Yet another reality.
As many others, its world was different from yours. Its myths varying, its facts mirroring. Its relationships and people – a different variant from universe to universe.
Earth - the planet of humans and several other creatures who they shared the land, skies and oceans with. The planet of many realms – or planes of existence – other than the Human Realm.
Realms inhabited by gods, and many, many mythical creatures as well as mysterious beings.
The old gods, some of them you might know, from your reality. Their names, their appearances, powers, and perhaps their personalities were similar as well. Maybe even their stories have a tint of similarity to the ones you know of them, too.
They were the oldest gods to existence, the most powerful, the ones in charge. As their generation grew older, many other, lesser gods – millions – started to inhabit each and every realm – sometimes even creating new ones. Some were descendants of the old gods, others weren’t.
In a period of time, the realms of gods started to appear alike the realm of humans: Bearing millions of beings walking around its lands.
Balance, arguably the most important element that makes the worlds go forward, was not an unfamiliar theme in the older times. It was embraced, it was sought for. It was considered one of the highest virtues. A concept the old gods – whose jobs were to primarily take care of the planet – were trying to teach humans through various hints.
Yet, with time, such concept was lost, as the connection between gods and humans.
Many centuries ago, balance between light and darkness was broken, as Hades, the ruler of the Greek Underworld, was struck down by his own son, and successor, Prince Zarkon, who quickly became the Under-Lord.
A shock to many, accepted by few.
At the time, Zeus had already retired, leaving the throne of the Greek Overworld to his brightest child, Alfor.
He took the burdening mantle of not only ruling over the Greek Overworld, but also the one in which he had to keep diplomacy between us and his former close friend, Zarkon – the new Under-Lord who, by the passing of each day, seemed to grow grimmer and grimmer.
Alfor worked his hardest to keep peace between realms, and the balance of light and dark intact. In a last, desperate effort, Alfor tried to appeal to the Underworld’s empress, Honerva, to consider both helping the rest of the realms, and to help her husband understand the wrong-doings he was committing. However, when her light was needed most, it was clear it was giving out.
War did not take much time to come to all godly realms.
Though the Underworld’s units seemed to lack quantity, they did not lack power and might. In raid-like attacks, so fast the Overworld did not manage to foresee, they struck where it hurt us most.
Our leaders. The old gods.
Many died by Zarkon’s hands: Ares, Athena, Apollo… Even Zeus himself.
And it wasn’t long… until Zarkon’s blade met Alfor’s heart.
I was still young, bearing only seventeen centuries on my back, when I saw myself forced to step up and fill up my father’s place. I had to learn how to rule, and how to deal with various impending problems while still keeping my cool.
I had to learn how to be a Queen.
Now, a millennium later, the war still continues, the Underworld – very slowly – still taking various lands for themselves in their search for power.
While the light grows dimmer, the darkness enlarges. Chaos is a constant in the world, especially in the realms of gods.
Yet, we still fight. For a new chance.
For a new beginning.
In the midst of one of the main settlements of the Underworld, was a small arena. One where young soldiers would attend almost every day to perfect their battle skills.
It wasn’t too tall, nor had too many rows for seating. It was not too large, either. Just enough. Its stones were made of a dark color, a grey almost black. While some parts looked sharp, as thorns on a withered rose, others looked as they were simply from an ancient ruin. Crumbling to dust. Even though, it would never fall.
The atmosphere all around the arena, as well as in the entirety of the Underworld, was dark and grim. All around the skies was a sort of mist, not alike the bright one that would rise above some forests in the early hours on Earth. This was dark, twisting as a mix of black smoke and something slimy. It seemed, most times, as if it was alive. And the reason for that, was because said mist was mostly made of dark beings, as well as lost souls, that would never in a lifetime reincarnate.
Such fog made it harder for the inhabitants of the Underworld to see clearly. It could be complicated to see in the distance, something alike the usual fog on the Earth realm. There was no light source as the sun either, even though the skies weren’t completely deprived of light, but their grey was fleeting.
The most reliable light sources were subtle tones of purple or rotten wine red that would emerge from many irregular cracks on the ground.
The darkness, that mix of smoke and dark beings, was something… rather overwhelming, to outsiders. They would feel not only a sort of cold shiver running down their spine as they walked through it, but they’d also feel their extremities grow cold or a grim shift in their mood and emotions. Not the Underworld residents, though. They were used to it by now.
After all, that darkness was part of them, too.
The seats of the arena were empty.
The middle of it, however, was a different story. Nevertheless, this was an everyday sight for each of them. They would have trained here for centuries.
All of them already had their futures dictated. They’d become soldiers. Countless, faceless soldiers, fighting in the command of the Under-Lord himself. After all, lesser gods were plentiful, and were the best weapons under Zarkon’s command. A ruthless, powerful elite army.
As of now, three students took the ground of the arena, each taking a side, their positions almost transforming them in the vertices of a figurative triangle.
By the entry of the arena, stood their instructor. The tall, broad lady watched them with an unimpressed look, unfazed. After all, she had seen battles alike this, or even better, in her everyday life.
All the students were wearing armor. Shiny, black armor. And even if their outfits looked quite similar, there were also some obvious differences, adapted to each style of the combatants. However, in all uniforms, a breastplate, tight fitted, took over their torso. Sleeveless, as their arms were exposed.
A Greek-like armored skirt took over their thighs, and below, separated from the general uniform, each had armor that covered the front part of their lower legs, some attached to their sandals.
Two of the students were wearing shoulder pads. One of them had wrist armor as well. Another had none of those things, but had a hood over their head, covering their face in moody shades.
One of them, the broader, had almost all of their skin light grey, their eyes a piercing yellow. Their skin was rugged, scaly almost, and the only change in the grey were two purple slashes by their cheeks, looking as large claw marks rather than what they actually were: birth marks. They wore no helmet over their dark purple hair, which stuck up in the air as ears. Despite of those jarring features, they looked, overall, human, alike their peers.
This soldier in particular wielded two small twin axes.
Another had their skin completely purple, having a pattern in some parts of their body alike a tiger’s one, in black. Their eyes were completely black, as the darkness around them, and their short dark brown hair was taken over by a simple helmet, matching their armor. They wielded a shield and a long sword.
Lastly, the final one was the smallest of them. Their skin was… pale. Exactly alike a human’s. In fact, their features were the ones closest to a human’s compared to their peers.
After all, they were considered a ‘half-breed’ by their peers. Not half human, a demigod, no. They were full god, however, one of their parents was not from the Underworld.
This one was the one wearing the hood. As well as they had makeshift gloves made of dark bandages over both their hands, rising to the middle of their upper arm. Their only weapon was a smooth, obsidian-looking short sword, alike the ones used by Spartans in war. Its handle was also made of a dark, reflective metal.
In an instant, the third round of their battle started.
The grey skinned soldier immediately leapt in the air as the round began, both twin short axes risen with their arms, almost falling backwards, behind their head. As they fell, they brought down their axes right towards the soldier with purple skin, who automatically blocked the attack with their shield, the impact resulting in a dull ‘clank!’.
Instantly after the blades landed on the shield, the defender pushed the shield forward, as a fast move to get their attacker away from them. A way of searching for space.
In the meantime, without giving the purple soldier any second to breathe, the other opponent came in from their right.
Short sword risen high, the Hybrid almost landed their strike on the unsuspecting soldier but, in the last minute, they swept it away with an abrupt jerk of their long sword, sending him many steps back.
Instead of barging in again, however, the Hybrid stayed put. He watched the fight enroll in front of him with a wary gaze, as if observing his opponent’s fighting style and weaknesses.
Right after that, the purple soldier focused, again, on the one with the twin axes. Clutching their round shield tight to their forearm, the purple soldier ran towards their target, as they raised their long sword in the air to bring down on their opponent.
With a great deal of simplicity, the grey soldier immediately dodged the attack, as they stepped to their right. Immediately, they kicked the shield of the soldier in front of them, which sent the purple soldier fall some steps back.
Recovered, the purple soldier advanced as they brought their sword up horizontally, ready to send an attack, but their opponent quickly avoided it by beating the necks of their twin axes on the blade, smacking it down.
It was clear who was in an advantage in this fight, from a combat standpoint. The grey soldier was far more experienced in close-combat.
While the purple soldier retrieved their sword, without daring to give them a breath, the grey soldier advanced. In a frantic pace, they brought up their twin axes and beat them against the shield, one at a time.
And again. And again. And again.
With an annoyed grunt, the soldier under the shield dropped their sword on the ground. Next, they pointed their right hand towards the head of their opponent, who as still trying to bore a hole in their shield.
Dark matter started to materialize around the purple soldier’s extended hand, as well as many bits that came from within the soldier. Little slashes of dark matter started to appear more and more by their whole silhouette, lazily coming out of their shoulders, arms, torso and even thighs. The dark matter, it flowed like the ocean’s waves, if those were made of smoke and slime.
However, the focus of said energy was forward, in the single hand pointed to their opponent.
Without wasting another moment, the lazy twisting dark matter quickly started to rush towards the grey soldier’s head, all in a matter of seconds. As an effect of it, the soldier started to slow down with their axes as he was being hit by darkness, more and more, as their yellow eyes went wide, pupils small.
Dark matter going through an Underworld native couldn’t do much, as it was part of them. All the damage it could really do, was to disorient their target.
In the Overworld, the damage of this attack could be much greater. Depending on how intensely this power was to be used, it could even result on deadly consequences. However, down here, it could never harm one of its own.
Not too much.
It was simply used as a stun tactic. Such thing that could give its wielder a great advantage if said attack had landed.
As it had in this case.
The purple soldier simply needed to push their shield forward, making a clank sound as it hit against the metal armor of the now dazed grey soldier, and such impact made its target fall back on the ground, without any sort of resistance.
It was clear by the dimmer way the fallen soldier’s yellow eyes were shining, that the dark matter was still affecting them. Its darkness was clouding their mind.
Successful, the purple soldier picked up their sword from the ground and jerked their shield out of their forearm, making it hit the sandy ground. They walked over to the fallen soldier’s feet, while scanning them over, with their chin held high, and their dark eyes bearing a small glint of purple – a reflection of the torches around the arena.
This was it.
Victory or Death.
No matter whether it was in the field of battle or simply in a training arena, a soldier who fell was simply viewed as a weakness. A rotten part of the army that should be weeded out before it affected any others. If they did not get back to their feet and fight, they did not deserve another chance.
From afar, with a grim look on her lime green eyes, the instructor lifted her chin as she watched the scene unfold. She did not move forward, nor seemed to even have thought of it. She would not even consider to intervene.
This wouldn’t be the first death in these arenas, and surely wouldn’t be the last.
Her job was not to stop any of this. Her job was not to coddle anybody. It was to train these young gods to become incredibly skilled fighters, and those who did not make the cut, were simply a waste of time.
With a shaky breath, the purple soldier raised their sword high, with both hands strongly gripping the handle of it. They kept it there, suspended in the air, hovering above the dazed soldier’s heaving chest. There was no doubt the blade would sink into the breastplate and take into their opponent’s godly flesh. All they needed to do, was to initiate the act.
The purple soldier closed their eyes shut as they inhaled a breath between their teeth. With creased dark eyebrows, trembling, they brought their hands slightly more backwards, and then, as they opened their eyes, they roared out a cry and proceeded to bring down the sharp dark grey blade on their victim.
Their war cry, however, was almost instantly cut off by a surprised pained grunt, which came from their own throat.
A muffled pain collided with their right side before the ground was swept off their feet. In a second, they realized they were airborne, and once they hit the grey sand, they rolled at least two or three more times before they stopped completely, chest to the ground.
With a strained grunt, as they felt bits of sand sinking against their skin, they placed their palms by the ground around their head, still having their sword on their right one, and lifted themself up. In the process of it, as they diverted their look to the previous point they were standing at, slightly to their right, they saw what had done this to them.
The other, almost forgotten opponent stood some steps away from the still fallen soldier, short obsidian-looking sword pointing down to the ground. Their darkened human-looking eyes were, however, focused on the purple soldier rather than the fallen one.
It was a clear invitation for a fight. And by all means, the purple soldier would take it any day.
They would never let such being defeat them.
