyes like stars shining in the night sky. A bright impish smile and a youthful energy that was equally a source of strength and a source of trouble to him. They called him Lance, youngest son of the former Mother of their circle (Haggar had been their crone, but nobody spoke of her anymore, and any speaking of her name, or touching her possessions was deeply forbidden), and as with most witch rituals of ascension to power, he was chosen based not on his age, physical strength and proximity to the former leader, but based on the strength of the gift in him.

Indeed he was the most talented youth of his generation, it had been some centuries since a young warlock or witch had been born with such a strong affinity to the powers of nature. Lance's one major failing was that he was too curious. And the more he was told something was forbidden to investigate the more he HAD to know everything about it. Curiosity killed the cat as the saying goes, though perhaps cat is not the right animal for this tale...

Lance read voraciously every magic tome and spell book he could lay hands to, though he had actually no need to learn incantations thanks to the natural gifts that existed in his blood. Soon his appetite for knowledge couldn't be contained within the witches' territory and he set off to learn new things in the neighbouring lands. But people asking too many questions and seeking too much power were frowned upon in the days following such a catastrophic war that had cost many clans their homes and loved ones, and he was not well received by the other peoples of their secluded world. He was told abruptly to return to the safety of his own people and ask no more of these sorts of questions.

Of course to Lance this was essentially making it a necessity that he HAD to continue his mission. He had to know WHY these matters were taboo, he had been born after the war and seen none of its chaos and destruction only the aftermath, which granted was terrible, but shouldn't he be seeking power purely so he had the strength to right these wrongs? So that he could undo the harm that a leader of his people had caused with her betrayal?

Stowing away in his saddle pack the honorary pointed hat that his people wore and almost never removed out of respect to their ancestors, he donned a heavy concealing cloak and traveled on in disguise so that his actions would no longer reflect badly on the witch clan and he could find out the answers he was looking for. He ventured further and further off the beaten path, and into shadier and shadier territory seeking those who were not afraid to give him straight answers.

Eventually he found information in the Spirit realms by channeling the spirits of those who were slain in the war and learning from their tragic tales that the ultimate tome of power lay in the ruins of Baron von Zarkon's castle. Lance wasted not a moment in setting off to find what he eagerly assumed was the righteous destiny he had hoped for, the way he could save this world from its pain and become a great hero. Lance had always been over optimistic and threw caution to the wind about such matters.

The lands surrounding the castle were barren and void of life as if even the trees and plants would no longer grow here, so blighted by the horrors that had occurred on this ground and the blood spilled had forever destroyed the fertility of this land. Drawing his cloak closer about his person, Lance guided his very reluctant steed onward until even the animal wouldn't take a single step more and then he had to dismount, retrieving his hat and leaving the poor frightened animal to find her own way back to safer lands. Placing the hat back on his head as if to fortify his will and tell himself he wouldn't be spooked by the unnatural lifeless atmosphere here, he ventured into the castle.

It was difficult enough, traversing the vast echoing hallways cast in dark stone with gruesome gargoyles at every unexpected turn leering out at him like some infernal audience, the sheer size of the castle meant by the time he finally found the former vampire lord's study where his tomes were kept it was after nightfall and Lance was feeling very tired and very hungry and wishing that he hadn't sent his horse away with his bedroll and rations still attached to its saddle.

It was all very well thinking about future magical glory and heroism but if you hadn't the wherewithal to ensure your day to day survival it would all be for naught! Still, he was here now. He could grab the book, and backtrack to the nearest inn, he thought there had been one in the northern wolf clan's territory a few miles back. They had always been the closest neighbours to this castle and it had been their chieftain who had perished taking the monster out ultimately.

The wolves had been most suspicious about unknown travelers in their lands because of this traumatic history and Lance had already had to move stealthily through their territory on his way here, so he wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to come parading back fresh from the forbidden castle waving his flaunting of their taboos in their faces. That was how one got mauled by an angry pack! Still the growling of his stomach urged him to at least start think of believable alternate stories for his traveling these parts so that he could get some food and rest. Little did he know in a few short moments these problems would be taken away from him!

As he stepped into the gloomy forsaken study, he cursed the darkness, snapping his fingers to summon fire hovering above the digits as a torch to light the way, he found some old candlesticks and used the flame to light those, extinguishing his spell and looking around. Most of the contents of the library had been trashed by invaders. Probably wolves trying to ensure the harmful knowledge could never be misused again.

Lance cursed again, frustrated that he had traveled this far, risked so much and all for naught because those paranoid dogs had destroyed the tome!! As he was turning in disgust to sweep out of the castle in a foul mood, his boot made contact with something hard but smooth on the ground and he slipped landing hard on his posterior on the stone floor. Narrow brown fingers reached to swipe up the offending object muttering "And what in Haggar's cauldron is this supposed to be?" he spoke the words that were basically an expletive to witch people and would have earned him a paddling from his mother if she'd ever heard him utter them.

He saw the object in his hands was a large amulet, the chain still intact and the gemstone dulled and dusty but bearing no structural imperfections or cracks. Great. He'd come looking for a vampire's magic tome and found his tacky costume jewelry instead! He made a move to toss the amulet away with anger when suddenly it began to glow, the dim dulled gemstone shimmering a brilliant blood red, seeming to actually reflect back a red atmosphere on the walls and lighting his face and body in ghastly crimson hues.

Looking into the gemstone was near mesmerizing, the formerly flat smooth surface almost seeming to ripple and move, as if blood were flowing within the container. Lance found himself revolted and simultaneously spellbound so he couldn't look away. A voice in his subconscious whispered "Put me on, receive my power. You thirsted for ultimate strength, sate your thirst with this". Lance knew somewhere in his floundering rational-side that he shouldn't listen to spooky glowing red amulets that spoke to him and were found in evil vampire's lairs and yet resisting was like trying to chip oneself out from the inside of an ice-block.

His fingers moved by themselves and gently lifted the chain of the amulet over his head. The moment he did, the chains seemed to tighten, looping around and around his throat and digging in painfully to his flesh as if constricting like the coils of a huge snake trying to throttle the life from him, he felt it growing harder and harder to breathe, blackness closing in on his vision and regretting everything immensely. He should have listened to his Mother. He should have listened to the warnings of the other clans. He shouldn't have pursued this power so obsessively so he was prepared for it to come at any cost. Because a cost this terrible existed and he was clearly anything but prepared. Now he was going to die and there was nothing he could do to prevent it!

Choking out the faint words he tried to utter a prayer to the spirits, to save him from this agony and deliver his soul safely to the beyond, as his chin hit the dark warped floorboards of the room he was swept away in blackness convinced that he had died a deserving death because of his own wanton idiocy.

Light filtered gradually back to Lance's eyes unexpectedly when he thought he would never see again. Was he dead? His head was hurting so he guessed maybe not.... unless migraines also existed in the afterlife. His limbs were aching and his eyes could make little sense of the blur of his surroundings, squinting he tried to bring his vision back into focus. Why was it so hard to see? There was light in the room he could see and warmth. A great golden glow. That should be enough to clear his vision right?

Wait... light... warmth.... a golden glow.... Ack! Fire! He must have dropped the candle when he was convulsing on the floor with whatever that evil amulet had been doing to him. Now it was burning the floorboards and other tattered remnants of books, rugs, furniture etc. He tried to scramble to his feet but he was strangely unwieldy and toppled head over heel as if suddenly his limbs were all the wrong length and shape. In addition everything suddenly seemed to be huge, he saw his own hat lying a few feet away but it was now enormous like the size of a great big house towering over him.

What in the world had happened to him? Had he shrunk somehow? Been transformed? The latter seemed to be the case, as when he tried to bring his hands before his eyes, great elongated leathery wings filled his vision instead, their clawed tips feeling his face making out thick brown fur and an odd little snout and huge ears. A bat! He'd turned into a bat! But why? Was this another affect of the amulet? He could still feel the chain snared and tangled tightly around his throat, digging into the fur and causing pain when he moved his head too abruptly.

There wasn't time to dwell on the hows and whys now though. He seemed unable to will himself to change back no matter what spells and incantations he used, and the fire was becoming an inferno. He would perish in this death trap of a room if he did not escape. Flexing his new wings, he beat them a few times trying to get leverage. Trying to think like a bat and fly. It couldn't be that hard. Witches flew on brooms after all. It was just a case of thinking and feeling light.

Once he finally clumsily managed to get airborne he swooped to try and retrieve his hat. Ugh, heavy. But his mother would literally kill him if he let his hat a proud symbol of their clan burn. Even if she was probably going to kill him anyway for getting into this mess in the first place. Clutching the accessory in his weird little clawed feet he flapped urgently towards the open window. His vision was still utterly shit. Trust him to turn into something half blind like a bat! He couldn't have become something bigger or cooler? Oh well, first things first... escape...

The winds outside the castle were extremely fierce, a storm brewing and rain already starting to slash down from a sullen sky. Lance was buffeted about and crashed into various nightmarish gargoyle visages on his way down, ending up battered and bruised and exhausted in the mud at the base of the castle, leathery wings twitching weakly as he sucked in gasping breaths. He knew he ought to escape further but he was too tired, too weak and he ended up losing consciousness again just lying in a puddle of mud, pitiful and soaked by the rain.

The next time Lance awoke he was somewhere completely different. The terrible castle nowhere to be seen instead his eyes were greeted by a topsy-turvy view of the world. It took him a moment to realize he was upside down, his claws clinging exhaustedly to a thin branch that had been propped up between two stacks of books and secured from rolling away with large stones. Dropping back to the surface of the wooden desk below and righting his vision, he was able to make out somewhat blurrily that he was in some sort of wooden cabin, very simplistic and not much in the way of homely touches or decor. Not that he would be able to see much of it even if there had been decor. He felt truly exhausted through to the core, but at least he was dry and warm. His stomach growled loudly though advertising his state of near famishedness. What did bats eat again? Hopefully not bugs! He didn't want to start slurping down creepy crawlies because he was stuck in this form.

He heard heavy footsteps approaching and flinched behind the nearest stack of books, as the cabin door opened and a huge form strode into the room. His sense of smell said it was probably a wolf. There was that not quite human almost 'doggy' scent branded over the newcomer. They removed their cloak and ventured over to the table doing a double take presumably when they noticed Lance's absence and searching around, face coming close as if about to try and sniff out his location. Pale violet eyes met little round black bat eyes and a booming voice remarked with seeming relief "Ahh there you are! Easy now... you had quite a tumble, little friend. You shouldn't be venturing around yet, you might be injured"

A large hand reached to scoop Lance up and he was face to face abruptly with the stranger. At this distance and considering the massive scale of the clearly much larger being's face, it was easy to make out his features even with Lance's poor eyesight. Thick ebony coloured hair twisted around his shoulders, matching heavy dark brows and the aforementioned weirdly ethereally pale coloured violet eyes, the planes of the young wolf's face almost what one could describe as handsome.... if one found werewolves attractive. His long hair was a weird shaggy blend of lengths, shorter around the crown and bangs and long at the nape of the neck in a manner that wasn't exactly in keeping with current styles and trends among the people's of this world. When he spoke the shape of sharp fangs could be made out on his upper and lower jaws in an animal-like fashion, large hairy black ears twitching at the top of his scalp, and a bushy black furry tail sprouting above his rump and wagging seemingly in a friendly mood.

He thought Lance was some little woodland critter that had gotten caught up in the storm and injured. Oh boy. This would take some explaining! He tried to explain the situation to the lycanthrope beginning with 'Now look here my good... uh.... my good wolf...' but when he tried to utter the human tongue all that came out was little bat squeaks. Oh no! He couldn't talk? This situation was rapidly getting worse and worse!

Seeing the way the little bat in his hands seemed to deflate and look deeply upset, the young wolf sympathized, gingerly reaching with a clawed fingertip to lightly stroke between the large ears, on the weird clump of fur that almost resembled human hair. The little bat had been found in the forbidden area, with a weird pendant tangled around its throat and a pointed hat clearly belonging to a witch at its side. Perhaps it was some witches' familiar? He wouldn't put it past those meddlers in nature to try to enslave the fauna to their tricky untrustworthy will! He'd never trusted witches since his elder brother had died in a supposed 'magickal accident' that the witches' claimed was a terrible tragedy and completely unintentional on their part. Investigations had never been able to fully incriminate them enough to cause any real retaliation between the wolves and witches, but needless to say relations had been strained since then.

Before he could brood further on those thoughts another little growl of hunger issued from the stomach of the little creature in his hands and he chuckled softly in amusement "Hungry huh? I don't blame you. I'm famished myself! Lets get a little late dinner huh?" and he carried the bat over to the fireplace where a pot of stew was bubbling with some sort of game in it, probably rabbit judging by the smell. Seeing the bat's little nose wrinkle and dark eyes focus on him the wolf defended himself "It was caught in a hunter's trap! I didn't kill it myself. I try not to hurt the wildlife if it can be avoided. But everything has to eat and wolves need meat" he explained, pausing and shaking his head after "Why am I telling you for, you probably don't understand a word I'm saying..."

Setting Lance down on the table, the wolf scooped some stew into a bowl, he offered a spoonful to the little creature. Lance sniffed it but immediately turned up his nose. For some reason the meat smell wasn't appetizing to him at all. The wolf tilted his head "Don't like it huh? Want me to find you some worms or bugs?". Violent head shaking. Weird... it was almost like the bat could understand what he was saying! "Oh... then how about some fruit?" he fished into his pack finding a slightly bruised red apple which he sliced into segments using a sharp blade fastened in its sheath to his belt. Lance sniffed the fruit and made a small squeak of approval, waddling towards the slices and sinking his little teeth into the crisp flesh. He made short work of the segments, demolishing them and finding the meager morsel of food that would have barely sustained a hungry witch, was now a feast for a small bat.

Sitting back with a squeak of satisfaction, the wolf chuckled again reaching to ruffle the scruff of hair on the bat's head "You're a cute little fella aren't you? Guess I'll keep you as a companion until you're fit to fly free again". Lance snorted softly. He should have been offended at being treated as the pet of some wolf rube when he was the future chieftain of the witches, but today had been a very long very frightening very humbling experience and this wolf had shown him kindness so he wouldn't fault him on that.

Attempting to shuffle closer to the wolf he was reminded unpleasantly of the amulet still tangled around his throat digging in like a choke chain. The wolf frowned at his struggles and began to reach for him as if to remove the amulet if possible. Lance instinctively jerked back. He couldn't allow this guy to touch the amulet! What if he became cursed too? Then they would both be stuck forever as bats and as much as the guy smelled of dog-breath he was too nice to deserve a fate like that. Hopping and flitting away from the reaching fingers awkwardly he dragged the amulet with a low scraping sound hiding behind a stack of books again.

The wolf's expression was confused and a little hurt at the reaction "Hey! I wasn't going to hurt you! I was just trying to get that thing off you! Don't you trust me? Aw, and we were just starting to bond I thought..." his canine ears lay flat against his head unhappily and Lance felt a pang of guilt, sighing to himself. He was doing this for the wolf's own sake. He didn't want the guy cursed by this horrible thing!

The wolf sat back down with a heavy exhalation and remarked sullenly "I don't blame you being scared of people. You're a witches' familiar right? They put that horrible thing on you? If I was plucked from my natural habitat and used as a glorified tool I'd be pretty pissed at people too..." his expression darkened getting a turbulent stormy look in his eyes that had been pale lilac but were now more of a dark purple grey hue as he brooded aloud

"Especially if it involves witches. You can't trust them at all. They're evil greedy corrupt beings just like the vampires. And they're deceitful liars with their tricks too!" he exclaimed rising from his chair and pacing up and down on the rug tensely like an angry dog, ears held back and tail low, sharp teeth gleaming as he spat out the words, each syllable like an arrow through Lance's heart. This guy REALLY hated witches...

"Witches cost me my brother. We were never able to provide enough evidence to incriminate the murderer and their officials ruled it was a 'simple accident'. But I know my brother. He was smart and resourceful and he wouldn't have made a mistake on his own. THEY killed him and tried to cover it up!" his jaws were snapping now, eyes bearing an angry glow, lit by the fire to look almost infernal red rather than purple. Lance flinched behind the books a churning feeling of guilt and self-loathing beginning in his gut and traveling up his throat where it throbbed under his jaw and behind his eyes. He hadn't been involved in these incidents and yet as future chieftain he had inherited them all the same. The faults of his people were his problems to solve and he wasn't even sure where to begin.

He knew at the least he couldn't bring this guy's brother back. Death spells had been forbidden since the early days when this world had been formed because the results were usually horrible and barely human, legends said this was how half the undead had actually been created, in particular the ghouls, by trying to reanimate corpses. There was a reason that magic was forbidden. But seeing the way the wolf suffered because of his lost family, the pain that simmered under the anger, the suffering in those angry eyes, he wished he could find a spell that would give him his family back. Oh who was he kidding? He couldn't even undo this damn curse and turn himself back from a bat!

Sliding down behind the books he buried his little bat snout in his leathery wings and wept in silence, hating that he had been so arrogantly clueless when he'd set out from home and now he was in real trouble and knew truly how harsh the world was. That good people were suffering and he couldn't help them at all!

The wolf eventually calmed down and sat back in his chair sharpening his knife with a grim expression on his handsome features until Lance was swept away into sleep, a fitful restless night of dreams of war scenarios he'd never been alive to witness, and deaths he ought to know nothing about, it was as if all the chieftains of the past were reaching out to him in his sleep and showing him the mistakes of his people as a parade of shame, urging him to fix them and remove this shame from their people. To restore the honour of the Witch clan.

When Lance awoke again it was morning and he felt very very strange. He had fallen asleep behind the books but when he woke up he was lying flat on his back on the floor. At first he assumed he had simply rolled and fallen off the desk during his fitful night of tossing and turning with horrible nightmares. But then he realized the scale of things had changed again. What had been ginormous to his bat eyes when he'd fallen asleep now seemed average size. Almost pokey in fact. He sat up rubbing his head and was surprised to find a human brown arm came into his vision instead of a bat's wing. Giving a gasp of shock he reached to feel his face and body pleased to see it had reverted to it's mortal size and shape. No fur. No wings. No huge bat ears. Even his vision seemed to be a tad clearer this morning. He was of course completely nude but that was a problem he could focus on later. If he was human again he could get out of here, get back to his people!

A sharp twinge around his throat stopped his excitement and as he rose his hand he found the accursed chain still stuck tangled around his neck, the chain looped tightly around the brown skin leaving white marks and bruising, as well as sore red chafe marks where the metal had rubbed there. No amount of tugging would remove the damn thing. He stood a bit wobbly on his feet and looked around for some sort of reflective surface. Mirrors had been introduced to this world recently from scouting missions into the human word to report on their technology and Lance was seldom without his own, but it seemed like this wolf didn't own one at all. Blast. He did however find a nice piece of armor with a shiny surface, holding it up to try and examine his face just to check there were definitely no lingering batty features.

Nothing reflected back. Nothing at all. Just the cabin behind him. Ugh really? This thing had to be broken. He could see to his relief that the wolf seemed to be out right now. Probably getting breakfast. He found a large spare cloak hanging by the door though and slipped that on to conceal his nudity before going to try and find the nearest stream to check his reflection and wash his face. As he neared the river however he felt an immense force seeming to push him away, literally repelling him from the running water. What? Why? What in the name of the Witch trinity was going on? Dropping to a crawl and trying to force himself close to the water in spite of how immensely painful it became the closer he got, he managed to peer over the edge. No reflection again! This was really beginning to get spooky!

He frowned then flinched as something sharp indented his lower lip, reaching up to his mouth to find sharp curved white fangs were suddenly descending from his previously normal humanoid upper jaw and pressing into his lower lip, throbbing a little from hunger. What.... was... happening to him? He had no reflection... couldn't get near to running water... had fangs... Oh no!

Suddenly everything made sense! The weird blood-like rippling of the amulet, the fact he'd found it in a vampire's castle and the fact it had turned him into a bat. He was.... he was....

"Don't make a move vampire!" a familiar voice sounded behind him, and his heart sank. The wolf had returned and he sounded angry. Lance slightly turned his head so he could look over his shoulder, and he saw the other male bristling with rage, holding a weapon out with hands trembling with fury, ears laid back and eyes doing that glowy anger thing again  "I'm not sure how you managed to survive the cull of your filthy species but you're going to regret invading my home and taking my brother's cloak, I swear an oath on it" the voice growled, laced with fury, fangs and claws bared and seemingly gearing up to fight to the death.

Lance closed his eyes turning completely around to face the wolf and held his arms away from his chest, replying in a sorrowful tone he barely recognized as his own voice "Okay... go ahead..."

Chapter Text

Lance closed his eyes waiting for the long lethally sharp blade the wolf was holding to plunge into his heart or worse strike his head from his shoulders. He'd made a set of stupid stupid choices that had lead him down this path and ultimately this was his karma. He may not have personally killed this wolf's brother but he was the leader of the people who had, their guilt was his guilt. His burden to bear.

The killing blow never came however. Instead rough fingertips grabbed the pendant around his throat, tugging it a little so he winced slightly cracking open one blue eye to regard the wolf questioningly, seeing he was examining the pendant, he instinctively jerked back, both eyes widening. He'd touched it! He would get cursed too! At this point normally his breath would have started coming a little faster and his pulse would have quickened in panic, but he was a vampire now so he had no pulse and didn't need to breathe at all.

The look of fear in his eyes though caught the wolf's attention and he looked up sharply, violet eyes glowering bad-temperedly at Lance scoffing "Never thought I'd see a vampire look so scared. If you think tricks and head-games will work on me you're wrong..." he growled before giving the pendant a tug that made the chain dig into Lance's throat and cause him to yelp. No breathing/heartbeat or otherwise he was apparently still fully capable of feeling pain.

"This thing about your throat.... you were the bat weren't you? Did you think to take advantage of my hospitality with tricks and then dispatch me when my guard was lowered?" the growling voice continued and when Lance averted his eyes unable to reply because his stupid sense of guilt was too overpowering to let him preserve himself when he had indeed undeservingly accepted the wolf's hospitality, however much the other part of the statement about dispatching him was untrue.

The wolf snorted "I thought as much. You picked the wrong target though. Now you're MY plaything. And I'll have my fun with you before I end you. A vampire deserves a slow torturous death like the great warriors of my clan suffered during the war. You cowardly monsters couldn't even give them the mercy of a quick honorable dispatch, you and that filthy witch had them spellbound, turned them against their own loved ones then let them perish at the hands of their families, mindless beasts beyond salvation. You have no surviving family I'll wager, a last fragment of trash that slipped through the net, so I cannot give you the same fate. But I'll make sure you regret existing!"

The words were heated with anger, those violet eyes so close with flecks of infernal red dancing in them like sparks from a funeral pyre that would incinerate Lance where he stood if he stared straight at them. He licked his lips. He wanted to explain. He wanted to tell the wolf about the curse, that he'd had nothing to do with the war. But judging by this guy's hatred of witches too he wasn't convinced that would help matters at all. And that all encompassing sense of guilt at the back of his mind whispered insidiously  'You deserve his hatred. You're a witch. The leader of witches no less. Their sins are your sins. It's your duty to burn at the stake for your people...'

Lance closed his eyes feeling exhausted and hollow, he was hungry again too and his newly formed fangs throbbed with thirst, stomach growling. The wolf smirked, a grim parody of the same amused expression he'd worn the previous night when the same had occurred with Lance's bat form. This time however he couldn't win the other over with his cuteness "Hungry, you leech? Want to drink some innocent's blood?" he sneered, the expression on his face a mixture of contempt and mockery.

Lance finally found his voice again and remarked "Hardly. If you remember anything from last night, I turned down your meat offerings for fruit". He couldn't explain that at all however, not even to his own mind. Vampires drank blood. It was a known fact. Why had he ended up a fruit bat that only wanted fruit? The wolf scoffed in response "Trickery. You wanted me to think you were docile so you could lull me into a false sense of security"

Lance rolled his eyes "Have you even encountered a vampire before? If one really wanted to drink blood and was as hungry as I am, you wouldn't be standing there sassing me back about it. Weapon or no weapon. Vampires have superior speed and strength. Even over werewolves. It's textbook knowledge really..."  he didn't know where this smart-mouth side of him had sprung up from. Something about the wolf provoked it, like he was naturally inclined to rivalry and taunting with the other.

Another jerk on the chain around his neck quickly shut him up, and he watched the wolf, his blue eyes since the change now icy pale and seeming to almost glow with their own light. The curse had yet to affect this damn wolf in any way so clearly it could only afflict one victim at a time. Lucky him being the chosen one!

The stare-down lasted a few more minutes before the wolf surprisingly averted his gaze as if staring at Lance for too long was difficult, his lip curled back from his sharp teeth growling "You certainly seem like the type to play those sorts of dirty tricks. With your ethereal beauty to tempt the weak and gullible!"

This caused Lance to blink blink a few times in utter confusion, tilting his head as much as the chain and the wolf's grip on it would allow  "You... think I'm beautiful?". If the situation hadn't been so serious the newly turned vampire might have laughed at the way the wolf's entire form seemed to bristle, a shudder going through him and the hair on his ears standing on end, tail going nearly bottle brush "W-Well obviously! I have eyes... it's not like it means anything though! I still think you're a disgusting leech!" he snapped, and Lance could almost swear that the faintest hint of pink was on his face.

Lance for his part was unable to blush because his heart was no longer pumping blood anywhere, but he was flattered by the compliment, even if it was soured by the insult that followed. Then again if he hadn't actually BEEN a vampire he would have probably agreed with the wolf about vampires being disgusting leeches. He sighed and pouted a little "Look I'm not even a proper vampire. Not really. Not originally. This stupid thing around my neck is cursed. It made me into this thing and if I could actually take it off or reverse the spell I would!" his blue eyes tried to seek the wolf's violet ones imploring him.

The wolf wouldn't meet his gaze "A likely story. Did you think I was born yesterday? That I'm just going to instantly believe whatever lie you invent to try and get to me?" he was growling again, actually growling like a mistrustful dog that has found a stranger on its master's property. Lance lost his patience and snapped back "You stupid mutt! I'm telling you the truth and you won't even listen! I'm not a vampire! I'm a witch dammit!" he blurted out the words, his temper causing sparks of blue flame to come to his fist, which proved the point because vampires definitely did NOT have magic abilities.

The wolf's gaze darted from the blue fire in his palm and back to the other's face, "So you're a witch? I hate witches too, so that won't work to soften my view of you!" he bit back, the heat in his stare blistering enough that Lance actually almost felt his skin begin to smoulder under it, although it didn't really happen. He pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled deeply "I know witches hurt you... I wish I could do something to help or reverse that so that you'd see, I'm not a horrible person. I was naive I didn't know how deeply the war had affected people. It was before my time and my people try to move on and forget their shameful past. We just want to make amends... we want to return to our honorable roots. Before SHE corrupted everything and destroyed our reputation!"

Lance hated the whiny note to his voice, he wanted to sound strong, but he was just a stupid kid who had grown up playing with his siblings making daisy chains and finding fairy rings to pluck toadstools for spell ingredients. He only knew what the books told him and witches had destroyed most of the books about the war out of shame and trying to erase their sins. He looked down at the ground tightening his hands into fists.

The wolf stayed silent for some minutes then remarked coldly "You can't do anything. You can't undo your people KILLING my brother. You can't bring him back. And I don't need your pity!" he dropped Lance's chain suddenly aggressively "I changed my mind, I don't want something like you hanging around me, you'll probably kill me next with your twisted spells. A leech I could have had some fun with. But I've no desire to be anywhere near a traitorous witch!". He sheathed his sword as if Lance was already beneath his attention and too pathetic to worry about seriously as a threat, turning his back to stop away.

Lance fell to his knees by the river, fangs digging painfully into his bottom lip as he wept, not sure how his dead body could still produce tears but not really questioning it. Unbeating or nay his heart hurt with the words of the wolf, the accusations leveled at him. Not a single lie had been spoken and he knew it. He was something shameful and disgusting. He should feel bad for what witches had done.

When he could cry no more and pressed onward by the nagging pain of hunger in his stomach, Lance rose, thankful the wolf had at least left him the cloak he'd taken, even if it supposedly belonged to his beloved late brother. He stumbled through the trees disorientated and dirty because he could not wash himself in the stream thanks to the affect running water had on him. He was thankful that as a vampire he couldn't feel the cold that he otherwise ought to be feeling running around in the nude like this. Worse he had left his hat in the wolf's cabin, so he couldn't even return to his clan since it was a mark of shame among witch people to lose one's hat and even if they had believed him about the curse turning him into a vampire they would have shunned him because of the old traditions.

It hurt him to think of his smiling siblings and loving mother her warm arms and gentle mannerisms, turning away from him because he had not appreciated the blessed life he had and gone on this fool's errand ultimately dooming himself to a life or rather unlife of hatred and solitude. Lance was a very social person and the idea of enduring as long as vampires purportedly lived, completely alone and shunned by everyone or outliving even the people who did give him a chance was just pure pain to him.

He was moping quietly to himself on this front when a glimpse of something red caught his eye. A sweet smell on the air. Fruit. An orchard nearby. It was behind a wall but he could see ripe succulent reddish pears dangling fat and tempting from the boughs and the thought of the wealth of juice in something like that had him salivating in desperation. He stumbled almost blindly towards the fruits hands outstretched and collided with what seemed like an invisible barrier

What? Noooo! The fruit! He needed the fruit! His stomach was cramping from hunger and he was near hallucinating imagining sinking his newly formed fangs into the reddish flesh, the way they would puncture and spill the sweet sweet nectar on his tongue. In spite of not needing to draw breath, he was aware he was making an embarrassing gasping sound of desperation, like a fish out of water, or a starving dehydrated man in a desert trying with the last ounce of his strength to reach an oasis, only to find it a cruel mirage. Why was fate mocking him? Why could he not access the fruit?!?!

Then he remembered with a sigh. The wall. This was someone's garden. And a garden was considered an extension of someone's home. And vampire's could not enter someone's home without invitation. Honestly how had these guys wrought such terror and pain on the world when they had THIS MANY restrictions and limitations. Clearly they had needed the witches' assistance to be a threat at all. The wolf had been right, this whole thing was witches' fault ultimately. Haggar's treachery had not only afflicted her own people but the whole of the hidden world!

He dropped to a miserable slump by the wall that was blocking his access to the fruit, just out of reach and hunched in on himself wishing he could go back in time somehow and punch the lights out of the naive foolish him who had set out from home playing with fire and putting himself in danger thinking he could pretend like a child at having an adventure. Bored of the painless life of privilege he had lead. Karma was really giving him what he deserved for his idiocy

Just then he heard heavy footsteps approaching and fearful because of the wolf's reaction to seeing him, he yanked the hood of the cloak up to try and conceal his vampiric features, diving for the undergrowth and peering out fearful like a skittish wild animal with glowing blue eyes at the intruder.

It was a large dark-skinned male, with a strange yellow bandana wrapped around his forehead and small black rounded furry ears in his hair similar to the wolf's. But this was evidently not a wolf. Another were though, he reckoned by the smell. The male didn't seem to notice him at first, coming with a small knife and cutting fruit from the trees filling a basket. Lance found himself heavy 'breathing' again and drooling as his stomach destroyed his attempts at hiding by loudly gurgling its displeasure at being kept from food.

The male turned in surprise at the sound calling out in alarm "Who's there!" Lance cringed and backed up a few steps in the undergrowth causing the bushes to rustle and further announce his presence. So much for vampires being stealthy hunters!

The large were hesitated, at first nervous then the longer the time passed in silence and no attack happened on his person the more he calmed down "You're just as scared of me as I am of you huh? Don't worry, I'm not much of an attacker. You should come out though, lurking in bushes might make the neighbours think you're up to no good..." the voice was coaxing him. It had a sweet honeyed tone that was very soothing and nothing like the harsh barks of words that the wolf had spat at him (though his brain reminded him pointedly that that had only been AFTER he'd changed to this form, the wolf had spoken gently and kindly to the bat version of him!)

Almost fearfully he ventured from the bushes, prepared to bolt if it seemed like an attack was imminent. He didn't want to end up staked or beheaded or burnt, or whatever other things a were might do upon discovering he was a vampire. Apparently though his disguise worked because the were, although a little surprised to see Lance was a person and not an animal as he'd thought, seemed not to panic or become threatening at all. He gave the miserable cloaked newly turned vampire the once over, noting the bare trembling legs and wrongly assuming the anxiety causing them to shake was actually because of cold.