They literally lunged themselves to their feet, as a furious growl escaped their mouth. The wrath of having their potential kill – and glory - taken from them was overwhelming, but also fueling. An emotional advantage, surely.
The darker their emotions were, after all, the better chances they had at outmatching their opponent’s power.
As the purple soldier rushed towards their opponent with their sword raised, the Hybrid was ready. At the right time, he ducked the attack as he rolled out of the way, to his left.
Accordingly, the purple soldier’s sight followed him, as they turned, too. They immediately rushed ahead and sent a strike with their sword forward, as an attempt to prick the Hybrid. However, he was faster, and with a jerk of his own sword, he repelled the attacker’s sword to his left, rather than letting it hit his stomach.
Taking advantage of the time his opponent took to recover, the Hybrid spun by his opponent’s left, and as he had his back turned to their side, he lifted up his right hand, still curled around the sword’s handle.
Right then, with his teeth bared, he brought his curled fist right towards the back of the purple soldier’s head.
As the tip of the handle of his sword hit the soldier’s helmet, they stumbled some steps forward, letting out a surprised cry. As their left hand roamed the impacted area, they glanced over their shoulder at the Hybrid, and this time, their dark eyes seemed, somehow, grimmer.
Their lips were moving, and the mumbled words that left them sounded no longer comprehensible. All the while, very slowly, bits of dark matter started to radiate out of their whole body, especially their shoulders.
It was clear they were fed up with this fight. Their combat skill was not better than the soldier they almost took out, and neither was matching up with the Hybrid’s own fighting. However, exactly for the same reason, they knew who they were fighting against.
A Hybrid, half and half.
Meaning, they only had half of the Underworld’s power, and with it, half of the resistance to it.
Their long sword would land no hit, the soldier was sure. The Hybrid was too fast, too fresh to the fight. However, their power, it was the key to win this match.
It was with that thought in mind that the purple soldier turned all the way towards their opponent, and in the motion, they threw their sword at the surprised Hybrid.
Easy as it could be, the Hybrid managed to duck, but he felt the rush of air as the sword sped over his hood.
Taking advantage of the Hybrid’s slight distraction, the purple soldier placed themself in a low fighting stance. One leg forward, the other backward. They leant their body slightly forward as well, and extended both their arms entirely towards the Hybrid.
The dark matter around their body started to drift again, as more came out of them, out of every tense muscle, including their stiff fingers and wide-open palms.
It took not only a second for the darkness to start pouring out of their body, and accordingly, it shifted forward, towards their hands, their palms and fingertips.
As the dark matter was being summoned in such large quantity, all around the soldier quiet whispers started to fill the air, until they became clear. No known language was spoken by them, only gibberish.
It took no time at all until the own darkness of the atmosphere of arena was stained by those whispers, as well.
Noticing what his opponent was doing, the Hybrid’s eyes went wide as he immediately juggled his sword to his left hand.
As quickly as he could, the Hybrid extended his right palm forward, towards his opponent. His own dark matter started to seep out of his skin almost instantly, in a desperate way, mimicking his emotion perfectly: The desperation of having to defend himself from such blow he was about to take.
So, in a rushed way, his darkness started to gather around his hand and run, the fastest it could, towards his opponent’s own blast.
All the while, he used his other hand, his useless hand, and his sword, as a sort of small, pathetic shield. After all, he had to see the general direction he was aiming at, as he couldn’t allow his opponent’s shadows to get in his face, nor his head.
If he allowed any of that, it’d be over for him.
Both darkness’ clashed in the middle, waves of smoke and dark beings intertwining each other, alike watercolor on a wet paper. Only more frantically rather than peacefully.
It took a little while, but it was easy to see who had the upper hand.
After all, the Hybrid could only use half of his body to summon shadows, while the purple soldier had the same power on every part of them.
The Hybrid grunted as he felt his darkness being overtaken, as he had his teeth gritted, showing slightly due to his trembling lips. He not only had to deal with the pressure of his opponent’s power pushing his, but he also had to be very careful as he used his own power.
Though it was his, it still felt as though it had been… borrowed.
Which was… pathetic.
He had trained his whole life to be able to match his peers. And yet, even after years of intensive training, he could only do so much. He only had half their power. No matter how much training he’d do, no matter how many hours he exhausted himself, nor how many times he was close to vanish into ashes, he just couldn’t keep up.
This was… too much for him.
Not that he’d ever admit that. Especially in such unforgiving realm.
The energy of his enemy’s dark beings was clear to him now, as he felt the waves of a static energy washing over him, over his exposed skin. He could see it getting close to his face, and he could feel it numbing his senses already as his mind was quickly turning into a dazed mess.
He shut his eyes close, eyebrows creased as the muscles on his forehead tightened.
It was already too late to stop the enemy dark matter from reaching him, now all he could do was to fight for control. If not, the dark matter would not only stun him, but, in a way, possess him, curse him.
He’d turn into a trembling mess, as a human who would have been possessed.
Another disadvantage of not being fully from the Underworld, he supposed, as this sort of attack could do more damage to him rather than just stun him.
So, he fought, and fought, as much as he could. He focused his mind on his objective, to survive, even if the chances were growing slim. He had made it this far; he had gone through far worse near-death experiences.
However, it seemed like those facts were just being thrown off a window.
Because in seconds, his own darkness gave out almost entirely, as he lost the one last string of control over his own mind.
His opponent’s dark matter rushed all over him then, as he fell on his knees, hands down to his sides. His now completely black eyes went wide, pupils thin, which were hard to distinguish from all the black. The dark matter surrounded him, enveloping him as it moved around almost like a tornado from the human realm.
The Hybrid closed his eyes, teeth gritted. He grunted as his eyebrows twitched, feeling cold sweats all over.
It was never his nature to give up. That was what had saved him countless times. That was why he had survived so far. He was not giving up.
Even if it felt so hopeless.
Because he knew that no matter what happened, he’d run out of energy eventually. He’d lose his final grasp on his own mind, and he’d feel the curse of his opponent’s darkness within him, killing him slowly as some sort of human poison would to humans.
There… was a way for him to win this, but said way would also get him killed.
His other side.
However, such powers were forbidden. He had used them twice, out of distress and lack of restraint, and both times, that had gotten him a meeting with the Under-Lord himself, as well as severe punishments.
If there was a thing he knew, was that a third strike wouldn’t be forgiven.
So, he didn’t use it this time. Instead, he felt his fingers growing numb, as his cold hands felt as they were freezing. He started to hear the whispering in his own head, a final sign of the curse fluttering in, and at the same time, he couldn’t help to feel himself tremble and shake even more.
This was it for him… This was the end.
At least it’d be the end of a painful life.
-“What is this?! Stop, soldiers! Immediately!”
As that commanding and frantic voice echoed through the arena and the Hybrid’s ears, sounding, to him, as a distant voice, he felt the grasp of the curse leaving him. The tornado he was feeling constricting his body eased, until it was completely gone. Slowly but surely, he felt his mind regaining control, and finally, he was aware of the situation.
He was alive. Barely.
And once that realization hit him, he drew in a sudden and large chuck of air into his mouth, filling his lungs with life. In a second, he felt himself tumbling over, as his palms met the dark sand in an abrupt movement. His chest heaved as he gasped for air, eyes now open and wide.
The curse had been lifted, he realized. There was no permanent damage, only that his energy had been drained out.
That was good. A little rest would cure that.
In the meantime, to his left, the instructor turned a sharp glare towards the new god who had just walked in and interrupted the training.
–“How dare you, Commander-“
The god immediately stopped her complaint with a sincere, respectful look from his glowing yellow eyes. –“Please, I do not mean to cause a racket. I’m here in the orders of the Under-Lord himself. He requested the immediate presence of Akira in his throne room.”- He finished as he pointed his hand towards the breathless soldier.
The Hybrid’s breaths came out more evenly by then, but once the Commander spoke, his eyes went wide, as he drew in a little sharp breath from his mouth.
That… that was his godly name.
And before the information that the Under-Lord wanted to see him, many questions started to arise in his mind. Like why did the Under-Lord called upon his presence? What had he done this time? Was it something negative, as usual?
With a little bit of an effort, he glanced from under his dark bangs towards the general direction of his instructor and the new presence. And once his now indigo eyes, which had gone back to normal, settled upon the new god, he recognized exactly who he was.
He was tall, as any older Galra. His skin was purple, not too light, not too dark, and in some ways, a little bit furry. His darker purple hair stuck up in the air mimicking animal ears, matching with his goatee. He was wearing a dark purple armor set, and the insignia on his breastplate clearly indicated his place on the ranks as a Commander.
-“Really…?”- The instructor inquired, slowly as she raised an eyebrow. She placed a hand on her waist, as she pointed towards Akira, who immediately schooled his gaze to meet the dark sand, avoiding hers. –“Him? A Hybrid?”
The Commander nodded. –“Those are the Under-Lord’s wishes.”- His eyes narrowed as he stoically observed her. –“Are you going to question his will?”
Faced with the question which contained a subtle threat in between the lines, the instructor furrowed her eyebrows. She peered at the arena, seeing the three students in the exact same spots they were left off, gaze fallen upon Akira. He was still dutifully looking to the ground beneath his palms rather than her eyes, which was smart, she noted. Any sort of look could have consequences.
-“No.”- She finally answered, eyes still stuck on the Hybrid.
-“Then dismiss your student,”- The commander began, as he took a step forward, placing both his hands on his back. –“so I can personally escort him to the Under-Lord.”
The instructor did not let her gaze fall even as the other god spoke. She drew in a firm inhale from her nose, calmly, before she raised her voice. –“Akira,”- Her stern voice drew everybody’s attention to her. –“get out of there this very instant.”
Looking up at her, from his side, Akira gulped, but did as he was commanded. It took him a reasonable effort to get back to his feet, wobbling along the way. It was true he was no longer under the control of the dark matter, but he was still left shaken by it. His hands and feet were still cold, as he could hardly feel them.
But he managed, and once he was up, he started, on his own limping pace, to make his way towards the awaiting gods. Behind him, the fallen obsidian-looking sword vanished in a cloud of darkness.
Meanwhile, the other standing student let their shoulders slump, as well as their facial expression, in a much bummed out way.
–“Aww, man, are you kidding me?! I was winning!”
The other fallen student/soldier lifted their head after a long while. The stun effects on them had been more severe compared to Akira due to how they were taken out unsuspecting, while Akira was already in a resisting mindset.
Either way, they simply lifted up their hand to show a thumbs up, a way of agreeing with their peer, or a way to show that they were okay, as they let a still dazed “ehh” escape their lips.
The other soldier responded by directing a glare towards the fallen.
As Akira reached the older gods, the Commander placed his left hand over Akira’s right shoulder and steadied him with a solid look.
Yep, Akira was right. This god was who he thought he was.
After a second or two of looking over Akira, Thace’s gaze slightly narrowed, and then, he looked over to his right, to the instructor. –“Thank you, Ikra.”- He brought his right fist over his heart. –“Vrepit Sa.”
Ikra steeled him with a heavy, offensive look, but did not attack him, verbally nor physically. However, her gesture mimicking his was made in a sharper way, and her voice sounded edgier, rough as she restrained her irritation. –“Vrepit Sa.”
Thace dutifully nodded before he turned himself and Akira around, towards the dark exit of the arena.
Both walked up the stairs in the almost complete dark corridor, having only a dim purple lighting to help their eyes make up the shape of where they stepped. Their vision was used to the darkness anyway, so even without much light, they’d still see fairly well.
And so, in silence they remained.
There was a tension in the air, one that Akira could feel in his bones, in his heart and mind. It was fairly obvious, just as well as how anxious he was feeling. Not many regular, faceless soldiers would have the ‘honor’ of standing before the Under-Lord, and most of the time, whenever they did, it was not good. So, he did have all the reasons to feel uneasy.
With some little more steps, they left the archway of the arena and stepped into the world.
The sky was dark, as one of the worst cloudy days on earth. Consequently, everything around them was dark, too.
The buildings, little poor houses or shacks, streets, fields, forests… Everything was grim. Of course, there had to be lighting, and it came from some random thin cracks on the ground, oozing off a purple light. Some came from crystals, others from literal energy orbs that laid beneath the ground.
After a little while, both were walking on a side of a street, having some gods and creatures who also lived there pass them by.