The expression and tone softened more "Oh! You poor thing! Are you lost? You must be starving! You're a refugee from that village that recently got attacked aren't you? The one that the demon clan tried to claim for their own?" the were bear was coming out the gate of the garden now and approaching Lance who was paralyzed unsure whether to just nod and let the were help him which could ultimately lead to another potentially worse confrontation if he was found to be lying, or to tell the truth and remove all doubt that he'd be speared through with the nearest pointed wooden object to hand. Yeah... that was a no. He'd have to lie and hope he could slip away before he was discovered. He hated that his survival now counted on doing all the things the wolf had accused him of doing.

Large hands reached for his exposed forearm to try and lead him back towards the garden, flinching a little as they felt how cold Lance's skin was "Spirits above! You're like ice! How long have you been wandering these woods?! No more discussion and no arguments! Come on. Inside now" the voice had found strength in spite of it's earlier fear and now with something to 'mother' the were seemed content to usher Lance gently but forcefully towards the garden gate.

Lance expected to meet resistance again but this time there was nothing obstructing him. It must be because the garden's owner had invited him inside. He would have to make sure this kind but naive person understood the dangers of doing that before he departed, but right now he was so exhausted and hungry that he didn't resist much as he was lead into yet another wooden cabin a bit larger and more homely than the wolf's had been. Clearly this were liked to take care of not only people but his home as well. A large log fire was roaring and although Lance could no longer feel temperatures, the warm glow of light was aesthetically comforting to him.

The were sat him down by the fire and bustled about fetching warm clothes, though obviously his were a good deal bigger than Lance's lanky form. The chunky sweater that Lance was handed almost buried him, the sleeves almost covering his pallid (though still tan) fingers. He refused to remove his cloak to change with the were watching though, speaking in soft tones "Please... d-don't look..." which the were nodded, respecting his need for privacy thinking he was shy when in fact Lance wanted to hide his vampirism. When he was dressed with pants held up by a large belt and the aforementioned over-sized sweater, he returned the hood of his cloak to conceal his face again and let the were know he could turn back around.

The were tilted his head at the fact his strange guest was hiding his face, but didn't question it. Perhaps he had some sort of disfiguring scar that he didn't want people seeing. He fetched the basket of pears, some freshly baked bread and other goodies, setting them out by the cloaked stranger, who descended on the pears with all the desperation of a rabid animal, plucking them with speed, the fruit disappearing into the hood and returning demolished down to the core less than a few seconds later. The were blinked "Wow! You really were hungry, huh?"

He pulled up another chair and lowered his weight into it gratefully "I'm Hunk by the way, sorry I didn't introduce myself before... not used to getting many visitors in this neck of the woods, pardon the pun" he smiled in an easy going way, showing his teeth were sharp like most weres but still somehow exuded a relaxing gentleness, that said he could bite but he didn't really feel like it. Lance looked up from his 12th pear and wiping his mouth with the back of a hand responded uncharacteristically stoic "Lance" , "Lance? That your name?" the were asked, rubbing his chin "That's a strange name for a were Lance, you don't smell all that much like a were either..."

Ah here it came. Karma was about to yank the rug out from under him again. Just when he was getting settled and comfortable. He flinched averting his head towards the fireplace muscles half prepared to rise and run if it came to a fight or flight scenario. He wouldn't hurt this kind person who had unknowingly helped a monster. But then the were was shrugging "Sorry, it's none of my business who or what you are. You're not a threat to me at least. If you were you would have attacked me by now. That's enough for me. It's nice to meet you Lance" a large brown hand with slightly sharp black nails and a little bit of fur-like hair on the backs of it reached out to shake and Lance thought his heart would break for the second time that day. Why was this guy so NICE?!

Swiping at his suddenly moist eyes he reached tentatively to let the large warm brown hand enclose his slender cold one "Likewise Hunk... you have no idea how welcome a friendly face is right now"

Chapter Text

As the hours progressed and Lance got steadily more comfortable in the presence of the friendly and welcoming were boy his guard gradually lowered. He still kept his hood up of course even though he knew from the curious glances of his host that the other must think that he would be sweating wearing it on top of the chunky knitwear he'd been loaned and sitting next to a roaring log fire. He wished he could explain to the other he didn't feel temperatures like cold and heat anymore, but that would simply open a can of worms he wasn't prepared to deal with right now.

In any event Hunk seemed all too willing to fill the lack of information on his guest's side with little bits of trivia and tales and jokes about himself and his family and his friends etc. Lance again thought that this guy was way too open with strangers and felt an urge to protect this naive soul from the inevitable hurt that would come his way if he was so open with the wrong person.

He'd learned Hunk was a were bear which explained his small rounded ears compared to the wolf's. When he subtly mentioned he'd met a werewolf previously, Hunk immediately seemed to react to the physical description with familiarity "Oh! You mean Keith! He's one of my nearish neighbours. He was part of the chieftain's family, but I don't think he was blood-related to them. I never asked him directly but I think their family found and adopted him as a young cub. He was always very close with his adopted brother until the tragedy.

The bear's soft features looked a little sad and wistful then, as if knowing that someone he considered a close friend was in pain was difficult for him. Lance remembered what the wolf had said about how witches had caused his brother's death and looked down at the cloak he was wearing. A dead man's cloak. Fitting really now that he was a dead man himself. Still the guilt made his stomach churn and his behavior become quieter and more remorseful. He had been angry at the wolf when he'd parted from him, but now he only felt sorrow that this individual had been through so much pain in his short life and he not only couldn't help him but actively only caused more pain by reminding him of everything he'd lost. He made a mental note to return the cloak as soon as he was safe to do so.

The talk continued until the cabin began to get darker, lit now only by the fireplace and the shadows of furniture growing longer. Glancing down at the floor Lance was alarmed to see he didn't even cast a shadow now. No reflection. No pulse. No breath. No shadow. Did he even really still exist? He wondered if this was how the spirits felt, seeing the goings on in the mortal world and unable to connect with it except to offer words and blessings through spiritual contracts and channeling.

Before he could dwell on the thought longer however a sudden pain hit him, causing him to involuntarily hunch in on himself, little spasms of agony causing his limbs to tremble. The pendant around his throat was glowing red again and the disturbance broke Hunk from his rambling about various baking experiments leaning to touch Lance's shoulder in confusion "Hey? Lance? Are you alright?"

Lance's shoulders were heaving at this point a bone splintering pain jabbing down his limbs as if they were being stretched on a rack, simultaneously he felt burning hot though he shouldn't feel heat at all. This had nothing to do with the fireplace though, it was an internal heat and magic borne. The heat seemed to be shriveling him up, and he felt the already loose garments grow looser still on his body. He was shrinking? Then it made sense. His bat form. He was turning back into that. The curse must work that he was a humanoid vampire during the day but a bat at night!

He was in serious peril though of being discovered and lunged from his chair whilst he was still capable of doing so, brushing off Hunk's concerned attempts to touch him, as he tried to run to the door and escape. He didn't make it. The adrenaline of fear in his body only accelerated the change and once again he hit the floor shrinking rapidly until only a pile of clothes remained, his tiny furry bat body hunched and trembling in terror within the mound of clothing, desperately hoping the bear wouldn't discover him and put two and two together.

Hunk for his part was completely bemused. He'd had a guest sitting here, he'd eaten his food, and worn his clothes, he'd listened to his stories and kept him company he knew he hadn't imagined him. And yet now only a pile of clothes remained. He bent to retrieve the clothes scratching his head when something small and brown shot out of it with a shrill squeak of terror. A bat! He got only a glimpse of it but it had a strange pendant caught around its throat almost embedded in the fur in a way that looked uncomfortable, the jewelry clearly too big and heavy to be made for a creature so small. It clumsily tried to fly into the rafters, but the weight of the pendant meant it was difficult to stay airborne and it kept falling back to the ground, seeming to exude frustration and a strong sense of fear.

Hunk watched the little creature for a few minutes, looking from it to the pile of clothes that Lance had been wearing and then back at the bat and specifically at the pendant. After a minute he ventured in confused tones "Lance?". The little bat froze, turning its head to look at him with a distinct look of terror on its tiny features, as Hunk stepped closer the bat began to desperately try and shuffle away looking for the nearest safe hiding place. It was scared of him. Dark brows came crashing together "You're... Lance aren't you? What... what happened to you? Are you cursed?" he was questioning. He didn't SOUND angry or like he wanted to kill Lance, just like he was trying to understand everything.

Lance paused in his desperate attempts to scurry away. The bear had been so nice to him that it was difficult now to shun him and run away like he ought to be doing. Self-preservation demanded it, but instead like the idiot he was he stopped in his tracks and turned lifting his little snout to look up at the now huge face leaning over him. At the question about whether he was cursed he exhaled and nodded, already knowing he couldn't verbally respond in this form. Couldn't explain the situation.

Hunk rubbed his chin thoughtfully "You're not a were then. I thought as much. You smelled all wrong for a were. Though I was picking up on a vague animal scent. I guess this explains that. Is it this thing that's cursing you?" he gestured to the pendant but tried not to touch it out of uncertainty. Lance nodded again, trying to gesture with his wing arms so he could explain. Hunk watched him, expressions ranging between serious contemplation and obviously finding Lance's charades excessively adorable and trying to suppress the urge to squee at how cute he was.

The gestures didn't make a whole lot of sense though, and after a minute or so the bear rose and went to find a writing implement and a scrap of parchment for the bat, estimating he was probably the right size to hold a quill pen though wondering if he would have the dexterity. Lance seemed to understand the task required of him, grasping the quill in his little wing claws and struggling to waddle to the paper and drag the freshly inked tip across the surface. His writing in this form was childish clumsy scrawl but was at least semi legible.

Cursed. Pendant came from castle. Shouldn't have gone in. Can't take it off. Made me into this thing

Hunk read the words and frowned at Lance "From the castle? What were you doing there in the first place? The castle is forbidden everyone knows that". Lance's head lowered and he scrawled with the pen

Stupid. Wanted the spell books. This is my punishment

Hunk sighed after he read the latest set of words "Well not gonna argue on the first part buddy, but you just had some bad luck it seems. You wanted spellbooks? I guess you were a witch then?" he was giving Lance a thoughtful look and rubbing his chin again. Lance flinched a little and nodded wearing the guiltiest expression it was possible for a bat to wear. He wrote another response

Yes. A witch. My name is Lance McClain. I never meant to lie to you. Sorry.

Hunk read this and gave a start as he read the name scrawled on the page "McClain? Like the family that are current rulers of the witch clan? You're part of them? Wow! You guys are direct descendants from one of the first founders of the Hidden World! You're almost like... like Witch Royalty!" he exclaimed sounding rather more excited than like he hated Lance for being a witch or lying to him.

Lance tilted his head in confusion. He let the quill pen do the talking for him

Why aren't you mad? The other were wanted to kill me. Said all witches deserve to die.

Hunk sighed "Well I'm a little hurt that we talked this long and you never told me you were a witch, but I guess in the circumstances I understand and I'm not the type to hold grudges, so we're good. But Keith's a different kettle of fish. He has trauma with witches. Like I said his brother Shiro died on witch turf so I can't really say he's WRONG exactly to be mistrustful when a witch shows up out of the blue"

Lance let a tiny half sigh half squeak and his wings drooped, looking sad and guilty all at the same time. Hunk reached his large fingertips being careful with the claws to lightly stroke his head, reminding the little bat of the way the wolf Keith had gently petted him before realizing who and what he was. Once again the emotions were overwhelming and he brought his wings up to cover his snout, spilling tears. This was the breaking point for Hunk who made a strangled squeal of adoration and sympathy, scooping up the little bat and nuzzling him against his cheek

"Don't worry little buddy. Keith will come around I'm sure of it. You just gotta prove to him that you're not like other witches. Maybe we can find something for you to do that'll get you in his good favors?" he suggested. Lance snuffling and blinking back the tears that blurred his already bad vision lifted his head to look at the were thinking. What could he do to prove he was a good witch? Obviously nothing in this form, he was too small and uncoordinated and weak as a bat. He would have to wait for morning and then there'd be another issue to address. The fact that his new host only knew half the truth about his current identity. And he was absolutely NOT relishing that conversation!

Sleep was impossible for the small bat, anxiety about the many unknown possibilities all potentially dangerous to his continued existence making him wide awake. That and he supposed bats were meant to be nocturnal. He was sure he had only slept so soundly the night before due to lingering effects of exhaustion from newly transforming. He should expect many more sleepless nights in his future. That was if he even survived the next morning!

When dawn finally came over the horizon and the painful process of changing back occurred, he dropped convulsing and almost foaming at the mouth as his body stretched and malformed, bones reshaping, wings shriveling, ears shrinking, fur punching its way back into his skin as if someone had set the surface on fire, then tried to put it out with pure alcohol. Gods and Spirits it hurt! How in the Hidden Kingdom had he ever slept through this before? It seemed impossible with how dramatic the process was. How painful it felt. It was like he was being beaten with sticks and stoned at the same time. He had no shame in admitting he wept like a baby and howled like an animal.

Finally his vampiric form returned, but he was too exhausted to try and crawl to the clothes that had been left out for him. He couldn't don the cloak and conceal his pallid face with its unnaturally glowing blue eyes, curved fangs and pointed ears that could not possibly belong to a mere witch. That could only belong to a vampire.

Eventually the noise roused Hunk who thinking there was an intruder came out wielding a large frying pan with a skittish look on his face. For such a large were he was certainly a jumpy fellow! His gaze fell to the floor seeing the weakened naked Lance and immediately taking stock of his non-witch features. He shrieked and swung the frying pan automatically with a clang "Aaaah vampire!"

Lance had expected this reaction but it hurt all the same to be proved right when Hunk had shown such understanding and promise. He flinched scurrying backwards from the heavy blows, involuntarily hissing a little in fear, his glowing eyes showing pinprick pupils like a frightened cat. But he didn't attack Hunk and eventually that caught the were's attention followed by the familiar pendant around the creature's neck "Oh..." he said slowly and lowered the frying pan

"Y-You're Lance right? I thought you said you were a witch?" he spoke slowly sounding confused and a little anxious as if he had lost his faith in the person in front of him. Lance's fearful face, collapsed into a picture of sorrow mumbling "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... didn't mean to lie... scared you'd kill me.... this... is part of the curse... I'm a... a vampire..." he flinched again expecting Hunk to grab a stake and plunge it into his heart right there and then.

Hunk sat down heavily on the floor breathing hard "You need to stop springing these surprises on me man... you're going to give me a heart attack soon!" he remarked trying to get his breathing back to normal. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them for some minutes before Hunk ventured "So.... vampire huh? I'm starting to understand why Keith was so hostile with you... he's shy but he's never usually that aggressive..."

Lance hung his head further, wrapping his long arms around his bare kneecaps and rocking back and forth "Can't help being this way... curse did it to me... know it's my fault for going to the castle but.... never wished for this... don't want to attack anyone... don't want blood... not dangerous I swear" his blue eyes were looking at Hunk now, not glowing quite so brightly now, and the pupils a normal size, the expression as close to a kicked puppy as it was possible for a vampire to look.

Hunk sighed "You're putting me in an awkward situation here Lance... I can believe you, knowing that you've done no harm to me when you had plenty of opportunity. Or I can believe one of my own kind who is my friend...." he remarked seriously, his brown eyes intense as if trying to convey to Lance that he had done wrong by lying. Lance knew it already. He staggered to his feet limbs still aching from the ferocity of the change so he stumbled a little "I'll go... sorry... I never meant to.... I just wanted to be safe....I never meant to lie..."

Tears were flowing from his eyes again as he moved to pick up the cloak leaving the rest of the garments on the floor as if thinking he didn't deserve to take them because he had treated his host so disgustingly just like he'd done to Keith, taking advantage of their kindness yet again. Just like a witch, touching things and leaving only blight and ruin. Hunk reached to grab his shoulder firmly preventing him leaving "Don't run. That won't fix anything. I had to be stern with you so you understood you did a bad thing. But honestly if what had happened to you had happened to me I'm sure I would react the same. It doesn't give you a pass from the consequences though. You're going to have to make it up to me at some point, okay?"

Lance looked at Hunk, blinking in surprise. He didn't want to banish him or kill him? He wanted to give him a chance to make amends? Was this guy a divine spirit in disguise on the mortal realms or something?! He nodded fervently "Please... please I'll do it... I want to make it right... please let me..." he sobbed and the were-bear rolled his eyes a little but in a gentle way, reaching to pat the cold shoulder of the witch turned vampire "Alright first step dry those tears, and put your clothes back on. You're going to help me make breakfast, then we can brainstorm about the Keith problem" he said with an optimistic tone and a warm encouraging smile for the trembling vampire.

Lance tried to lift his quivering lips into a mirrored response of the were's smile, his fangs somewhat spoiling the image, but thankfully rather than being scared Hunk seemed to find the awkwardness of the expression adorable, putting a companionable arm around the shoulders of the vampire and leading him towards the kitchen.

As it turns out no brainstorming was really needed as the two didn't even make it through breakfast before they were interrupted by a visitor at the door. Lance immediately pulled his hood back up to conceal his features, but the intruder didn't enter, instead speaking in hushed tones to Hunk in the doorway. The bear abruptly exclaimed "What? How long ago?" followed by "Infernal spirits! This is what happens when the boundaries aren't regularly maintained and left to decay!"

When the messenger of whatever the trouble was had gone away Lance rose to venture to Hunk's side, the sun had fully risen by now and it was uncomfortably bright to his vampiric eyes. He was thankful that the rumors that vampires turned to ashes under sunlight was just an exaggeration. They were weakened and uncomfortable by it, that much was true and needed to cover up because they were really prone to burning, but the effects were generally no worse than really bad sun stroke.

None the less short of shielding his eyes with his hand he let his concerns about the were's agitated state take priority asking him "What is it?". Hunk was already bustling with tools and looked up his normally smiling mouth a hard line showing he was uncharacteristically angry  "Humans. They've broken through the barrier again and set traps in the northern woods. There's a particularly idiotically bold group who have been trying to hunt a supernatural creature to keep as some trophy that our world exists. They cannot be allowed to do that, or the safety we've come to take for granted here will be in jeopardy!"

Lance thought carefully about what the task would entail. Someone to dispose of the traps and someone to repair the issues with the barrier spell. The latter he could do. His mother had shown he and his siblings barrier spells early on in their magical learning, so that they could protect things and people important to them if necessary. Lance remembered it well. The only doubt was whether he was capable of a spell of that level in his transmuted state. He could summon fire, but fire was a basic level elemental spell. Warding spells were a lot more complex.

He clenched his fist. He could worry about the details later. For now he was being presented with an opportunity to be useful "Please let me help. I know barrier spells. I can try to fix the problem area that's letting the humans get in" he spoke up. Hunk looked at him thoughtfully "Are you sure you can do it with your curse?" , "Fairly sure. I can still do magic, I just can't seem to remove this damn pendant. But other spells have worked. Please let me try..." he asked, blue eyes pleading.

Hunk sighed and nodded "We've not much choice I guess. The village won't let any other witches in to fix the barrier so it's been dilapidated for a while. I kept trying to tell them it needed to be repaired, but of course they won't listen to me...". Lance swallowed back his trepidation at those words. So it wasn't just Keith. All the weres hated witches. All except Hunk it seemed. He'd really found a saint. But it meant this was going to be much more dangerous for him. Even if he did these people a favor by fixing the wards he was just going to be advertising his witch status and things would be even worse if they found out he'd been snooping round the castle and about his vampire curse. He had a lot to lose by helping out.

But he'd promised he'd try to pay back Hunk and he still wanted to prove he was a good person, so for the sake of those things he'd have to take the plunge and pray that he somehow survived this. "Take me to the wards... I'll do my best" he spoke steadily, determination flashing in his blue eyes. Hunk nodded with an encouraging smile "I hope you can buddy!"

On the way to the wards however they encountered a more pressing problem. Hunk had insisted on going to deactivate the traps first in case anyone was caught and hurt by them whilst they were messing about with the wards. This hadn't been a problem for Lance until they had discovered one of the traps had indeed snared a victim. And wasn't it just Lance's luck that the individual caught in the large spring trap was none other than his favourite surly werewolf Keith.

The wolf had shifted to his animal state a large black wolf but he was still recognizable by way of his shaggy mullet-like mane of hair around his head and neck, and the matching small blue pendant slung around his neck that the wolf had worn. This seemed to be a mere heirloom or keepsake though rather than cursed like Lance's necklace. He was gnawing at the fur around his trapped leg as if he meant to bite the damn thing off to escape the trap. Such an extremist!

As soon as he smelled Lance his head snapped up with a snarl, eyes boring into him with loathing and fury, looking to Hunk without words but in such a way that made it blatantly obvious he was asking him if he was insane for letting this filthy vampire leech and witch anywhere near him. Hunk held up his hands "I know, he kinda pulled one over on me, but he's been behaving himself so I'm giving him a chance to prove himself by helping" he explained and Lance flinched thinking that explanation didn't really help paint him in a good light.

Keith clearly thought the same because he growled savagely at Lance and snapped his teeth, ears laying back whenever the vampire even got close. Hunk examined the trap, picking it up but dropped it immediately and sucked his fingers "Ow! It's silver-coated!" he exclaimed, looking at the trap in horror. Silver was poison to were kind. Even touching it was uncomfortable so the spirits alone knew how much pain Keith had to be in, having it cutting into his flesh and mingling with his bloodstream.

Lance ventured forward again and Keith growled and snapped at him, but he seemed to be getting weaker as the silver was taking effect on his body, preventing wounds that would normally heal on their own from closing and poisoning his blood stream. The vampire met the wolf's eyes with his own intense stare "Listen here stupid... you can either die here bleeding out or being poisoned by that metal or you can let me help you. Silver doesn't effect witches or vampires. I can probably get the trap off you... it's your choice..."

Keith hesitated for a really long time, his tail lashing in displeasure and clearly looking unhappy about the ultimatum being forced on him. Trust a monster that was also one of the people that killed his brother? Or die... he didn't want to die yet. Even if he would get to see his brother again in the afterlife. He knew Shiro would be mad if he gave up existence so easily. Eventually with a disgruntled growl he lay down, going still and docile and gingerly extending his trapped limb as much he could without hurting it further.

Lance reached to take the trap thankful that the woods were densely covered from the sun in this area and some of his vampiric strength had returned, then with as much force as he could he began to force the jaws of the trap apart the metal creaking and then snapping open as his newfound vampire strength broke the spring mechanism and rendered the metal useless, buckled and twisted beyond repair. Hunk inhaled sharply mumbling "Whoaaaa" as he watched it, and even Lance was surprised at his own strength. Okay so maybe this vampire form wasn't ALL bad. It had some uses. Too bad he couldn't seem to twist and snap the damn pendant off himself. Something in the curse seemed to prevent what could have been a really easy release.

Keith withdrew his limb gingerly, wincing and shuddering clearly still in pain, tongue lolling in a doggy fashion as he panted and trembled. His leg was free but the pain of the silver in his system was still bad. Hunk knelt beside him panicking a little and calling his name in urgent tones "Keith??! Stay with me buddy... we'll get you help...." even as the wolf seemed to be getting drowsier and weaker, silver toxins flooding his bloodstream

Lance again pushed the bear aside and looked at the wound, he could try to get the silver out by using his elemental abilities to try to manipulate it on a mineral level. Silver was an ore. Ores were natural geological deposits sitting in the Earth's crust. So by rights if he channeled his Earth elemental abilities he should be able to draw it out of him. But only if it hadn't spread too much and the longer they took the more that was a risk. He looked at the drowsy wolf "I think I can get it out of you, but you have to trust me. Can you do that?"

Keith almost convulsing with pain and poisoning, lifted his good paw to put over Lance's cold hand, the look in his eyes just saying 'For the love of the Moon just get this shit out of me before it kills me'. Lance nodded and focused his energy trying to shut out everything and channel as much lingering witch power as he could into the spell, working his hands over the wound, speaking strange incantations and tracing sigils in the air.

Keith felt a sensation like his blood was literally being drained out of him and half snarled in pain, but it wasn't his blood it was the foreign objects polluting it, the molecules of silver running like droplets of liquid silver up out of the wound and forming together into a growing lump that hovered above the wound. There was a reason Lance had been chosen to the next Witch chieftain. It was because his powers were strongest and purest of the witches, even the curse of vampirism hadn't weakened them that much, only putting certain restrictions that related to his vampirism.

When he was sure he had gotten all the silver out, he discarded the lump of bloodstained silver and motioned for Hunk's water-skin like a surgeon prompting a nurse to hand a scalpel or other implement, washing clean the blood he then summoned blue fire to his hand looking apologetically at the wolf and switching from the ancient magic tongue to the common tongue again "Sorry... this will hurt... I have to cauterize it..." he commented.

Keith exhaled feeling better now the silver was out, and seeing the flames knew what had to be done, nodding and bracing himself. He managed to clench his jaws enough not to cry out when the flames met his tender flesh to seal the wound but whimpered none the less and scrunched his eyes shut, tail thumping in distress and ears held low in discomfort.

Eventually Lance was done and he doused the flames, giving Keith a gentle remorseful look "Sorry, didn't mean to hurt you, I'll let Hunk handle the TLC part. He's better at that" he averted his blue eyes, sitting back a little. Keith watched him quietly. He had done a good thing and for pretty selfless reasons. Maybe he HAD underestimated him after all. If Hunk liked him that was generally a pretty good indicator of a person's type. Hunk seemed naive to the outside observer who didn't know him well, but Keith knew the bear had hunches about people that were never wrong. If he suspected you were up to no good there was no pulling the wool over his eyes!

Begrudgingly and with his usual grumpy mannerisms he extended his muzzle to sniff at the vampire's hands, gingerly letting his tongue find its way to the cold fingers and deliver a couple of light licks, the only way he could show gratitude in this form being unable to speak. Lance smiled back awkwardly feeling happy that he was finally beginning to take a step in the right direction to salvation of his cursed soul.

Chapter Text

Lotor was a Dhampir. A Dhampir traditionally known as the hybrid between vampire and human though in Lotor's case his mother had been the witch Haggar, and his father the vampire overlord and engenderer of evil Baron Von Zarkon. Although vampires were dead and thus infertile they could create children by giving their blood to an already pregnant mortal female when they were at a stage where the the fetus was still developing, the DNA introduced overtaking and eradicating parasitically that of the original father to give the offspring characteristics of the vampire whilst still being alive. For this reason many Dhampir children were often nearly identical to their mothers physically.

Dhampirs unlike vampires could pass as humans or witches because their hearts still beat, they still drew breath and outwardly looked human, just with vampiric powers (i.e. strength, speed, regeneration) and very small fangs. Lotor had been hidden away in a human village when the end of the war had seemed nigh to protect him from the invaders who ultimately killed his parents. He had never really known them and grown up thinking he was human until the first time he'd discovered his powers.

Since then hearing rumour of the Hidden Kingdom he'd been OBSESSED with finding the place, with bringing back some proof of its existence to examine and become his plaything. He had inherited his father's wanton cruelness it seemed and combined it with the arts of his human upbringing, a proficiency with weapons that simply didn't exist in the hidden world, guns for example and traps of increasingly barbaric genius. He had invented that silver spring trap himself, melting down metal and experimenting until he had made it utterly perfect for capturing weres.

He hadn't always wanted to maim them, but he'd tried capturing them humanely before and as a result bore the scars of their claws. He couldn't treat them like regular animals. He had to get inventive to immobilize them and so the trap had come into play. He hadn't known silver was quite so toxic to their blood-stream or he might have used a different method. Now though he was eager to get to his trap and find his quarry. He had gathered what few hothead human youths in the village he could muster to go on a potentially suicidal mission to the Hidden Kingdom (most were drunkards or had been bought with the money of his wealthy adoptive family so they wouldn't mock him for chasing imaginary fairytale worlds) and ventured beyond the crumbling wards entering the were territory.

Approaching each trap he was frustrated to find many were empty and some of his party had already succumbed through their own stupidity or intoxication to the environment or lone were attacks. Lotor hadn't stopped for them and soon his party had dwindled to just two others a madwoman by the name of Ezor who he'd rescued from being locked in an asylum by her well-to-do family and subsequently she had become his loyal right-hand minion. With her another huge female he was convinced was half troll or giant or something herself and dubiously 'human' who Ezor said went by the name of Zethrid, though he wouldn't know because she spoke exclusively in grunts and seemed incapable of holding a conversation with anyone but Ezor. In spite of her blatant insanity Ezor seemed skilled at hand to hand combat and she kept the walking mountain Zethrid under control so despite the small number of the party Lotor felt confident he was well protected. And anyway in a worse case scenario he could defend himself because he was stronger than a weak human.

Eventually as he was about to give up and return another day to check the traps, he heard voices ahead and approached cautiously, seeing one of his traps had indeed snared a victim a small black werewolf. Not the biggest specimen but he'd do. However before he could approach and grab his victim, another larger were showed up with something else in a cloak, something with eyes that glowed spectral blue in the shaded gloom of the trees and seemed to have preternatural strength. He watched it rip apart and basically ruin his trap as if it were nothing more than a shoddily constructed toy. Such strength! Then it seemed to use magic powers too to draw the silver out of the wolf's limbs and use flames to cauterize the wound.

Forget crummy werewolves. He wanted this specimen! He needed it! A plaything he could TRULY have fun with! How very marvelous! He recognized the abilities the creature displayed as matching his own mingled witch and vampire skills, though this individual was not a Dhamphir and seemed to have been made by different methods, its witch powers were clearly superior to his own that were muted by being a half-blood. He knew that he couldn't just charge in right now though. The wolf was injured granted and wouldn't put up much of a defense, but the bear looked like he could be a match for Zethrid in strength and the hybrid creature was likely to knock he and Ezor around like skittles given an example of its strength.

If only there were some way to weaken it! He remained lurking in the shadows stealthily watching and following the group as the large bear lifted the injured wolf gingerly into his arms and carried him off chatting animatedly with the hybrid creature. He heard them speak of getting back to their home and tending to the wolf properly and then going out later to fix the wards. Ahh so he had a time limit then. Once the wards were fixed he wouldn't be able to slip inside so easily. At least not with his hired help. He himself might be considered supernatural enough in origin to pass the boundaries unchallenged!

Then the hybrid replied with something that made his heart truly sing with joy and a plan begin to formulate in his mind "We need to be back before sunset though Hunk, remember my curse makes me turn into a bat at night!", So that was how he had both vampire and witch powers? He was cursed? He noticed the pendant twisted tightly around his throat and with a smug smirk to himself inwardly thanked it for existing. It would make him capturing his desired plaything that much easier!

Lance for his part was blissfully unaware that he was being tracked. Hunk was fretting too much about Keith and the coppery smell of his blood too strong for the party to pick up on the scent of humans and besides this whole area stank of humans from where they'd laid the traps before. He did however get this sensation that he was being watched that sent a shiver up his spine having nothing to do with temperature and made his glowing blue eyes scan the undergrowth carefully. Whoever it was remained well hidden though and was a master of stealth because he saw nothing and heard no-one, and eventually his attentions focused back on Keith.

Keith was doing a little better now his wound had been cleaned and sealed but he was obviously weakened with blood-loss and very tired so their first priority was getting him taken care of. Then they could focus on the wards. If Lance's powers were replenished by then. He had used a lot of magic to draw the silver out and cauterize the wound and he would need to feed again to replenish his strength, his stomach already starting to complain again in spite of a hearty breakfast not more than an hour or so ago.

When they reached the cabin Hunk set Keith down by the fireplace and stooped to bind his leg propping his head with a pillow and loosely covering his canine form with a blanket so he could rest and recuperate his strength. That done he and Lance retired to the kitchen to go over the plan for the wards. Lance finished off whatever remaining pears existed in the kitchen as well as any other fruit he could get his hands on and even a whole batch of red tomatoes. He seemed to gravitate most towards red fruits and vegetables as if his curse was trying to compensate for the lack of blood-drinking by making sure he was still ingesting red liquids. And yet even with all of that his stomach still rumbled and he felt hunger pangs. It seemed the more energy he expelled the more hungry he got.

Continuing to potter around the kitchen sniffing things and giving them experimental tastes he half focused on Hunk, answering questions here and there about the extent of his magical experience, when he'd used warding spells before, what he planned to do to fix the wards here, whether he was REALLY sure they'd be strong enough etc. Basically Hunk being a worry wart and fretting about everything as usual. He opened a vessel sealed with a cork and sniffed it. It smelled like fruit but also dust and something else unfamiliar. He gave it a slug and coughed. Uff strong! But tasty! Porting the vessel with him he settled his hips against a counter and continued to take little sips whilst conversing with Hunk

About halfway through the conversation he found it hard to concentrate though and if he didn't know better that as a dead thing with no pulse he couldn't either feel heat or blush, he might have said that his face suddenly felt hot. Hunk's speech seemed distant and underwater and when he replied "What?" in order to get him to repeat so he could hear him better, it came out slurred. Hunk seemed to notice his behaviour was off too and looked at the bottle in the vampire's hand, slapping his forehead and standing to try and wrest it away from the now wobbling staggering boy. He eyed the nearly empty vessel and frowned "You drank this whole thing? This was really potent liquor Lance! I made it by accident one time when I was experimenting with fermenting wine and it was too strong to be safe for consumption by any mortal species. I thought I threw the damn thing out so I've no idea how it worked its way back into the kitchen!"

Lance hiccuped in response and leaned on Hunk with a smile "I ffffeel warrrrm!" he slurred excitedly "Itsss like bein' alive again!" and giggled suddenly animated with energy and enthusiasm he hadn't had before. Hunk sighed. Great. Now he was babysitting what was probably the Hidden Realm's first drunk vampire. "Alright first thing's first Lance, we're going to go sit you down and you're going to rest until this stuff wears off, because I'm not having you working magic in this state"

"Pffffffft boooring!" Lance sniggered and slipped out of his grasp, more flexible and agile than the large bear, he danced out of reach and light on his feet in spite of his stumbling unwieldy gait headed into the lounge letting the bear chase him, always remaining one step ahead and out of his reach until the bear, clearly not used to such exercise was panting heavily hands on his knees. Lance grinned at him perched like a gargoyle on the back of one of the armchairs, slender limbs crouched frog-like, his leering fanged grin really reminiscent of those stone statues around the forbidden castle, such that Hunk shuddered a little in response to the inhuman appearance of his friend with his leering grin and glowing eyes, feet and hands bearing wicked almost talon-like claws.

Lance tilted his head at Hunk's response, his grin turning into a pout then "You're ssssscarrrred of mmme... you th-think I'mm a... I'mmm a... mmmmmmmmonssssterrr" he slurred with a vulnerable note in his voice, sounding like a child that had just been told by one of their friends that they didn't want to play with them anymore. He made a heartrendingly sad face and then very abruptly leapt with almighty strength into the rafters like a cat almost, grabbing onto the wooden beam and swinging himself up onto it, perching up there clearly sulking.

Hunk sighed "I'm sorry Lance, you just startled me is all, you look kinda spooky with your teeth all grrrr like that. Please come back down?" he called up, but there was no response and he exhaled even deeper. Well perhaps whilst he was sulking Lance would sober up and calm down. One could only hope. He focused his attentions back to cleaning up any mess the game of chase had caused, briefly checking Keith hadn't been too disturbed then set about his normal household duties.

Eventually Lance's absence started to get to him, making him feel guilty for upsetting the innocent vampire, he wasn't a bad guy at all and he was probably feeling very vulnerable about his vampire status right now "Lance?" he called up to the rafters "Please come down. I'm sorry if I upset you. I know you're not a monster. You proved that with Keith today" he sighed and then added "I can get you more fruit~" by way of temptation. Lance's head swung down upside down making him involuntarily startle a little with a short sharp "Gahh!" before recovering. Lance squinted his glowing blue eyes dubiously at the bear "You really don't think I'm a monster? For real?" he asked

Hunk nodded "For real. Sometimes you startle me, but heck my own shadow startles me most of the time. And I know you're a good person whatever you are" he told the other earnestly, forcing himself to make eye contact and not flinch or be scared. Lance flipped down from his hanging perch and landed on his feet dusting himself off. Thankfully the worst of the liquor seemed to have been quickly absorbed by his stronger system and he was over the tipsy behaviour, though judging by the slight vertigo and wobbling on his feet following the acrobatics, he should probably stay on the ground, he rubbed his head with a wince one glowing eye shut.

"Ugh remind me not to drink random things in your kitchen again. My head feels like it's being used as a ritual drum. Can vampires even get hangovers? Guess I'm the only one who would know" he sighed and flopped dramatically into the armchair he'd been perched on earlier. That was when his gaze went down to Keith who had apparently regained enough strength to shift back to human form. Keith who was very naked and only had a smallish blanket designed to cover an animal not a person keeping his modesty from being entirely exposed. Keith who was very very well built and muscular.

Vampires couldn't blush but Lance's reaction was as close to embarrassed that it was possible to be, he squeaked and immediately leapt back out of the chair, scrunching his eyes shut pointing at the figure on the floor and remarking to Hunk "He's NAKED". Hunk glanced at Keith and back at Lance not seeing the problem "Yeah? So were you this morning. Transformations lead to nudity. It shouldn't be a big deal, right?". Lance flustered more "Yes but... but...." he swallowed covering his face coyly with one hand. He hadn't been expecting that at all. And he had no clue why it should be such a problem. As Hunk pointed out nudity was a risk of transformation.

'But that damn wolf looks really hot'  his brain helpfully supplied. Lance mentally told his brain to go do something he wouldn't ever repeat in front of his mother. He couldn't help stealing a glance at Keith again though. Those broad shoulders, compact but well muscled torso, even the scars were somehow sexy. Lance had always known he wasn't quite like other boys. That his tastes were a little more unusual and tended towards both sexes, but..... really? A werewolf? When this werewolf basically hated his guts? When he was a vampire? At this point Fate was just making a mockery of him.

Hunk cleared his throat then "Umm... we're getting close to sunset buddy, don't you think we should go and prepare for that warding spell now? If we wanna have a chance of doing it before you change forms?". Lance sighed and nodded tearing his gaze away, thankful for the welcome distraction "Yeah, sure... ohh but what about Keith? We can't leave him unattended... if he gets sick and we're both out it'll be a huge problem..." , Hunk clearly hadn't considered this and sighed as the resolved the problem in his mind "Damn... you're right... it'd be bad if the poisoning wasn't completely cleared from his system and he was sick and choked on it..." Lance stood up straight "You stay with him. I'll go alone to the wards. I know where they are. I'll handle this and be back before you know it..."

Hunk clearly wasn't happy with the idea and opened his mouth to protest but Lance gave him a kind look "Don't worry, I can handle myself. I'll be quick and discreet. We need to do this tonight or more weres could get hurt". Hunk knew he was right and sighed deeply once more "Please PLEASE be careful. If you see any humans don't engage them. Just run. They could be hunters they might try to stake you" he fretted, wringing his large dark hands together

Lance smiled "I'm not afraid of no humans. I'm Lance the scary WITCHPIRE! I have magic and vampire strength! I'll give them something to have nightmares about if they mess with me" he jerked a thumb at his chest with a laugh that was 90% false bravado, donning the hood of his cloak once more and stepping towards the door. Once he was through it he exhaled in a deep breath. He was idiot. A complete idiot. And probably going to die out here. But it was better it was just him at risk than anyone else. Especially not people as nice as Hunk or even less-nice but still important people like Keith. He had to make things right for these people. Right the wrongs of witch kind. It was his duty as clan leader. Assuming his clan would ever accept him back like this.

As he made his way to the wards he once again got the feeling of being watched and this time the human smell was stronger when it ought to have faded by now, unless it was recent. Unless it was fresh. He really hoped there were no humans lurking on there tonight. He didn't want to hurt them or have them hurt him.

He was just dwelling in his head on non-aggressive ways to drive off a potential human attack when his sharp ears caught the sound of a bow string being pulled tight, hearing a whistling as an arrow thunked into the tree just inches from his left shoulder. Okay THAT was definitely not his imagination. He was under attack! He immediately started to sprint as more arrows followed. They seemed endless but in fact there were very few, they were just extremely precisely timed so that every time he tried to make a turning to escape in a different direction, one cut him off, missing him by bare hairs. He spun to try and find his assailants blue eyes glowing and growling, fangs bared and clawed fingertips like rakes, forgetting all about peaceful approaches as his instincts to defend himself kicked in meaning to tear a few throats out if he was forced to do so to protect himself.

The next arrow embedded itself in his shoulder and he howled in pain. The thing burned as if it was on fire. Regular arrows would hurt a lot but this one seemed to immobilize him entirely making his muscles suddenly feel like jelly. He went down heavily, limbs trembling and unable to summon the strength to move them. A woman with red hair wound with brightly coloured ribbons and a face that was devoid of compassion and sanity emerged from the bushes smiling almost coquettishly at him "Bagged him!" she remarked sing-song looking down at Lance and moving to caress his chin, laughing as he weakly snapped his teeth at her "Do you like my special arrows. They're made from the wood of crosses and soaked in holy water. Perfect for maiming feisty little vampires. I've been waiting ever such a long time to play with a little vampy-wampy with my toys, but the silly things all went and died out. What a lucky thing I found you!" she purred happily

"Good job Ezor. Now we just have to wait for him to change back and we can transport him out of here" a cultured male voice spoke and another 2 people came out of the bushes, the one that had spoke was an elegant looking male with long white hair and ashen skin, his eyes gleaming a cruel purple hue with a spark of the same sort of glow Lance's had. Albeit dimmer. The other seemed some huge sort of minion, speaking no words and standing behind the team's leader in stoic impenetrability.

Lance felt a flicker of fear, they knew somehow about his curse, and judging by the expression of the white haired guy his intents wasn't to sit and have a nice cup of tea with Lance. He was in very VERY big trouble!

Chapter Text

Keith stirred slowly from slumber, waking to a killer migraine and an ache through his limbs like he'd been running through ice and snow for hours. Silver really was a nightmare for therianthropes. Especially werewolves. He ought not to have survived getting it in his bloodstream like that, and the memory of the damned vampire using his witch powers to get it out of him, thereby basically saving his life, popped annoyingly to the forefront of his memory. Why did he have to owe his life to that stupid enchanted leech?

Trying to sit up gingerly keeping his weight off his injured leg that even without the silver present was still hurting from the cauterizing plus chemical burns from the silver and being ripped open by the metal trap. He would probably limp for a while on that, it was going to slow him down a lot and make him vulnerable. Just his luck!

Hunk turned from the window when he heard the wolf stirring and glanced to him wearing a fretful expression which the wolf surmised was not totally about his own condition. He quirked a brow, before noticing the damned vampire was absent and sighed heavily "What did that idiot bloodsucker do now..."

Hunk wrung his hands "He said he was going out to fix the wards to stop any more humans getting in and hurting weres, but that was a couple of hours ago now and he hasn't come back and it's after sunset. You know what happens to him after sunset" he commented worriedly, his furry rounded ears twitching anxiously as he spoke. Keith face-palmed. He knew precisely what Hunk was referring to. The fool was out there in the dark with humans lurking around and he was in his weak bat form. He was as good as a goner.

He wanted to say that it was his own damn fault and that he could sort his own mess out, but his mouth wouldn't obey him, uttering instead "We'd better go find him before he causes more mayhem for our kind. Witches can't be trusted on their own. And especially not vampire-cursed witches". Hunk seemed surprised at first that Keith would agree to help find Lance without any prompting, but then he nodded fetching down his own cloak from the pegs as well as a spare "Are you okay to travel? Your leg still hurts doesn't it?" he asked anxiously examining the limb he'd bound earlier and the fact that Keith was keeping his weight off it.

Keith shrugged trying to seem as manly and unbothered as possible "I'll live. Had worse injuries. You can loan me that cane of yours if you're really bothered though..." he made the suggestion sound nonchalant as if it was a whim of Hunk's that he was graciously humouring, neglecting to mention the fact that if he had to put weight on his bad foot he was probably going to scream loud enough to summon Banshees from the spirit realm. That wasn't something his pride would allow him to confess to though.

When they were ready to travel he moved carefully, putting his weight on his good foot and the cane, with a slight hobbling motion, it wasn't very manly or impressive and it was hard to wield a weapon whilst like this, but it was the best he could do at short notice. He just hoped they didn't actually run into any humans because as much as he would never admit it to Hunk he wasn't convinced he was capable of fighting them in this state!

Meanwhile Lance was having yet another horrible evening. His 3rd since the fated night at the castle that he'd gotten himself cursed. It had been painful enough being shot down by the blessed arrows that burned his vampiric flesh horribly and immobilized him as if he were literally riveted to the ground with iron spikes through all his extremities, but then to top things off, the sun had set and he'd started to change and this transformation was even more agonizing than the last. He couldn't explain it, it seemed every subsequent transformation hurt more than the last one. Was this part of the curse? Was it going to keep getting more painful every time he changed until it was beyond bearing? He didn't look forward to a future like that, if he even survived tonight with these humans.

The redhead had been very keen to taunt and tease him after he'd changed form pulling the arrow out of his wing (which had formed from the pinned limb) and lifting his weakened form tossing it up and down like a jugglers ball until he felt giddy and nauseous, dropping him as he brought up the remains of his last fruit meal. Being as he was dead he couldn't digest food properly which meant he got energy from the juice of the fruit, but the pulp and mass of the food just filled the bottom of his gut and stayed there until he vomited it back up. He was going to have to bear that in mind if he survived long enough to turn back to his humanoid form because if he kept filling himself up with indigestible matter he would cause himself internal problems since it would rot and go putrescent in his guts and possibly start causing his body to decay too, and that was the last thing he needed to turn into some ugly rotting corpse.

Fortunately the redhead's playtime had been interrupted by the white haired guy who told her he wanted the bat left intact and she was not to damage Lance further as he was 'an important trophy'. That didn't sound good at all. It sounded like this guy wanted to keep him in a cage and parade him around the human world like an exhibit. The world's first tame vampire! He shuddered at the thought of it and wished once more hopelessly that he wasn't in this situation. But at the same time if it was just him at risk, it was okay. As long as the others were left alone.

He wished he could speak in this form so he could plead with the white-haired 'human', he would agree to be this barbaric monster's plaything if it amused him if only he'd let him fix the wards first and promise not to threaten the Hidden Realm anymore. If he could keep others safe with his sacrifice that made it somewhat worthwhile didn't it?

Sensing the miserable state of his captive, Lotor lifted the small cage lined with crosses to prevent Lance's escape and cajoled him as one would do to a pet canary that wasn't singing cheerfully as it should "There there my splendid friend, this is only temporary accommodation. I assure you I can prepare much grander quarters for you once we are back home, you just have to obey me, is that so much to ask? They would not have accepted you here anyway you know. A mixture of vampire and witch? We are two of a kind my friend, two taboo beings brought into existence against our wills. I however have learned to appreciate the additional strengths being non-human has given me. And I am always eager to explore my potential, to find ways to be stronger. We could learn together. What say you? Don't you want to be stronger?"

It was almost as if this pallid devil had looked inside Lance's head and seen the past and his reasons for journeying to the castle, his former desires to become strong and powerful to increase his potential and become 'the greatest spell-caster of the witch world'. But Lance had learned the hard way that seeking such power was forbidden for a reason. He had received karmic retribution for his desires and knew that ultimately that path only lead to ruin and pain. He would have warned off his captive but of course he couldn't utter a single word in this shape and besides he knew the self-assured cocksure fool would not listen to him. Too confident in his own prowess.

Just as the group were gathering to leave however he smelled familiar scents on the breeze and winced inwardly. Oh no. No please. Keith and Hunk were approaching. Please, guys. Don't come. Don't be captured too! He tried to warn them by letting out the shrillest screech he could whilst still being in the audible non-sonar spectrum. This only resulted in the big human who he'd learned was called Zethrid shaking his cage roughly so he was rattled against the bars and the crosses burned him making smoke come from the parts of his flesh that touched them.

"Careful with him!" Lotor snapped at her "If you damage my prize I'll damage your skull with a great big hole through it" he hefted his gun, a strange human invention, warningly. Zethrid blinked silently back seemingly not afraid of the threat, but she stopped shaking Lance's cage.

Hunk and Keith arrived on the scene shortly after, and the moment Keith saw the humans he snarled, baring his teeth, eyes that mixture of violet and red darting from Lotor to the cage containing the small limp form of the bat which he'd snatched off Zethrid. Lance lifting his head could honestly say he was surprised that Keith had come. Hunk he might have expected but Keith? Keith hated his guts didn't he? Why was he here?

The wolf snarled at Lotor "Let the bat go!" , "Or what?" Lotor responded examining his nails idly as if Keith was boring and not worth his time or attention "You are still heavily injured from my traps, you are no threat to me. I could fill you full of silver bullets before you could even make a move, or have Zethrid here crush your skull under her boot. Do not waste my time dealing with you riff-raff. I have what I came here for...".

Keith did not respond well to those taunts, growling and seeming to half metamorphose from human to a more wolf-like state, though not fully quadruped. Somewhere between the two, his clothes straining at the seams with the larger more muscular form. Even so his injuries transferred to this form from the other one and he obviously favoured one leg over the other. Trying to lunge at Ezor first of all, she easily evaded his swiping claws, laughing as she acrobatically somersaulted and leapfrogged her way out of danger

"Ooh what a feisty puppy! Lotor can we keep this one too? He's such a cutie! I want to wrap him in chains and watch him strain until he chokes himself" she grinned sadistically. But then Zethrid was lumbering over and picking up Keith in a choke-hold around the throat with her muscular forearms like she was strangling a crocodile, the werewolf struggled, trying to throw her off but she was bigger than him and a lot stronger which seemed impossible for a human. Neither did she respond to Keith's claws ripping gouges in her flesh.

Lotor smirked "Zethrid is something of an experimental being, she is a reanimation that my late mother created before abandoning me to the humans. Zethrid was charged as my bodyguard and dimwitted as she is, she has her uses. She does not feel pain and is much more indestructible" he gloated. Lance's gaze went to the exposed arms that Keith's tearing claws had revealed thanks to ripping Zethrid's clothes. They had large black stitches in the flesh, as if she had been sewn together like a rag-doll from random pieces.

Seeing Keith was in trouble Hunk heaved a sigh, he normally didn't like changing form unless it was absolutely necessary but now was clearly a situation where he had to put his qualms aside and do what was best for his friends. He began shifting form, growing in stature until a huge black bear stood before the group, charging Zethrid and headbutting her until she released Keith from her choke-hold. The wolf rolled aside hacking as he tried to get air back into his bruised windpipe.

Ezor gleeful at yet another were to play with began flinging silver knives at the duo, preventing them from getting close to Lotor who was trying to make his retreat with Lance's cage. The bat reacted in desperation, not wanting to be taken from his friends, mustering his strength to fly against the edges of the cage, again and again in spite of the crosses burning his skin agonizingly when he touched them, reacting so violently that the cage swung wildly in Lotor's hands and he lost his grip the cage falling to the ground and bursting open. Lance tumbled out of it, and tried to fly away but the combination of injuries, exhaustion and the weight of the cursed amulet which in addition to his increasingly painful changes seemed to be getting increasingly heavier and more choking cutting off more of his airway each time he changed, made it impossible for him to fly, only succeeding in pitiful flutters and falling back to the ground again.

Keith rolling to avoid Ezor's knives ran at Lance and scooped the bat up in his jaws, his hot canine breath rolling over the bat but not clamping down his teeth so as not to further harm the bat. He had fully regressed to his quadrupedal state now and the cane and his clothes which were shredded across the forest floor were abandoned, moving in a 3 legged gait with his bad leg limping behind. He caught Hunk's eye, motioning with his head back the way they had come.

Hunk had his hands full with Zethrid and Ezor the pair having tag-teamed on the large were, Zethrid delivering thunderous punches with her huge fists whilst Ezor flung knives and shot arrows. He headbutted Zethrid so that she fell on top of Ezor taking the two out simultaneously and started to run towards Keith and Lance.

However by this point Lotor had recovered from the shock of losing his prey and was thundering after them using his Dhampir speed, the only blessing being that apparently he wasn't that versed in using his magic thanks to a human upbringing and couldn't fire off spells at them. That wasn't stopped him using other weapons though and the blasts of his gun sounded deafeningly through the trees as he repeatedly aimed and fired with silver bullets. Hunk swerved as best as he could to avoid the shots but thanks to Keith's limp he was lagging behind. The bear nosed the wolf with a grunt motioning for him to try to jump onto his back. Keith struggled to do so, scrabbling with his 3 remaining functional limbs finally catching Hunk's bandana in his teeth, which was the only part of his garments that hadn't fallen off whilst he was changing shape, he hauled himself onto the bears back panting and trembling with exhaustion as the bear ambled off into the trees.

Lotor kept following though and they were going to have to lose him otherwise he'd track them back to the cottage, assuming he didn't already know where they live. This was confirmed moments later when the furious Dhampir screamed after them "You can run but you can't hide. I know where you live bear, I can trace you and I'll shoot you and skin you into a fine rug if you don't hand over my prize!". They were in serious peril!

Fortunately the noise of gunshots had alerted the villagers and more weres were coming out to aid them now, the increasing numbers eventually getting to be too many for Lotor to take out all of them, especially as they were all shifting into various savage beasts and coming for him with the intent of killing him. He skidded to a halt and called out for Zethrid, who appeared lumbering with a disgruntled slightly rumpled looking Ezor who had been sat on by the hefty female. Zethrid grabbed Lotor, making a swing at any weres who got too close before the group made their retreat.

Exhausted from fighting and running Hunk crashed onto the leaf-strewn forest floor as the weres surrounded them, Keith tucking the semi-conscious bat Lance between his paws protectively as if to shield him from the villagers.

Chapter Text

Keith was dreaming. He was reminiscing of the times he went hunting with his brother, stalking their prey, learning the ways to dispatch a meal as quickly, efficiently and for the poor creature that would become their food as kindly as possible. They had to eat to survive and weres were carnivores, but there was no need to prolong the death or make the animal suffer so the best method was usually just to snap their necks and end their lives fast and relatively painlessly. Even then as a cub Keith had always cringed at that part and looked guiltily at the animal they were going to kill. But it was either them or they both starved, and he wanted to live. He'd always whisper a thank you and a small prayer that the spirits would take the creatures soul into their care though. Shiro had always thought it was cute and lightly teased him about his softness, but also said he would make a good leader some day because of that merciful and kind nature.

But then Shiro had died and Keith had turned hard and cold. He'd stopped being merciful. He'd told Lance that he'd gotten the rabbit from a hunter's trap and that had been true, but he hadn't mentioned the many many other animals he'd taken down himself to feed himself. He'd still dispatched them quickly, but less gently than before, he hadn't offered any prayers, any thanks. He'd become cold on the inside and regarded a world that could take his beloved brother away, as a world that didn't deserve any thanks. You were born, you lived and you died. That was the hard cynical fact of the matter. And any animal slow or stupid enough to be caught could only blame themselves for getting eaten. Survival of the fittest.

He wondered if Shiro would disapprove of the way he was now. He often imagined his elder brother's face either smiling warmly or frowning in response to some troublesome thing his little brother did. He would probably have some stern words for him about his behaviour of late. But perhaps he would approve of some things too.

Consciousness came back to him in a hazy blur and a rush of sudden heat that suffused his tired body. He blinked heavy eyelids open and moaned softly lifting an arm groggily to try and shield his sensitive eyes from the light that assaulted him. By the ancestor's pelts he felt awful! His head was pounding like the rhythm section of a musical performance group, and his tongue felt like some fat dry swollen thing that had crawled into his mouth and died.

He remembered unpleasantly the times soon after Shiro's death when half crazed with grief he had drunk himself stupid every night and woken up feeling much the same as this. But he couldn't recall drinking any liquor recently. What had happened? Things were fuzzy. Oh right... Humans had invaded. He'd been caught in a silver trap and injured. That was probably why he was feeling like crap. He'd been running around on an unhealed injury. Putting the back of his hand against his forehead he sighed as he felt a lowgrade fever burning there. Great. Just great.

Sitting up dizzily he looked around seeing Hunk unconscious on the cot next to him. They appeared to be in the local healer's cabin and the bear had a few contusions and wounds patched up and bandaged. He seemed largely okay though, just out for the count. He hadn't seen Hunk ever fight so hard or run so energetically in his life, normally a very peaceful docile were who moved sedately and stayed clear of fights, so he wasn't really surprised that the soft boy was wiped out from an encounter like that. He hoped they would have a chance for a decent rest.

He was about to lie back down and rest himself in the hopes of chasing away this annoying fever, when he suddenly noticed a particular jarring absence. Where was Lance? The bat was nowhere in sight. Then it slowly dawned on him. The sun was up. Daylight was streaming in through the windows, probably close to about noon in fact. Lance would have turned back to his vampire form. Oh no....

He was sitting back up and shaking Hunk awake less than a few seconds later. The bear grumbled and protested with a large mitt swiping Keith away until Keith hissed in his ear "Hunk get up now, Lance is in trouble" and the bear's eyes snapped open and he was sitting up soon after that wincing slightly with the soreness of his protesting body but putting aside his discomfort to regard Keith "Where is he?" he asked "I don't know but it's daylight so he'd have turned back by now and we're in the were village so they'll have seen what he is..."

Hunk uttered a soft curse under his breath, that surprised Keith that he even knew such strong language. Both boys rose from their cots a little wobbly on their feet but supporting each other. Keith's foot protested sharply from the strain on it though, having clearly swollen up overnight from running around on it, and heat radiating from the limb that was probably the source of his fever. He ought to be lying down and resting. But they didn't have a choice. If they didn't move then Lance could be killed.

His mind popped up asking him why exactly he cared if a vampire/witch was dispatched the way all members of both species should be. He argued with it, that Lance had shown him mercy when he could have killed him several times over. That he'd freed him from the trap and tried to help him. That he'd been trying to help the village by fixing the wards when the stupid humans had interrupted and now he might die because they didn't know he was on their side. But a nagging unanswered little part of his mind still had him wondering why exactly saving Lance was so important to him.

They had just made it over to the door of the cabin when it opened and the medic came in. Coran a tallish werefox with a bright orange mustache to match his bushy orange tail , tilted his head remarking in a surprised but humorous way "Were we going somewhere gentlemen? I really think you ought to be returning to bed. Especially you young Keith, that is a nasty wound you're sporting and if I'm not mistaken a budding fever!" he commented, moving to try and detain them.

Keith hadn't a problem with Coran, he'd been his and Shiro's medic since Shiro had been a cub and he'd always had a good friendly manner and a kind way with them. But right now he was an unnecessary obstacle and he didn't dare verbalize his intent to go and find the vampire to him. Coran was a nice guy but he was loyal to the village ultimately and he followed the leader's rules so he couldn't be trusted with that sort of information, as it would immediately out them both as traitors and if they weren't put to death for the crime they would almost certainly be exiled and unable to rescue Lance.

Keith took a deep breath hoping he'd seen enough of Shiro's hammy overacting to do this right, then dropped to the ground clutching his leg and moaning "It hurts! It hurts!" with as much plaintiveness as he could muster. It was awkward and embarrassing for him, as he wasn't normally the type to whine about injuries or even mention them at all. Coran immediately moved to his side, crouching to try and examine his leg. Keith shot Hunk a look and the bear sighed coming up behind the medic and murmuring "Sorry Coran..." before bringing both his meaty fists down on the back of the werefoxes head and knocking him unconscious

Keith rolled the redhead old man off him and gratefully accepted Hunk's hand to pull him to his feet, hissing and stumbling as he put weight on his bad leg again. He might have been acting for Coran but his leg really did hurt and he wanted to find Lance and get them all out of danger as fast as possible so he could stop hobbling around on it.

Once they got outside the cabin however, the seriousness of the situation was all too obvious immediately. Lance was chained to a stake in the center of the town square and he'd clearly been out here all morning. The sun beating down on him mercilessly with no shade had turned his normally ashen but brown skin, a bright lobster red hue and freckles had been substituted with blisters, eyes squeezed shut in agony and only the chains holding him upright as all limbs were trembling and seemed incapable of supporting his weight, he was gasping and sobbing and feverishly moaning fragments of another language that Keith didn't recognize, though from the sounds of it, it might have been some sort of prayer for salvation.

Thankfully the sort of prayers that witches and other residents of the Hidden Realm uttered were not holy enough to contribute to any pain to his impure vampiric nature. None the less his blistered lips were struggling to continue uttering words, and that wasn't the only problem. The cursed amulet tangled around his throat had tightened yet again following an obviously even more painful transformation and now it was literally cutting into his flesh, droplets of dark lifeless vampiric blood dribbling from the wounds it caused in a steady stream.

The sight was horrific enough to bring flashbacks to Keith's eyes of those trembling animals waiting to be killed by his hand, and like Keith's angry hunting of late, Lance wasn't being shown any mercy by the weres of the village. He was snapped out of his frozen stupor by the sound of Hunk retching. Apparently cooked vampire flesh didn't smell that good. Nor did the sight do either of their churning stomachs any favours! They had to somehow get him free!

But how? The villagers were already regarding them suspiciously for standing so close to Lance. They could wait for nightfall and the chains would loosen when he turned back to a bat.... No. Lance wouldn't survive that long under this much sun exposure. It was already slowly killing him right now. He would be a charred crisp by the time the sun set.

Keith was interrupted from his frantic brainstorming by a feeble croak from the suffering creature before him. Lance was barely able to form words, and delirious from pain but he was trying to talk to him, his blue eyes open to slits and regarding the wolf with a serious expression "L-leave... leave... meee" he gasped raggedly, fresh blood oozing from his throat as it moved to form words "Thiss... is... my... f-fate. K-Karma... l-lead me... h-here... f-for my... ssinsss. It's my... d-duty... as... leader... of... the witches... to p-pay... for... the ssinss of... my p-people" he struggled to utter each syllable tearing coughs punctuating the sentences

"Lance no!" this was uttered by Hunk, tears starting to fall from his eyes "You can't die. You're not a bad person. You did nothing wrong!" the bear pleaded, his dark face crumpling with pain, the soft-heart he had unused to this level of suffering and tragedy. Keith's response was only anger, fists clenching and growling furiously at the vampire "If you think we're going to leave you here after all that, you're stupider than you look vampire. You spared my life and I'm going to damn well return the favour. Now shut up unless you have something useful to contribute"

Unfortunately at this point the scene had drawn too much attention. Furthermore someone had discovered Coran unconscious and it was time to make a sharp exit. Keith knew they had to act fast "Hunk do you think you can snap those chains?" he asked the were. Hunk reached to grab them and winced. Silver. That was likely to ensure nobody tampered with them. He sucked his burned hand and tried to look for an alternative. Oh! The stake! It had been secured with rocks but wasn't firmly rooted in the ground. A typical were would struggle to move it, but a bear like Hunk could uproot it with no trouble. He stooped and uttered an apology to Lance for any pain he caused by touching him, before grabbing the stake and yanking it with all his might.

The stake complete with vampire came up out of the ground, like some weird vampire lollipop and Hunk hefted it onto his shoulder just in time. A group of large weres were coming their way and gave a shout meant to detain them when they saw Hunk freeing the vampire. Well so much for trying to get out without incriminating themselves! They were fugitives on the run from now on. But now came the difficult part. Two injured weres and a sun-baked vampire trying to escape a whole village of angry weres. They were up a certain creek without any method of rowing!

Suddenly a cloaked figure dived into the fray, seeming inexplicably to come to their aid. Whoever they were they were an accomplished fighter and extremely strong, because several of the guards that were far larger than their would-be ally were picked up and bodily thrown back to collide with a surge of further attackers knocking weres left and right like skittles.

Hunk and Keith stood in awe watching until the figure demanded in imperious tones "If you wish to survive, you would do best to flee now!" and that galvanized them to action, Hunk wrapped his bare hand in a bit of cloak and grabbed the silver chains sliding them off the now loosened stake and off Lance's body discarding the heavy wooden pole and hoisting the weakened vampire into his arms draping his cloak over his body to shield him from further sun damage as they ran and ran as fast as they could evading anyone who attempted to try and stop them.

Keith ran even though his leg was killing him. He ran and put his weight on it, though the action basically tore open the cauterizing and made blood pour from the injury. He ran until they were clear of the were village and he collapsed unable to run further, vision blurring in and out as pain pulsed through his body. They had taken shelter in a cave outside the village, inaccessible enough that anyone trying to hunt for them would struggle to find them. All 3 were in a bad way. Hunk the most mobile but wheezing for breath from exhaustion and not having the energy yet to try and build a fire. They fell into a fitful haunted sleep where their bodies collapsed.