The main street was not too crowded at the time, which was probably a good thing: The upcoming conversation would feel more private.
Akira kept his head low as he walked by Thace’s right. He was lost in thought, sign of that being the furrow of his eyebrows. Suddenly, however, he carefully lifted his gaze, just slightly, as he looked up at Thace from the side.
–“… So, what have I done this time?”
Hearing the dry tone coming from the young god, Thace did not respond by looking back at him. He kept his gaze forward, on the road, as he spoke. –“Nothing we’re aware of.”- He glanced at Akira, then. –“The Under-Lord simply requests your services.”
Said answer only made Akira frown. –“Me?!”- He inquired, voice pitched with some sort of an edge, a sort of rebellious nature the Galra never got to train out of the young god. –“What would he even want with a, with a Hybrid, anyway?!”
Thace’s expression remained neutral as he looked back forward. –“You’ll find out when we get there.”- He paused as they kept walking in silence for a second, before he peered at Akira from the side, now with a mild kind look in his eyes. –“It’s nothing bad.”
In contrast, Akira simply scoffed, frowning as he looked forward. –“We’re talking about the same Under-Lord Zarkon, right?”- He peered at Thace with a lifted brow. –“The one who killed his own father, Hades?”
-“And Zeus, do not forget.”- Thace added, matter-of-factly.
At that moment Akira crossed his arms as he buried his neck on his shoulders, looking almost as a child rather than a young adult god. –“How could I? That’s literally all they teach us in school.”
The death of the old gods. How the Under-Lord, after defeating his father, went on a killing spree. There was never a reason as to why such behavior suddenly came to Zarkon’s mind, but surely, that had costed way more than half of the lives of the old gods of the Olympus.
-“Alright, turn down the sassiness. That won’t be useful to you when you stand before him.”
Sighing, Akira let his head slightly fall, irritation evident on his features. –“You know, it would be easier to know what to say if I knew why I am going to ‘stand before him’.”- He grumbled.
Ever since Akira was a child, merely holding six centuries on his back, he had arrived to the Underworld. Well, he was dragged to it, rather. And the only person who even dared to care for him had been Thace.
In a certain way, Thace had been almost as a father to him. In a distant kind of way… Nonetheless, the value of the older god was tremendous to Akira.
However, sometimes… Thace could be quite cryptic about things. Which probably was good, to keep his prodigy in the dark about some things, as holding such knowledge could be dangerous. But it still didn’t erase the fact that, despite the good intentions, such secrecy had always been quite irritating for Akira and his curiosity. His temper, as well, wouldn’t really help him.
Regarding the young god’s protest, Thace simply sighed. –“Like I’ve said, he requests your assistance. There’s an important task he wants you to take.”- As they walked, Thace peered at Akira with a different expression on his face. Eyebrows lowered, eyes grimly glinting, the concern behind his look obvious. –“… This could be your chance.”- He said in a lower tone.
And Akira understood what he meant.
Your chance to get a better life.
Your chance to prove yourself.
Which was understandable. Akira was twenty-three centuries old, and he couldn’t just spend his whole life in the Galra barracks. His days would consist of combat training for hours and hours. In his breaks, there wasn’t much he could do, either.
He’d wander off the main village into the forests as he’d spectate the bizarre creatures he had seen in there. Other times, he’d bring a piece of paper and a charcoal stick, and he’d just draw them. That was probably the most entertaining thing he could do.
But besides that, his future, in the Underworld, did not seem bright. He was a simple faceless soldier, recruited to die in the name of the Under-Lord. And that’s what would happen. Because of his roots as well as his discipline, he could never really climb up the ranks. Maybe earn a lesser title, but that was about it.
So he did understand Thace’s point. He couldn’t live like this for eternity. Or until his last breath.
And with that thought in mind, Akira weakly furrowed his eyebrows as he lowered his head, letting his arms fall to his sides. –“Well…”- He started, with a low, almost tender voice. –“Let’s hope I don’t blow it.”
Thace spared him a look, a soft one, before he looked back forward and kept on walking.
It was only a matter of time until they arrived to the palace. The whole building was enormous, towers shooting up to the skies bearing various floors. All of it was made of the same black stone, looking as it would crumble to dust at any given moment. The shapes of it all, as well, were fairly irregular, mostly excessively sharp.
As both gods stepped into the large entrance to the hall, they saw many beings there.
Akira couldn’t stop noticing how some would lightly pause their conversation to subtly glance at them. Well, especially at him, since it was fairly rare to see a Hybrid, especially one setting foot on the imperial palace.
Although, he did recognize some faces as they walked by – some beings he had barely shared a word with, and the times he did, was just simply because he was at the right place at the right time, always in the company of Thace.
There was this god with a little white Mohawk, bearing sharp facial features, named Ulaz. He was probably the one god in this place – apart from Thace – who Akira was the most familiar with.
The god simply watched them with a neutral, serene gaze, and once his met Thace’s, both shared a nod. Which did not surprise Akira, as both older gods were quite close.
A few steps further ahead was this other god, one more intimidating and distant, stoic. Kolivan. He simply eyed them both with a stern gaze before he turned back around to resume his conversation with an unknown woman.
After the hall, the trip was a lot easier, and quieter. They took various corridors, and went up some stairs. The purple glowing crystals formed a line in the corners of each hallway, where the dark floor met the dark wall.
It was then that they arrived to a hallway they knew lead to the throne room, as its floor was covered by a purple long rug, ending by the large dark metal double door.
This was it.
Thace suddenly stopped, some long steps away from the entry, and turned around to face Akira. –“You know what to do.”- It was clear it was a statement, not a question, but Akira still nodded in reassurance. –“Ready?”
Faced with the question, Akira closed his eyes briefly as he took a shaky deep breath. After, he looked up at the older god. –“I’m ready.”- His faint voice, however, might have hinted otherwise.
Nonetheless, Thace nodded, accepting the answer as good enough. –“Good luck.”
Both started to walk forward once more, and when they were close to the double doors, both automatically, magically, opened. Each sliding to each side, exposing a shining purple line of crystals where they once were.
And so, the throne room was unraveled.
The room was just as dark as any other part of the palace. Three walls were still in the same black stone, however, the one opposite to the double doors, behind the throne, was made of a dark grey metal, having sharp lines forming a complicated design. There were four columns, two on each side of the pathway right up to the throne itself. And on the ground, the stone had the same irregular cracks as all the Underworld had, emitting an ominous purple lighting.
Lastly, the throne itself, which was in an elevated point of the room, three steps high, was made of obsidian, taking an irregular shape.
There, the Under-Lord rested.
He was wearing a full battle armor, as per usual. It was alike the one Akira and his peers were wearing; however, it was bulkier, having more details. The armor itself had parts in a purple shiny metal, and some details drawn on the armor were highlighted in a rotten wine red. A large cape flowed down the throne, pinned to his shoulder by only the left side, in a color alike red wine.
His helmet, worn as if it were a crown, was huge. Its bulky sides came down to hide his jaw, as well as a sharp bit hid his nose, leaving his eyes, chin and mouth exposed. On top was a large crest, made of stiff plumes, going from the right to the left of the helmet, tilting down the sides as if it were falling. It was as tall as the helmet itself, and was colored black.
To his left, was standing a familiar face. The Witch, Haggar.
Unlike him, her attire was fairly strange, though nothing that wasn’t expected from someone alike her. Her purple robe, looking as old as time itself, took over most of her body, and some details were made in the same rotten gold as the Under-Lord’s outfit.
Her energy, it was something no one could ignore as they were near her. It was dark and haunting, as if all the negativity of the dark matter of the realm was concentrated on her fingertips.
Then, to the right, was an unfamiliar face.
It was a large god, in height and built. He was not alike anyone on the Underworld, as his skin was too human. He wore some sort of an old samurai armor, as it seemed, black on its fabric and dark grey on the armor plates themselves, some having some clearly painted slashes of light purple.
Full armor, unlike the Greek one, which covered his whole body with the exception of what seemed to be his right arm. And his face, now, too, as he held his helmet under his arm.
Thace shared a look with Akira before he stepped into the room, and when Akira did so as well, the room doors suddenly closed behind them. Right after, Thace walked halfway through the path to the throne, came to a stop, and kneeled.
As he placed his fist over his heart, he lowered his head. –“Vrepit Sa, Under-Lord Zarkon. As promised, I’ve brought you Akira.”
Eyeing the god with a piercing yet calm yellow gaze, Zarkon nodded slowly.
It was then that Thace glanced to his right, to Akira, and then nodded to the floor before them, a gesture to let him know that he should probably do the same.
Reluctantly, Akira did so. He kneeled beside Thace and placed his fist over his heart, keeping his head low, seeing the black bangs falling over his sight.
–“… Vrepit Sa, Under-Lord Zarkon.”- He tried to keep his voice neutral and respectful, even though most of his mind was screaming for him to do otherwise. –“What can I…”- He licked his lips as he trailed off. He could try better. –“How may I… aid you?”
Zarkon peered to his left, to the Witch.
Understanding the command, Haggar spoke for him.
–“You are required to perform a delicate mission.”- She said, in her raspy, strained voice. –“As you may know, the Underworld and the Overworld have been at war ever since the Under-Lord took down Zeus…”
Haggar paused as she closed her eyes and lightly lowered her head. It seemed as her eyebrows twitched as she took a small deep breath. –“Today…”- She hesitated a little longer before she opened her eyes and watched the Hybrid. –“… Today, we’re beginning to make amends.”
Thace, who was already on his feet, shared a look with Akira, who was still keeling.
And the latter, then, raised on his feet as well, as he gazed up at the witch with a suspicious yet surprised gaze. –“What kind of ‘amends’…?”
Suddenly, Zarkon’s slow deep and strained voice invaded the room. –“A pact of non-harm.”
Dutifully, Haggar proceeded to explain it. –“The pact will freeze the on-going war happening between realms. It won’t mean absolute peace, but it is a start to the end of the war.”
End of the war?!?
Why would the Underworld even stop the ongoing war? They raged war against all Overworldly realms for endless centuries, why stop now? There were plenty of Galra – tittle given to the gods who marched and fought under the Under-Lord’s command.
They could only be running short of supplies or energy.
Perhaps that was why they were purposing such offer, because it was convenient for them. To just freeze the war until they were stocked with supplies and ready to continue it when no one expected.
With a frown, Akira tried to search for the reasons behind Zarkon’s decision, wondering if this was all a trick and he was the victim of it. But in the end, he ignored such possibility, as he looked up at the Under-Lord with the same focused gaze.
–“Okay… So how am I accounted into this?”
-“You are the first key.”- Haggar had said.
And Zarkon continued. -“You are part of the pact. As agreed between our diplomats and theirs, you shall spend a… a provisional time in the Overworld.”
-“You will do everything they do, always being watched under careful eye, of course.”- Haggar united her hands, hiding them with the long and large sleeves of her robe. –“You will be the first proof of our good faith, the proof as to how we won’t attack the Overworld. As well as you shall vouch for the Underworld as you see fit.”
Akira took it all in before he subtly nodded to himself. –“Basically I’ll be a pawn.”
-“Someone must be.”- Zarkon said, his yellow eyes giving off a grimmer glint.
With furrowed eyebrows, Akira lifted his gaze up to the Under-Lord. –“And why me?”
He knew he was pushing it with that question. No one should ever question the Under-Lord’s decisions, as such thing could be punishable by death. Especially with a mere, replaceable soldier. However, that did not cross the mind of Akira, as he was too taken by his doubts, wondering exactly what he had questioned.
Why? Why him? He was a great fighter, but not the best fighter in the Underworld, he definitely wasn’t the best diplomat. So what compelled the Under-Lord to handpick him for this… this mission?
-“You are the one who has the best chance to better blend into the Overworld.”- Haggar supplied. –“The one who looks the most alike them. Perhaps, the one who thinks the most alike them, too.”
Hearing the answer coming from the witch, Akira lowered his head as he furrowed his eyebrows. –“Oh…”- He said, faintly.
So that was it. A simple matter of luck. And even though he was grateful for this chance, this chance of getting a better life as Thace had implied, he was still not sure he could bear the weight of being the one responsible for the fate of so many realms, including his.
He was really not qualified for this… He was a soldier, not a talker.
-“Is it settled, then?”