Hunk stirred eventually some hours later when the sun was setting and the horrible sound of Lance transforming again reached his ears, biting his lip as the cacophony of agony echoed around the cave. Lance had been horribly injured and now he was going through this again? He rolled over, not having the strength yet to sit up and regarded the humanoid figure devolving into bat form, limbs stretching and malforming, bones cracking and reshaping. Gods what had this boy done to deserve such a cruel fate? Because he was a witch? It wasn't fair! He pulled himself towards the shivering writhing form and pulled it to his chest, caressing the curly hair as it turned into fur, uttering soothing words of comfort, humming remnants of lullabies his mother used to sing to him as a cub. Eventually it was over and the little bat resting still against his chest utterly exhausted stopped making sounds of pain, little round black eyes blinking open tiredly with a small breathy squeak.

Hunk couldn't stop the tears that just started flowing. Two days ago his life had been peaceful and quiet and he'd been content just growing his fruit and going about his daily life. But now everything was hard and miserable and his friends were suffering. Lance had this horrible curse and Keith was injured too. Remembering the state of the wolf's leg stirred him to crawl over to his friend.

Keith had apparently tried to staunch the bleeding by tying a tourniquet with a strip of his cloak above the injury and wrapping the wound with more strips, but whilst the action had prevented him bleeding to death whilst they were unconscious it hadn't been nearly as effective as it could have been. Red still soaked through the bindings and Keith was shivering in pain, cheeks flushed a deep red which said his fever had only gotten worse. Neither he or Lance were fit for travel, and that meant they were sitting ducks since it was only so long before they were discovered by the villagers and brought to justice.

Lowering his head Hunk uttered a prayer to any friendly spirits watching over them, that nothing further would hurt their group. That they'd make it out of this situation alive. He was interrupted by the sound of boots on the cave entrance and stiffened, immediately assuming a defensive stance, prepared to fight tooth and nail if any invader was trying to hurt his friends in their vulnerable states. However it was only the cloaked figure who had mysteriously come to their rescue in the village. But they weren't alone. There was another person with them and when they lowered their hood, Hunk immediately recognized Coran and he tensed again, putting himself in front of Keith and Lance "I'm not going to let you hurt them!" he growled

Coran held up his hands "Easy my boy. There's been a bit of a misunderstanding it seems. I'm not here to harm you" he commented orange mustache twitching. Hunk eyed him skeptically "But you're loyal to the leader" he remarked slowly. Coran shook his head "I'm loyal to the ORIGINAL leader. Not this new barbaric fellow who won't listen to reason or common sense".

Hunk scratched his head looking confused "Original leader?" he questioned slowly looking baffled. Coran sighed "What do they teach young cubs these days. I'm talking about Alfor the Great of course! The mighty and illustrious White Wolf! The original founder of the were clan! He ruled our people until the war, when he was slain and many of the original clan were betrayed by power-hungry treacherous individuals, in league with the enemy who had sought his power. After his death they put a new figurehead in charge and named his kin the chieftains of our people. But the original bloodline is the one I serve!"

"Okay... that's great and all, but what does it have to do with us? And no offense to your cloaked friend here, we're super grateful that they saved us from the village and all but.... who are they? I'm suffering terminal confusion here!" Hunk sighed looking to the cloaked figure warily. The figure moved to lower their hood revealing not a man as he'd expected but a woman's beautiful face, skin dark against the evening sky and hair white as moonlight, large white wolf ears atop her head, and a long white tail swishing out from under her cloak "I am Allura. Daughter and descendant of Alfor. The rightful ruler of the were clan and I have been trying to reclaim that which was stolen from me. I believe that you 3 have the bravery, loyalty and endurance it will take to mount this quest and come to you asking for your aid in righting the wrongs of the war and returning peace to the Hidden Realm"

Chapter Text

Coran had thankfully brought some medical supplies with him when he left town, and the villagers weren't suspicious because he said he was off doing home visits on some elderly weres who lived in the mountains and weren't mobile enough to visit his cabin.

Hunk having rested enough to allow him to shuffle around went to fetch firewood cautiously, their camp far enough inside the cave that the firelight shouldn't be visible from outside. He stacked the wood and banged two rocks together until he got a spark poking the fire until it caught and started blazing warmly chasing some of the chill and dampness of the cave away.

Hunk's stomach growled loudly and he coloured awkwardly. He should hunt but he was feeling exhausted still just from collecting firewood. Allura sighed and rose donning the hood of her cape again "Keep an eye on them Coran, I will see if I can find something to nourish us" and with that she had swept out. Hunk leaned close to Coran who was cleaning and redressing Keith's leg injury and commented "She's quite imposing isn't she?"

Coran's mustache bristled and he commented proudly "Indeed she is, just as her father Alfor the Great was. Why the stories I could tell of his exploits back in the day..." his eyes went misty in reminiscence. Before he could continue however a weak squeak sounded from the small form of Lance who was resting in the crook of Hunk's arm. The bear looked down at the bat sorrowfully his dark eyes looking up at the werefox "I don't suppose there's anything you can do for him?" he inquired

Coran sighed and shook his head "Regrettably no. Vampires are outside my area of expertise. Especially cursed ones. That amulet looks nasty. Haggar's creation I'd wager? She was always into conjuring up horrible cursed objects like that" he leaned to examine the amulet around the bat's throat, still tight and bleeding continuously as movement chafed and opened welts on his skin "It tightens every time he changes?" he asked Hunk. The bear bit his lip and nodded with a distressed expression. Coran hadn't the heart to finish his diagnosis, and scare and upset the young were further, but he knew that Lance would only have a few more changes before the amulet grew so tight it would decapitate him thus ending his unlife. Haggar truly did create horrific spells...

Hunk stroked the bat's fur, the sound of the laboured exhausted breathing of the small creature making his heart clench, he set the bat next to Keith and stood going to stand deeper in the cave out of sight, but not quite out of earshot. Coran saw the boy's shadow twist into bear shape and heard roars of impotent fury and the smashing of claws enacting his frustrations out on the scenery. Hunk was far from a destructive person so for him to be in this state it had to deeply distress him being unable to save his friend.

Coran lifted the bat gingerly murmuring sadly "I'm so sorry little one, I would that we could have spared you that torture in the village on top of this curse, but we could not reveal ourselves until the right moment" he tucked the bat inside the flap of Keith's warm fur-lined outer-vest for protection. As he did so there was a bright flash of blue light, that startled him. making him give a fox-like yelp of surprise.

Hunk rushed back still in his bear form and dark eyes leveled on the werefox silently questioning what had happened. Coran pointed at Keith's chest where a brilliant blue glow was shining. They both leaned closer to inspect it and saw another small pendant resting around Keith's neck the stone much smaller and a brilliant blue, strung on a leather cord. The stone was perfectly round and pulsing with light. As the light washed over Lance, the pendant choking the life out of him seemed to gradually loosen a little. It still wouldn't come off or relinquish him from his vampiric curse, but it had bought him perhaps more time in this world. Something in the small stone seemed to naturally counteract the effects of the evil red gem.

Coran was staring at the stone with recognition and awe and at Hunk's silent questioning glance he commented "The Eye of the North!". Hunk looked baffled like Coran was speaking in riddles. "This is the legendary gem the spirits bequeathed to Alfor upon his founding of the were clan. It was lost on the day of his death and hasn't been seen since. How in the Moon's power did it wind up with this young wolf boy? He is clearly not of Alfor's lineage, if he were his fur would be snow-white like Lady Allura, not jet black as it is..."

He began rubbing his jaw in thought "Hmm the texts do say that Alfor had a brave and loyal lieutenant in the battle however, and in his final hour he disappeared at the same time... I do hope there wasn't treachery afoot, Allura would not be pleased to know one of her chosen paladins was descended from one who betrayed her father...". Hunk snorted and his expression made it abundantly clear that he refused to believe for even a second that Keith could be a traitor. Never. Keith was the most straightforward person he knew. He was brutally honest to the point of blunt tactlessness. He hadn't the patience to bother lying.

The pendant's glow fortunately died down after a while, and Lance's cursed amulet didn't immediately begin it's strangulation so it had hopefully reset itself back to the beginning. Good. Perhaps changing would be a little less agonizing for the vampire for a while. In addition some of Keith's feverish glow seemed to have died as if the pendant had healing properties. Hunk exhaled in relief and shuffled off to find his pants returning clothed and humanoid again.

Allura came back at that point with two pheasants in her glove her bow and arrows strung to her back having come in handy for the hunt. Coran discreetly concealed the pendant and opted not to mention it for now. It was not that he wanted to lie to his leader but stirring up things now wouldn't be a great idea. He knew the young werewolf could be quick to temper and he wanted to be sure of facts before calling Keith out for something he might be innocent of.

Hunk took the meat and prepared it and soon both birds were roasting over the fire with a delicious smell. This seemed to bring Keith out of his deep sleep, his nostrils widening and sniffing in a canine fashion, furry ears pricking forward and tail starting to involuntarily wag the way a dog's would when faced with the prospect of a delicious treat. His violet eyes cracked open groggily, disorientated and confused croaking somewhat weakly "H-Hunk? What.... where are we? I don't.... don't remember much...."

Hunk moved to put his large brown hand over his friend's gently "We escaped the village but you ripped your leg injury back open and you had a bad fever. Coran it turns out is on our side and came along with a friend to help us in return for our assistance on a quest they have" he explained carefully, trying not to say anything that might stir up the wolf and make him too agitated.

Keith tried to absorb what Hunk was saying but he was still pretty tired, so he just exhaled and nodded, plopping back against the ground again. The motion caused Lance to squeak in surprise as he half tumbled out of his cosy little cocoon in Keith's vest. The wolf looked down seeming the bat tucked inside his clothes and his cheeks turned red again but it wasn't anything to do with the fever this time, grumbling under his breath "Does he HAVE to sleep in there?" but making no motion to refuse access to the tired clearly still weakened little bat

Hunk shrugged "He's not well so we thought it was best to keep you two together. Coran can't heal vampires. He's done a good job with you though" he said. At that moment Allura, fed up of being ignored cleared her throat loudly and pointedly. Keith blinked at her in a 'Who are you?' way. Clearly not appropriately awed by her presence as Coran felt he should be.

Awkwardly mediating between the thousand yard stare-down going on, Hunk introduced them "Ahh Keith Kogane, this is the Lady Allura, descendant of Alfor the Great founder of the were clan, she's the rightful chieftain of the weres and she wants our help in reclaiming the leadership".

Keith sat up "Bullshit" he remarked bluntly which made Coran's jaw just fall open and Hunk start flustering even more

Keith pushed himself further upright against a boulder and glowered at Allura defiantly "Mine and Shiro's dad was the leader of the clan. Shiro was next in line until the damn witches killed him off. There was never any mention of any Alfor..." he made a dismissive wave. Allura's face tightened with anger "So you're the descendant of one of the puppet leaders put in my father's place to make a mockery of his leadership? Figures! You know nothing of the clan's true history you silly little pup! Your family are nothing but charlatans. Fakes who stole what was rightfully ours!" she remarked haughtily.

Keith's face reddened and twisted with anger, trying to get upright to get in her face, but his leg wasn't strong enough and he slipped back onto his knees to his irritation. Allura snapped "Yes that's where you belong. On your knees before a superior were. Our lineage is pure, we are a stronger species than the weak things modern weres have grown to be with their inbreeding and mingling with other species. No doubt your family probably bred with traitorous witches to keep their stolen power and titles!"

Keith snarled and fully lunged at her with his claws "Say that again you bitch, if we're so in with the witches why did they murder my brother huh? Explain that you arrogant idiot!". Hunk tried desperately to intercede at this point "Guys, please, if we can just calm down and work this out rationally....". Coran nodded "I must agree your ladyship, this manner of speaking is unbecoming of a fine were such as yourself, perhaps we could put aside the accusations and discover the truth more civilly?"

Keith and Allura immediately began talking and shouting over each other each trying to argue with Hunk and Coran at the righteousness of their own claim. All the noise and jostling around woke Lance from his exhausted slumber and clambering weakly up Keith's front, he perched on top of the wolf's head and SCREECHED as loudly and audibly as he could, the shrill cry making all the weres present flinch in pain, their sensitive ears flattening against their heads. Huffing for breath Lance flopped forward again exhausted, but wearing a distinctly annoyed face on his bat snout that said 'Stop fighting and sort your shit out'

After some minutes Coran ventured with a wince, "If I could perhaps theorize what I think might have occurred....". Hunk gestured him to continue in lieu of any response from the other two who were still glowering at each other murderously but had stopped shouting at least.

"Now I can confirm the veracity of her ladyship's claims that the original founder of the were clan was indeed Alfor, however history it seems has been altered by the survivors of the great war. When Alfor perished at the hands of Zarkon's minions those of the were clan who had betrayed him elected a new leader as their figurehead. But I would wager they never told this misguided soul the truth of their endeavours or the dark history. They may even have had the witches aid to hypnotize and brainwash their elected puppet to innocently and misguidedly follow their plans..."

Keith immediately opened his mouth to interject at this point, irritated and wanting to shout that his family were NOT the village idiots that Coran seemed to be making them out to be, that they wouldn't have fallen for tricks like that.That he'd never even HEARD of any Alfor much less a snotty brat like Allura!

Hunk frowned sternly at him though and shook his head, adding to Coran's statement "For my part I can say Keith is definitely not willingly in league with any witches and his father and brother were good people. They weren't like the current village leader who is only interested in money and power and greed, they were caring and made the people stronger and better for their leadership. Our rich fertile lands are thanks to their agricultural plans and knowledge"

Allura snorted "Farming is a witch trait. Witches care about plants and herbs not weres. This only proves they used their dark arts to sway the hearts of the people". Keith bristled and bared his teeth "And where were you this whole time huh? Sitting on your high pedestal waiting for people to come and worship you like a goddess? Ignoring the hunger and need of YOUR supposed people? If we FAKE CHARLATANS had to step in and help the were clan it's because YOU abandoned them Your Royal Snottiness" he spat back, ears lain right back with fury, violet eyes bright and snapping as they met her icy blue ones.

Keith struggled upright again, lurching with difficulty, his bad leg dragging and not fit to be walked on, but he refused to show weakness in front of her, livid with fury "My father and brother gave their last breaths worrying about our people, my brother DIED because he went to the witches to ask them for help protecting the village from a storm that would have broken the dam of the River Tzarek and flooded the land. And they murdered him. Don't you DARE sit there having done NOTHING and tell me who my family were. Don't you DARE!". Face twisted in anger he hobbled out of the cave, Lance still tucked inside his vest leaving Hunk and the others staring in dismay.

Coran facepalmed dragging his fingers down his features and over his bushy mustache "Well that certainly could have gone better. You really ought to have left it to me your Ladyship. I really don't think the boy is our enemy. And if what he says is true that means he is as much of a victim as we are. I'd wager his family might even be the descendants of Alfor's trusted lieutenant who also disappeared in the battle. He wears the 'Eye of the North' the great gem of our people, and the spirits would not have allowed such a holy gem to fall into the hands of a traitor or a thief. You know that as much as I do. If the gem has chosen him then he is pure of will and heart"

Allura seemed silenced by Keith's outburst and Coran's reprimand, her petulant and affronted expression having wavered into concern "You are quite sure it is the Eye of the North?" she said after a long pause of silence. Coran nodded "Indeed. I saw it counteract the evil effects of the pendant worn by the vampire. Only one such gem could do that" , "That is my father's heirloom, but you may be right that the spirits have chosen this pup to bear it..." she sighed seeming to deflate "I.... may have acted wrongfully then..." she winced. Coran nodded "I believe so my lady. You have your father's strong will alas but not his diplomacy... We should find the boy and rectify this issue if possible..."

Hunk had a look of quiet anger on his face and hadn't interrupted the two weres discussion until this point but now he stood "Yeah. We're going to find Keith and Lance and then you'd better apologize to him, because Keith is a good person and he didn't deserve to be spoken to that way at all. We'd better hope he's found before anything happens to him out there, or you're going to see firsthand what an angry werebear is like..." he remarked with a tone of deadly calm as he moved to the cave entrance and stepped out. Coran gulped and motioned Allura to follow him behind Hunk.

Keith hadn't gotten very far honestly. His leg hurt way too much to let him stomp far through the forest on it. He ended up sitting down on some boulders a little further up the cliff-side from the cave and hunching in on himself, arms folded around himself muttering despondently "My family aren't liars.... they aren't! They never stole anything! She doesn't know what the hell she's yapping about". Lance poked his snout out of Keith's vest and squeaked gently at him, small round eyes watching him in concern.

Keith sighed looking at the bat "How can she even say we're descended from witches? When witches killed Shiro? Why? Why would kin kill their own kind? Are we kin? Am I part witch? I don't.... I don't remember enough to know for sure..." he looked frustrated clenching his fist, teeth grit and ears and tail held low and unhappy. He looked at Lance again "You're a witch, would you kill another witch just for power?" he asked. Lance vigorously shook his head giving a protesting squeak that signified 'Never!'.

The wolf's clawed hand absently stroked Lance's fur and ears as if trying to somehow calm down and comfort himself by caressing the bat. "Sorry, I shouldn't ask that... I guess I understand now how much it hurts to have your history and your intents questioned. But when the witches took Shiro from me...."  he bit his lip and scrunched his eyes shut, wearing such an expression of anguish and pain that Lance's unbeating heart broke to see it. He hopped up onto Keith's shoulder and nestled his head against the wolf's cheek rubbing the warm fur against him comfortingly

Keith sighed and muttered half to himself "I miss him. I don't know what I'm doing really. It was better when he was here to guide me. I know I'm old enough now I should be able to fend for myself but... " the unspoken end of that sentence was that he felt lost without the warmth and friendly companionship of his big brother and father. He had friends like Hunk but he was completely without family now. Lance tucked himself in at the furry collar of the wolf's vest, nestled with wings wrapped around himself in the wolf boy's mullet, not planning on leaving him. Letting him know someone was there with him when he was alone.

Keith reached again to rub the little head murmuring "Thanks. And I'm sorry I blamed you for Shiro... you're not like the bad witches... I can tell". The bat chirped in response to the nice little bonding moment. It sucked that it had to be inspired by rude bullshit from this Allura person whoever the heck she was, but nonetheless they were making the best of a bad situation.

Neither of the two creatures noticed the large shadow approaching overhead until it fell over them, the sound of beating wings drowning out the quiet whistle of the cool wind. Keith fell on his backside in surprise looking up as a pair of talons descended on him, leg making it impossible for him to flee. He reached for his weapon at his belt but of course Hunk had removed it whilst he was resting and he'd run off in a snit and not thought to grab it like the idiot he was. Raising his arms futilely he clawed outwards trying to fend off the attacker, yelling at the top of his lungs.

Chapter Text

"Ow ow will you quit scratching at me?!"

This was not the voice that was expected to be heard during an assault from a winged foe. Keith stopped his frantic clawing, Lance who had been flying at their opponent and biting and scratching with all his bat might also ceased fighting.

The winged being landed and dusted themselves off, it could be seen they were a somewhat diminutive demon with red leathery bat-like wings and spade tail and smaller red bat wings sticking out of their hair which was tousled from the wind and messed up from the fight and a strawberry blond colour. The demon had bird-like talons where feet should be, the hands similarly taloned, their method of dress weirdly provocative given that they were barely 5ft tall and had zero curves or physical charms to boast of. The outfit clearly designed for a curvier figure hung off one shoulder somewhat pathetically.

Keith tried to keep a straight face, suddenly feeling very unthreatened by this creature "What did you want? You sc-  I mean we thought you were an enemy... you're not an enemy right?"

The demon glowered at them "I'm a demon, so what do you think? But no I wasn't attacking you. I was trying to ask for damn directions. I lost my glasses and I can't see shit in this darkness..." they huffed crossing their arms over their nearly flat chest and awkwardly tried to hoick the strap of the lingerie-type outfit up again muttering "Stupid sexist fantasy garments! Why can't we wear normal clothes?! I'm freezing in this" under their breath

Keith tilted his head "Uhhh why ARE you wearing that anyway? And you're in were territory, just outside the village of Greyhowl... wait a minute, you're not one of those demons that invaded the village to the North are you?" he was frowning suspiciously at the little demon now

The demon pinched the bridge of their nose with their bird-like claws  "1) I'm a Succubus. Succubi are meant to dress provocatively so we can allure menfolk into falling for us and feed on their soul energy or whatever, but I'm asexual to be honest and I much prefer decent baked goods. 2) Kinda? My family is part of the raiding group but I'VE personally not attacked anyone. And I'd prefer to stay a million miles away from that shitshow"

"Oh..." Keith responded exchanging glances with Lance and blinking in confusion "I guess that makes you sort of okay then... for a demon" , "Well gee thanks Your Hairyness I'll try to contain my excitement and awe at the favour you're bestowing on me"  , "There's no need to be rude" , "Uh HELLO? Demon? We aren't made to be nice ya know!"

The little demon/succubus plonked their butt down on the rock Keith had formerly been inhabiting "Names Pidge. What about you two brooding weirdos?"

Keith pouted "Keith Kogane. And I'm not a brooding weirdo!" he furrowed his brow, his expression ironically looking EXACTLY like a brooding weirdo in the attempt to avoid that slur, he gestured to the bat "This is Lance, he's under a curse"

Pidge propped their chin up with a taloned fist and smirked impishly at the bat "Ooh you don't say. Curses are fun. Lemme guess, he put on a shiny trinket and got the magical whammy? Ha! Works every time" they grinned. Lance squeaked back angrily and flapped his wings in fury at the demon, little wing claws closely approximating the gesture to flip someone off. Pidge's shit-eating grin only grew bigger "You kiss your mother with that mouth Bat-Boy?"

Lance huffed and poked out a pointed bat tongue at them nestling back under Keith's mullet. He didn't like the mention of his mother since he couldn't ever return to her and after a few seconds the anger dissipated into melancholy once more, Keith automatically reaching to pet his head "You don't have to be so mean". Pidge eye-rolled "Again... Demon. It's kinda in the job description. But fine I'll get off his back. Let's see his cursed object. I know a few things about curses, maybe I can help? You guys'll owe me one though. I don't work for free!"

Lance exchanged glances once more with Keith, looking at Pidge warily then headed over to the demon hopping into their outstretched hand as they poked and prodded at the pendant "Wow, this spell is a real doozy, I've seen a lot of cursed objects before and usually the spells are weak and easy to break but this is on another level, what did you get cursed by Haggar or something?" they mused, rubbing their chin thoughtfully. Lance squeaked the affirmative and Pidge blinked "You're kidding! Did you go poking around Zarkon's castle or something? Are you a moron?"

Lance huffed and let his wings droop. Yes. Yes he was a moron and now dealing with the consequences of that moronicness. Pidge awkwardly patted his head "Sorry, this one's out of my league to undo. I'm usually good at curse-breaking and making. But I can't match Haggar's spellwork, there's a reason she was the most fearsome witch of her time, a reason she was the founder of Witch kind. But I guess you'd know that since you were originally a witch huh?"

Lance blinked his round dark eyes at the demon with a squeak of surprise. "How did I know?" Pidge voiced his thoughts "I'm not a dummy, and you don't act at all like a normal vampire, plus only a witch would be messing around in a forbidden place like Zarkon's castle. You guys really have no boundaries when it comes to hunting down new spells and knowledge, huh?" , Lance sighed once more. Well they weren't wrong. Hunting for power where he shouldn't was exactly how he'd gotten into this mess. "Nail on the head huh? Guess you got a pretty big moral lesson from this. But as fun as it would be for me as a demon to rub it in, I'll be classy and give you a break"

Just then a loud shout came from further down the cliff-face "Keith! Lance!". Unmistakably Hunk's voice. And he was being way too indiscreet considering they were supposed to be on the down low and hiding from the villagers!

Lance hopped off Pidge's hand, fluttering in the air and making downwards swooping motions to try and signify he'd go down and get their attention. Keith nodded leaning against a rock. As much as he didn't want to face that snotty brat Allura again, he realistically knew he wasn't going anywhere because his leg was still too bad to walk on and besides it was cold and looking like a storm approaching and he'd much rather be back by a warm fire with food in his stomach.

Lance disappeared and reemerged shortly with Hunk. The bear looked immensely relieved to see the wolf and aggressively hugged him, squeezing half the life out of the werewolf "Don't you ever scare me like that again Keith!" he scolded him, then glanced at the demon and did a double take "I-Is that..." he began nervously, moving to stand behind Keith somewhat nervously which was frankly ridiculous because he was bigger and stronger than them both not to mention the demon.

Keith snorted softly "This is Pidge. They're a succubus but they don't want to suck anyone's soul or whatever and they're kinda an ass but halfway decent" he introduced. Pidge shrugged "Accurate" they replied giving Hunk a little wave with a taloned hand, spade tail swishing "Pleasure making your acquaintance uhh..."  , "Hunk" , "Weird name..." , "Like 'Pidge' is totally normal?" , "You got me there"

After a little introduction and explanation the group were joined FINALLY by the two other weres, Coran's knees had been playing up trying to scale the cliff path and Allura had to wait for him because she didn't want to cause any more social blunders by trying to speak to Keith on her own.

Naturally when the white werewolf showed up, Keith huffed and averted his gaze almost putting his nose in the air ignoring her. Pidge looked between them and settled with a fascinated look on their features, eagerly watching the showdown and wishing they had some sort of portable snack to enjoy whilst doing so.

Allura fidgeted looking very awkward. Coran made gentle prompting gestures to try and encourage her to speak. She sighed and cleared her throat "Keith... I apologize for my words and opinions earlier in the cave. They were borne of ignorance, you are right that I do not know you and the hardships you and your family have faced. But you were also wrong to assume I have not faced any hardships of my own. I lost my father and had my lands stolen from me, and since then every day has been a fight to keep surviving and not let my father's enemies get away with their crimes. Sometimes my passion to overcome those odds blinds me to who my true allies are. Your actions thus far have been innocent, so it is wrong for me to judge you with prejudice for things you have not done. In doing so I have clearly hurt you, and that is something I earnestly regret"

Keith hesitated before letting his violet eyes drift to her "You did hurt me. Quite a lot. But I've said hurtful things too to Lance and others when I was angered about the loss of my brother, so I understand the situation you are in, mourning your father however long it might have been. We don't move on from those sorts of losses easily. Please understand I would never be in league with anyone who has hurt others especially not those who arranged by brother's death. If what you say about a secret movement of traitorous weres is true then I am certain they arranged for my brother to be killed off. Probably my father too as we did not serve their needs. In that you and I are united because they are my mortal enemies too. If I find the ones responsible for the deaths of my father and brother I will rip their hearts out myself!" he growled, that reddish infernal light entering his violet eyes again as he spoke those words so forcefully.

Pidge interrupted by clapping loudly and hooting and cheering "Yass! Bloodshed! My favourite part!". This resulted in 5 pairs of eyes staring at them which they responded with "What? I keep telling you guys I'M A DEMON!" whilst rolling their eyes.

Chapter Text

After a relatively peaceful night spent eating good food, sharing the warmth of the fire and discussing the plans for the next step of their quest the group went to bed except Pidge who obviously didn't need to sleep and Keith who was feeling restless still. The pair sat up by the fireplace awkwardly waiting for the sun to come up and this resulted in them eventually having a conversation.

Pidge surprisingly was the one who started it. Keith had been poking the embers of the fire distributing the ash to prevent their heat source dying out when the succubus had abruptly spoken. "So... you said your brother was killed by witches..." they began. Keith made a face "Is that the best topic you can think to start a conversation with?" he remarked. Pidge shrugged their shoulders "Demon. Morbid. And I'm curious. Sue me"

Keith sighed "Yes. He died about a year ago, he was supposed to help some witch called Adam with a spell to reroute the flood waters from River Tzarek which would have obliterated the village. They were successful and the villagers survived but afterwards I guess Adam betrayed him or something because my brother died and Adam disappeared along with a sizeable portion of our clans valuables and treasures. That was when the current clan leader took power in the confusion, saying he would bring justice to the witches and outlawing any fraternizing amongst clans. Of course I was kinda wrapped up in Shiro's death at the time and not really looking to object to someone taking my family's leadership away. I never cared for titles and power, I only cared for my family. Guess it's kinda hypocritical of me to call Allura out for shirking her responsibilities as leader when I could have fought back and stopped the takeover..."

Pidge shrugged again noncommittally and replied "I guess? But you were grieving so you probably wouldn't have been in a fit mental state anyway. When did your Dad die?" , "A while back. I was only a cub when it happened. He went out hunting and never returned. I can't blame that one on witches, but I always thought it was kinda suspicious. Dad was careful and a skilled hunter, he wouldn't have had an 'accident' like they said he did. Now that I think about it, taking into account everything Allura has told us, I'm guessing they were probably plotting to get rid of our family from back then. I don't recall much of my youth, but I do remember Dad used to have visitors late at night who were very loud and angry and demanding. He probably refused to do things their way and got bumped off for his troubles" Keith sighed again obviously depressed by this choice of topic.

Pidge nodded as if gathering this information for some reason, they didn't prompt Keith to continue however, seeing that he looked miserable and showing a rare flicker of compassion for a demon. "You'd be best off seeking out a medium who could connect with the spirits. Then you might get some proper answers. The same for Allura if she wants guidance about her Dad it's best to get it straight from the horses mouth so to speak"

Keith tilted his head, wolf ears flicking back in confusion and wariness "Wouldn't that require going into Witch territory?" , "Not necessarily. We have a witch right here, remember?". Both their gazes fell on the sleeping bat form of Lance. Keith kept forgetting that Lance was more than just a vampire. That he was also a powerful and skilled witch. "You think he could summon spirits?" he asked "I don't want to put pressure on him, he's been through a lot and he's evidently exhausted"  

"Then wouldn't it make more sense to make it easier on him and everyone by cutting down time spent stumbling around blindly not knowing what to do? Ultimately having some spiritual guidance if you pardon the irony of a demon recommending such a thing, might be very helpful. Maybe someone in that realm knows how to get that amulet off him? He could always ask, no harm in trying right?" Pidge leaned back against the cave wall arms behind their head the little red wings nestled in their hair flexing lazily as their spade tail swished like a lazy cat preparing to take a nap.

Keith hmmed eyeing the succubus cautiously "I feel like I should be careful about agreeing too easily with a demon, somehow it feels wrong to take your advice...". Pidge snorted in response "But...?"  Keith sighed in surrender "But it sounds like it would make more practical and logical sense than fluffing about getting nowhere. We can at least ask him". Pidge smirked "Atta boy. You're not the brightest spark but you get there eventually" , "Hey!" Keith protested with a pout which had the demon chuckling

Eventually the sun started to rise and this triggered Lance's metamorphosis. It started off horribly painful, the small bat writhing and convulsing in agony that even a demon who loved pain like Pidge couldn't take much pleasure in. But as Keith frowning scooped the bat up to support him through the change, the pendant around his neck began to glow bright blue once more, it was Keith's first time being awake to see it though and he startled, staring at the gem that glowed in proximity to the vampire, seeming to suffuse the trembling form and calm and sooth the pain that wracked it, the transformation continuing but with more ease and less pain.

It wasn't until he had a groggy disorientated vampire in his arms, his cheeks flushing at the proximity of Lance's naked tanned body that he lifted his head and saw that Pidge had recoiled almost to the mouth of the cave and was cringing in pain, baring their teeth, spade tail lashing like a cat that's had water dumped on it, expression agitated and both sets of wings fluttering in distress "Ack! Holy gem! Turn that thing off!" they snapped

Keith blinked down at the pendant and back up "Holy? But... how is it not hurting Lance then? He's a vampire he should be repelled by holy objects like demons are.... also I don't even know how I turned it ON..." , "Hell if I know! Maybe your blatant gay pining for his undead ass protects him or something? Either way it's hurting me so as much I can't believe I'm saying this.... think unsexy thoughts?"

Keith's face turned redder, protesting "I'm NOT gay pining for any part of Lance. I just.... he's only.... he's a team-mate okay. That's it. We're barely even FRIENDS!" , "Uh huh. Your denial would be cute but I'm getting fried so I'm not gonna entertain your bullshit. Just whatever it is, STOP!" Pidge snapped in response, narrowing their gaze at Keith.