Zarkon’s deep and slow voice interrupted his thoughts, making him look up at the Under-Lord, wearing a subtly big-eyed expression, lips slightly apart. Then, he creased his eyebrows as he peered at Thace, looking for any clue from the god about what to do in this situation.
Truth be told, he never thought he’d be going to the Overworld. Well, not in these circumstances, as he would probably go there to fight a battle in the future.
However, Akira never thought he’d be going there like this, especially doing something with such importance, with such impact on the fate of any godly realm.
If only the fates were still alive, he almost felt as though they would be having fun threading his life.
Of course, he knew he was basically a pawn in Zarkon’s game - whatever it was - and as such, he couldn’t really do anything other than playing under the lines. All he had to do was to do what his assignment was going to be, and he’d be good to go.
But even taking that into consideration, it was still a high-stress situation, and even though he wouldn’t do much on his own, there was still a large burden of responsibility on his shoulders, one he was never used to have.
Once Thace locked his gaze with him, the older god had his eyebrows lowered considerably, yellow eyes tainted with a feeling close to concern. As any parent would have for their child, even if Akira wasn’t really his.
Nonetheless, Thace nodded subtly, giving the answer Akira needed to reassure his doubts.
Seeing it, the confirmation from Thace, Akira turned his look back to the spot in the purple carpet between his feet, where he focused his sharp gaze. In a second, he closed his eyes, facial features easing, and once he exhaled a long breath from his nose, he looked back up at the awaiting Under-Lord.
-“Okay…”- He faintly said. –“I’ll do it.”
The witch’s look seemed pleased due to the glint in her glowing eyes. -“Very well.”
Zarkon peered at her before he settled his sight back on the young god. -“At last, you shall use your other half in the Overworld.”
Such statement made a bewildered expression take over Akira’s face.
Meanwhile, the Under-Lord continued on. –“It will aid you to gain their trust.”- He lightly lowered his head, powerful eyes always locked on the younger god. –“I assume you know your other half.”
Automatically, as he heard the Under-Lord’s words, Akira raised his left forearm slightly up, to his waist, and observed it intently.
The black bandages rolled around his hand and forearm, used as some sort of makeshift gloves, did not cover up everything. By the gaps between the bandages, he could still see the intense live red lines marked on his arm.
A mark born with him, born with any others like him.
-“I do.”- He admitted, after a while, with a faint croak, eyes still on the red lines of his tattoo-like marking. –“Child of Dragons.”- He looked up at Zarkon.
Pleased, as it seemed, the Under-Lord nodded.
-“As you are aware,”- Haggar began. –“you have not yet trained your power, as it is forbidden to exercise foreign powers in the Underworld. However, you will need it now. As such, you’ll need someone of the same realm set to teach you how, as well as teach you the ways of the Overworld, so you shall fit in better.”
As she finished speaking, Zarkon pointed, with his hand, to his right, to the quiet stranger who watched the exchange neutrally yet attentively.
–“This is Kuro.”- Before Zarkon’s voice, the god stepped up and nodded at him. Zarkon’s gaze stayed on him for a second more before he turned back to Akira. –“He will be your new mentor and guide of the Overworld.”
Taking in this information, Akira glanced at the god, his new mentor it seemed, and nodded in acknowledgement. Understanding, Kuro nodded back, less subtly this time, since it seemed he was not as stiff when the Under-Lord’s gaze was not on him.
After that, Akira’s now focused sight fell back upon the Under-Lord. –“Well… when do I start?”
Zarkon’s answer was final. –“Now.”
-“You’ll have a brief time to get ready until you cross realms.”- Haggar took a hand out of her joined sleeves to point at the god across from the Under-Lord. –“Kuro will walk you through it.”
-“Now, you’re all dismissed.”- Zarkon finally declared.
And with such final tone from the Under-Lord, nobody dared to ask no other thing. With bows, first Thace, and then, reluctantly, Akira, both made their way to the exit of the room, as the double doors slid open on their own for them to cross.
In the meantime, Kuro hurried to walk down the stairs from the elevated part of the room, stopped to bow at Zarkon and Haggar, making the Galra gesture to them before he turned around and hurried to follow the other two. The doors slid shut behind him.
Further away from the door already, with his back turned to the stranger, Akira glanced at him.
He noticed Kuro, now, had turned to the side of the hallway, observing a banner that was stuck to the wall as he made his helmet disappear in his hands within a little rush of round purple and grey particles.
It was clear he was, in a way, trying to give privacy to both Akira and Thace for a while, which had been greatly appreciated.
Akira peered at Thace, to his left side, seeing that Thace was already quietly observing him, waiting for a response.
And as the reality of the situation finally hit Akira, as he had been mostly on autopilot for the whole meeting with Zarkon, panic invaded his indigo eyes as he grimaced. –“Was this the right decision…?”- He quietly wondered.
Thace’s expression, however, continued collected. –“For peace, and for your future, I’m sure it was.”- He lowered his eyebrows as he slightly lowered his chin. –“But know the dangers of your task. You won’t be welcome for a long time. Perhaps for an eternity.”
Nonetheless, it would still be better than living an eternity in a sea of whispering shadows and death.
Akira’s eyes kept observing the face of the older god before he dropped his gaze to the floor, eyebrows slightly furrowed. –“I guess you’re right…”
Such faint response made a soft yet sad look appear on Thace’s face. He reached for the young god and placed his right hand on Akira’s left shoulder. –“I wish you the best fortune, young god.”
And hearing the earnest tone coming from Thace, Akira couldn’t help it but to look up at the god and lightly, weakly, smile. –“Thank you. It was an honor to work with you for all these centuries.”
With a nod, Thace actually smiled, too. Just a little, just for less than a second, but he did. And after that, he removed his hand from Akira’s shoulder and stepped away. –“I’m sure you’ll make us proud.”- He waited a second too long observing Akira, before he lowered his gaze and turned around.
There was no other word spoken between them. Akira simply watched as Thace walked down the dark corridor, until he took a turn, and then that was it. The last time Akira had ever seen him. At least, for a long, long while.
Grimacing, Akira closed his eyes shut.
He was going to regret this.
He was already regretting this.
What was he thinking? He couldn’t just do this all on his own. At least here, in the Underworld, he had Thace, the guy who willingly guided him through life, saved his neck so many times, vouched for him… He was sure he wouldn’t be existing if Thace hadn’t taken him under his wing.
The god was the only person he ever looked up to. Someone who helped him in so many dire situations. The god who saved his life and his well-being for so long now, all because he was supposedly a good friend of Akira’s mother.
And now… That was no more. Thace was gone, and Akira… he was left alone, again.
That quiet, yet soft and friendly voice snapped Akira from his hurrying thoughts. Surprised, he glanced over his right shoulder and there he saw the other god who had been considerate enough to let Akira and Thace share their last moment in peace.
Now that the god was getting closer, Akira could see him better. He was definitely older than Akira for some good centuries. A thing that would call upon anybody’s attention would be the mean scar across his nose, as well as a streak of white hair falling down his forehead, an obvious contrast with the short black hair on the rest of his head.
The kind smile the god wore gave away how the wrinkles by his eyes made him look older than he should. More exhausted. A veteran, as it seemed. He appeared to be someone who had gone through a lot, and had seen even more.
Once Kuro stood by Akira’s right, still wearing that kind smile on his face, he extended his flesh hand towards the young god. –“Pleasure to meet you, Akira. As you’ve heard, I’m Kuro.”
With a lost look on his face, Akira glanced at the awaiting gloved hand, but the purple glint to Kuro’s right called his attention. It was then that he took a better look at the other arm of the older god.
It was alike a regular arm, though its pieces were made of a smooth and shining completely black stone, connected all together by a calm yet strong long purple orb, seen only by the joints of the prosthetic.
Blinking, Akira forced himself to not look too much longer at the fake limb of the other god, and instead, he reluctantly took the awaiting hand with his, sharing a quick handshake before he hastily retrieved his hand for himself.
-“Well, yes.”- Kuro smiled warmly. –“My personal name is Takashi Shirogane.”- He said as he placed his hands on his waist. –“Though, people call me Shiro.”- He chuckled. –“Well, usually Gods, not people.”
In response to the small joke, Akira tried to put on a smile, even though it looked weak, forced and strained.
Which Kuro – better yet, Shiro – noticed, making his smile subtly lessen. –“… Anyway, and what’s yours?”- As he asked, he made a gesture forward, a request for both of them to start walking, and so they did.
-“Keith.”- Akira answered, not taking his eyes off the path before him. –“Keith Kogane.”
In response, Shiro smiled kindly. –“It seems you’re not used to it. But keep in mind that in the Overworld, gods address each other by their personal names. Some have not yet earned their Godly name.”
-“I’m guess okay with that.”
-“Good.”- Shiro said, glancing at the younger god. –“Well, let’s get ready to cross realms then, shall we?”
The classroom of another realm.
Brightness, due not only to the white hues of the large room, completely made of a marble-like stone, but also due to the bright presence of the sun outside, made the atmosphere in the classroom feel quite light. Lighter than the Underworld would be. And could ever be.
Outside, the sun shined as in any other Overworld realm, casting its light upon the insanely white buildings, paths, statues and gardens. All of that was to be seen even in the classroom, from the three large windows to the left.
Overall, the classroom was quite well tidy, even if in some parts it seemed to be cluttered with stacked scrolls and some more classroom materials.
Finally, over the shiny cream, almost white, marble floors, were singular wooden tables set up as desks, as well as matching chairs. In front of all the rows, a slightly larger desk was leaned to the left wall, which was probably the place that looked the messiest in the entire classroom. Though the back, the storage place, also wasn’t the best.
All of the students were gods. From many, many different realms.
Some Greek, others Norse, Egyptian, and so on. All of these young gods were learning the history of each realm, knowing what happened in each other’s cultures. Learning to become better gods, mentally and physically. So that one day they could make something great, protect their homes, realms and even their subjects.
Well, if they one day gain any human following, that is. Because, now, they were just too young.
The diversity was quite noticeable as well, due to how all of them could simply wear their usual outfits, their cultural clothes, rather than being forced into a standard uniform. Because of that, there were students using literal battle armor to class, and no one to bat an eye. Which was alright, as long as they did not cause any racket.
In front of the class, the teacher was leaning in front of his desk, delving well into the lesson. This morning, he was rambling about the Norse realm, more specifically, the Valkyrie order.
Of course that, due to such thing, the Norse descendants seemed to be quite thrilled. Some because they desired to know more, even if they already knew it by heart, but maybe there was something that would be mentioned they haven’t heard before. Others simply felt closer to home hearing about such subject.
Some other students were also paying at least some attention, while others… Well…
It was, by no means, that their teacher wasn’t captivating. Truth be told, Coran was the opposite of the definition of ‘boring’. However, there were other matters flooding some students’ minds.
One of the students in the back row groaned, not too loudly to not capture unwanted attention, but enough to get his point across. He had his head laid on his right fist, and on his other hand, he had a magically always inky quill, which he used to lazily scribble on his open scroll.
Suddenly, however, with a flick of his fingers, the quill vanished, leaving only tiny subtle bits of frost dusting off in the air in its place. The same happened with the scroll. And after that, the student dropped his arms, and then laid his head on them, completely hiding his face on them.
He was wearing a white, Greek-like tunic today, showing off his brown skin, well highlighted by the sunrays seeping through the windows. On his arms, little bits of his darker brown hair laid, lazily.
Truth be told, Lance, being only twenty-two centuries old, shouldn’t be appearing this… Well, tired.
And his friends noticed.
To his left, Hunk leaned towards his table, slowly, and in the same manner, with pursed lips, he lifted a questioning eyebrow. All the while, Lance kept his head still buried on his arms, not ever showing his face, even though it was obvious he had noticed his friend’s attention.
At the same time, Pidge did the same thing on the other side.
After some seconds of observing their friend, Pidge and Hunk shared a look, as they had a sort of a silent exchange. After making some faces at each other, as if they were sharing a silent argument, Hunk shrugged and slowly reached his index finger towards Lance, ending up poking him gently on the shoulder.
As he retreated his finger, seeing no reaction, the look on Hunk’s face seemed even more suspicious. And concerned.
–“Uhh, buddy…?”- He decided to ask. –“You okay, there?”