The wolf boy tried to focus on turning the gem off, thinking things like 'Stop. Desist. Yield' to no avail. The stubborn glow continued until Lance stirred, raising his head sleepily, rubbing at his blue eyes looking up at Keith's face in confusion through thick dark lashes, his cheeks sprinkled with a constellation of freckles, eyes blue as the gemstone around his neck, pointed ears twitching cutely amidst the rampant caramel curls. Oh hell... Keith felt his face heating up further and he mentally coached himself "I'm not gay. I'm not gay. I don't love the vampire. I don't love the vampire... SPIRITS BE DAMNED!"

Lance tilted his head utterly bemused, no clue what was going on or what he'd missed. The pendant having finished causing absolute mayhem for its owner decided to innocently shut off its power now it was no longer needed to heal either Lance or Keith. Pidge exhaled in relief, throwing up their hands "Fucking finally!"

Once the rest of the team had woken up and Lance was a bit less disorientated (and Keith had calmed his Gay Disaster ass down), the concept of Pidge's suggestion was mentioned. Lance frowned thoughtfully "Well... I've seen spirit summoning done before, but I've only really ever witnessed it as a bystander. I've never actually tried to part the veil and see into the Spirit Realm. But I did take note of the requirements for the spell so I could give it a try if it would help everyone that much?" he really wanted to be useful, he was tired of feeling like an inconvenient burden to everyone and if this spell meant he could help the group he was willing to try.

Coran frowned "I would normally advise against dabbling with magics of this type especially when inexperienced, the horror stories I could tell you about when those things go wrong.... but it would be most helpful to be able to speak to Alfor again and know his will in this... and uncovering more of the mystery involving young Keith's family would be helpful also..." he rubbed his hand over his mustache thoughtfully "I suppose it may be worth a gamble if one advances with extreme caution..."

Pidge waved their hand dismissively "Cool it Gramps... any excess unwanted souls show up? You got their natural predator right here. I eat wayward souls for breakfast. Literally! Heh heh heh" they remarked airily, having recovered now from the effects of the gemstone and reclining on a log, taloned feet crossed over and resting against the cave wall. Coran muttered to himself about cheeky young hellspawn and that he was still in the prime of life, but had no further arguments against the idea.

Hunk was more difficult to convince though "Are you sure you're up to a spell of this caliber Lance? You were baked in the sun only yesterday and you've not fed yet..." he fretted. As if to prove his words Lance's stomach growled loudly in protest but he stubbornly ignored it "I can eat after. This is important. I know I can do this. I want to help!"

Keith fidgeted. He wanted to speak up and tell Lance he had nothing to prove. That he didn't have to try and win their trust and affections anymore because they knew he was a good person now. He wanted to apologize again for the anguish he put the vampire through, making him feel so worthless that he resorted to shit like this now just to be relevant and accepted. But he was still coming to terms with his Gay Pining TM and was too embarrassed to say anything to the vampire or even make eye-contact for longer than a few seconds, knowing if he did he'd start blushing up a storm again.

Lance seemed oblivious to Keith's strange behaviour, and he misunderstood the avoiding eye-contact as Keith being mad at him again for some reason. Perhaps it had something to do with him waking up in the wolf's arms? Had he subconsciously overstepped his bounds? Had he disgusted the wolf by reminding him of his undead status with his cold body? He couldn't explain why that thought made him so sad. Why he was so desperate not just for the group's approval but for Keith's approval. Why was he so concerned by the wolf's opinion of him?

In any event they needed to make preparations for the spell. And that required a foray into the village again. Coran agreed to go and get the necessary supplies since he could still slip in and out of the village unquestioned. Nobody had seen him leave with Allura or the wanted 'traitors' so nobody would ask any questions if he showed up again out of the blue. He could also try and grab some things from Hunk and Keith's home such as fresh clothes and other supplies.

Allura would go and hunt more food and Keith who was feeling a little bit more mobile thanks to the gem's healing and Coran's ministrations, opted to go with her, because he was getting restless sitting still and needed to exercise himself and also he didn't want to be stuck sitting around awkwardly with a certain vampire. Lance deflated pouting as the two wolves left and frowned at Hunk who had lingered and was doing his level best to clean up the cave as if it were a house and not a muddy hole in a cliff.  He remarked sulkily "I don't get it. Keith and I were just starting to get along... now he can't stand the sight of me..."

Pidge who had rotated themselves to a position that looked insanely uncomfortable, upside down with their back and wings on the cave floor and their legs levitated and resting against the log and cave wall, grinned ferally at the vampire with a knowing chuckle "Oh I don't think the sight of you is that unwelcome to him" their grin widened "You could say it has quite an effect on him"

Hunk tsked and wagged a dark finger at the demon "Don't tease him" he warned them in a Mom like way. Looking out for his 'kids' interests. Lance looked even more confused "Effect? Like what? Disgust? Hatred? I know I'm a gross ugly vampire now, but its not like I asked to be this way" he sighed dramatically.

Pidge snorted "Man you two really are two of a kind. It's almost funny but also really really sad" they ignored Hunk's warning flipping their position and perching on the log once more in a gargoyle-like manner "Do you reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallly wanna know what he thinks about you?"  , "Pidge!" Hunk warned again with a growling edge to his voice that dared the demon to defy him. The demon pouted muttering "Killjoy!" under their breath

Lance sat forward "I want to know! Tell me! If I did something wrong I want to fix it!". Pidge opened their mouth, saw Hunk's gaze narrowing and shut it again "You'll figure it out sooner or later. Probably later considering the combined intellect of you pair of idiots...". Lance pouted "I'm not an idiot! Well not usually... I mean granted everything I've done so far was pretty stupid but..." he sighed shoulders drooping "I just wanted to help people..." looking into the dying embers of the fire with a melancholy sigh

Hunk put a large hairy brown hand on Lance's thin shoulder, the cape had been salvaged and was doing its best to cover the vampire's nakedness for now until Coran returned with fresh clothes for everyone. "Lance you will help people, you're already doing good things that are going to save a lot of lives in the long run. Everyone makes mistakes and you could have made much worse ones than you did, so you've nothing to feel bad about okay? You're a good guy!" the bear insisted earnestly.

Blue eyes rose to meet the brown ones with a grateful expression "Thanks Hunk... it means a lot to have someone have faith in me. I'll try my utmost to be worthy of that trust"  , "You already are Buddy"

Pidge interrupted by sticking their finger down their throat and making loud gagging noises "Please spare me the sappy brotherly-bonding. It's bad enough watching the wolf pine without the sequel from you pair". Lance tilted his head "Pine?" his expression confused "What's that mean?". Hunk glared daggers at Pidge who threw up their hands "I'm going for a damn walk!" and they stomped out of the cave leaving a perpetually bemused Lance "What's Pidge talking about Hunk?" , "It doesn't matter right now Lance, you two will work things out in your own time. Don't stress about it just yet..." the bear soothed Lance. He wasn't going to stress the vampire out further by gossiping about Keith when he hadn't even permission to discuss Keith's potential feelings. He liked Lance but Keith had been his friend first so he wasn't going to betray his confidence like that. Keith would tell Lance what was on his mind when he was ready. Hopefully....

Coran eventually returned with a change of clothes for everyone, more medical supplies and even some fruit and cooking utensils. Lance excited to actually have proper clothes again gathered the garments. Coran had picked some nice stuff considering he was an old guy. Lance had clearly underestimated how stylish the medic was. The new outfit consisted of some blue breeches, black boots, and a blue sleeveless turtleneck with matching gloves. These couldn't have belonged to either Hunk or Keith though so Lance gave the elder werefox a questioning look  "Coran? Where did you get these? They don't seem used..."

Coran smiled warmly at the vampire "That's because they're not lad. You've been through so much recently and suffered on our account, possibly will suffer more in the future, you deserve a little something in return. At least your own clothes" he responded. Lance blinked blue eyes widening in surprise "Y-You bought these for me? New? Thank you!" his earnest gratitude only intensified the werefox's almost fatherly expression, clapping a hand around the shoulder of the undead boy "As I said you're part of our group now, no matter what type of curse you're suffering, you're a good and earnest person in my book"

Lance wiped at his eyes feeling a little moisture beading there and responded quietly "That means so much... first Hunk telling me I'm a good person and now you... I might have made some bad choices and suffered because of them, but I'm glad ultimately they lead me to meeting you guys" he gathered the garments clutching them to his chest, suddenly noting something amongst the pile of supplies. A slightly charred pointed hat. He made a sound of exclamation, reaching with trembling clawed fingertips to snatch up the accessory "My hat! I thought I lost it for good! Where did you find it!"

"Ah that one was in the young wolf's abode. I can't say how and when he retrieved it but it had been kept safe. I figured it probably belonged to you, since there would be no other reason for a Witch's garment to exist in a were's home" Coran replied. Lance held the hat. It was singed here and there but the familiar blue was still intact, white ribbons wound around it trying to mask the burns. Those hadn't been there before... Keith had added them? But why? Hadn't he hated Lance until just recently?

Lance dressed and holding the hat emerged to find Keith and Allura had returned with a couple of rabbits which Hunk was planning to make into a stew, there was fruit for Lance but he bypassed it, approaching Keith somewhat coyly "Umm... th-thanks for keeping my hat safe. I figured you would destroy it..."

Keith stiffened a little, gaze averting down to the flames "No... I'm not that petty. I don't... I DIDN'T like witches but I wouldn't destroy their things, and I know how valuable these are to your people" he replied quietly, looking awkward and wearing a slight pink flush to his cheeks. Lance tilted his head regarding him, still unable to make sense of the other male's behaviour around him, he opted to nod respectfully, feeling grateful that the wolf had been gentle in spite of his bias

"That's true. If I hadn't had this back, even if my curse was ever lifted I'd never be able to return to my family... so uhh... thank you. It means a lot to me" he replied softly, with a shy smile fangs grazing his lower lip. Keith looked up and was swept away in another wave of heartsickness. By the Spirits' power was Lance totally oblivious to how beautiful he was when he wore such a soft expression like that? He was seriously going to die if he remained infatuated with him. And the worst part was Lance was clueless of his effect on the wolf. Although that was mostly Keith's fault for being too much of a chicken shit to spit it out. He replied hoarsely "You're welcome... I'm glad it makes you happy..."

Lance couldn't blush in return, nor did his heart beat like it used to, but he felt a large bubble of happiness expanding in him, plonking the hat back on his head and turning back towards the others remarking somewhat shyly to Keith "Thanks for adding the ribbons too. They're really cute. I like them. You have a tender touch after all Mr Grumpy Wolf" he chuckled. Keith turned redder and mumbled an incoherent response something along the lines of "I'm not" but whether he was denying being grumpy or being tender was unknown.

Lance turned back to the group then "Alright... so we'll eat and then get started on this spell. I feel more focused now I have my hat back, so hopefully we'll be successful in reaching the other side!"

Chapter Text

Once the spell had been appropriately set up and the rest of the group had gotten back out of the way. Lance settled himself at the North point and called on the elements one by one, their representations being imbued with magical energy and lighting with a dim blue aura as they went around the circle. Lance's slender brown hands traced the connections between each element as if spinning a web from thin air, shimmering lines forming between each glowing point until the shape of a pentagram appeared within the circle. His eyes were wholly glowing blue now as he drew on power in himself and in the elements he had utilized and in the surroundings of the cave. This was standard fare for any spell really. But the next step would make the difference.

He raised a sharp claw and drew it down his wrist, the sight of which made Keith jerk a little forward in alarm, only held in check by Hunk and Pidge. He let droplets of blood fall on each point of the pentagram, hoping that his vampiric blood would not taint and change the spell too much where pure witch blood was normally required. Thankfully it seemed his witch genetics were strong enough that even with the corruption of the curse he was able to carry out the spell.

Still with glowing eyes he motioned forward Keith and Allura with each hand "Come into the circle. Speak your desires. The spirits are receptive this eve and will listen to our request". Keith swallowed nervously. He was fine with battle and other things that were dangerous but all this spooky supernatural witch stuff, gave him the heebie-jeebies. But he wouldn't show weakness in front of Allura so he bowed his head and stepped over the blue lines of the circle, feeling a tingling charge like a small spark of static electricity when he did so. It caused his tail to fluff out a bit and Pidge snickered behind him which he grumbled at, but turned to sit awkwardly watching Allura do the same  

"Umm... I want to speak to my brother Takashi Shirogane" Keith uttered awkwardly. Allura inclined her head "And I would like to speak to my father Lord Alfor". Lance nodded "If you have anything personal of the deceased please place it within the circle it will strengthen the connection". Keith thought, he had Shiro's cloak which Lance had returned to him once he had dressed in his own new clothes, he motioned to Hunk to pass it to him not wanting to step out of the circle to retrieve it and the bear complied, Keith setting it in the middle of the circle. Allura placed a silver circlet on top of it which had belonged to her father but which she had never worn herself not wanting to sully his memory.

When the items were in place, Lance drew even more power, his fingers seeming to make claw-like shapes as if he were literally trying to draw power out of the ground beneath them by digging it out, though his fingers did not touch so much as a speck of soil. The blue glow intensified running from his fingertips down his veins so his skin literally seemed to shine with ethereal light. Keith swallowed hard repressing that part of his brain that had never felt more attracted to the vampire, ignoring the heat warming his cheeks suddenly

A flare of bright blue light like a funeral pyre blazed in the center of the circle where the items were, though it did not burn and destroy either object nor the occupants of the circle. When the light dimmed there were faint silhouettes visible against the flames, shadowy shapes that should not be possible to be cast where so much brightness was present. Both were evidently weres from the shape though one seemed to have an almost mythical tallness beyond even what Keith remembered of his brother's form. That must be Alfor. He was imposing for sure! Keith was too distracted however by the familiar shape of his brother. He leapt to his feet stumbling forward with a breathless cry "Shiro!"

The shape of his brother reached out shadowy limbs which when they made contact with Keith pulled him into another space and time, a separate reality where only he and his brother existed. A black nothingness but his brother's form was there whole as if he were still alive, but lit with the spectral blue glow "Keith..." the familiar warm strong tones of his beloved elder siblings echoed in his ears, as powerful and comforting as the tight embrace those limbs enclosed in him.

Keith's violet eyes spilled tears "I missed you so much! I didn't know what to do when you went, I was alone... I... I fell apart..."  he sobbed, clinging to Shiro's arms. His brother sounded sad as he replied softly "I know... I saw it... I've been watching over you Keith. I wanted to reach out to you so badly... to tell you what happened... to protect you... but the veil kept me from reaching you until now..."

Keith's eyes took on a sharpness "It was that witch wasn't it? He murdered you and stole all the were clan's treasures. I knew we shouldn't have trusted him I knew..." he growled, but Shiro shook his head "No... it wasn't Adam. He tried to defend me in the last moment. We were friends... no... more than that... we were lovers... I was going to tell you but I knew that pairing outside one's clan is taboo especially among our kind and I didn't want you to think badly of me... I'm a coward and I kept secrets... I'm sorry Keith..."

"He didn't murder you? The elders said...." Keith realized how stupid and gullible he'd been. He'd stumbled blindly right into the evil charlatan leader's trap, blinded by familial grief so he didn't even fight as his family's leadership was usurped from under him, told lies like a stupid ignorant child so he would remain a tame mutt they could nudge out of the way of their machinations!

"I'll kill him!" he growled, violet eyes taking on that infernal red glare once more as the light of fury entered them, knowing now the one who had killed his brother and probably also his father. The one who had murdered his brother's lover even, the witch Adam, and framed him for the other murder, to alienate their people from seeking assistance outside the clan when he took over. That power-hungry son of a bitch would pay for his crimes!

"Keith, I've not much time on this side of the veil, you must find Adam. He can bring me back, we were destined soulmates, so our spirits are tied together" Shiro spoke. Keith tilted his head "Find him? But he's dead isn't he?"

"Yes he died but the leader had his corrupt witch minions perform a horrible rite on his corpse that prevented his soul leaving his body. He died and yet he could not move on. He lingers in unlife in the Realm of the Undead. You must find him. He will be able to tell you everything about the leader and how you can take him down. But first the rite must be removed on his body. He knows the way but he cannot perform it on himself, it is part of his curse"

"This rite... does it remove curses of unlife in general?" , "I'm not sure... why do you ask?" , "I owe a favour to the witch who helped me summon you... he is cursed by a terrible hex from the witch Haggar and it turned him into a vampire, and the curse is slowly destroying him... would this rite remove that curse?"  Keith asked, thinking perhaps he could help Lance too by helping his brother.

Shiro sighed and shrugged his shoulders helplessly "I'm afraid I don't know. I only know what Adam told me when he reached out to my soul before they killed him. It's possible he knows the answer, or you may find someone else who does in the Realm of the Undead. My spirit energy is fading... I must return... I'm sorry Keith... we'll meet again I know it!" Shiro's form was becoming faint and more and more transparent, the strong arms seeming insubstantial and wispy now like a cold breeze around Keith's form. His eyes fell shut and when he opened them again he was sitting back in the circle with damp eyes. Allura too looked like she had been crying, obviously having had her own intense and difficult conversation with her father.

Keith looked to the white werewolf "D-Did you find what you needed?" he asked her, trying to muster compassion for her state of mourning and a softer tone even though he was still a little upset by her previous behaviour towards him. She nodded "I know who killed my father and I will see to it his head and that of all his cronies will be mounted around the barriers of our territory when the land is reclaimed to warn those who ever think of betraying us again..." she spoke grimly, her blue eyes glittering darkly like midnight in the fading glow of the circle. Keith nodded solemnly "Right... and I think I have some clues to lead us into the best plan to do that"

Before they could discuss further though, Hunk suddenly let out a shout of alarm and Keith's head whirled to see Lance swooning backwards limp as a ragdoll, colour washed from his already too pale features, he lunged to catch the other before he could hit the cave floor and crack his head open, but he was just a second too slow. Thankfully to his surprise Pidge had slid on their knees so that the vampire's head landed in their lap, huffing a little in annoyance at having to do something 'nice' "Looks like Whiz-kid here ran his power source dry overreaching on that spell" they muttered, glowering down at the mop of curly brown hair falling like a sun-streaked halo around the drawn hollow looking face.

Keith crouched beside Lance shaking his head "You went too far but... I'm grateful you did. I got to see my brother again... I can find and avenge his death now. Thank you so much..." he spoke softly, fingertips reaching with tenderness to brush a lock of caramel hair from the vampire's face. Pidge unceremoniously lifted and dumped Lance in Keith's arms, standing and dusting themselves down as if they somehow got dirty mumbling under their breath "Stupid mortals. Making me all sentimental. I'm a demon dammit" Keith opted not to pressure them about it.

Taking Lance in his arms he carried the surprisingly light weight to the sleeping area of the cave wrapping the unconscious form in blankets. He should have eaten before trying something so dangerous. Hunk had been right all along. Keith would have to be more observant of the boy he was falling in love with, since he seemed particularly bad at taking care of himself and idiotically sacrificed too much energy for others' sake.

Remembering Shiro's words about finding a soulmate outside his clan, a witch who he'd known and loved in secrecy behind the backs of his own family, Keith looked down at the witch turned vampire murmuring softly "Soulmates, huh?" with warm and pinkness rising to his cheeks, wolf ears pricking up and tail starting to wag behind him involuntarily. It didn't sound like too terrible a thing.

Chapter Text

Lance slept a long time after the spell, it had utterly wiped his magic and taken a fair bit of his vampiric strength too, everyone was quietly concerned but most of all Keith who insisted on sitting beside the vampire and watching over him in silence.

He knew they should be moving on. Coran had already warned them that there were rumours of the cave being occupied around the village whenever he went on a supply run, and that people had been asking questions and claiming to have seen lights from within the cave because of the fires they were lighting for warmth and to cook their food. They needed to be gone before anyone put two and two together about the refugee 'traitors' and the cave occupation and organized a search party.

But he was loath to wake Lance up either when he clearly needed the rest. He'd been through an absurd amount since his curse began and even beyond that and he would be damned if he'd be responsible for bringing more suffering on the other.

Lance cycled through two changes from vampire to bat and back to vampire again before he finally stirred, and even then he was half out of it and functioning on pure instinct and the need for food. Coran had thankfully stocked up on fruit in anticipation of the vampire's awakening and Keith sat back watching the ravenous boy plough through red apple after red apple, fangs slicing the firm flesh whittling them down to the core like a hungry piranha on a swimmer's leg

Lance caught him watching and had the grace to look a little embarrassed even though he couldn't blush to show that embarrassment clearly "Sorry... I'm hungry" he managed between bites, knowing his manners were awful and that if his mother had caught him eating like that she probably would have launched into an epic tirade about witches already having a bad enough reputation and not needing to be classed as mannerless slobs also!

Keith managed a small smile and patted his arm "It's fine. You expended a lot of energy for us. Besides my brother Shiro was a sloppy eater too when he hunted so it's nothing new". Lance nodded grateful for the support even if it was from an unexpected source and focused back on finishing up his meal.

Finally when he was done eating the group began to get ready to journey on. The plan was to head up river to Pidge's village and find their brother who might agree to help them since he knew the Undead Realms better than most and was in Pidge's own words 'A nitwit who is fascinated by mortals and likes spending his time studying them'. From there they could journey to the Undead Realms and try to locate this Adam character.

Lance was a bit of the loop of the whole Adam thing and when Keith filled him in on the details he blinked and exclaimed "Wait... Adam? Sandyish hair? Wire-rimmed spectacles? Tanned skin? That Adam?". Keith nodded wondering where Lance was going with the question, surprised when the vampire excitedly grabbed his jacket collar

"He was my cousin! He disappeared a while back in mysterious circumstances whilst in Were territory. We always assumed he'd been killed in a hate crime.... well I guess that's true going off your story, but he's undead? And he might know how to cure me! WOW! Talk about finding answers in unexpected places!" the vampire enthused evidently excited by the prospect, having the grace however to quickly mute it in respect to Keith because Adam's death was a painful reminder of his brother Shiro's death, which was evidently still a sore point for the other boy.

Keith appreciated it and didn't blame Lance for getting excited over a possible cure for the horrible curse he was suffering under. Although a part of him internally whispered 'But even if he doesn't get cured, you'd still have the hots for his undead ass'. Flushing awkwardly he inwardly told the voice to shut the hell up and focused his attentions instead on helping Hunk clear the camp of evidence that they'd been staying there.



Eventually they were ready to move and began the trek along the riverside. It was about half a day's journey to Pidge's village and they had to move discreetly under cover of the trees to avoid running into any were villagers and prevent Lance getting exposure to sunlight. His burns from the village staking him out had almost entirely healed by this point between his own vampiric healing and Keith's pendant, which he was immensely thankful for as he was too used to being pretty to adapt to being ugly. Fangs and a slight unhealthy complexion he could cope with, a face full of blisters? Not so much.

They stopped for lunch beyond the small waterfall that separated the two territories, Hunk turning bear mode and catching some fresh fish for them which were cooked on a small fire. Lance munched on some of the few remaining apples he hadn't demolished earlier as he watched Keith eating his fish quietly.

He hadn't really had time to consider it before with panicking about his curse and everything but the wolf was decidedly pretty. He had the most tragic choice of hairstyle of course, but his large violet eyes with their frame of thick dark lashes were quite captivating, looking like a sky at dusk with lights of stars twinkling in their depths, he had well sculpted cheekbones and a good firm jaw too, nose well formed but not overlarge, brows thick but well shaped in a way that only enhanced the intensity of his gaze.

Beyond the face he had good broad shoulders, a well-muscled torso and good firm biceps that showed he was physically fit. Lance had never really flirted with a guy before and up until now the concept of trying to flirt with a werewolf of all things would have been unfathomable to him. But he could definitely appreciate a good thing when he saw it. Being as he was a vampire however he did not blush and his heart didn't beat so there was no speeding up of pulse to clue him in to the fact that he might be developing the first inklings of budding feelings for the grumpy wolf.

Keith glanced from his meal feeling the vampires eyes on him, and tilted his head with a questioning glance wondering why the other was staring at him like that. It made him feel awkward and self-conscious. Did he look weird? Did he have food stuck in his teeth? What?

Sensing Keith's agitation, Lance waved off his concerns with a relaxed smile and leaned back hands behind his head as he shifted his gaze to watch the river instead. He did fleetingly glimpse a slight reddening of the wolf's face though that piqued his curiousity. Why was the wolf so awkward around him suddenly? He still couldn't work it out. They were friends now instead of mortal enemies but that was no reason to get all flustered, was it?

Pidge for their part rolled their eyes and groaned "I swear you two better knock off that pining bullshit before we get to the village, you're going into a nest of succubi and incubi, you parade around giving off THAT much sexual tension and they're going to make a meal out of you!" they grumbled

Lance blinked "Sexual Tension?" he inquired tilting his head. Keith suddenly much redder was looking anywhere but at him and that confused Lance too. Which made Pidge throw up their hands, done with both their shit "Oh for the love of the Dark Lord! Listen here idiots... he likes you okay?" they gestured from Keith to Lance, and then pointed an accusing finger at Lance "And from the way you were half drooling over wolf boy here earlier, you definitely like him back. So just stop it with the puppydog eyes at each other okay? I can smell your emotions a mile off and it's driving me nuts!"

Lance's blue eyes went wide as saucers. Like? As in.....  He glanced to Keith seeing the other had gone almost as red as the colour of his jacket, violet eyes averting downwards despairingly, fingers flexing into claws and mumbling under his breath in what sounded like trying to convince himself not to kill Pidge there and then for exposing him so drastically.

"Oh...." the vampire responded quietly. He couldn't blush but if he had been able to his face would have been rivaling the wolf's in scarlet hue. So that's why Keith had been behaving weirdly around him. He remembered his Mama talking about vampires once before because he wouldn't stop asking questions, being a very inquisitive child. She had told him they had great psychic powers including being able to enthrall a person, which meant making them fall in love with the vampire and become their willing slave.

He shuddered at the memory. Had he subconsciously activated something like that? Was that why Keith had abruptly stopped being a grumpy asshole all the time and started to be really nice to him? Had he mind-controlled him to do that? He hated to admit it made perfect sense.

And it was horribly disappointing. He thought he'd made a friend. What if it was not just Keith? What if he was controlling the others to a lesser extent also? Hadn't they all joined his cause really easily? He'd literally been plotting to steal from Hunk's garden and he'd just casually let him into his home and fed him. And Coran and Allura had saved him without ever knowing him. Even Pidge had gone against typical demon behaviour to help him.

He felt his heart sinking like a stone. He thought he finally had friends. Instead he had a crew of brainwashed cronies. Despair filled his features. He didn't want that! He really cared about these people! He wanted them to be free!

Dropping his half-eaten apple he sprung to his feet looking distressed which immediately had the group's attention wondering what on earth was wrong with him. Hunk tilted his head "Lance? Buddy? Are you okay?" he asked brown eyes looking concerned. Coran was looking at him in consternation also "Are you feeling well my lad? Is the sunlight getting too much for you?"

Lance started to back up getting panicky, he didn't want this. He didn't want this! Keith reached to grab his hand, his blush gone and replaced with worry now, beautiful violet eyes meeting Lance's with care and concern in them "Lance what's wrong?" he was asking?

Lance yanked his hand free roughly, sobbing out "I... I'm... I'm s-s-sorry.... I didn't mean to... I swear I didn't mean to! I j-j-just w-wanted us to be f-friends!" turning away from their worried faces unable to look at them and know it was all a lie. It had to be a lie. Why had he ever thought any differently? He was a monster. Why would people want to be friends with something like him?

Spinning on his heel he ran from the group ignoring their confused cries of his name behind him, fleeing deeper into the forest running as hard as he could and as far from the group as possible until he no longer heard their cries.

Turning about he found himself utterly lost with no clue where to go from here and with a groan he sank to the ground utterly depressed, tears sliding from his eyes as he buried his head in his hands, hating that yet again fate had intervened to rob him of all his happiness and leave him miserable and alone once more. This time it was self-inflicted of course, but it had been for the best. He didn't want slaves. Perhaps if he got far enough away from them, the mind control would break?

As he sat mourning by himself in the darkness, he heard rustling in the undergrowth, lifting his damp blue eyes, vampiric vision kicking in so the glowing orbs saw even through the blur of tears, making out dark silhouettes moving through the bushes. Were villagers? He hoped not! He didn't want to hurt anyone trying to defend himself but he wouldn't allow them to take him back and try to burn him again. This time they might not use such unreliable methods and just straight up stake him through the heart for his supposed 'crimes'.

Voices floated to him from the shadows "What is it?"  , "A boy" . "All alone?" , "Yes, poor thing" , "Poor thing! Let's play with him" , "Yes lets... lets!" the voices seemed to purr melodically, having a strange almost soothing quality to them.

Lance gathered to his limbs closer to himself, ready to bolt if need be calling out "Whoever's there, go away! Leave me alone!", listening to the laughter that rang back at his words "But we want to play!" , "Yes play!" , "Play with our new friend!" , "Friend! Don't you want to be friends with us!"

"No I don't! Leave me be! I'm a scary vampire! You'd better run or.... or I'll bite you!" he bluffed trying not to show he was afraid of the disembodied voices or the ever nearing shadows that were closing in on him. More laughter in response "Oh! A Vampire? But you have a soul..." , "Yes a tasty soul! We smelled your tears!" , "Come and play little vampire with a soul... we'll take away your pain" the voices cooed seemingly not taking his bluff as a threat at all.

Lance swallowed hard and tried to think of a defensive spell, preparing himself to attack the first thing he saw, he was so distracted by the shapes in the trees ahead of him that he never noticed another silhouette sneaking up behind him until he was suddenly snagged from behind, the assailant grabbing him under the arms and spreading large wings swooping up into the air like an eagle snagging a fish from a lake, or an owl pouncing on a mouse.

He flailed and struggled, hissing and baring his fangs, but he was too high in the air too quickly and knew if he struggled too much he'd fall and possibly smash his body to pieces and that would probably kill even something undead like him. He couldn't make out much of his kidnapper except they smelled somewhat similar to Pidge for some reason. Growling he demanded "Let me go!" petulantly.

A humorous voice responded "Well I could if you want to end up spread across the forest floor. But I think it'd be best for both of us if you quit fidgeting and let me take you away, you didn't want to stay with those harpies anyway, they'd have pulled you apart trying to decide who got to eat what part"  

"And you're not going to do the same?" Lance demanded suspiciously. The voice sighed in response "Nope. Unhappy souls give me indigestion. Now hush, you're distracting my flying" and that was that. Lance had been told. He made a mental note to try to keep his mood low if it ensured his survival. At least until he could work out a way to escape!

Chapter Text

Hunk ground his teeth together, clawed fingertips flexing in a way that demonstrated clear annoyance, his usually soft brown eyes like smoldering coals as they leveled on Pidge "What... exactly... did you... tell Lance?" he growled, making even the cocky young Succubus stand up a little straighter and avert their eyes nervously. It was always the soft quiet ones who could be the most terrifying when they eventually blew a gasket.

Pidge twisted their talons together awkwardly "I didn't think he was gonna blow like that..." they began "I just kinda got sick of seeing these two mooching over each other and playing an eternal game of footsie. It was blatantly obvious to everyone else that they were into each other... I just gave em a little nudge..." they remarked defensively.

Hunk narrowed his stare "You were told explicitly not to tell them anything and to let them work things out at their own pace. Lance has enough on his plate right now, he didn't need to be further confused because Keith is pining over him and can't speak his mind on the topic" he snapped.

At this Keith flinched too, ears and tail drooping guiltily "Then it's my fault for complicating matters developing these feelings. I didn't mean to... I just... he tried so hard for me... for all of us... it just... it kinda happened... I don't even understand why he's so upset... is the idea of being with a were so disgusting to him?" he averted his eyes violet eyes looking hurt and pained as if feeling rejected by Lance's response. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. He'd thought Lance was different from other witches, but apparently he shared their opinion that weres were lowly beasts and beneath them. He'd misread the signs and mistaken Lance's pity and charity for friendship and affection. He should have known the only one who would ever understand him truly was Shiro...