Lance kept his head down, but this time he did acknowledge his best friend by simply grunting. Which made Hunk and Pidge share another look, and delve into another silent argument.
That was, before Pidge’s intuitive eyes fell upon Lance, and even without seeing his face, she already knew what was going on.
–“… I can’t believe it-”- She pointed her hand towards him, sounding mildly aggravated. –“He’s freaking tired.”
Such sort of statement made Hunk’s eyes go wide, and then, almost immediately, he furrowed his eyebrows. –“What? Gods don’t get tired easily, though? Only when we need to restore energy because we’ve-”- He kept on slowing down his pace until realization hit him, making his brown eyes widen. –“Ohh…”
Despite of how Hunk looked, Pidge did not seem surprised. –“Yep. He’s been jumping realms again…”
Finally, Lance looked up at them, by only lifting his head so his eyes were visible, and only so he could glare weakly at his friends. –“I don’t need you guys to scold me right now.”- Even though his statement should have been taken seriously, his muffled voice, due to how his mouth was still hidden by his arms, seemed quite funny to his friends.
However, they chose to not pay attention to that.
-“Lance,”- Hunk started. –“we get it. You miss your family.”- He placed his right elbow on top of his table and pointed his hand at his friend. –“That’s completely understandable.”
Pidge, however, did not seem as casual as Hunk did. -“What’s not understandable is that you sneak out at least three times a week!”- She carefully lowered her voice, but still gestured sharply towards her still quite sleep deprived friend. –“That’s dangerous. What if you come across, I don’t know, a Galra? Or a dangerous creature? What if you warp to the wrong realm?”
Lance observed her for a second too long after she spoke, simply blinking, trying to assimilate what she had just said. In his defense, it was harder to process things when tired. After, he simply sighed, resisting the temptation to yawn at the same time.
–“I know what I’m doing.”- His voice was low, but confident in his words. After all, he had his way home drilled into his mind. Into his essence. He wouldn’t just get lost. –“Besides, pretty sure my dad would take care of it.”- He added as he rested his cheek on his right fist again.
And his father would, as he had the means and power to do so.
Poseidon, one of the only surviving old gods.
Meanwhile, Hunk had that same look on his face, the one that seemed to be a mix of suspicion and surprise. –“Wait, your dad knows you’ve been sneaking out..?”
Lance simply raised a brow at him. –“Pretty sure he’s aware of everything that happens in the Ocean Realm. Even by the beaches.”
That only made Hunk look more alarmed. –“And he lets you?!”
-“Not a big deal.”- Lance said, shrugging casually. –“He says it’s good I don’t keep myself away from our ocean for too long. Something about not forgetting who I am and bla, bla, bla. Besides, it’s not like I don’t like it. You guys know how I love to spend a good day by the ocean.”
Hunk observed him for a little while, with the same raised eyebrow, and then crossed his arms, looking forward as he buried his neck on his shoulders. –“Oh, just you wait until you get ambushed by literally any scary creature...”- His rushed sentence was spoken in a low tone, but the others heard it, as it had been intentional.
Regarding the pettiness, Pidge directed a questioning look at him. –“Hunk?!”
Hearing that, Hunk glanced at her, too, with a defensive tone. –“What? It’s true! It’s dangerous! You’ve said it, too!”
And maybe Hunk had spoken in a louder tone than he should have, because right then, Coran’s focus settled upon all of them, as he stopped the lesson.
–“Young students…”- He started as he twirled his mustache and subtly narrowed his eyes at them. –“is everything alright back there?”
Upon being caught, all three gods went big eyed, looking panicked as if they were mice caught in a trap.
For some long seconds, none of them spoke. But then, out of the three, Lance was the one to speak up.
–“Uhh,”- He rubbed the back of his neck as he extended the word, searching for the right thing to answer. –“everything’s fine, Coran!”- He did notice how his voice went higher pitched than normal, making a sheepish smile appear on his face as he quickly put his hands back on the table, nervously tapping it. –“Sorry…”
Before such… well, apology, Coran hummed as he narrowed his eyes even more, still twisting his mustache. After a little second, he extended one end of his mustache a little longer, held it for a little, and then let go of it.
-“Alright… I’ll turn a blind eye this time.”- As he spoke, with his usual lively voice, he winked, having that same, friendly smile back on his lips. “Anyhow, as I was saying,”
Just like that, Coran settled back into his lesson, and the attention of the whole class also dispersed from the trio back to Coran’s words, or their scrolls, or whatever else some were using to distract themselves.
And as for the trio, they simply shared some awkward looks and silently agreed to not dare to chat amongst themselves again during this one class.
When an ominous sounding bell rang, sounding distant as if it was in another realm, Coran dismissed them, as it was a regular mark to end the class.
Acting upon it, some students literally launched themselves off their chairs and onto the archway - the exit of the room. Others, acting in a more civil way, waited for the cluster of people to shudder out of the archway. Even though it was lunch time - hence why so many were hurrying - there was food and place for everybody.
Gods, alike humans, did eat, even though theirs were considered ‘godly foods’. Never ending, no crop needed to be harvested nor an animal to be harmed. However, gods could not die from starvation alike humans could, but food would restore their energy by a small amount. Plus, it was simply tradition to eat at certain hours.
It was, to gods on the Overworld, more like a social event than a pure act for survival.
Besides, the energy the food would provide would help the gods on the afternoon classes, the arena class.
Being in the back of the classroom, the trio let most of their classmates leave so they wouldn’t get in the middle of the mess. After they got ready to leave, they walked over to the front of the classroom and said their farewells to Coran, for the day.
It was quite impressive and adorable how the trio and Coran had such a close bond compared to the other students. It was no lie, nor unnoticeable, how the god liked these three younglings like if they were related to him. And maybe, out of the three, he always had a softer spot for Lance in his heart.
After that, all three left the classroom and came to a hallway that was covered over them, but to their left, on the opposite side of their classroom’s wall, there were only circular columns rather than another wall. Beyond it, there was a small step, leading to a huge patio, which was filled with bits of large gardens, statues and, even in the middle, a large fountain. All around the patio was the rest of the building, taking a ‘U’ shape.
For now, the trio was heading to its exit, to another place in the campus – the cafeteria. Lance was in the middle, having Hunk to his left and Pidge to his right, walking along the wall.
-“Oh yeah,”- Hunk spoke, out of a whim. –“I just remembered, fighting class is cancelled today, right?”- He asked as he peered at his friends.
-“Yep.”- Answered Lance, popping the ‘p’. –“I guess everybody is gonna be on high alert with that important thing Allura has to attend.”- It was noticeable how once he spoke the last part of his sentence, his eyebrows subtly furrowed in a grim tone.
Meanwhile, Pidge glanced up at him with a raised brow. –“You mean that rumor that a god from the Underworld will be a new student?”
-“Yeah…”- Hunk frowned as he kept on walking, crossing his arms around his chest if only for a little bit. –“I’ve heard they’re Galra, too.”
Hearing that, Lance eyed him with a confused expression. –“Hold up,”- He held a hand towards Hunk. –“what’s even the difference?”
Before Hunk could answer, however, Pidge cared to clarify it. –“Everybody who lives there are considered citizens of the Underworld, while Galra are more like,”- She wiggled her hand in the air as the boys watched. –“part of the army.”
While enlightenment flashed across Lance’s expression, Hunk’s seemed more as if Pidge had put to words what he was about to. And so, as Hunk pointed a hand towards Pidge, he cared to sum up her point.
–“Like, the beings who are loyal to the Under-Lord and fight for him.”
Lance, then, glanced at his best friend, as his eyebrows lifted. –“Oh…”- And then, he subtly lowered his eyebrows, looking a little thoughtful. –“Fun…”
To his side, he could hear Hunk’s ‘mhmm’ and the pettiness already behind it. –“Whoever they are and whatever they’re planning with all this, they better watch out.”- As he said the last part, he slashed his hand in the air, strengthening his statement.
Hearing that, Pidge peered up at her big friend with a focused and intuitive gaze. –“You thinking there’s more to it than this sudden non-harm pact?”
-“I mean, seriously?”- His voice pretty much gave away his answer. –“Under-Lord Zarkon taking the first step to end the war in a peaceful way? The same one who wiped out more than half of the Olympus? Yeah, right.”
Lance had been observing Hunk as the guy spoke, and once he finished, Lance’s gaze also seemed quite focused and thoughtful, on his own way. –“Makes sense…”- He quietly observed.
-“Guys, honestly…”- Pidge’s casual and relaxed voice captured the attention of the other two. –“Whoever is coming here from the Underworld is a student, too. What can they even do?”- She inquired as she extended both her forearms to the side. –“If they’d attempt anything, they’d die. You don’t think Allura wouldn’t send them to oblivion?”
-“I don’t know…”- Hunk slowly admitted as a frown appeared on his features. –“I still don’t trust this.”
-“We all don’t trust this.”- Lance cared to emphasize. –“I mean, have you guys seen Allura? She’s been with a scowl on her face for the whole week.”
Pidge nodded, confirming, before she pointed at her friends. -“Yeah, don’t get on her way any time soon.”
Lance raised his index finger and slightly tilted it towards her, quickly. –“I second that. Believe me,”- He placed a hand over his heart. –“I learned the hard way.”
For an instant, confusion flooded Hunk’s expression, before realization hit him. –“Oh, like when she made you scrub the lunch dishes for the entire afternoon just because you said, and I quote, “Allura, that face is too beautiful for you to be scowling all the time”?”
-“To be fair, that was kinda douchy.”
Hearing his friend’s comments, Lance sighed as he let his shoulders slump. –“Okay, I admit it, it was unfortunate of me to say that, but still!”- He extended both his forearms to the sides, with his palms to the sky, as an exasperated expression took over his face. –“I thought she’d make a lightning bolt fall on my head or something because of the way she just glared at me.”
Such thing made Pidge slyly smirk, as a mischievous glint was hidden behind her glasses’ lenses. –“That’d be interesting to see…”
Before the comment, Hunk crossed his arms as he frowned, and looked at his smaller friend with a lecturing look. –“Pidge…”
Hearing her name being spoken that way, Pidge simply shrugged nonchalantly as she eyed Hunk. –“What? It’s for science.”
-“Yeah…”- Lance started as he eyed his gremlin friend from the side, with an unamused look. –“no thanks. Anyway, so what are we even doing this afternoon?”- He looked around. –“I don’t really feel like being around the main campus…”
-“Lance.”- Pidge started, with a serious look on her face now, mirroring the tone of her voice. –“We’re not jumping realms.”
He crossed his arms as he buried his neck on his shoulders. –“I wasn’t asking you to.”- His previous little glare, however, melted into something relaxed again. –“But maybe we could spend the afternoon on the beach?”- He looked around his friends. –“It’s not like back at home, but it’s still something.”
The way Hunk beamed pretty much gave his answer away. –“Oh, I could prepare some snacks! Hmm, how about-”
While Hunk seemed to delve into his new-found dilemma to himself, Pidge spoke up. –“I could just chill in the shade and read some scrolls...”
Such statement made Lance amusedly scoff, as a grin took over his face. –“Typical child of Athena.”
It was actually funny to think how such a gremlin child could possibly be related to such ethereal and respectful being as Athena. She acted more as if she were a Hermes child, a true trickster. Yet again, Lance supposed, not every child is alike their parents. They could even come to be exact opposite.
He knew that well himself.
In the meantime, Pidge looked up at him with an unimpressed look. –“What? Jealous?”
The grin on Lance’s face seemed to only grow smugger. -“Tsc,”- He brought his hand up to his chest and delicately placed his fingertips over his heart. –“you’re talking to a child of Poseidon who is good looking enough to pass by as a child of Aphrodite.”- He confidently placed his hands on his waist. –“Pretty sure I’m not jealous, smarty-pants.”
With her arms crossed, Pidge eyed him with the same unimpressed gaze. –“Whatever you say, fish tails.”- And then, for a split second, a mischievous grin took over her lips, before she started to run.
As Lance lifted his head to see her go, he wore a quite offended look on his face, gasping loudly. –“Just because I’m son of Poseidon doesn’t mean I’m a fish?!”
And then, just like that, he started to run after her as he made wide gestures, making everybody else on the hallway stop to look at the laughing gremlin child, and Lance running after her.
–“Pidge!! Pidge come back here!”
Left behind, Hunk sighed tiredly. –“Guys, don’t run in the hallways!!!”-
And just like that, Hunk started to very quickly walk after the two, definitely not in a running pace.
In the highest point of the academy’s realm, was a large, purely white palace. Its architecture was a mix of classical Greek architecture, with the arches and columns and marbles, with something out of this world. Sharp and shiny, alike dragon scales, or crystals. Stones looking as a mix of marble and white crystals were most of the walls of it, taking into twists and turns, balanced but not symmetric.
Some steps below the palace, after a grand stairway, on the outside, were the immense gardens. Overgrown greenery grew all along its dirt patches, as well as flowers of all colors and types. The white paths that divided each garden were as pristine as they could be, like if no one has ever walked over it. As well as the many statues of gods on each centerpiece looked brand new, no crack on its rock.
To the far right, considering the stairway of the palace into the gardens, far, far way, was an oracle risen up from all the controlled greenery. Its shape was a perfect circle, all around it having columns, connected amongst each other by a circle on top. There was, however, no ceiling nor roof. Only a floor.
Inside it, the sun rays lightened all the white, making the room appear even brighter. The soft blue hues in the background, of the sky, made the atmosphere on the whole room appear even more serene.
There was not much in the oracle itself, inside, rather than just a desk, with two plants in vases to each side. The desk itself was made of a material alike metal and plastic, also made in white, taking sharp, stylized shapes.
Finally, on top of it were many scrolls, and on the large chair by it, already reading halfway through a scroll, sat a god.
Or, rather, a goddess.
Suddenly, interrupting all the quietness, a god hurriedly ran up the stairs into the room, and when the goddess slowly took her gaze off the scroll on her hands, she saw Coran catching his breath as he struggled to smile at her due to all his exhaustion.
And taking in the questioning blue eyes on him, Coran spoke up. –“Allura?”
Reacting to it, a smile appeared on the queen’s expression as she made a move place down the scroll on her desk. –“Good afternoon, Coran.”- She said as she settled herself back on her chair, as she placed her elbows on each arm of the chair and united her hands in front of herself. –“Is everything alright?”
Coran simply waved a hand up and down at her as he briefly closed his eyes. –“Oh, yes. I just came here to check up on you.”- As he lowered his eyebrows, it was easy to notice the clear concern on his eyes. –“I… haven’t seen you at lunch.”
Allura steeled her gaze on him for some little seconds longer before she gave in and sighed, showing a little more how tired she felt with everything. –“I’ve got a lot to take care of before this afternoon’s…”- She slowly flicked her gaze to the side. –“meeting…”
Such statement only made Coran furrow his eyebrows. –“Still quite antsy about this whole ordeal of finally accepting a student from the Underworld?”- He guessed, in a quiet, sincere voice.
-“Of course, I am, Coran!”
As Allura spoke and looked back at her advisor with raging blue eyes, as distant thunder crackled in the background, she saw the way he had flinched at her raised voice and mild ire. Which made her sigh as she settled back on her chair, less stiff, and then, she pinched the bridge of her nose.
–“Those monsters have been raging war against all the Overworldly realms for centuries.”- She lowered her hand and opened her eyes to look back at Coran with a steady gaze. –“They have murdered more than half of the original Olympus… and my father.”
It was hard for Coran to miss how Allura’s voice wobbled at the last part of her sentence, when she brought up her father. And just after, she placed her hand over her forehead and started to gently rub her hand against it, to calm her temper and nerves, as she closed her eyes.
Such thing only made Coran’s face drop. –“Please, my queen, I am not here to insult you.”- His voice, too, was as quiet as it could be, and tender. –“You do know very well my feelings towards the death of your father as well…”
Once Coran spoke, Allura looked up at him and when she actually saw the honest look on his face, she furrowed her eyebrows gently. –“I know, Coran…”- She admitted as she looked away, placing her hand back on the chair’s arm. –“I’m sorry. It’s just that… there’s a lot in my mind as of now… I must make sure everybody is safe around this…”- Her expression went grim, then. –“this Galra…”
As she trailed off, Coran kept himself in silence for a little, as he took in the information, before he spoke up again.
–“I understand your concern, it’s one that we both share. But keep in mind that this Galra we’re accepting into our realm is young.”- He noticed how Allura looked up at him. –“He’s a young adult alike our eldest students. He’s not Zarkon.”- Right then, Coran shrugged, his tone loosening a little on the seriousness. –“And besides, he will have a god from the Eastern Realms to guide him through and keep an eye on him.”
However, a defensive expression already took over Allura’s features. -“No matter, Coran. We must keep our guard high.”
-“But we cannot be paranoid, either.”- Coran saw that as he insisted, Allura looked away with an unpleased frown, which made his expression fall. –“Allura, may I remind you why you accepted this pact yourself?”
Such question made Allura slowly glance at him, and as she looked him in the eye with a strong gaze, Coran thought she was about to shut down his question. But, instead, her expression softened to something close to melancholy.
-“… To spare innocent lives from dying from this war almost every day.”
Regarding the tender and sincere answer, Coran gently nodded. –“Exactly.”- His voice, too, mirrored hers. –“We’re doing this for peace. And for our people. We cannot back down now. We must welcome this new student with open arms. Of course, we’ll have to have some precautions regarding him, but we cannot alienate this fellow either. That would only weaken the efficiency of this new pact and lessen the possibility of an actual peace treaty to be signed.”
For some seconds longer, Allura observed Coran with the same expression on her face, before she sighed and looked down at her desk, to the still open scroll she once had in her hands.
–“You’re right, Coran…”- She quietly admitted before she looked up at him with a small, fond smile. –“Thank you. I’m glad that, after everything that’s happened, after everything we’ve lost, I still have you here. Your advice is very precious to me, as you know.”
And hearing that answer, Coran couldn’t help himself but to smile fondly at her, too, as the wrinkles by his eyes were noticeable. –“Of course, Allura.”- He lowered his head slightly. –“No matter what happens, I will always be here to try to guide you alike Alfor would have done.”
It was clear how the last part stuck with Allura, as she was struggling to restrain herself from shedding any tear. Eventually, she ended up nodding lightly as she looked up at Coran with a thankful and emotional smile.
One that he returned.
-“Well…”- Coran started, as his voice, now, went from soft to his regular, lively voice. –“I advise you to take your nose off of that paperwork, your Highness!”- He said as he pointed at all the scrolls. –“We’ll have a very tiresome afternoon, therefore, you must be mentally prepared for it.”
As Allura looked between Coran and the scrolls, she lightly chuckled. –“Alright, alright. I’ll try to relax for a little…”
With a smile, Coran gently nodded. –“Everything’s going to be fine. Do not worry, Your Highness.”
It had been about fifteen minutes since they had crossed realms.
Keith didn’t remember the last time he had done such thing, since it was forbidden to leave the Underworld without authorization from the Under-Lord. If he was going to be honest, he didn’t even know how to create a portal like Kuro, or Shiro, did for them.
The last time, though, it had been so many centuries ago. He was just a small child, probably about six hundred years old. It hadn’t even been him who created a portal, either. So, the feeling he felt when he set foot on Shiro’s windy portal was quite overwhelming. It felt like in a second, he was walking through a tornado, and the next, into something peaceful, and stayed there for some long, quiet seconds.
And then everything had turned brighter than he had ever seen. With so much whites and greens and light blues, rather than blacks and purples. He had even flinched as his eyes had burned due to be exposed to so much light in one go.
The last time he had seen so much light focused in one place, it had been before he had jumped realms centuries ago, when he still lived on The Dragon’s Nest. There were only a few blurry images in his mind of that place, one of them being his father’s face smiling down on him.
This time, however, when he stepped into the sun’s rays, he and Shiro had been greeted by a large amount of guards in shiny white Greek armor, sporting white cloaks on their backs, and the plumes on their helmets, which went from front to the back, were completely white.
And so, the guards escorted them from the place they had teleported to, in the entry of the palace, to the vast gardens.
As they walked in silence, they had seen the vast blue of the sky above them, as well as the intensified blue of the ocean below.
They arrived to this little place in the gardens, by the drop to the coast, where there was simply a little cylinder tower, serving as a sort of room. There, clothes were supplied to him, as he was instructed that it was for the best that Keith shouldn’t walk around wearing an Underworld armor.
So, that’s where he was, now.
And truth be told, Keith was shaking as he put on his new clothes.
This wasn’t… Alright, these clothes were okay, pretty practical but these weren’t the safe armor he was so used to carry around his body almost every hour of the day. And what made him feel even antsier, was that these clothes he was supplied with barely had any armor, aside from the very sharp double shoulder plates he was given. Well, at least these new clothes had a hood, too, and were mainly colored black.
As he was almost set, he could see his left arm visually tremble as he put his black bandages around the long red dragon marking, one that curled along all his forearm, as its open mouth ended by his fist.
Even his breathing was shaky, heavy, and uneven.
This was just… too much.
There was too much at stake. There was so much on his shoulders, so much more he ever thought there would be. He felt like crying if he allowed himself to, but he couldn’t. He was alone in this whole world again, and he knew that if he showed any weakness, those would be exploited against him. He had learned that the hard way from all those centuries spent in the Underworld.
And when a tear dared to drop from his eye, he didn’t even let it get to his cheek, he just immediately passed his finger by his eye to dry it.
After that, he did not let any other fall.
Meanwhile, Shiro was waiting on the outside.
He was leaning against the marble wall of the small tower, admiring the place. He looked around the extremely green gardens, lively as ever. So were the blue orchids and those pink flowers he saw all around the tower. To his right, he could still see the wide ocean, as well as a small beach below.
And as he saw the waves calmly come to shore, he smiled softly.
He noted this looked just like the human realm, something he hadn’t seen in so long. And not in a situation like this, where he didn’t have any Galra overlord to monitor his every step.
Shiro decided, as his eyes met the light rays of the sun for a little second before he blinked away, that he missed the Overworld. He missed the light and warmth of the sun, he missed the gentle smells of flowers and the distinct aroma of the salt water, that he could still sense from up there. He missed the colors and the peacefulness of it all.
He missed feeling… free.
Once his sight recovered, he crossed his arms, and that soft smile was kept on his lips as he took in the scenery before him.
He had been a prisoner of war. He lost his freedom in a battle long ago, between his army and the soldiers of the Underworld. And then, all he could recall was that he had been kept as a captive in the Underworld until by luck, or fate, he was allowed to raise up the ranks.
If Shiro was going to be honest, he was lucky that Zarkon chose him for this assignment. He was lucky that the Hybrid who was chosen was half from the Eastern Realms, Shiro’s home. Which had been the whole reason why Shiro was chosen to guide him in the first place, as the Under-Lord assumed Shiro was the most qualified to help Keith with his powers, as he was the one with most understanding of them.
But as much as the sight before him was making him feel hopeful, Shiro was still concerned.
He lowered his eyebrows as the memory replayed in his mind.
Some hours ago, before they jumped realms, he and Keith were ready to go before Zarkon himself walked up to them and announced that he wanted to speak to Akira in private before their departure. And Shiro would be lying if he said he hadn’t noticed the way Akira appeared to be even more nervous and in panic when he had returned from his private discussion with the Under-Lord.
What the kid had been told, Shiro couldn’t possibly know, but it worried him.
This kid, this young god, he appeared to be this kind of person who had no one to guide them, and was even more lost because of it. It reminded Shiro of his first time in the Underworld. Lost and scared, with one less limb and a thousand more scarring memories.
He had been lucky this older Galra god, Ulaz, had sympathized with him and had vouched for him or else, Shiro was pretty sure he’d be no more by now. Because it was due to Ulaz’s efforts that he was able to climb from being a gladiator to have a decent spot in the imperial army.
Sighing, Shiro just hoped that Akira, or Keith, or however the young god wanted to be called, was going to be alright now that he was in the Overworld. After all, the least Shiro could do was to help the young god.
And speaking of the devil, suddenly, the door to his left opened, and Keith stepped out of it. He winced when the sunlight bathed him again, pushing his hood the best he could over his face to cover himself up.
His new outfit was all black with some dark red details. He had on a sleeveless black leather top, where the right side of it only ended on the left side of his chest, slightly oblique. He had a dark red large tarp over the end of his vest, acting as some sort of large belt, and below, on his front and back, long cloths came down to his knees, ending in a triangular shape.