A hand was on his shoulder then and he was surprised to find Allura standing there, her blue eyes sincere as she looked at him "I do not think that is true. Lance is not the type to think so harshly of others. I haven't a great experience with witches, but I know enough to know he is fundamentally different from the others I have encountered. He cares genuinely and worries about other's wellbeing. That does not match with one who thinks themselves better than others. This seems to be more of a misunderstanding on his part..."

Coran nodded his head "That is quite likely, especially given he was apologizing before he ran away. Though for what I'm not certain....... oh! Unless...." he trailed into muttering hand rubbing over his orange moustache thoughtfully.

Pidge cleared their throat "Any time you'd like to share with the rest of us..."

Coran seemed to snap to attention at their prompt and remarked "Oh yes, right... I was just thinking of the old Vampire Myths. After the war there was a lot of exaggerating and folktales woven from the true facts and tragedies of the war. Some of the clans that were embarassed about having been beaten so easily, spread exaggerated stories about the terrifying powers the Vampires had. Silly things such as being able to turn to mist and controlling people's minds and such. I was just wondering if maybe our lad Lance might have heard some of those myths and not known any better being so inexperienced with his new species and assumed that perhaps he was mind-controlling us to like him or some such poppycock of that sort"

The group seemed to consider that possibility then almost unanimously face-palmed as they realized yes that was exactly the sort of idiotic assumption someone as highly-strung, paranoid and generally pessimistic about themselves as Lance was, could dream up and think was accurate.

Pidge muttered under their breath "And I thought my brother was a dumbass..." earning them glares and growls from both Hunk AND Keith this time around. They held up their hands as if to ward off the angry weres backing behind Coran for cover

Keith sighed "Well obviously we have to find him before he gets himself into more trouble running off The Spirits alone know where".

Hunk nodded in response to the wolf "Especially in this territory who knows what might happen if a demon gets their talons into him..."

Pidge piped up "Hey... we're not carrion vultures, we have standards you know, who would want to eat a walking corpse?" ducking back into hiding as more growls replied to their words throwing up their talons once more "Well geez, if you're gonna be cranky for no reason...."

Allura rose to her feet with a determined look in her eyes "Enough chitchat. I think we should be on our way. We need all members of our party we can get if we are to be successful overthrowing that corrupt were leader. And Lance is a valuable asset to this group with his magic.... of course he is a valued friend too!" she added carefully to make sure the sensitive bear and wolf didn't turn their ire on her next. The group didn't need to be prompted twice and were quickly prepared to travel, heading in the direction Lance had fled.

Meanwhile Lance had found himself in the lair of the creature who had snared him. At first he was confused because this person looked almost exactly like Pidge, and hadn't he left the young demon behind with the rest of his ex friend group? But on closer inspection there were small differences between the two, for one this demon was taller than the half-pint hellion, also his hair was longer and he had a scar on his cheek and no spectacles. That and most obviously he wasn't wearing skimpy garments. Or rather not a dress at the very least. The clothing was still plenty tight and revealing even for the male equivalent of the wardrobe.

The demon kept circling him, rubbing his own chin with a talon and making hmm sounds. Eventually Lance cleared his throat politely and requested "Could you stop doing that? Please? You're making me dizzy and I'm already pretty nauseous from flying, so if you don't want me to make a mess of your nice clean lair..." he left the threat hanging, but paired it with a pointed stare with those glowing blue eyes.

The demon sat on his haunches taloned feet scraping the floor which took some of Lance's bravado away and made him shut up at least momentarily. He might have the supernatural strength to uppercut this guy across a mountain range but he didn't like the sharpness of those talons, they were way sharper than his own claws and teeth and he was pretty sure the guy was fast enough to either claw his eyes out before he could even muster a defense, or throw him clean off the very very VERY high ridge the lair was situated on and cause him to plummet to his death.... redeath? Hell he didn't even know anymore!

Eventually the demon seemed to snap out of whatever distraction he'd been in "Witch curse!" he remarked seemingly out of the blue.

Lance blinked. "Pardon?"

The demon gestured excitedly to the amulet embedded in Lance's throat. Since being away from Keith even though he'd only been missing about an hour, the lack of Keith's protective holy pendant to keep the evil effects of Haggar's cursed necklace at bay, had resulted in the amulet trying to make up for lost time by tightening even more than usual, making it hard to swallow and if he was capable of breathing then surely his airway would be cut off by now. It was certainly very painful and resulted in him somewhat sarcastically applauding the demon "Congratulations on your skills of observance. It only took you this long to work it out?"

The demon pouted, "Hey. Rude. For all I know you like accessorizing with things that could kill you. I mean everyone has kinks right? Also I was trying to work out how you could be undead and yet still have a soul. The amulet kinda made it obvious. You were something living before right? And then you got blinged into being undead? Ouch by the way..."

Lance shrugged figuring perhaps the demon deserved the benefit of the doubt. He could have killed him by now after all and hadn't yet. Plus he looked like Pidge and was probably this brother of theirs that they had been mentioning. Which meant the group would probably be coming soon to find him. Ugh. He needed to be moving on before they found him again.

"Listen I appreciate the save from those Succubi, but can I go now, if you haven't anything else you want with me. It's close to sunset and I gotta be somewhere far away by then or I'll be vulnerable...." he began

The demon blinked "Well I'm not imprisoning you... but what's the rush? You turn into a pumpkin at midnight or something?" he laughed brashly at his own joke

Lance made an unimpressed face almost as grumpy as the ones Keith normally wore, not feeling especially good-humoured after the day he'd had. In fact after every day he'd had since leaving home. He was tired, miserable and in pain and he just wanted to be able to rest in peace. Not literally. "Something like that" he grumbled in response to the demon's joke.

The demon nodded "To be honest I only picked you up because I smelled my sibling's scent on you. You see them? Smallish, kinda puny for a demon? Wears thick glasses like bottle ends? Absolutely nothing in the way of curves? Seems like a bit of a brat and a know-it-all?"

At this description Lance couldn't help but snort a little, finding the accuracy at least a little bit amusing in spite of his sour mood "Yeah I met Pidge, they're back there with the rest of my ex group..." he sighed gesturing back the way they'd come with an unhappy expression at the thought of the group he'd left behind.

The demon lifted a sandy coloured brow, narrowing their golden-amber hued eyes at the vampire  "And you're not because....?"

Lance seemed to hunch up more, almost physically recoiling as well as emotionally closing himself off "I don't really feel like talking about it... I don't know you and I don't feel like spilling my guts to strangers..."

"Valid" the demon shrugged "And I'm Matt by the way. My sibling and I are only half demon. We have a human dad. Hence the kinda dorky names. Though Pidge isn't their original name. But I'm kinda not sure I should tell you, since that one seems to have preternatural senses for when I'm telling embarrassing shit about them, and would probably show up abruptly and kick my ass"

Lance listened to the demon ramble for a bit, but didn't really offer much to the conversation except nods and hmms.

Eventually his dour mood made the demon stop and make a face of displeasure "Hey dude... not to be rude or anything but could you lighten up a skosh? That bad vibe you're giving off is really giving me a headache. I know you've got this whole broody undead thing going on, and honestly you're rocking it. But yeah... no thanks" he sighed rubbing his temples in obvious discomfort.

Lance sighed "Sorry, not intentional... it's just been pretty shitty recently for me, ever since the curse..."

Matt leaned forward propping his chin up on his talons "Lay it on me... I'm all ears" he gave the pointed appendages a wiggle to demonstrate "Getting stuff off your chest can't hurt right?"

Lance hesitated for a moment more torn between keeping his privacy and accepting the demon's sympathy and attempt to be friendly. Even if it was probably caused by his vampire powers since demons were hardly known for being friendly, now were they?

Nonetheless he found the desperation to talk to SOMEONE about the pain he was feeling was too strong to resist and Matt was pretty personable and chill (for a demon) so he ended up blurting out everything about being a witch, going to Zarkon's castle, getting cursed by Haggar's damned amulet, turning back and forth from bat to vampire, Lotor and his cronies, the were village, and finishing up with confessing he was probably putting a spell on everyone with his vampire powers because he didn't know how to control them. He hunched miserably at the end of the tale looking like he wanted to cry, feeling so unhappy.

Matt was very very quiet to the extent that Lance wondered if he'd bored him to sleep. It would figure if he had. But no his audience was still alert and wearing a strange expression between amusement and sympathy. Lance didn't like that expression and growled at the demon baring his fangs "I didn't tell you all that so you could laugh at me!"

Matt exhaled and reached to pat the vampire heftily on the shoulder with a taloned hand "Bro.... first of all you can't possibly have enthralled either me or my sibling because Succubi and Incubi are immune to mind-control. We can control others minds but we're not susceptible to it ourselves. Not even witch-craft could make us feel something we don't feel. If Pidge is acting like they like you, it's because they genuinely like you. Second of all, that whole thing about vampires enthralling people? Complete myth. Vampires have no innate powers. Why do you think they recruited witches to help them win the war? Sure they have speed and strength, but they can't shape-shift without a witch's assistance, they can't fly or turn into mist and they certainly don't read or control minds. Whoever told you that, was telling you a bogey-man story. A myth. Something to scare little witch kids no doubt and keep them in line. And it looks like it worked on you"

Lance's jaw fell open looking at Matt stunned, trying to work out if he was lying or not "You're kidding me..."

Matt shook his head "I kid about a lot of stuff, but this is 100% honest. Cross my little black demon heart and hope to fly" he made the gestures grinning at Lance "So... do you feel better now you know your buddies aren't pretending to like you?"

Lance swallowed, nodding, eyes spilling tears of relief, smiling until he thought his jaw was gonna break off from the strain "Yes! Thank you so much! Bless you!"

"Ow hey! Don't bless demons, okay?" Matt flinched in response to the words, wings curling around himself protectively

"Ohh I'm sorry!" Lance responded earnestly, frowning in concern at the demon who waved him off

"Anyway I guess I'd better go see if I can find these friends of yours. You can stay here where its safe. You're going to change back soon right? It's almost sunset." Matt responded gesturing at the darkening sky turning a deep almost blood red hue with blazing flame orange at the horizon.

Lance flinched and nodded. He would be turning to his bat form very soon. And without Keith it was going to be extremely painful. He wasn't relishing the prospect. "Please, find them as soon as you can..."

"I'm on it... you just chill here and I'll be back soon!" the demon promised standing at the edge of the ridge outside his cave/lair and spreading his large bat-like wings before taking off in a flurry of powerful beats, disappearing into the sky.

Lance settled down and waited for the inevitable pain to begin. 'Please come soon Keith' he thought to himself weakly, feeling the amulet tightening further around his throat 'I need you...'

Chapter Text

It didn't take Matt long to find the troupe Lance had mentioned, they were bickering pretty loudly considering they were in lands infested with soul-sucking demons. He heard their arguing long before he spotted them. Two male voices arguing with a third younger voice of a lighter timbre. Peering through the trees he had set up a lookout in, he spotted his sibling come crashing through the undergrowth first, stomping their talons and lashing their spade tail angrily

"I said I was fucking sorry okay? I didn't know he was going to explode like that! Am I mind-reader now? Well okay yes I am. BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" Pidge snarled turning to glower behind them as the trees parted to admit a large boy with dark skin, a yellow bandana small bear ears and an angry expression.

"If you'd actually listened when I WARNED you that he was sensitive you would have known, wouldn't you?" Hunk remarked, not normally so short-tempered but irritable because they had forfeited lunch to hunt for Lance and it all could have been prevented if a certain demon had done like they'd been asked!

"Will the pair of you shut up, you're giving me a migraine and I can't smell Lance's trail if I can't concentrate" Keith groused appearing behind Hunk with an expression that was a mixture of anxiety for his lost friend, guilt and also stress.

"Oh pardon us! Please Sir Keith, give us all lessons on how to not speak our minds when we're fucking supposed to. You seem to be an expert on that" Pidge shot back, their defensiveness making them come off unnecessarily nasty when they didn't mean to be.

"Back off Keith, Pidge! He had the common sense to wait until the time was right to speak about his feelings, until you broadcast them without permission and scared Lance off!" Hunk pointed a clawed finger at the young demon's chest.

"And when were we meant to wait for that? The 12th of Never?" Pidge practically screamed, wings flaring out and levitating a little off the path with fury, glaring at the bear.

"Just stop please! We need to find Lance and this isn't helping! If he hears all this racket he's going to run in the opposite direction. If you want to find him then shut up and help me look. If not, just go your own way" Keith snarled, tense and shaking with barely repressed anger, ears pinned back and thick bushy black tail lashing.

"Ahem... if I could just intervene..." Coran mentioned somewhat nervously, being absolutely ignored by the hotheaded teenagers before him.

"ENOUGH!" Allura roared, her patience with this charade snapping like a brittle twig "You mewl and whine at each other like cubs. Are you not old enough to think logically for yourself? We are in dangerous territory, all the noise you are making could summon our doom upon us. It does not matter whom is at fault, only that we rectify the situation as quickly as possible and these temper tantrums will do nothing to ensure that. Be quiet all of you!"

"She has a point you know..." Matt remarked swinging upside down from a tree branch and grinning at the group, waiting as they collectively shrieked jumped and went into defensive stances. Except Pidge who rolled their eyes and let out a groan

"Matt you ass, can't you make an entrance like a normal person?" they groused, rolling their eyes at the rest of the group hyperventilating and growling like they were under attack  "Settle down ya bunch of headless chickens. It's just my lame dolt of a brother..."

"Normal? Dear sibling how gauche. One does not do 'Normal'" Matt affected a mock posh accent to tease his younger relative. He held out a talon to the group "But they're correct, I am the older and much better looking sibling. Nice to meet you all..."

Keith gave Matt a once over deciding he was unimpressed and snorted "Great. Hi. Now if you don't mind we're busy looking for a vampire. Unless you've seen him we haven't time for introductions" he grumbled moodily

Matt rubbed his chin pretending to look thoughtful "Vampire, vampire, hmmm, have I seen one of those... wouldn't happen to be yea high, broody, poor choice of accessories?" he commented, suddenly having a bear and wolf thrust upon him grabbing him by each shoulder as they demanded in unison to know where their lost companion was.

Brushing them off he remarked "Settle down. Yes I've seen your vampire buddy. Rescued him from some hungry locals. He's up in my lair, safe, but supposedly the sunset is a bad thing for him I've heard. I came looking for you guys to bring you to him"

Keith's urgency was immediately apparent. "Take me to him! He needs my help or the change will be really painful for him" he fingered the blue pendant around his throat with a frown, imagining the horrible cursed red amulet tightening more and more whilst Lance underwent a horrifically painful transformation. He couldn't allow that. He wasn't sure if Lance returned his feelings yet or not, but he was sure of one thing and that was that he wouldn't let the other suffer again. If he had the ability to protect him he'd do so regardless what happened until Lance didn't need him to do so anymore. On that he was dedicated.

Matt nodded "I can fly one of you up, but the whole group is too heavy for that, so the rest of you are gonna have to catch up on foot" he pointed to a large craggy outcrop of rocks just beyond the forest "My lair is thatta way. When I've dropped off Romeo here, I'll come back to guide you the rest of the way. Of course Pidge COULD guide you, if they spent less time being 'normal' and trying to fit in with ground-walkers and more time honing their demon skills..."

"Bite me" Pidge replied with a vulgar gesture of their middle talon. Matt smiled, blowing a faux kiss and replying sweetly "Love you too, Pidgey!" and moved to grab Keith, strong talons gripping him by the shoulders. Keith flinched obviously uncomfortable with the situation, but trying to stay cool and not squirm too much. What was important now was getting to Lance as swiftly as possible!

Meanwhile in the lair, the sun had set and the transformation back to bat form had begun for Lance but as with all the previous times, it had only grown more difficult than the last time, he rolled on the floor, writhing in agony, screaming as each molecule was forcefully ripped apart and reshaped into something different, bones cracking as they forced themselves under hellish pressure to conform to a different shape. All the while the chains of the amulet were tightening and tightening, causing rivulets of blood to run down his throat where fur was sprouting. Trying to croak out Keith's name but unable to form a sound. Why oh why had he run off like a stupid drama queen? It was costing him now. It was costing him so much. And Karma didn't take credit.

Just when he was sure he would perish from the sheer agony rending his body, there was the sound of wings and a familiar smell assaulted his nostrils. Keith. Oh spirits. Keith. He reached out a malformed knobby hand en-route to becoming a wing, suffering blue eyes trying to peer through the swimming fog of blurred shapes and colours to try and put the wolf's face with the comforting smell.

Keith for his part was struck with horror at how bad Lance had gotten in such a short time apart. That amulet really was trying its best to kill him! He rushed to gather the poor creature in his arms, breathing in a sorrowful whisper "I'm here... I'm here... you're safe now... I'll protect you..." his blue pendant beginning to glow as it washed over the gasping bleeding vampire "I'm so sorry..." the wolf choked, shaking with shock and trauma at seeing the one he loved in such a state, tears falling from his eyes, ears lowered and clearly distressed by the low whimpering sounds he made.

Lance wanted to tell him it wasn't his fault, that he had been the one to be so stupid and not trust his friends, that Keith didn't deserve to feel guilt when all he'd done since the beginning is show Lance more kindness than he'd ever deserved. But his vocal chords were already too changed and speech was impossible, even if he hadn't been too exhausted to summon words. He just melted into the wolf's warm comforting embrace, the smell he'd originally described as unpleasantly doggy now being all he'd ever needed to feel safe and comforted.

Eventually the change ended and an exhausted Lance bat fell asleep nestled close to the chest of the werewolf the glow of the blue pendant bathing their silhouettes in a dim light, as the wolf shifted to his canine form, curling around the bat, nuzzling him and licking him protectively.

Both were sound asleep exhausted from the ordeal by the time the rest of the group arrived.

The next morning after a long sleep Lance went through a much easier transition back to his humanoid vampire form thanks to Keith's presence and the gem's healing. Hunk had also cleaned up the blood around his throat. And the group had spent the night resolving their issues with each other, even Pidge going against their normal demonic nature to apologize for jeopardizing Lance's health.

Lance of course forgave everyone and apologized for rushing off without trusting the group, explaining that he had succumbed to paranoia and doubt and feared that everyone was only tolerating him for charity.

Pidge of course had snorted and replied bluntly "Listen, don't flatter yourself, okay? I'm a demon. We don't DO charity. You're just amusing to have around that's all" they remarked whilst roasting a lizard skewered on a stick over the camp fire that had been set up in Matt's cave lair.

"Uh huh. Is that why you came all this way with us to rescue him?" Hunk remarked teasingly, in a much better mood this morning, biting into his own breakfast. It wasn't exactly the bread and honey he preferred to start the day off with, but food was food and survival was necessary in this scenario.

Pidge snorted "Like you and Keith would have allowed me to leave. If anyone was fretting about our resident Damsel in Distress it was you two" they defended with a smirk

Keith blushed averting his gaze which made Lance avert his gaze coyly too. So Keith really did like him? It wasn't just his imagination or some supernatural trick? The wolf that had started out their relationship proclaiming how much he loathed vampires had fallen for Lance in a big way it seemed.

After last night Lance didn't question it anymore, braving himself to reach and lightly place a clawed hand over the wolf's giving it a supportive squeeze, smiling softly at Keith when he rose his gaze to look at the vampire's face.

"I'm really grateful all of you came for me. You all went above and beyond and I'm really lucky to have friends like you. I'll try my best to not be such a burden on the group in future and to wait and make sure of things before jumping to conclusions" he spoke earnestly, looking around at all of them, the 4 weres, and the 2 demons who had decided to become his companions and had come through for him in his time of need. He was so glad to have met them, even if the reasons for doing so had been so terrible for him.

"Here here" Coran remarked clapping "And of course many thanks to our esteemed host for allowing us to rest in his residence. I do believe this is the first time I've encountered friendly demons. Perhaps there is hope for the future for diplomacy between our races"

Matt flinched "I wouldn't count on it. Pidge and I are odd fruit compared to the average demon. They're all pretty selfish and only interested in what spoils they can obtain. I'd be more trouble than it was worth making a pact with a demon. For my part I'm glad to help though, you guys seem more tolerable than the average adventurer. At least nobody has waved a weapon at me and proclaimed "BACK FOUL HELLION!"" he joked mimicking a loud adventurer's voice.

Pidge poked their brother with the now empty stick mockingly announcing "Back foul Hellion" in a sibling teasing way.

Matt dramatically staggered back clutching his chest announcing "Et tu, Pidge?" before pretending to collapse and play dead. This caused laughter to go around the group

Once the levity and team-building had passed and everyone had eaten a hearty breakfast (Hunk had provided Lance with as much fruit as he could gather) the subject turned to more serious matters. The topic of finding Adam was breached.

Matt responded with excitement to the mention of his old companion "Oh yup I knew Adam, he was pretty cool for a witch, good sense of humour. Really appreciated a good pun. You say he died? Bummer... that's the trouble with mortals though, way too fragile and squishy. I haven't heard anything about him in the Spirit Realm but I'm sure I can guide you there if you want passage"

The group responded positively to the news, if all went according to plan soon they'd be further on their mission to find out what happened to Adam and hopefully a cure for Lance among other pressing matters.

Coran and Allura took Matt aside to discuss specifics of the trip and what precautions would be necessary, leaving the others to clean up the mess from breakfast although Pidge joked that their brother's place was always a dump and not to make too much effort to clean up for him.

When Keith and Lance were alone clearing up the sleeping area, Lance cleared his throat awkwardly "Umm... I'm really sorry if I scared you running off like that, and for worrying you too. And umm... I'm really grateful you came for me..." he remarked coyly, unable to blush but all his body-language suggesting he would have been if he had been able to.

Keith nodded, blushing enough to compensate for the both of them "I'm just glad I got to you in time... please don't doubt my sincerity again, okay? If I say I like someone, I like them, okay?" he blushed "And yeah I probably could have verbalized my feelings a little more clearly, but well..." he gestured awkwardly, clearly flustered and unsure how to finish the sentence

Lance giggled smiling at the wolf "Understood. I'll have more faith in future... and umm... I like you too... I'm not sure yet what that means, this is all pretty new for me. But you're important in my life. I know that..." he replied earnestly.

Keith's cheeks flamed scarlet managing an awkward stuttering "Th-th-thanks... y-y-you too..." which caused the vampire to grin more, looking forward to the future a little more if it was going to have a certain really cute wolf in it.

Chapter Text

There was a reason the Spirit Realm was so far removed from the rest of the clan's territories and that was because of the vibes of death that the place gave off, an unnaturalness that meant nothing lived, the skies and surrounding forest devoid of birdsong and the sounds of living creatures, the plants that endured here, blackened, twisted and petrified like rocks into terrifying tangled black silhouettes that seemed to reach out and snare the sleeves of the group as they passed through.

It was easy enough for the winged members to fly above the trees though not exactly any more heartening up there either, the clouds were grim and grey and cold like brewing a storm constantly that was always on the verge of breaking, threatening to unleash a torrent at the slightest provocation the way a sullen child might build up to an epic tantrum with the full waterworks. But far less endearing.

Down on the ground, the group huddled together each trying not to show they were scared witless by the creepy scenario. Allura took the lead remaining stoic and serious, but even her tail twitched skittishly and she seemed somewhat jumpy to the slightest snapped twig or creaking bough. Coran loudly tried to reassure the others to hide the fact he was openly knee-knocking and about ready to bolt at the next sudden unexpected sound.

Hunk always the most easily surprised of the group, seemed to be trying to make himself as small as possible which given he was taller and bigger than everyone there was frankly ridiculous. Pidge was mostly airborne at this point because he had kept jumping and trying to literally bear-hug them out of fright and they were not especially keen on being smooshed into demon jam by the werebear who didn't know his own strength.

As for the would be lovebirds, Keith was keeping it together but clearly on edge and looking about warily expecting to be attacked and thus in very overprotective mode. Lance knew this because he was currently having his fingers squeezed half to the point of having them drop off (and given he was undead that was entirely possible).

As for the vampire himself he was probably the only one not adversely affected by the environment. Granted it was really depressing but he was really thankful for the lack of sunlight because it meant he didn't have to wear his hood up and could see where he was going a lot easier.

Perhaps it was because vampires counted as undead and thus belonged in a place like this, that he wasn't more upset. Still he remembered enough from being a living creature with a heartbeat to understand why the others were put off by the lack of life in the forest. There was a certain sense of impending doom, a warning coded into the whispers of the breeze (the only lively thing around) that seemed to say 'Go back. You aren't welcome here'

He humoured Keith's grip therefore, distracting him from his fears by coyly curling his fingers around the werewolf's slightly calloused digits. It seemed to do the trick because the violet eyes flashed to him gratefully, exhaling softly in relief, but never admitting he had been scared in any way. Still the gentle reminder of the vampire's support brought to Keith's mind the importance of this mission. Not only would he find the answers to the mystery of his brother's death but hopefully a cure for the man he was falling deeper and deeper in love with.

Eventually Matt landed on the path ahead of them pointing to what looked like a simple cemetery ahead. Granted it was weird to find one this far away from any civilization but outwardly it didn't look that threatening. It was unearthly quiet of course and the feelings of unwelcomeness seemed to double with each step closer they got to the rusted twisted iron gates, barely clinging to their hinges, creaking ominously in the breeze.

"This is the Threshold to the Spirit Realm. You have to pass over the connection to the living world which is this graveyard. They don't allow just anyone to enter though so there will probably be challenges" Matt warned them, his usually joking light-hearted tone much more solemn, conveying the seriousness of the matter.

Hunk spoke up warily "What sort of challenges?" obviously anxious enough already without the thought of being tested by the denizens of this creepy place

Matt shrugged "Don't know. Pidge and I don't tend to go to the Spirit Realm even if demons technically count as part of the species of it. This is the furthest I've personally been. Never really been inside..." he commented with an apologetic look

Keith grit his teeth "It doesn't matter. Whatever they throw at us we're not backing down. Too much is riding on this..." he ground out, fur on his tail and ears bristling like a dog that senses a lightning storm or earthquake coming but refuses to leave its Master's side and is willing to risk it all to protect them.

Lance gave him another soft look, smiling gently before responding with absolutely conviction "I'm not going to do anything that'll put you guys at risk, if there's challenges I'll take them on myself. This is my mess so I have to take responsibility and sort it out myself"

Allura sighed reaching to grip his shoulder "Lance. When are you going to learn you don't have to struggle alone with this burden? We are a team now. A family almost. Whatever dangers you face, we want to be there to face them with you. For good or bad. You do not have to take on everything to protect us"

Coran nodded "Here here, we've been through peril enough already. Who's scared of a couple of oogedy-boogedies?" he made a fist of determination, as if he hadn't been petrified almost as much as the trees just recently.

There were murmurs of consent from the others, Hunk remarking "Well there's safety in numbers right? I'd much rather go through this scary place with you guys than stay out here alone. And it's not like we can go back to the were village empty handed. We've all got a reason to find this Adam..."

Pidge snorted "Like I'm scared of some rotting corpses. Those losers won't dare touch me or Matt, and I GUESS we can extend a little protection to you soft nancies..." they rolled their eyes pretending that they were making the gesture out of boredom and lack of anything better to do rather than any sort of kindness or charity.

Keith's violet eyes looked up at Lance's the flame red flecks dancing in the depths powerfully as the fires of passion burned with the orbs "I told you already I'm never abandoning you again Lance..." he remarked with absolute seriousness.

The vampire bit his lower lip, emotions welling up, blinking the glowing blue orbs closed trying to stop the tears pricking at his eyes from falling. Tears of happiness and love for the people currently surrounding him "You guys..." he whispered softly, absolutely blown away by their determination for his sake. He truly didn't deserve friends this good!

With their determination fortified, they approached the gates, pushing them inwards with a long resounding creak, the gate having served its purpose, wobbled on its rusty hinges and promptly collapsed to the ground with a clang and a thud, clouds of dirt and dust rising as the echoes of the gate's fall rang like a death knell warning them of what was to pass.

Lance reached for Keith's hand, Keith reaching for Hunk's and so forth until everyone was holding hands even Pidge much to their displeasure, stepping beyond the boundaries and into the graveyard.

Mist shrouded the landscape apart from the tombstones rising from the white fog like strangely squared shark fins in a sea of white and grey. The trees had died off beyond this point (not that they'd been exactly bursting with life in the forest behind them!) and it gave the area a sort of strange detached feel from reality, like walking in the clouds far above the world.

Even the dirt beneath their feet was strangely silent where as one would expect it to crunch loudly beneath their boots. It was as if something kept the area in a state of lulled docile sleep. The further in they went the colder it got. Not the sort of cold that came of any sort of weather, more a void of warmth. A void of life. The breath of all the group except Lance misted before them in ghostly plumes.

Pidge tried to lighten the mood hating the oppressing atmosphere and not willing to admit they were actually uncomfortable and spooked here, by blowing out a puff of breath and remaking "Ha! I'm a dragon! Hand over your gold!"

Matt tilted his head commenting "What about the virgins? Aren't dragons supposed to kidnap virgin Princesses?"

"Hello? Asexual? I'm not into that thing dummy. Besides you're more than enough of a virgin to suffice" Pidge snorted, which lead to the siblings arguing heatedly.

Caught up in their feud they didn't hear the wind grow in pressure and sound, transforming from a low whisper to a howling shriek, the mist whipping up around the group as spectral shapes began to form from the mist and fog, slender pale women in tattered white dresses, hovering in the air before them, silver white hair whipping like tendrils of spiderweb around their faces which bore features that were less like that of humans and more open orifices in their pale flesh. Their mouths lacked lips and teeth, just open holes producing the horrible piercing sound, eyes hollow pits and noses reduced to a single skeletal hole. Banshees!

"Uh guys..." Hunk began wringing his hands anxiously "I think the welcoming commitee is here..."

Chapter Text

Lance was the first to step forward and face the banshees that hovered ominously above the group, their shrill shrieks painful to the ears of the sensitive weres. Nonetheless Keith stubbornly stepped up behind him, in spite of flinching from the noise, determined no matter what not to leave Lance to face this danger alone.

The vampire shared a soft glance with him before speaking to the creatures in the hopes that perhaps they were denizens of the Spirit Realm and could be reasoned with.

"We come seeking entry into the Spirit Realm, to find one of the Witch Clan who has passed here" Lance spoke up as strongly as he could muster, trying to keep the tremble of fear and uncertainty from his tone.

The banshees seemed thoroughly unimpressed by Lance and didn't back down even an inch, continuing to block their past "The Living are forbidden entry into this realm. You vampire may pass only if you succeed at the 3 Trials" the middle one spoken, their voice a harsh hollow whisper that sounded half like the howl of the wind rather than any voice that might once have been human.

Keith frowned his grip on Lance's hand tightening "Our group will not be separated. If the vampire enters, so too do we. Whatever trials he must face, we will face alongside him" he spoke up, undertones of a growl lacing his words, fur on his ears and tail bristling with mistrust and anger at these apparitions that threatened his love.

Lance sighed "Keith... if I must do this alone I'm prepared to do so, you can't shield me forever, and this is important for all of us..." he remarked softly, feeling the fingers tightly clenched around his grow warmer as if a fever of passion burned beneath the wolf's skin, his vampiric senses able to sense the pulse of the living being's heartbeat, the smell of adrenaline. Were he not a fruit-drinking vampire he would probably have thirsted for that racing blood coursing as powerful as a river through the young were's veins.

The banshees exchanged glances (though how given they all had no eyeballs, Lance was entirely unsure) before remarking "That one is your thrall?"

"No!" Lance protested immediately repulsed by the suggestion and shuddering as flashbacks of his earlier distress at thinking he had accidentally spellbound his friends, drifted unwelcome to the forefront of his mind once more.

Keith too was suddenly strangely stoic, looking awkward as if he had wanted to blurt out his feelings for the vampire, but feeling uncertain because Lance had not yet returned them. He could hardly claim Lance was his mate if it wasn't true, now could he?

The festering uncertainty seemed to delight the unholy creatures who clustered together conversing in some unintelligible manner

"Very well. We will add a condition to the tests.... If the vampire succeeds he may bring the living wolf with him. Only that one. The others must wait beyond the gates, any interference from them will immediately cause the vampire's failure. This especially includes the demons" the lead banshee seemed to come to a decision.

"And if I fail....?" Lance spoke up, feeling a tremor of fear dance down his spine like icy fingertips, even though as an undead being he should be unable to feel things such as cold.

"Then the wolf loses his life and you both remain trapped here for eternity" the banshee responded icily with not a drop of sympathy or human kindness in their voice.