He wore simple black pants, as well as sharp boots alike Shiro’s. Lastly, he had sharp double shoulder pads on each shoulder, both leaning upward to each side, as well as he had a dark red little cape that he had pinned to his right shoulder, coming down to the right side of his back.
He rubbed his eyes just so he could open them again, and once he could do so, he frowned. –“… Did I dress this right…?”- He quietly wondered as he looked down at himself.
Shiro raised his brow as he observed him. -“I think so.”- He kicked himself away from the wall and stood some steps before the young god. –“You look like you actually live here. Well… you know, if you don’t mind all the… all the black…”- He joked, as he put his arms on his waist and smiled.
However, Keith just looked at him for a second before he crossed his arms and looked to the side. -“If you say so…”
And Shiro did furrow his eyebrows slightly at the attitude, but didn’t dare to question it. -“Now, you ready for the meeting with the Queen of the Greek Overworld?”
Keith peered at him from the side with a guarded look before he looked back down to the floor to his left. –“… As ready as I can be.”
That quiet yet gloomy tone did make Shiro frown with concern. –“… Alright,”- He lowered his eyebrows sympathetically after he sighed. –“I know I’m a stranger, and you probably don’t trust me, and that’s fair. But you look anxious,”- He crossed his arms. –“and I can tell you right now that nothing will go wrong. I’m here to vouch for you.”- He noticed how Keith was looking at him now. –“It’s my job as your new mentor.”
After a small pause that Keith spent observing the older god with a careful gaze, he realized Shiro was waiting for his reaction. –“… Look, I appreciate that, but…”- He grimaced. –“I don’t know. Look, sir, I-“
Such usage of words made Shiro chuckle. –“I’m not a sir, kiddo.”
-“Well, I’m not a kiddo either.”- Keith dared to emphasize as he glared up at the god.
Reacting to the aggressive tone, Shiro simply put his palms in front of himself in sign of surrender. –“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.”- He crossed his arms again. –“But I just wanted you to know that I’m here to help. I know we can barely trust anybody in the Underworld, but things are different here. Just, try to be more relaxed.”
This time, it seemed like Keith was actually considering his words, as the aggressiveness on his expression turned to something melancholic rather fast. And then, he simply diverted his gaze to the side. –“Yeah… Sure…”
Shiro’s look of concern never left his face, but before he could say anything else, a sudden cloud of smoke came to life by Shiro’s left, which startled both him and Keith, who suspiciously eyed the smoke as if it were a threat.
And from the smoke, appeared a little green creature. A dragon, as it seemed, of long waist, as big as the one on Keith’s forearm. Its color was a washed out green mixed with light grey and bits of black, like its long whiskers.
As the little creature coughed due to its own smoke, Shiro crossed his arms over his chest as he observed it with a non-impressed gaze. -“Oh, look who’s here. Where have you been for the last couple of days?”
The little dragon coughed a little bit more before it took in Shiro’s look and pouted. –“You were in the Underworld!! Did you know that 100% of the humans who cross over to the Underworld are either dead or die???”
Before such answer, Shiro kept his right arm folded over his chest, and placed his left elbow on it, as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He closed his eyes as he sighed, visually trembling with irritation. It was then, as he whipped his head around to face the creature, that he snapped.
-“YOU’RE NOT A HUMAN!!!!”
In the meantime, Keith observed the exchange with a confused look, fortunately forgotten of his previous worries because of such distraction.
–“Uhh, what’s that… thing…?”- He asked as he pointed to the little creature.
Who, in the process, gasped loudly as it turned around to face him. –“I’m no thing!! I’m a familiar!! And a dragon!”
In response, Keith tilted his head as he raised an eyebrow. –“Are you sure…? Aren’t you too small to be a dragon?”
Shiro exhaled a small breath from his nose as he closed his eyes for a brief second. Then, he supported his right hand on his waist, as he pointed with his left to the creature. –“This is Slav, my familiar. He’s a dragon, just a different type of dragon.”
Regarding the answer, Keith looked between the older god and the creature. –“Oh… He looks kinda cute…”
Before Slav could protest any further, Shiro placed his hand over the dragon’s little snout, as a smirk appeared on his lips. –“Yes. Yes, he’s very cute. Like a little puppy.”
As Shiro took his hand away, Slav crossed his noodle arms as he exhaled a smoky breath from his nostrils, appearing to be unpleased.
And seeing that, Shiro chuckled a little more, before he focused his attention back on the young god. –“Anyway,”- He placed his hands on his waist. –“we should get moving to the main oracle. It’s where Queen Allura will be expecting us.”
Being brought back to reality, Keith’s tone went from mildly amused due to the exchange of the other two, to serious once more. He exhaled a light breath from his nose for a long second, trying to steady himself.
-“Okay…”- Keith quietly announced as he looked up at the older god. –“Let’s do this.”
Shiro did not answer verbally, however he kept an encouraging smile on his face as he nodded.
All of them strolled through the gardens then, Shiro taking the lead as Slav fluttered over his shoulder as any familiar would. It was surprising, in Keith’s mind, as to how Slav and Shiro did appear to clash, at least from the first instance he got from their relationship, but now, both were walking silently and respectfully.
Perhaps it was because of his presence, which Keith appreciated. He did need the silence and the quietness to think. To try to put his raging thoughts in order, rather than letting them drown him once he got there. The faster he would try to calm himself, the more prepared he’d be for the meeting with the queen of the Overworld.
In the process of their walk, they went through many parts of the garden Keith hadn’t seen, and as his dark eyes were finally getting used to this new brightness that surrounded him, he was able to actually appreciate the sight.
It was… different. Perhaps it’d need some getting used to, but it was alright. The peaceful gardens definitely felt less heavy than the hunting dead forests Keith would wander in his free time when he was in the Underworld. Which should be a plus.
As they passed many centerpieces in the path, adorned with little artificial lakes or statues, sometimes both, they came to a stop before a part of the path where it led to a high stairway. It led up to what seemed to be an oracle, of a fairly small size, however, its columns were still as tall as any other.
Once they stopped, Shiro glanced over his shoulder at the young god with a comforting smile. –“It’s time.”
Hearing the announcement, Keith closed his eyes as Shiro turned back around. He exhaled a long breath from his mouth, feeling all the air in his lungs, as well as a large part of his nerves, leave in one breath. Although, once it was done, it all came back to him in seconds.
Because this was it. The moment he was about to meet the Queen he had heard so much about. He knew this was the being he had to impress, the being he must gain the trust of. It was his mission, after all. And if he did get on her bad side, then he pretty much knew how his new journey here, in the Overworld, would be rocky and difficult, exactly mirroring the progression of the pact between realms.
Behind Shiro’s confident steps, as he climbed up the stairs, Keith’s were hesitant. He was glad he was distracted by the small dragon floating by Shiro’s right shoulder, who looked back at him with a little smile, something welcoming, Keith assumed. And before the gesture, Keith replied with a little weak smile of his own.
Once they arrived up on the entry to the oracle, and set foot on its pristine marble floor, Keith observed the scenery around it, between its columns.
In the horizon, the sun was just starting to set, as the soft blue of the sky blended into oranges and pinks. No sight of a cloud. And beneath the sky, touching it in the line of the horizon, was the sea, reflecting its light.
Everything in this realm, Keith noted immediately, was very colorful and warm. Even his skin was a contrast to everything and anybody in it. He was too pale, more than any living creature would ever look like. His skin had a subtle grey tone to it, as a human’s body without any life left in it. Even Shiro, who had spent some centuries in the Underworld, he assumed, was still pale, though his was livelier, like a human being would look like.
He was… really out of place.
Part of him just wanted to go back to the Underworld. Sure, such place hadn’t been kind to him, but at least he could just hide out in the shadowy forest if things would get too grim. When he felt like he didn’t want to exist. Something he knew would be harder to do here.
Before him, in the other side of the room, by a large white desk, stood a goddess.
Her skin was dark and smooth, a perfect contrast with her long untied white hair which perfectly mimicked clouds. The intense look on her blue eyes suggested how respectful of a being she was. It was obvious that she had to be the Queen of the Greek Overworld, daughter of Alfor and granddaughter of Zeus, Queen Allura.
To her right was a man with light skin, sporting a lively ginger mustache on his face. He stood in a high posture, respectful, as he had his hands behind his back. He wore a mainly blue tunic, with some live orange patterns on its extremities. Keith had no idea who he was, but he appeared friendly.
Then, to the queen’s left, was the last presence in the room. It was a much taller and broader man, his skin brown, tanned. His grey, almost white long wavy hair fell to his shoulders and over his back, alike his long beard covered most of his face. His eyes were blue alike the ocean in the background.
He appeared to be the one who seemed to be the most neutral of the three. If he was feeling any sort of way, he certainly did not show it. And for his apparent age, he looked to be one of the old gods, which would make sense considering how respectful and powerful he seemed to be.
What gave away his identity most of all, was the large rotten golden trident he held on his left hand.
Poseidon, God of the Oceans.
Before the sight, Keith subtly gulped. Such presences were intimidating by themselves, but now, having an old god judge him as well…
Ahead of him, Shiro hastily bowed before the three, as he placed his open hand over his heart. –“Greetings, Queen Allura of the Olympus. Poseidon, King of the oceans. And…”- As his eyes met the other god, he paused for a little. –“Uhm…”
-“Coran Hieronymus Wimbleton Smythe!”- The older god cared to proudly announce. –“However, you could simply address me as Coran.”
Before the presentation, Shiro smiled. –“… Right uhm, and… Coran.”- With a sheepish smile, he nodded at the lively man, who appeared pleased. Meanwhile, Shiro focused back on the others. –“It’s a great honor to stand before all of you.”- He finally got himself upright from his bow, and brought his hand to his chest. –“I’m Kuro, lesser god of the Eastern Realms.”- He slightly turned around then, just by the side. –“And… as promised, this is Akira of the Underworld.”
Slightly hesitant, as all eyes fell upon him, Keith walked forward and came to a step by Shiro’s right. There, he slightly bowed, just with his head, before he spoke, in a tone in which he strived for respectfulness, but still sounded quite nervous.
–“It’s an honor meeting all of you...”
As he spoke, all the three other gods shared some looks. Poseidon seemed neutral, as per usual, while Allura seemed… not too pleased. And perhaps because of that, while looking at her in the eye, Coran subtly nodded towards the Galra, as he was silently trying to say to Allura ‘please say something’.
And so, with a little twitch on her eyebrow, Allura leaned forward, as she supported her hands on the desk before her. It was clear she tried to not look as threatening, although, her look did not seem welcoming, either, as she could not bring herself to wear such expression.
Instead, she seemed defensive as she spoke. –“It is with great… pleasure… that we welcome you into our academy, Akira.”
Hearing the announcement, Keith respectfully lowered his head. –“Thank you…”- He seemed hesitant for a moment before he decided to speak up, as he remembered when Shiro told him that in the Overworld, gods addressed each other as their personal names.
–“… Uhm, actually it’s, uhh, Keith. My personal name, that is…”
However, regarding such answer, such correction, Allura’s gaze only deepened into what seemed to be a glare.
In the meantime, in the background, Slav hoovered over Shiro’s shoulder, and placed his little paw by his mouth to cover up his whispering voice. –“Did you know that, in this reality, this meeting has a 73% chance of ending in a disaster?”
Hearing his familiar, Shiro slowly peered at him with an unimpressed look in his face, before he shooed him away with his hand.
-“Right…”- Allura began. –“Keith.”- After she spent a long second observing him with an intense gaze, Allura got herself upright, as she no longer leaned on her desk, and allowed her arms to rest by her sides, shoulders high. –“Well, I suppose you are aware of the reason you’re here, correct?”
Even though he was aware he had done a mistake, Keith did not make time in his mind to dwell on it as of now. Instead, he wore a focused expression on his face, as his mind was back in the mission at hand.
–“I am. As agreed from the pact of non-harm, I’m here in good faith to represent the good intentions of the Underworld.”
Allura nodded. –“You are working as a diplomat, as such, we expect you to act as one. Know that any action that you do that may place this pact as well as any future agreements in jeopardy, will not be tolerated.”