"No way!" Lance blurted, horror rife in his tone, glowing eyes widened like saucers at the mere suggestion of putting Keith's life on the line. It was enough that he had to suffer undeath for who knew how long, he couldn't bear to imagine the life and passion draining from Keith's vivid violet eyes, the flecks of flame red becoming dull, the warmth of his flushed cheeks and the heat of his breath, stolen away and replaced by cold porcelain and silent still death. No no no nope. No way in Haggar's cauldron was he going to let anything happen to Keith.

It was then that he realised. He really was also in love with the wolf. The one who had treated him so tenderly as a bat that first night when he was lost and disorientated. The one who had spared his life even after finding out the truth of what he was. The one who had kept his valued possession safe. The one who healed his pain every time he changed. The one whose smiling face was the first thing he saw every sunrise, and the last thing he saw every night.

He Lance McClain, former heir to the Witch clan, current cursed vampire, had fallen helplessly and undeniably in love with Keith Kogane, rough rude rustic backwater wolf boy but the truest most honest heart he'd ever known.

Keith's warm fingers gently caressed his cool ones, his other hand moving to gently tilt up his chin, and stare into his eyes, the flecks of red and purple shifting like shimmering reflections in a fire opal as he spoke steadily in that same earnest tone

"Lance we have to do this. It could be a matter of life and death for you. If that curse isn't lifted soon you might perish. I can't hold it at bay forever... If I have to take a chance and risk my life, then I'm willing to. For you. I have faith that you won't fail"

Tears squeezed from the vampire's blue eyes, stuttering out his response breathlessly even though he had no need to draw breath. "I've already caused so much pain just by being what I am. I can't.... I can't let you die too.... I.... I...." he swallowed, blinking his glowing orbs shut so the tears caught on dark lashes
"You mean too much to me Keith, I think.... I think I'm in love with you..." he whispered softly.

The wolf's expression softened and warmed so gently that Lance felt for a moment like he was basking in the heat of the midday sun, but as he had done so as a young witch instead of the unholy thing he was now. This heat wouldn't burn and destroy him, only vitalise and give him strength.

"Then we can't fail. If we have each other, we're unstoppable. I think we were meant to meet, that things have happened this way because they were always meant to. We might be Soulmates Lance. Like Shiro and Adam. It's the only thing that makes sense. And if that's true then nothing can separate us. We'll be alright. We'll really be alright"

His slightly calloused fingertips with the clawed nails gently brushed away the vampire's tears with a tenderness that seemed impossible from a ferocious creature like a werewolf.

Lance's heart melted even more and he nodded softly breathing out "Okay... I... I believe in you. I believe in us..." he spoke, each syllable sounding less and less shaky as it left his mouth, blinking away the remaining dampness from his eyes and standing taller, linking his hand with the wolf's and holding firmly as he addressed the banshees

"We're ready to take the Trials"

Chapter Text

To say Lance was intimidated by the prospect of the unknown trials ahead of him was an understatement, his mouth felt dry, palms clammier than normal, and though he couldn't sweat, minute tremors ran through his body in a way that might result in goose pimples if he had had a living body.

Keith squeezed his hand trying to comfort him "It'll be okay. You're strong. You're smart. You can do this" he told him trying to exude calm like Shiro had always told him "Shiro always used to tell me 'Patience Yields Focus'. You have to try to remain calm otherwise you'll be caught off guard"

Lance joked weakly "Smart? Me? Ha. If I were smart I wouldn't be in this fix in the first place..." but he swallowed down his fear and waited for the Banshees to dictate the first test.

The middle Banshee directed her sisters (presumably judging by the way they were so close-knit a group, but for all Lance knew they could be unrelated to one another) to grab Keith, the vampire blurting out a "Hey!" as the wolf yelped in surprise and struggled. For semi-transparent spiritual beings they had a grip as strong and as icy cold as iron!

"Security measures" the main Banshee smirked "We cannot have him escape and invalidate our wager, now can we?" the cackling sound the 3 spirits made, was less like laughter and more like a death rattle and made the vampire flinch at how discordant it was.

"I'll get you free Keith, don't worry" he told the werewolf gently, giving the banshees a flinty hard stare as he warned them "You'd best not harm a single hair on his fuzzy little body or I will hex you so bad your great great descendants will feel it"

"Enough banter vampire, you disturb our rest overlong and it grows tiresome. To the challenges" the Banshee snapped bony fingers and suddenly the scenery changed entirely, switching from the barren open-air graveyard to a great underground chamber filled with water almost entirely save two shores, one he was standing on, the other where the Banshees stood with Keith.

"Cross the River Styx. But you cannot touch its waters at all or your soul will completely perish, beyond that of even undeath's saving reach. You must be swift. The longer you take the further your mate gets to being thrust into the waters!" the Banshee sneered and her two companions lifted a struggling Keith above the unholy swirling depths of inky dark water, the reflections of trapped souls flowing beneath the surface, tugged by an unnatural current, condemned to a hellish eternity within the deadly waves.

Lance blanched even more than his already sallow complexion and let out a hoarse "NO! Keith!" with absolute horror in his tone. The stakes were rising every minute. He couldn't afford to fail. He had to cross the river without touching it but how... think Lance, THINK!

Then it occured to him. He was a witch. Witches could make things levitate. Usually brooms but in a pinch they could use other objects. Granted he was tainted by vampiric blood now, but if his previous spell attempts were any indicator, his witch powers were still as strong as they'd been before. He could do this!

Sharp eyes darting around he noticed a wilted blackened stump of a tree, teetering over the edge of the bank towards the deadly waters. All he needed was one big sturdy bough... He shuffled over to the dying skeletal form of the tree, murmured a soft thanks to the Spirits of Nature and the tree for its sacrifice before using his vampire strength to wrench a bough down snapping it with a crunch and wielding it over his shoulder somewhat like an ogre's club.

He ran his hands along the length and again whispered incantations, the glow of his cerulean orbs growing in brightness and strength like the blue-white of the centre of a lightning bolt, the air around him charged with power so it seemed to hum and crackle with energy. He released this into the bough so it suffused the nearly petrified wood and made it glow, then making an upwards gesture he commanded imperiously "Up!"

The bough hovered in the air obediently as if it were held with invisible strings. The vampire crouched and leapt to grab the end and pull himself up onto it then directed the makeshift 'broom' across the lethal expanse of water below him.

Lance felt empowered by his success. The old Lance would have trembled and let anxiety pollute his mind and rob him of his strength. But this Lance had only one goal and that goal was to get to Keith and keep him from harm. He reached the far shore just as the two Banshees were about to drop the wolf, leaning to catch him in his arms.

Keith for his part flushed a deep red, somewhat round-eyed with astonishment and very very turned on by the display of the witch turned vampire, breathing with awe "That.... was incredible" he managed, ears pricked up and tail involuntarily wagging with pure excitement.

Lance grinned so wide his fangs hurt "Well I have to save the Mullet in Distress, don't I?" he teased lightly, settling the wolf back on his feet.

Before they could do anything else though the scenery changed once more and the Head Banshee spoke "You have passed the first trial but don't get too bold. There are 2 more tests to overcome!"

Lance grit his teeth, dark brows narrowing over his intense blue orbs, fangs baring as he ground out "This time don't play dirty! Leave Keith out of it!"

"And what would be the fun in that?" the Banshees chuckled, once more sweeping Keith away to a distant location out of Lance's reach. He was prepared for that though. Putting Keith as a goal for him, only made him MORE determined to succeed at whatever challenge they threw at him.

The second challenge was somewhat like a puzzle. He had to step on the tiles with witch symbols in the correct pattern and order to release Keith from the chamber they'd placed him into. If he stepped wrong the Banshees warned him Keith would die from any number of prepared and horrible traps.

Cue big eyeroll. Were all Spirits this dramatic? And xenophobic? Yeesh. He didn't want to be a travelling salesman in these parts...

Thankfully he recognised the symbols as alchemical symbols used for making gold. That followed. Typical myths of the underworld and death said that one had to pay a toll in gold to cross to the other side, this was the Spirit World's way of symbolising the given gold.

He'd always been very good at his alchemy, and he dexterously hopped, skipped and jumped from tile to tile, humming as he did so, irritating the Banshees with the ease in which he passed their trial and made a mockery of their challenges.

When he reached the other side instead of releasing Keith from the chamber so they could have their victory bonding moment, he was poofed away to the next scenario and this time there was no sign of Keith. No incentive to spur him onward.

Worse, whatever this trial was about it was dark. He couldn't see anything. Or hear anything. He'd never especially been good with the dark. As laughable as it sounded to be a vampire that was scared of the dark, it was unfortunately true.

He'd put on a brave face in front of the other young witches in the clan and boldly exclaimed that he wasn't scared at all. But he'd invariably always ended up sneaking into his Mother's bed, trembling and tearful unable to chase away the demons in his head.

This trial had to be a leap of faith, some sort of challenge to ensure his resolve was truly unshakeable. He had thought it was until this point. But he had to overcome his fears.

"C-Come on Lance, d-don't be a ch-chicken... it's just a little b-bit of d-darkness... you're a big st-strong vampire... you've been through sc-scarier things than this" he coaxed himself and tried to summon magic to light his way.

But unlike the first trial his magic abilities seemed to be dampened in this place and the power simply fizzled out pathetically without being able to muster enough energy to fuel a spell.

That was when he heard an echo in his mind. A voice. Allura? She was repeating the last thing she'd said to him before the group had been separated "You don't have to struggle alone with this burden. We are a team now. A family almost. Whatever dangers you face, we want to be there to face them with you. For good or bad".

Ah his brain was providing a flashback from his memory to remind him of the facts. He wasn't alone. Even if his friends weren't with him in person, they were there in spirit. In his heart. Their love and support warming the cold unbeating organ, giving him strength to continue.

He took a step forward, then another, continuing through the darkness, gradually his eyes adjusting and allowing him to see dim dark shapes and avoid any dangerous obstacles.

He relied on his other senses, enhanced vampiric hearing and smell to duck and dodge the hidden traps, able to make out the creaks and hisses that meant a trap had been sprung, able to smell the direction of the exit via the direction of the cold breeze and the scent of slightly fresher air.

Finally a light appeared at the end of the tunnel and he stepped out faced with the 3 Banshees looking very displeased. 2 had preempted Lance's certain failure and had been about to feast on Keith, when he interrupted, his magic now freed of the binding restraints that had been placed on the tunnel able to summon crackling lightning bolts that charged the misty substance of the spirits and dispelled their molecules with shrieks and crackles.

Lance knew they would eventually be able to reform, but not soon. He turned to the final Banshee fangs bared and glowering dangerously with those lightning storm eyes "It's over. I've passed your trials and survived. Give me Keith and let me pass. Or I will do to you what I did to your companions"

The Banshee scowled but didn't want to invite more of the vampire's troublesome magical wrath and clicked her fingers changing the scenery to another gate, swung open, within which seemed to be a dull grey lifeless looking town "Go and complete your business swiftly, then be gone" she snarled and vanished into the ether.

Lance hurried to Keith's side urgently checking him over for injuries, his hands roving over the wolf, Keith eventually brushed him off, but gently, reaching to grasp the trembling over-excited hands of the vampire, gazing up at him with absolute respect and adoration in his violet eyes

"You did it Lance... I knew you would. You passed the trials. You kept me safe" Keith's voice was warm and comforting, and Lance couldn't help himself giving the wolf a sudden particular violent hug

Keith oofed a little, but let the vampire have his moment, reaching to caress the cool freckled cheek as the vampire sobbed with the release of pent up fear and stress

"Holy c-crap... I was... s-so scared... I thought I'd lose you Keith... don't EVER let me do anything that dumb again, okay?" the vampire breathed with hiccups amidst the sniffles and sobs.

Keith chuckled "Okay okay, but hey you're gonna have to let me go. Oxygen would be nice, and you're a pretty strong hugger" he winced.

Lance immediately loosened his grip and mumbled apologetically "Sorry"

"It's all good. Hopefully the worst is over, but we should stay on our toes, this is unfamiliar territory and anything could be a threat. Lets try and find Adam as quickly as possible" Keith remarked, getting to his feet

Lance nodded "I'm with you on that, this place is giving me the willies... and I'M a vampire!"

Chapter Text

It was hard to say which part of their experience inside the dismal grey city of the Spirit Realm was the worst. The soul-sucking drabness that seemed to depress both boys and make Lance crave for the bright flowered fields of home even more? The icy coldness that Lance couldn't feel but sent Keith shivering and curling his tail around himself for warmth? The creepy atmosphere of utter silence, devoid of people populating the streets, or any smells of life or food, or noise that a normal city might have? All seemed equally horrible

Lance sidled closer to Keith, half to reassure himself and half to comfort the other boy. He sure missed Hunk and his big bear hugs right about now!

"So... uhh... any idea where we should begin looking? I mean it's not like there's anyone around we can ask for directions..." Lance began, his eyes flitting about at the dust-strewn shuttered windows and locked, in some places fully boarded up doors. Apparently the Spirit Realm didn't get many visitors. It certainly wasn't homely for potential Tourists!

Keith frowned "I'm not really sure, I didn't meet Adam personally so I don't have his scent. Are you able to sense other witches? Would he still be classed as a witch, or an undead?" he shrugged his shoulder's helplessly feeling frustrated with himself that he couldn't do more to help. Lance's life was riding on their success here as well as the justice for his deceased family and freedom for his people.

In a fit of annoyance at his own weakness he shifted to his wolf form and started sniffing around for ANYTHING living or nonliving. It would at least be a start. Hopefully if they found someone they wouldn't be as unfriendly as the Banshees!

Lance also cast his senses out trying to feel for the presence of magic in the area. Trying to feel anything in this place was like trying to sift through a pot of oatmeal for a diamond ring though. His senses were dulled and muddied by the sheer pressure of the gloomy atmosphere. He thought if Depression could be summarised as a place it would probably be this town.

And what frustrated him more was that there seemed to be no reason for all this dull misery. Like he'd always been told stories as a child that when a person died the Spirits took them to some wonderful afterlife where they met up with beloved relatives and had a great feast and celebration with dancing and the full works. It looked like whoever possibly lived here had never even heard of the concept of enjoying themselves. And it angered him. When all this was over he would make sure things changed around here. Just because these people were undead didn't mean they couldn't 'live it up' a little!

Whilst Lance was distracted with this train of thought, Keith had been sniffing around, finally catching a scent and giving the vampire a yip to get his attention.

Lance couldn't resist trying to lighten the mood with a little joke, teasing Keith by asking "What is it boy, is someone trapped in the well?" to which Keith, flattened his ears and growled to let the vampire know EXACTLY what he thought of his sense of humour.

Giggling to himself Lance held up his hands "Okay okay, sorry, just trying to cheer us up a little in this depressing place!"

He followed Keith towards the scent he'd picked up. As they got closer Lance began to pick up on the smell too. It wasn't human. It wasn't even undead. It smelled like a very large animal.

He frowned worriedly at Keith "Keith... buddy... are you sure this is someone we can ask for directions?" he mused with an anxious tone. There was a dim silhouette ahead of them, just barely visible in the mist and fog. It didn't look like a person...

Keith looked like he was having second thoughts himself. He'd picked up the animal smell early on, but being as he was a were and lived amongst people with animal smells, he hadn't thought anything of it, and had just assumed that it was possibly a were he was smelling. Weres died too right? They had to go somewhere.

The thing ahead of them suddenly moved, as if it had picked up their scent too, turning around and revealing 3 heads with 6 pairs of glowing red eyes. Crap. That wasn't a person! That was a goddamn Hell-hound!

Hell-hounds were super rare creatures in their realm, and rarely ever seen, especially outside of the Spirit Realm, but rumours and myths had trickled down from clan to clan about the fell beasts, how their hides were tough and thick as leather, with wiry black fur like strands of iron wool, how they had teeth as long as knives and their bite was deadly toxic to weres on account of the fact their saliva had the same properties as wolfs-bane.

Lance froze his expression etched with horror, murmuring to Keith in a very low tone, afraid to be heard by the beast "Okay... that is NOT someone we can get directions from.... Keith, we need to run... after me"

He began to turn to quietly slink away hoping the dense mist and fog would shroud them from the potential killer. But of course luck was never on his side and the beast let out a snarl and a horrible distorted monstrous howl and started to chase them.

Lance fled as fast as his long legs could, but realised quickly Keith was struggling to keep up. His leg that had been injured by the trap, had almost healed entirely but it was still weak and running hard on it wasn't helping resolve the limp. He dropped back and sighing muttered "Forgive me for this..." before scooping the canine form of the other up into his arms, just in time to avoid the teeth of middle of the three heads of the hell-hound snapping closed behind him.

As it was the back of his cloak caught in the toothy maw and ripped loudly leaving a chunk of fabric in the beasts jaws. He hadn't time to worry about aesthetic though and hoped Keith would forgive him for ruining his brother's cloak as he legged it as fast as he could for the nearest hiding place.

Banging on doors shouting for help yielded no results and the hell-hound was getting closer and closer. Spirits be damned they were going to die in this forsaken place!

Just then a door gave way with a creak as he leaned in exhaustion against it. He quickly thrust himself through the opening and slammed it shut barricading it with anything he could lay hand to as the monster's snout crashed into the closed door with a thud. The door wouldn't hold for long but maybe it would give them time to escape.

He set Keith down, looking over him in concern. "You okay?" he asked. Keith nodded with a soft whine, wearing a guilty expression on his doggy face, he had wanted to help and he'd only made things worse for them both and nearly got them killed.

Lance seemed to sense his misery and gently ruffled the fur around his ears "It's okay, you didn't know, this place is more dangerous than either of us were expecting" he comforted the wolf.

As he was straightening from his crouch a sudden dizzying sensation went through him causing him to stagger a little, a sharp stab of pain hitting his head. That was weird. Vampires being supernatural beings normally didn't suffer things such as migraines and other human ailments...

Another twinge, this time in his neck, and an uncomfortable crawling prickling sensation across his shoulders that spread down his back and arms as if his skin were growing hot and itchy and trying to crawl of his body.

What? What was happening... the last time he'd felt like this was when he was staked out in sunlight, but the sun if it was out at all was covered by thick grey clouds around here, and besides he was indoors, it shouldn't be affecting him here...

He looked around trying to assess what might be causing him harm, taking in the contents of the room. Rows of wooden seating albeit rotted and half falling apart, large windows with coloured panels cracked and full of holes, and at the far end an altar with a huge crucifix above it.

Oh for the love of the Spirits! He'd taken shelter in a damned church! No wonder his body was cramping and hurting. Every inch of this accursed room was attacking him right now. The Holy energy assaulting his unholy body. He'd never suffered from Keith's amulet, so he'd taken it for granted that he was immune to holy objects, but obviously that was NOT the case!

Dropping to his knees and coughing, he tried to fight against the spasm of pain that went through him, vision blurring in and out of focus. He could hear Keith's panicked yelping and tried blindly to reach for him, even in this state of agony wanting to try and calm and comfort the other male before himself.

"K-Keith... it's... this... p-place... the h-holy e-energy... it h-hurts..." his voice came out in a croak, shivering and moaning in pain, feeling like a huge weight was pressing down on his shoulders trying to crush him into the floor. What sort of monsters created a religion that was this painful? At least with Witchcraft everything was natural and outdoors in the sunshine enjoying the fruits of the Divine Ones.

He had little to no recollection of what followed, only the dim echoes of Keith's barking and howling, and then footsteps, and a sensation as though being lifted before everything spun into darkness.

Eventually some time later he stirred wondering if he'd died for real and hoping if he had, he'd ended up somewhere nicer than this dump for an afterlife.

Opening his eyes groggily he made out two things. First it was dark and the horrible pressure that had been assaulting him had vanished so he must have been taken out of the church somehow.

The second was that he was currently nestled against the thick fur of Keith's flank and was in his bat form, he must have transformed whilst he was unconscious. At least that was one less pain to have to endure today!

He wondered who their mystery saviour was, lifting his head tiredly trying to see around the room. It was dimly lit by a fireplace burning at the embers, not providing much warmth, an array of equipment that looked almost alchemical with it's many sizes and shapes of flasks and tubes and other equipment. And a large pointed hat. A witch! They were in the home of a witch. Could it be they had found Adam already?

Struggling to sit up, the rustling of his wings caught the attention of a cloaked figure who had been sitting just out of sight beyond the tall table's edge, they stood and heavy boots clomped closer, as the being came to inspect them.

They didn't smell alive. There wasn't an offensive or pungent odour to them, just a dusty smell like old bones, and musty fabrics. Lance's short-sighted bat eyes squinted trying to see more clearly as a soft but faintly weirdly echoing voice remarked in a dry whisper "Awake are we... good... you had a narrow escape little one..."

Lance was plucked up carefully from his resting place by withered bony fingers that seemed to barely have the flesh still clinging to them, lifting him to eye-level with the hood. At least level to ONE eye. The face within was equally greyed-out and gaunt, with sharp cheekbones, one eye had rotted away entirely leaving only a gaping socket, the other paled and robbed of its hue but still moving and seeming to function with eyesight.

Lance recognised a zombie when he saw one. But this one seemed capable of independent thought and wasn't staggering around slavering for human brains. Furthermore there was the matter of that hat. Keith's brother had said Adam had died and been placed under a curse to prevent him moving on to the next life, could this dishevelled corpse truly be what had become of him.

Seeing the way Lance flinched from his appearance, the zombie Adam chuckled drily "It's been so long by myself in this place, I had almost forgotten my face isn't quite what living society finds aesthetic anymore... not much I can do about that alas..." he shrugged a shoulder causing the thin joint to creak a little
Lance shook his head, Adam's appearance was not a problem. Granted he felt pity and sadness for the poor man having endured this long friendless and alone with his lover dead and himself shunned and blamed for the murder and losing his good looks as well. Truly the witches who had cast this hex were demons and would be punished for their wrongdoing.

He fluttered from the other's hand onto the table waddling on his short hind legs and long be-winged forearms across the surface, hunting for some sort of writing implement. Finding a quill that Adam had recently been writing with he lifted it and scrawled a short message



My name is Lance McClain, I am also cursed. I am a witch that has become a vampire thanks to a hexed amulet of Haggar. My companion is a werewolf his name is Keith Kogane, we were sent to find you to uncover the truth about his brother Shiro's death. If you are truly Adam please help us...



Adam, leaned over reading the scrawled writing with solemn seriousness, seeming not at all surprised that Lance wasn't just a bat as he appeared, after all someone had to have carried him out of that church so it must be him. Lance had heard that zombies weren't as affected by holy relics as vampires were.

"So you too have been cursed with undeath. That explains why you were passed out in that church. I thought I smelled a vampire..." Adam remarked "Not that my sense of smell works the best these days. I'm often lucky if my damn nose stays attached to my face. The benefits of a really good magical glue!"

The zombie smiled his teeth bearing some gaps but relatively intact as he lifted Lance again "I must say though. A McClain in my humble hovel. I am honoured. You guys are the chosen clan leader lineage are you not?" Lance nodded his head, but that wasn't the point. Fortunately Adam continued to speak and address the rest of what the message had relayed 

"Shiro... dear Shiro. I was unfairly blamed for his murder but it was not me. Those jealous dogs in the Were Clan couldn't stand his leadership skills and how beloved he was by the people. Nobody would listen to their schemes and would always ask Shiro his viewpoints first. It must have driven them quite mad! They hired a witch assassin to kill him then had me blamed and executed for it! As if I would ever harm a hair on my beloved mutt's hairy head" he sighed wistfully probably thinking of bygone times with the were.

"On the subject of help though... I will need your help too. I have a spell that can remove the curse of undeath but it cannot be performed by the victim of the curse. You can perform the spell on me then I can perform it on you... but first you should rest, I wager you cannot perform spells in this miniscule form?" Adam questioned as he set Lance back down against Keith, the sleeping wolf, moving his snout to absently nuzzle and lick the other.

Lance nodded with a tired yawn. Tests, running from a hell-hound, the church and now another transformation... he was thoroughly exhausted and barely able to keep his little eyes open. So much for bats being nocturnal!

Tomorrow. Tomorrow they'd find answers and hopefully solutions to the problems at hand. He closed his eyes slipping into dreams of being cured and dancing in sunlit flower-strewn fields with Keith, happy and laughing. If only it could be true!

Chapter Text

Excited as he was for the events of the following day it was a wonder that Lance managed to get any sleep at all, but somehow he did, though of course he was rudely awakened with the standard transformation from bat to vampire humanoid once again.

Thankfully having Keith close with his pendant, helped keep the majority of the pain at bay. Still it wasn't the most pleasant way to start a day. Hopefully if all went well this would be the last time he'd be enduring these cursed transformations!

He fantasised about being a regular witch again. Having a pulse, being able to breathe, walking in the sunshine. Things that everyone else took for granted, things he himself had taken for granted when they'd been natural to him.

Never again. He would watch every sunrise. Every sunset. He would walk through the flowers and enjoy the sights and sounds of day. And best of all he'd have Keith at his side. Able to feel his warmth and be warm to his lover's touch too. Ahh it was a dream almost too good to be true.

Glancing through the slightly dirty window panes at the dull grey sky, even the dismal state of this city wasn't able to dampen his good mood, smiling so wide his fangs throbbed as he whispered a prayer to the Spirits to let everything go well today. Not just for him but his friends!

Keith stirred shortly after, quickly changing back to humanoid shape, and dressing again. He looked for Lance in concern, surprised to find the vampire dressed and on his feet, and in better spirits than he'd ever seen him in before, the infectious good humour passing onto his own lips

"Did he agree to help you?" he asked eagerly, his violet and rubine eyes shining with a sort of adorable canine excitement, tail wagging eagerly and ears pricked up

Lance smiled softly nodding "I mean he said he'd try and I gotta help him too, so it's not 100% guaranteed, but I'm hopeful..."

Keith's hands were squeezing his gently, rough calloused digits with the curved fingernails somehow soft and gentle and warm, giving just the right amount of reassurance and comfort

"You'll do great Lance, and if it doesn't work the first time we'll keep trying again. I'm here for you..." the words were so earnest, so heartfelt it was hard to believe they were coming from the same lips that just a short while ago had been spitting angry epithets and vitriolic hate because of a stupid misunderstanding.
He was so glad they had resolved things, that they understood fully how they felt about each other now.

A hoarse clearing of one's throat sounded behind them followed by dry words "Are you two going to stand there making moon eyes at each other all day or are we going to get on with this spell?" Adam remarked, dull singular eye both devoid of life and yet somehow still holding a glint of humour, as if the sight reminded him of lost days of his own past.

Keith flushed and Lance flustered the two separating awkwardly which made the zombie chuckle roughly with a leer of secretive pleasure at the boy's expense. Not mean-hearted in any way, just enjoying to tease them.

After a lot of preparation work and gathering the materials needed for the spell, came setting up the elements needed. It wasn't a simple spell so there was a lot of drawing and writing arcane symbols in salt and other powders, setting up representations of the elements at each corner and preparing items that would function as a sort of sacrifice to the Spirits to allow the spell to pass successfully.

It was commonplace knowledge for an educated witch such as Lance who had been rigorously taught the most intense of spell-craft practises from a young age, being as he had been the heir to the Clan. Had.

If this all worked out would he be able to go home finally? Would he get to see his family again? His Mom's warm hugs and smell of dried flowers and beautiful flowing velvet blue robes. His siblings Luis and Veronica and Rachel and Marco... his little nephew and niece Sylvio and Nadia. By the Spirits he missed them all so much!

But now was not the time to daydream about such things. He had work to do first. And a lot of responsibility was placed on him to get this right. He had to stay focused!

Most importantly he was going to keep Keith out of reach of the spell. He didn't want anything to go wrong and put the wolf at risk. With spells involving life and death there was always a lot of danger involved, and he'd be eternally damned if he would put Keith in harm's way after all he'd been through to keep him safe in the trials.

Sure he remembered what the others had said about not taking on burdens by himself but nonetheless there was just too much at stake with something like this. He'd rather he was the only one put in danger rather than anyone else. It was bad enough that Adam had to be involved, but at least HE was already dead!

Pushing those thoughts aside and asking Keith to stay outside the marked lines of the spell area no matter what and ensuring the wolf would follow instructions (amusingly it was really easy to get a werewolf to 'sit and stay' when necessary), he settled facing Adam in the centre of the circle, reaching to take the cold clammy nonliving hands of the zombie as he focused on the power inside him, beginning the chant

Speaking the words, he took a silver athame and cut his wrists letting his vampiric blood flow over the symbols until they glowed one by one with power then smearing his wrist on the outstretched wrists of the zombie.

He lifted his hands then, glowing blue eyes seeming to flare white at the centre like blue fire, an ethereal ghostly aura wrapping around his form and then Adam's, the dark red stains of his blood on the zombies flesh lighting up like the substance of stars tracing its way along the veins of the zombie, gradually youthening and renewing anything it came into contact with.

It was working! He was doing it! He was doing a spell no witch had ever successfully done before! He was reviving the living dead! No necromancer had ever managed to get this close to bringing an undead being back to life.

And all too suddenly he realised why.

Pain. Terrible horrible pain like being struck suddenly by lightning and feeling his body frying at high voltage from the inside out. He wasn't even able to scream the agony was so sudden and fierce, his vision blurred out of focus, and he felt like he was falling.

He heard a cry that was so full of terror and heartache that he barely recognised the owner's voice then everything faded to black.




The next awakening was some time later, consciousness coming back in a confusing haze, everything still numb and a buzzing ringing in his ears as if sound reverberated back on itself causing an ache like termites were burrowing through his skull.

A soft groan left his lips, sounding so detached he wasn't even entirely sure it came from him. Vision was still blurry and swimming.

He felt a tightness around his fingers. Warmth. Rough skin around the fingertips.

He knew that touch. Keith?

He tried to focus through the blurs, vision adjusting slowly, the blobs of black and white and red coalescing into a recognisable shape. Worried violet and red eyes looking down at him rimmed with tears and redness.

"You're awake..." the wolf breathed hard, half sobbing as his fingers tightened squeezing the other male's hand uncomfortably tight

"Idiot... I thought you were going to die. AGAIN. How many times are you going to keep putting me through this. Stupid jerk" the wolf growled sullenly, clearly quite upset with him

A glowing blue gemstone was dangled in his face "If I hadn't broken your stupid circle rules and come to you, and healed you with my pendant, you would have perished in that spell. Why didn't you tell me it was so high risk?! Why didn't you let me help you?" his tone sounded less accusing now and more pained and betrayed.

Somehow it hurt more to know Keith had suffered and it was Lance's fault.

He couldn't find his voice yet, he just gripped Keith's hand back, closing his fingers slowly around the other, letting him get his emotions out, not trying to protest his innocence. It was all true. He'd known the dangers and still plunged ahead without caring how putting himself in harms way could be just as damaging to Keith's psyche as putting him directly in harm himself physically.

Eventually he managed to croak weakly "A-Adam?" needing to know if the spell had worked. If he hadn't endangered the other in the process. That would be even worse. If he'd hurt someone else with his stupidity and suicidal ways.

Adam appeared then by his bedside. At least he thought it was Adam. His flesh was a normal warm brown shade instead of dusty desaturated clay and dirt hue. The thrum of life in the other male was practically audible as well as just visible. So it had worked then. He'd revived an undead being into a living being. Done something a witch had never done before. And almost destroyed himself in the process.

Adam's eyes now both functional once again and intact, met his gaze solemnly "I shouldn't have let you do it alone. I knew this spell was dangerous. How could I not. Every witch knows not to mess with spells involving the dead. They're taboo for a reason. I'm sorry Lance... you suffered to bring me back..."

Lance considered the words then shook his head "It was... a risk... I knew... and decided to take... I can... only blame... myself... for not being strong enough..." he whispered, each word feeling like sandpaper in his throat.

Thoroughly exhausted even though he'd literally just woken up. He felt fragile and drained. Like a piece of paper that had been scrunched up and tossed aside.

Keith held onto him as if to anchor him, his gaze seeming fixed on the other as if he were afraid he would drift off into the air or disappear into nothingness if he let go of him for a mere second.

Adam shook his head "That's just it Lance. If you really weren't strong you wouldn't have survived. It's BECAUSE your magic is just that powerful that you lived at all. You have your bloodline to thank for that. That you are descended from the great clan leaders. I've never known anyone do what you did Lance, truly, you're incredible..." the other witch sounded in awe as if Lance were basically some divine demi-god that had performed a miracle before his very eyes.

Lance was too tired to be modest and nodded "Sure, but... one of those... 'great'... clan leaders... cursed me, so... if it's not... too much... trouble, lets get... the other half... of the spell... taken care of..."

Keith growled at his words "No way Lance" he ground out, his eyes flashing with a fire that meant he better not hear any arguments "You are weaker than a newborn cub right now, you are not doing ANY spells until you're recovered. Sorry but I'm putting my foot down, since you've demonstrated you obviously can't be trusted with looking after your own wellbeing. Someone has to protect your idiotic ass, and it's gonna be me" he remarked looking defiantly at the vampire as if daring him to argue

Lance wanted to. He really did. But seeing Keith nose scrunched in determination, the hints of tears still clinging to his lashes, the memory of that terrified scream still echoing in his ears, he hadn't the heart. He just sighed

"Great I'm taking orders from an oversized dog now..." he huffed a little petulantly, making a show of sulking about it, but inside he was secretly swooning that Keith really cared about him this much. Damn that adorable mutt and his loyalty!

Chapter Text

Whilst the drama was going on in the city of the Dead, the remainder of the original group were trying to work out how to reunite with their friends. The Banshees had denied them access, but the Holt siblings in particular were not about to be told what to do by a bunch of dead old ladies.

"I mean we're demons for frick's sake" Pidge remarked indignantly as they stomped up and down outside the gates "We outrank those old harridans by a ton and they KNOW it. Heck we eat souls for breakfast! We could eat their crabby old asses, if they didn't taste so damned gross!" they snapped, tail lashing and little head wings flexing with pure irritation.

Matt made 'calm down' gestures with his hands "I mean physically there's nothing stopping us busting down these gates with our powers. But the question is, is it going to safe for the rest of these guys? We don't even know if Keith is safe right now. What if the atmosphere in there is toxic to living things? There's no way to tell..."

Allura huffed and blew her white bangs out of her eyes, tail lashing in frustration "Well nothing will get done sitting here squandering valuable time wondering about the what ifs and taking no chances! Our allies could be in terrible danger! We should be there for them. Aren't we all bonded now?"

Coran soothed his impatient charge with gentle words "I know what you mean Allura, but you really ought to have a little more caution about going in blind. Our demon friends have a point. Just because they and Lance could pass the barriers unharmed, whats to say something wouldn't happen to us as living creatures. You know the tales all say that the living and the dead should not cross paths, that terrible things will occur if they do..."

"Hearsay and rumours" the white wolf snapped, not meaning to be harsh with her beloved adviser but wanting no part of this worrying like a hen about things that were simply not urgent.

Hunk spoke then and surprised them all with the fierceness of his tone, standing from the log he'd been sitting and fretting on in silence for the past few minutes, whilst the argument had gone on around him. He spoke with conviction and absolute determination

"I'm going to find my FRIENDS. I don't really care about potential dangers or rumours. They've risked so much for our sake, don't they deserve the same care in return? Keith is someone I grew up with as a cub and I love Lance as if he is my brother too. I want to get them back. And no ghosts are going to stop me" his warm brown eyes seemed to glitter like the embers of a fire that still bore a burning heat at the core, in spite of seeming docile on the outside.

Allura nodded and moved to stand with him "I agree. The time for deliberation is over. We need to find them and make sure they're safe no matter what the risk is. I understand the importance of strategy of course, so I am open to any helpful suggestions you Holts can provide... but beyond that I won't hear any more nay-saying, am I clear Coran?"

The werefox sighed and muttered softly under his breath "Alfor forgive me for endangering your beloved daughter..." but he moved to stand with the other "As always I am at your side through thick and thin, whatever dangers await us"

"Alright! Team Pidge wins again!" the younger demon jeered at their sibling, making an immature little victory dance on the spot complete with rude gestures, whilst Matt rolled his eyes and grudging accepted defeat, VERY ungraciously.

"In that case, since you're all determined to be suicidal, I guess we're going to have to go with a cloak and dagger operation. We incubi and succubi have certain reality distorting magic. It's not as strong as a witch's power, but we can cloak you guys for a while to get you in. They won't sense your presence, only ours. And demons can freely pass into the city of the dead" he spoke sounding reluctant "It'll drain our powers a LOT though doing it on a group this large. So we'll be pretty helpless once it wears off, and you guys are gonna have to defend yourselves!"

Pidge snorted "Speak for yourself weak-ass, these guns are loaded" and flexed their non-existent biceps, resulting in pretty much everyone rolling their eyes collectively.

With everything in order, the group approached the gate and waited for the two demons to give the all clear. Thankfully the banshees were still figuratively licking their wounds following their embarrassing defeat at the hands of Lance and his magical prowess, so the replacement gatekeeper was just a single ghoul of a sullen disposition who seemed to be in no mood to waste time with demons.

He waved them through warning them in droning monotones not to feast on any of the spirits and souls within, before going back to looking terminally bored with his job. The cloaked weres following behind were barely sensed at all whether from the guard's general apathy or just being undetectable it was uncertain.

Once they reached the other side Matt who was supporting most of the spell dropped it, the weres once again becoming visible. He winced in discomfort rubbing his temple feeling a nasty migraine starting. He'd have to eat something soon or he'd be vulnerable and definitely unable to fly.

Pidge had also assisted with the spell but being as they were younger they had had less energy to give and were feeling kinda giddy on their feet.

Hunk noticing the peaky condition of the demons exchanged glances with Coran both of them moving to help support the weaker members of their group. It showed Pidge was genuinely not at their peak, because they didn't argue or protest being coddled at all and gratefully leaned against Hunk's warm bulk

The bear looked to Coran and Allura in concern "We need to take shelter soon so we can recuperate" he remarked, chewing at his bottom lip a little and flexing clawed fingertips in agitation

Matt sighed "This isn't a regular village Hunk... we can't just go knocking asking for assistance here. They wouldn't care about assisting the living"

Pidge swaying on their feet grumbled "Just let one of those ugly smelly corpses give me any trouble. Just let them TRY. I'll eat their measly soul for breakfast" their wings fluttering tiredly in sync with their drooping eyelids.

Hunk hoisted the smaller demon into a piggyback knowing he wasn't going to get them to walk anywhere in this condition.

"We haven't really any alternative though do we. Unless you recommend just staying out here vulnerable to any sort of attack with little to no defences?" Allura remarked primly, even as eager as she was to let her weapons do the negotiating she had enough common sense to know when a situation wasn't in their favour.

Coran sighed as he hefted the drooping Matt further up on his shoulder "Allura speaks the truth, we cannot risk remaining in the open too long. Who knows what manner of nasties could be lurking in the dark places of this realm. We need to find a secure base asap!"

Just then a nearby door opened and a cloaked figure carefully scurried out making their way through the shadows. Allura who was unencumbered by a demon burden sprung after the escaping silhouette calling "Halt!" as she did so, the figure upon hearing the shout only ran faster, strangely lively for a supposed dead person.

Allura wasn't going to be thwarted though and spurred herself onward, taking the same twists and turns as the runaway took, part of her sense of logic telling her how dangerous it was to be running off ahead of the group and isolating herself from assistance, but unable to put on the breaks either, somewhat too impetuous however well intentioned she was.

Eventually she cornered the hooded potential foe in a dark alley and called to them "Reveal yourself! I've no time for a cat and mouse chase. You will surrender or you will meet your doom at my hands..."

A soft snort answered the threat, followed by a soft chuffing sound almost like laughter "Allura, I should have recognised that demanding tone!" the stranger remarked, lowering their hood to reveal a familiar face with violet-red eyes and shaggy dark hair clinging around the shoulders

"Keith!" Allura exclaimed in surprise, lowering her bow a little bemused "It is you isn't it? Not some spirit's trick?" she asked warily, blue eyes narrowing at the other trying to see if there was any flaw in his appearance that might suggest a trap


"It's me" Keith responded with a sigh of relief "I thought YOU were an enemy too, that's why I was running. I guess we're both too on edge..."

"It seems so..." Allura sighed in relief, stowing her weapon and moving to grasp the other wolf's wrist by way of greeting, inclining her head, tail almost wagging now with pleasure at finding a friend not an enemy

"So you survived then. We were about to mount a rescue! Did Lance also make it?" she inquired, her cerulean orbs scanning the shadows as if she expected the vampire to materialise from them and further tease her lack of observance in realising she was chasing down friends not foes.

Keith sighed "He lives, just barely. But the idiot has a death wish and nearly snuffed his own life out trying to do magics way out of his league. He is resting now, I've forbidden him to perform any further magic until he's recovered"

"I presume that means you found this witch, Adam then?" Allura remarked, leaning up against the alleys wall as she caught her breath.

Keith nodded. "We're hiding out at his place. I was just going to get some water. Most of the fountains and wells in this town are dried up and dead, like the city is, but Adam said there's a natural spring around here..."

Allura nodded "Then lets get back to the others before they panic about our absence further. The demons are weakened also thanks to trying to use cloaking magics to smuggle us inside. It seems everyone is trying to expend energies and magics they aren't capable of today!" she sighed shaking her head disapprovingly

Keith nodded "I scolded Lance, but honestly if I had any magic abilities I probably would have done the same to try and help him and everyone. This isn't a game for children. We're fighting a war now and we have to be prepared for the risks"

Allura smiled giving the younger were an appreciative look "That sounds like something my father used to say when I was but a cub, strategizing with his generals. I never understood any of it at the time, but now I am in the same situation I cannot help but appreciate the effort it takes to protect the things and people you love. I am certain Shiro would have been very proud of you Keith"

Keith's eyes softened inclining his head "Thanks... I... I'm trying my best.... I'm not really cut out for this sort of thing. Not like he was. But I'll do whatever it takes to protect those things that matter to me. To protect Lance..." his pallid cheeks turned a soft rosy hue, being unexpectedly frank and open with the other wolf.

Allura appreciated his honesty. "I'm sure he appreciates having you looking out for him, and we have both your backs okay. We'll win this fight together and ensure the weres can live in peace" she spoke soothingly.

Keith nodded cracking a tired but hopeful smile "I really hope so, it's all I want really. I'm not after glory or trophies. Just a safe home"

"You and me both, my friend, you and me both" Allura agreed "I simply want to reclaim that which was my father's and use my power to bring peace and balance back to the were peoples"


Once they returned to the group and Coran stopped having a heart attack about losing his charge they headed back to Adam's home, entering as a collective group to the surprise of the homeowner.

Keith explained about the situation and that these were members of his and Lance's group and were here to help with the were situation and clearing Adam's name, if he was prepared to assist them in return.

Adam nodded, giving Hunk instructions where to lay the two weakened demons to rest, and giving him special elixirs to boost their diminished power (alas this only worked on demons so was of no use to charge Lance's lost energy)

Then he went to discuss matters of the war with Allura. This left Coran with Keith and a sleeping Lance having already transitioned back to his evening bat form with the assistance of Keith's pendant. The small brown furry form, utterly exhausted, not able to do anything but sleep.

Keith watched over the sleeping bat, his fingertips gently and carefully stroking his lover's soft velvety fur comfortingly and giving Coran a tired sad look "I just want to make him well again Coran, I don't want him to keep going through these stupid changes, this pointless cruel curse. He deserves so much better Coran... he... he r-really does..."

The wolf's shoulders hunched, unable to keep his composure as tiredness and misery and lingering fears just washed over him in a depressing flood, bringing the tears out of him to drip onto the little bat

Coran's fatherly features took on a warm consoling look, putting a hand on the young wolf's shoulder and giving it a compassionate squeeze "It'll all work itself out lad, we're all here fighting with you remember. We'll find a way to help him. You're doing the best you can, alright. You shouldn't neglect rest yourself though, okay? You may be very powerful a wolf, but even the strongest warriors need to sleep. Get your head down okay? I'll stay and watch over Lance. And in the morning we can try and dowse for water for the boy. I'll tell you all about my Grand-Pappy's special methods for water-dowsing" he remarked with a silly smile to try and pick the sad wolf's mood up.

Keith nodded, his head already drooping from tiredness "I want to... stay with Lance though..." he remarked, simply climbing into bed and bringing the bat into his arms to sleep. This would no doubt end up in an embarrassing compromising position in the morning when he turned back to human, but frankly he was much too tired to care and more than ready to surrender himself to the Spirit of Dreams.

Chapter Text

Keith's dreams were normally pretty standard things. Being as he was a were, they were always in black and white (werewolves were not colour blind per se but they dreamed without colour) and they usually revolved around mealtimes and anything memorable he'd eaten that day (it wasn't to say he was stupid, he wasn't, he was in fact very intelligent, just rather distracted by his stomach).

Dreaming about people occurred less often but always for memorable reasons. People that meant something to him. The first time he dreamed about Lance, was a wholly unique experience for him.

He dreamed of a future happy Lance, cured of the terrible affliction that plagued him, his throat free of the tangled chains of the amulet, his skin a normal healthy sun-kissed tan rather than the washed out anaemic shade it was now. His sapphire eyes sparkled with life and joy and Keith couldn't keep his hands off him, kissing him and laughing as they tumbled together on a sunlit meadow, or a beach or in the warmth of a marital home.

When he was disrupted from those dreams by an insistent shaking at his shoulder, he bore a goofy half-drooling grin, face blissful, ears pricked and tail wagging.

It didn't take long for that happiness to come crashing back to earth with the weight of a lead balloon when Hunk directed his attentions to Lance.

The sun was already up but the vampire hadn't returned to his humanoid state, still in shrunken bat form, worse he seemed to be ailing somehow, thin reedy breaths coming from his shivering scrawny form, fur scrubbed up and sweaty as if he should be running a fever yet thanks to being dead could not produce the required heat. He felt icy cold, like he was cradling something that had come in from the snow.

Keith's violet-red eyes immediately filled with panic, a low frightened whine beginning in his throat as his hands grasped at the bat, simultaneously urgent yet terrified to squeeze too tightly in case he crushed and further harmed the diminutive creature.

"Lance!" he croaked voice cracking and breaking and coming out in different octaves as his heart soared into his throat like a wild bird trying to take flight in a panic of self-preservation only to plummet to the pit of his stomach as though shot by a hunter's arrow when the bat didn't stir.

No. No,no,no,no. Not this. Please. He'd been through this once already the day Shiro died, a small gangly-limbed 12 year old staggering through the crowd of onlookers to find his beloved family member's body slain in cold blood, the form that had been suffused with warmth, devoid of life, crumpling onto the chest and wailing like a stricken animal until officials had pulled him away. He recalled biting a few people savagely in a fit of despair. He felt like doing that again now, even knowing he was amongst friends

Spinning around, with vision half blurred with tears he was on the move, running to find Adam, practically tearing through the door leaving a wake of confused half-asleep companions behind as he desperately sought the witch, cradling the fading form of the bat to his chest with one arm.

Adam was roused almost immediately by the sheer noise and force with which Keith half broke down the door, by the desperate rasping half sobbing breaths, as he babbled almost incoherently, the witch only understanding what he wanted after spotting the shrivelled form of the bat clutched to his chest.

Oh hell. He had feared this the most. Lance had given him too much of his own life force to bring him back to his living state. He should have known! Damn damn damn!

He was out of bed in seconds, even clad in a nightgown and slipper-less as he ran alongside Keith back through to his lab. By now everyone else was awake, their responses filled with horror at the state of Lance, eyes filling with tears unanimously and lips uttering prays to every known deity or spirit.

Even Pidge and Matt who were barely recovered themselves and of demonic origin, were swearing fervently to the dark ones not to accept the soul of their friend just yet. To spare him from infernal flames.

Adam rifled through bottles of potions and amulets and charms. Useless. They were all useless! Why why why. Why was he being forced to undergo this again! It had been harsh enough the first time losing Takashi and being unable to revive him whilst conniving enemies pointed the finger of blame at him and cursed him unfairly for a crime he never committed.

Keith was beside himself at this point having crumpled to a fetal position on the floor hugging Lance and sobbing as Allura and Hunk tried to comfort him physically and Coran and Matt tried their best in the face of such horror to keep him hopeful that a resolution would be found. That he would be saved.

Suddenly Adam spun on his heel and pointed down at Keith's amulet "That might help. But if we're going to save him we're going to have to work fast and counteract the other amulet trying to steal his life-force. For that I'm going to need the help of all of you"

Allura sat up straight her blue eyes blazing "For Lance I'll give whatever I can spare, I want to live to avenge my people, but not if it means sacrificing the boy who is already like a brother to me"

Hunk nodded his agreement "I was already invested in Lance's well-being since the first moment I laid eyes on him, I'm in this till the bitter end"

Coran spoke then "There isn't a whole lot of vitality in this old body but if I can give it to a good cause like this young fellow, I want to wholeheartedly. Allura is right, Lance is like family to us"

Pidge was next, sounding uncharacteristically child-like and vulnerable, their eyes bearing tears at the corner "Fuck letting him die, he's a moron but he's OUR moron and we need him. If demon energy is good enough, then take it already"

"Uh ditto, I've only known Lance a short while, but he's protected my younger sibling, so I owe him that much" Matt responded rubbing the back of his head somewhat awkwardly.

Keith who had gradually stilled from the hysteria he was suffering upon hearing the others voices merely growled in a low heart-sick tone "What are you waiting for? If you have to take something from me to bring him back, I'll give it all... I.... I'm already in love with him... please save him" he confessed earnestly his colour-shifting eyes shining with wetness that hooked on his lashes and left thick trails on his cheeks.

Adam nodded solemnly in the face of all their heartfelt confessions of devotion to the witch turned vampire who had brought them all together through adversity to become a family in spirit if not in blood.

Leading the way back to the circle they had made the previous day, he refreshed the elements that had been ruined in the furore of the last spell going awry and had the group sit around the circle, holding hands so he could collect the energy they were willing to sacrifice for Lance

It was high level spell-casting, something normally far out of his league, after all he'd never successfully managed to bring Takashi back, but as he siphoned out the energy of the group and channelled it down through Keith into the now brightly shining blue stone around his neck, he thought he glimpsed a brief sighting of the other's spirit, smiling encouragingly at him with the warmth of the sun, as if he too were passing on some fragment of energy from beyond the grave to help them.

It was enough to tide them over and fill the stone to the brim, a dazzling explosion of prismatic light painting the room in flecks of rainbow as the energy shone down on the small form of the bat in particular that of the evil red gem around his throat.

The cursed amulet of Haggar fought back, trying to exude its malevolent rubine hue but drowned out by the sheer purity and love that was being directed through the blue stone. It cracked and shattered and as it did the chains immediately loosened and fell from the bat's fragile neck, Lance's form being bathed in the light, becoming a glowing silhouette that blinded their vision

Pidge and Matt wanted to recoil from such pure holy light, feeling smoke rise from their skin as it seared painfully into their bodies, and yet holding on anyway through bloody determination to save their friend at any cost.

When the light finally cleared, a humanoid Lance was lying in Keith's lap, he looked deceptively peaceful for all the chaos he'd caused, but his chest was rising and falling with breaths he hadn't drawn in months, the colour of life rushing to his cheeks painting them in warm tones, his form feeling blissfully warm in Keith's arms

Dark lashes fluttered against freckled cheeks, rising to reveal eyes as pure blue and warm as a summer sky. Lance yawned and stretched a little, frowning up at Keith, and then looking with confusion round at the dishevelled state of his companions

"Uff... Morning guys... what's going on? Did I miss something?" he asked a little sleepily, head tilting

7 bodies simultaneously tried to tackle hug him and he let out a small cry of alarm as he was half buried, first getting Allura's strong ferocious hug, then Hunk's near bone-cracking bear hug, followed by an overjoyed one from Coran, tired and sore but relieved smaller hugs from the most unlikely source of the two demons (honestly, what the heck had he missed?) and even Adam, ruffling his hair with a deep exhale of relief.

Lance looked to Keith for answers, noticing almost immediately how frazzled the wolf looked, and the tracks of tears on his cheeks "Keith, what happened... are you alright?" he asked earnestly, blue eyes searching violet ones, not having even noticed yet the absence of a certain weight around his throat

Keith let out a small bark of exhausted but relieved laughter "Oh nothing much Lance, just the near end of my world, and its subsequent saving" he remarked, fingertips caressing the other male's cheek, marvelling at the warmth he felt there.

Lance's brows furrowed trying to understand what he was saying. Then his brain abruptly caught up. He realised the amulet was gone, hands feeling his throat for it and finding nothing, then realising he was breathing and blue eyes blowing wide with surprise

"Th-the amulet... it's gone... I.... I'm finally free?" he asked tears rushing to his own eyes, but tears of surprise as if he'd expected never to be cured and to have to serve an eternal punishment on behalf of the evils committed by his clan.

"You are indeed, but only through the care and devotion of all your friends here Lance. Everyone paid a part of the price for you. We almost lost you this morning. The amulet tried to steal your life-force. It was touch and go but together we pulled through. We brought you back" Adam spoke up, his authoritative tones commanding the younger witch's attention.

Lance looked around at the tired but relieved faces of his friends and wept harder with the force of gratitude and affection for all of them, pulling them all back into the group hug, even though Pidge was back to their standoffish self and trying to scramble away like a cat.

"Guys, thank you so much. I owe you everything. Really and truly, you're the best friends a witch could ever have" he hiccuped, wiping away tears

Allura placed a hand on his shoulder "Lance never doubt you are worth every bit of our love and devotion. Without you we would have still been wandering lost and bitter, or living in the shadow of oppression, even in the case of Adam, not living at all and cursed unfairly. You are the one we owe everything to, this was just a small fraction of what you deserved in return"

Lance's freckled cheeks coloured red, blue eyes swimming with tears closing as he let out a sigh of contentment, beaming dazzlingly

The act caused the others to react in shock, staring at his mouth. He still had fangs like a vampire. And yet he was breathing and living. How peculiar!

Adam rubbed his chin "This is unprecedented, I've never seen something like this before. Lance I believe you may be the Hidden Realm's first and only living vampire, a true Witchpire!"

Lance tilted his head in confusion running his tongue over his fangs "Does this mean the cure didn't entirely work? Do I still have to deal with turning into a bat?" he asked somewhat reluctantly

Adam shook his head "No I think that part is over, but it seems the elements of your vampire form have fused wholly to your witch genetics, you've become a completely new species..." he was fiddling with his glasses excitedly as if Lance was a fascinating new specimen to study.

"Oh" Lance responded not sure how to feel about that "I guess that's cool if it means I still get the superhuman strength. That was kinda handy"

"Absolutely, and no doubt the regenerative powers too, the extra stamina, speed, night vision etc. I'd say I am a little envious but having spent months dead I can say I'm really happy just to be alive again" the elder witch replied

Lance looked to Keith, reaching to lace his fingers between the wolf's gently "Are you okay with me being like this? I know I promised I'd get cured and be just a witch again, but it seems I got a power upgrade free of charge"

Keith thought about it for a second "I mean mostly I'm just happy you're still with me Lance, you don't even know the level of fright you put into me this morning when you wouldn't respond... seeing you so lifeless like that..." he choked up and the other boy's face fell with guilt, bringing his arms around him to embrace him tightly

"Keith, I'm so sorry I put you through that, after everything you went through with Shiro, but I promise you I won't be going anywhere from now on. I'll stay by your side no matter what, this whole misadventure has been extremely chaotic, but finding you was absolutely the best part of it, I love you, you damn mutt, okay?" he tilted his lips up almost coyly to press them against the other's mouth, not even caring if they had an audience.

Keith's cheeks flooded with colour, eyes leaking a few more tears but now they were tears of happiness, "I love you too, idiot vampire" he mumbled against the other boy's lips.

There were coos and awws from most of the collective group. Except for Pidge who made gagging noises with their finger down their throat, but secretly even they were happy for the two members of their group who had suffered the most and really deserved to be happy from now on.

Chapter Text

Keith and Lance were trying to make the most of the time they had to spend together before they would have to go back to the village and face another struggle and battle for the freedom of their people.

It had been Coran's idea to turn the dowsing trip between himself and Keith into a private moment between the new beaus. He had made a big deal about preparing for the long road ahead and filling up water supplies being important, as if they wouldn't encounter water on their journey back if they needed it.

It wasn't like the Hidden Realm destroyed its surroundings like humans did after all, even the most bitter clan war would always try to take the environment into account.

Witches would only take potion supplies from renewable sources. Weres made sure to only hunt when breeding numbers were up in the small animal populations.

Even the undead seemed not to actively go out of their way to harm their environment, it just seemed this area was naturally bleak due to its divine purpose, not through any action of the occupants.

Still Lance wasn't about to argue with Coran for giving him an excuse to spend a day with Keith. He was relishing it in fact.

Whilst the others remained behind to prepare for the journey back and discuss matters of the upcoming battle i.e. potential further recruitments for Allura's cause etc., the boys were indulged with the simplest of tasks, perhaps because they had physically and psychologically been through the most so far. Either way neither was complaining.

In a surprising turn of events from the usual weather patterns for the undead territory which was always gray, overcast and dismal, the sun had actually come out from the thick smothering cloud cover and Lance was able to enjoy the first sunrise in months without the terror of the light burning his skin.

Neither did he have to endure bone-breaking changes from bat to humanoid. He could walk with the hood of his cloak down, letting the admittedly weak and pale sunlight filter down onto his newly warm again skin.

From Keith's perspective, Lance had never looked more beautiful. Coran had helped him fashion a string to secure his hat to his person so that he could wear it down around his back and shoulders without losing it, and the desperately thin straining light trying to fight its way from the sky seemed to catch and illuminate on the streaks of gold in his honey and chocolate streaked locks

Blue eyes seemed to have turned from icy and dead to glittering with life, illuminated like sapphires sparkling with an innate magic. He could spend all day counting those freckles that formed their own constellation across the bronzed, newly heat-flushed complexion of the witch.

If it weren't for the still pointed ears, clawed fingertips and the briefest flashes of fangs he could forget Lance had ever been a vampire. Could imagine the adventure they'd been through was nothing but a dream, a far-fetched fictional account of someone with too much time on their hands.

But he was here, having been to hell and back and endured. Strong, beautiful, loving Lance. The man who owned his heart without question. He swallowed, suddenly feeling not quite worthy to be sharing space with a mythical being such as this, the Hidden Realm's first and only witchpire

Lance seemed to focus on the were, sensing he was thinking too much and reached warm, slightly calloused but also immeasurably gentle digits to close around the others hand "Keith. Whatever is causing you to make that face, it's probably not worth stressing about, okay? You can talk to me about any problems you're having. We're in this together now. But I want you to be happy okay? We have new hope, we're on the right path. We'll clear those bad people from your clan and then we can maybe look at doing something about Shiro. I don't want to make promises, because bringing Adam back honestly, nearly destroyed me, and I think I'm going to have to start being more careful with my magic from now on. But whatever happens I'll do the utmost to always be by your side. You're my friend. More. You're my happiness. Let me be the same for you?"

He tilted his head those blue eyes looking at the wolf so earnestly, that Keith couldn't prevent a small gasp choking its way from his throat, his violet eyes widening and a ruby flush coming to his cheeks, fingers tightening around the others and speaking with a tremor in his tone

"Lance when we first met, I was terrible to you. I called you vile names, questioned your intentions and chased you away when you were alone and needed support. And yet here we are with you having saved my life countless times, and I cannot help but think I was never more wrong back then. I underestimated you terribly and nothing I say or do will ever truly correct that. Nothing will measure up to the things you've done for me. You're a miracle. A true miracle and I can't help but feel I don't deserve that goodness in my life. I haven't done anything that special. Not like you..."

A bronzed finger shushed him at that point. The blue eyes regarding him kindly but sternly as one would look at a child that had said something very silly and needed to be corrected

"Keith you have done plenty of things to help me too. Sure you were obstinate at first, and a pain in the ass, but I'm quite sure I needed that strictness to teach me that my frivolity had consequences and that I had made a poor choice I was going to regret. Those early days have strengthened me to not cry and give up as I might have done had I never met you. It would have been easy to spend the rest of my existence fluttering around in a cursed state shunned by all and never finding my purpose. You were the driving force that kept me going, the wind in my sails so to speak. I cannot regret for a moment encountering you..."

His words were so soft and earnest, such warmth in his gaze, in the tentative smile that graced those lips that Keith couldn't hold himself back, he took the witch turned vampire's freckled sunlit face between his hands and brought his lips to meet the others, their warm breath mingling, the clouds above seeming to shift further as if to try and illuminate the two in a divine spotlight. Almost as if the Spirits themselves were approving of this union.

Lance closed his eyes leaning into the kiss, his fangs carefully grazing the bottom lip of the wolf, light tongue curling its way into that warm mouth. Eventually after some moments they broke for air, both breathing heavily and lips swollen.

Keith panted "Magical" and Lance giggled coquettishly joking lightly "Well I am half witch..." tracing a fingertip down the wolf's nose before playfully booping the tip "You're not bad yourself, in spite of the dog breath" he teased not really meaning any insult by the light-hearted words.

Keith's dark brows lowered over his violet eyes "Hey now! Rude!" before reaching for the almost empty water canteen at his side and flicking the cap open to spray his offending companion with the drops.

Lance in true form shrieked at the sudden dousing, making a big show of shrinking from the dampness "Nooo Holy Water my only weakness!" pretending to shrivel onto the ground and play dead

Keith was almost fooled and worriedly approached, tilting his head "You're okay right? It's not really blessed is it? I didn't hurt you right?"

Lance played dead until he was close enough, then grabbed his ankles and pulled him down onto the grass with him. It wasn't the softest freshest most verdant green grass he'd ever seen. Instead rather dry and brown and crunchy like straw as with most plant life in this region, but none the less he rolled over until he was pinning the wolf to the ground and snickered at him

"Dork. Of course its not holy water. Who amongst our group would bless drinking water? When they know there's a vampire in their midst?"

Keith considered the question as if it were serious and not made in jest before responding "I wouldn't put it past Pidge to do something like that for shits and giggles"

"And they would be able to bless it how exactly? They're a demon!" a clawed fingertip flicked the wolf in the centre of his forehead as if lightly reprimanding him for not thinking things through.

Lance knew that Keith had the capacity to be extremely bright, and inventive. He just tended to think hastily and not work ideas through in his head before uttering them out loud.

Keith blushed "Well the intent would be there, in any event" he muttered, trying to push Lance off him, not because he had any objection to him lying there, but if he kept being on top of him like that and looking as cute as he did then some other liquid besides water might start flowing in an entirely different direction.

Lance reluctantly got off, enjoying teasing the wolf entirely too much but not wanting him to have a seizure just yet. Allura wouldn't be pleased if he broke one of her warriors. Later though. When the battle was done. They'd be intimate then.

Holding out a hand to help the other to his feet he gazed towards the gates of the city and beyond that the line of forest that lead back the way they'd come "This battle is going to be potentially deadly for any of us, promise me you'll look after yourself okay Keith? No reckless heroics. And I promise I'll try not to go overboard either. Lets make it through this together okay?"

Keith accepted the hand and got vertical once more, nodding solemnly at the witchpire's words "Agreed. I've just found you I don't want to lose you. Nor any of the others. They're family to me now. I want to survive and have a future to look forward to... a future with you..." he averted his gaze somewhat coyly, flushing darkly and that was just too cute for Lance who sighed

"Why oh why did I have to fall for the Hidden Realm's cutest werewolf? I shall be having to chase off potential suitors with a stick!" he groaned dramatically

"I thought you said I had Dog Breath" Keith shot back with a playful grin. Lance wasted no time in responding "You do. But thankfully I happen to like the smell so, I guess you're stuck with me" he draped himself over the other male's shoulders

Keith chuckled "I think somehow I'll survive". Lance poked him in the chest "You'd better do! I am not going through all this again to find another boyfriend, thank you so very much!"

They found the water eventually and filled up the canteens, starting to head back to the group, free hands intertwining as they strolled through the city and its dismal surroundings

"When all of this is over I'm making it a point to come back here and perk this place up. Flower pots and coloured streamers and whatever else will make it look less dreary. Just because you're dead doesn't mean you can't party" Lance remarked loudly

Keith nodded "You would know about that, you've been all the way through the cycle of life and death" barking a laugh as the comment earned him a light shove.

There was a lot of uncertainty in their future, a lot that could go wrong. But both were feeling hopeful and strong because they had their best friends, and the love of their life at their side.