-“I completely understand that.”
The Queen of the Greek Overworld observed him for a second more to search in his body language if his answer had been genuine. Once she concluded that it must have been, she proceeded. –“Good. Keith, you are required to attend classes in this academy and blend in with your peers, as well as you must partake in any diplomatic affair that may occur.”- Right then, she subtly pointed at Shiro. –“You have your new mentor to guide you through most things, however, I’ll have Coran explain to you how this academy works. Do you object to any of this?”
-“No, I don’t.”- Keith paused, awaiting for anything else in silence, but when he didn’t get anything else, he spoke up. –“… Am I… allowed to go, now?”
Regarding the question, Allura frowned. –“Your impatience is… jarring. But yes, you may.”
Grimacing, as he noted that he had, once again, made a mistake, Keith nodded at the Queen, afraid to spit out anything else that would offend her. With a little bow of his head, as he placed his hands behind his back, he looked around, eyeing the other two gods, before he turned around to leave.
As he passed by Shiro and Slav to go straight to the stairway, the older god and his familiar shared a look.
-“Go after him”- Shiro cared to whisper to the dragon, with a serious yet tender tone. –“and make sure he won’t get into any trouble. I’ll find you guys in a second.”
Perhaps in a normal situation, the tiny dragon would argue about how dangerous it would be that he’d be off on his own with a child of the Underworld, since something as a tiny puddle could make him stress out. However, in this case, the dragon understood the gravity of the situation, as well as the seriousness on Shiro’s tone. Because of that, he simply gave Shiro an understanding look and flew away into the sky.
In the meantime, as Shiro peered back forward, to the other gods, he saw Coran whispering something to the Queen, to which she answered by nodding. Right then, Coran hastily rushed past the desk, and past Shiro, and started to jog down the stairs, as Shiro turned around slightly to watch.
It was when the man turned a corner that Shiro drew in a slow breath from his nose, and as he looked back forward and started to walk to the remaining gods, he released it. Once he arrived slightly by them, stopped some steps from the desk in a respectful distance, he started hearing the conversation the other two were already sharing.
-“-of him?”- He heard the Queen, in a hushed tone, asking to the old god.
And in response, Poseidon’s deep and well projected voice, answered. –“I have nothing to think of him.”- He slightly lowered his chin as he kept his eyes on the Queen. –“In fact, I must go. The oceans require a tremendous amount of time dedicated to them.”
That made Allura furrow her eyebrows. –“I do understand that, Poseidon, but…”- She fully turned to him. –“Won’t you stay for a little longer?”- That was when her expression slightly softened. –“Perhaps you could say hello to your-“
However, she was immediately interrupted. –“Time is of the essence, Allura.”- As he spoke, he was already halfway turned to the exit, clutching his trident tight. He steeled her with a stern look in his deep eyes, such expression that emphasized how his tone had been final. –“It was a pleasure to see you, as always.”
Allura still regarded him for a little while, in a tense stare, a look clearly showing how she was unpleased with his decision, as well as his brash answer. However, perhaps out of respect, or for lacking the time to argue any further, she nodded.
Standing before her answer, Poseidon observed her for a little longer, with the same stern look on his face, however, something in his eyes shifted. Something alike the waves of the ocean that melancholically would wash up on the beach in a day of a calm storm. And then, perhaps to hide it, he turned around and started walking to the exit.
As he passed by Shiro, the old god peered at him slightly and stoically observed him for a flash of a second. It was then that he reached the end of the room, but rather than walking down the stairs like the others, he made a motion with his trident, still on his left hand.
Said motion made a portal of salt water appear, with its soft foam and everything. Poseidon hesitated a little as he stood before his very own portal, perhaps still dwelling on what the Queen had said to him, but perhaps out of pride, with a long exhale from his nose, he proceeded to step towards it.
And in a second, he was in the water, and the portal, alike his figure, vanished out of existence.
Shiro kept staring at the spot the mighty old god once stood, mostly unconsciously. It was then, some seconds later, that he glanced to his left, to the desk and the goddess who stood behind it. He noticed the Queen had leaned over the desk again, having her hands supported on the smooth white material the desk was made of. She was frowning as it seemed, as she read a scroll she had opened in front of her. In a moment, she got her right hand to her forehead and rubbed it gently as if she had any sort of headache, or had too much on her mind. Perhaps both.
And maybe because of said sight, Shiro felt bad he was about to interrupt her. She seemed to be too busy with a large amount of work to do, but Shiro knew that what he had to say, would have to be addressed this very moment. If he saved it for any time later, he knew it would just be too late.
So, with a little bit of courage, Shiro turned fully to her and took another step closer to the desk. –“Hey…”
At the sound of his low, timid voice, the Queen looked up from her scroll to look at him with a mildly surprised gaze, as if she had forgotten she wasn’t alone. She did not speak then, she simply eyed him with an awaiting curious look.
Something Shiro noticed. –“… Uhm, my apologies for bothering you, your Highness, but I… If I may spare some words with you…”
For a little second, the Queen blinked, in what seemed to be in surprise, but right then, she made a gesture with her hand to him. –“Oh, Of course. Please do make yourself at home… Kuro, am I correct?”
Shiro smiled kindly. –“Yes. Well, my personal name is Takashi Shirogane, but usually I’m addressed as Shiro. If, you don’t mind…”
-“Shiro…”- She had repeated, as if feeling the name, before she looked towards him with a smile mimicking his own. –“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
It was then that Allura extended her right hand towards him, in what seemed to be the intention to share a handshake with the other god. And understanding so, Shiro extended his hand towards hers, only hesitating a little when he realized he was using his fake limb that had been supplied to him by the Galra.
Nonetheless, the Queen took his hand in hers, and even though he couldn’t feel any tact with that arm, he could tell she had firmly gripped his hand with hers.
And perhaps, because of that gesture, of her not being afraid to actually take this terrifying part of himself in her powerful hand, Shiro’s smile turned timid as he spoke. –“Pleasure’s all mine.”- Both retrieved their hands to themselves, then. –“I never thought I’d meet the granddaughter of Zeus herself. I’ve heard many stories of you.”
-“All positive, I hope.”
That made Shiro grimace. –“Actually… it… varied. Many times, amongst the Galra armies, the stories were not told the…”- He rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. –“kindest way…”
Hearing such answer, it was clear that the welcoming look on Allura’s face shifted to something defensive, a clear frown which was even noticeable in her changed tone. –“Oh… I forgot you are Galra as well…”- And as she spoke, she looked a little to the side, with a look that expressed how she felt foolish for not having realized that sooner.
-“I suppose…”- Shiro quietly said as he trailed off without any plausible answer after that.
As he lowered his look, gloominess took over his dark eyes, with a slight taint of guiltiness. Quietly, he drew in a breath from his nose and allowed his chest to rise, as his lungs filled with air, and then, silently and calmly, he let it go.
-“Not by choice, though.”
As the Queen heard his low tone, she looked up at him once more, still looking defensive, but also seeming to be willing to listen.
And as such, with his gaze still distant, focused in nothingness, Shiro started his explanation. –“I’m originally a lesser god, from the Eastern Realms, as you know...”
What Shiro did not feel worthy to point out, however, was the he had had a high rank in his original realm. He was a commander, a much respected one, and known in many Overworld realms as some sort of savior due to how many battles he succeeded to win against the Underworld armies. He would get recognized anywhere he would go to, and gods would treat him as an idol.
Not anymore, though. He looked older, more broken, tired. He wasn’t the radiant courageous successful commander he used to be. And perhaps his more exhausted stance, like his equally exhausted eyes, would make him appear like a totally different being.
-“A century ago, I was injured in battle and taken by the Galra to the Underworld…”- He gravely lowered his eyebrows. –“I was their prisoner. It took me a while to rise from being a gladiator, a piece of entertainment in their arenas, to being a lesser official.”- He weakly shrugged. –“Mostly, I’d partake in scouting missions or running errands, and… I suppose, now, in a diplomatic mission, too.”
As Shiro’s gaze met hers once more, Allura could see the honesty in his dark brown eyes, as well as the repressed feelings that hid beneath them. And such thing, made her sympathize with his story, and his not so subtle pain.
Because it was then that she realized that Shiro wasn’t actually ‘one of them’. He was, in a way, a victim, too. Forced to work for them unless he wanted to vanish into nothingness in one unlucky day in the arenas. He chose to live, and perhaps he had done some not so great things to do so, even if he did not partake in violent battles and missions in the name of the Galra and the Underworld.
But Allura could never condemn him for choosing existence over a forced death.
And it was due to that realization that Allura’s defensive look softened into something sympathetic. –“Oh… I see…”- She lowered her eyes as they aimlessly roamed the open scroll on her desk, before she caught sight of the glowing purple of the god’s exposed arm. And it was with curiosity that she spoke up. –“If… I may ask…”
It appeared that Shiro already knew what she meant, as he had caught her gaze settled upon his limb. Rather than looking offended, however, he smiled.
–“This?”- He guessed as he brought his fake forearm slightly up in front of both. –“It’s a sort of prosthetic the witch put together.”- As he spoke, he never lifted his gaze from his arm, and the more he looked, the sadder his smile turned. –“I lost my limb in the battle I lost my freedom. Cut down by the Under-Lord himself…”
Seeing him trailing off, Allura waited in silence for a few more seconds, waiting patiently and respectfully to see if he would like to add anything more to it. But when she noted that he wouldn’t, her look lowered. –“I’m sorry…”- She spoke, in a quiet voice. –“I was not aware…”
Noticing the guilty tone coming from the Queen, Shiro hastily smiled warmly, trying to soften the melancholic exchange. –“It’s alright. I’m used to it by now.”
It was then that Allura looked up at him with a smile mirroring his, like a sign of relief that she hadn’t offended him in any way, probably sensing that the subject of his fake limb was probably more delicate than Shiro made it out to be. He was thankful for that, too.
But then, as Shiro’s mind settled back on the original motive regarding why he approached the Queen, his smile slowly vanished, giving way to a serious tone. -“I just… wanted to ask you to go easy on the kid.”
Such statement, too, made Allura lose her smile, as she frowned lightly.
-“Keith’s trying.”- He insisted, with a sincere look. –“It’s not a piece of cake either for him, to have his old world swept off his feet. Twice. I learned that before he was taken into the Underworld, he grew up on The Dragon’s Nest. Those are very different places.”- He lowered his eyebrows. –“He’s been training to be a soldier his whole life, not a diplomat. I just ask of you to please give him some time.”
For some long seconds, Allura firmly stared up at him, not looking like she wanted to back down from her stand. It took some time until she answered to his request. –“… I’ll see what I can do.”
And even though that tone was not a definite answer, Shiro smiled nonetheless. –“Thank you.”- He sympathetically lowered his eyebrows. –“I can only imagine how it must feel terrifying to welcome one of the people from a realm that has caused so much pain into your own home. Just knowing the fact that you’re trying is very appreciated from my part. From everyone’s.”
For the first seconds, Allura actually seemed surprised with Shiro’s answer. She honestly expected something different. She didn’t expect him to understand. But he did. And that was why a light smile came back to her lips. –“Thank you for understanding.”
-“Of course.”- Immediately, Shiro lightly bowed. –“Now, if you excuse me, I should go settle in.”
In response, Allura simply nodded. –“Welcome back to the Overworld, Shiro.”
Regarding her genuine smile, Shiro wore one of his own as he answered, before he turned around to leave. –“Thank you, your Highness.”
-“Ah, there you are!”
On the vast gardens of the palace, Keith had found a high spot and had sat on the marble path with his back to the low wall, which cast shade on him. Behind him was another patch of greenery, with wild climbing plants coming down a tree. He had his left leg extended forward, and his right knee brought to his chest, as he had his forearm laid on it. His other hand was on the floor to his side.
He had his head lowered, dark bangs in front of his vision, but as he heard the little creature’s voice calling from his left, he slowly turned his sight to the side, not lifting it, to observe the tiny dragon with a cautious expression.
-“… What do you want?”
Considering the quiet yet warning tone coming from the god, Slav seemed apprehensive, before he shoved it to the side. –“… Well, I must make sure you’re out of danger.”- As he hoovered in the air, he placed a paw behind his back and raised a claw as he spoke. –“And as you may know, all the realms are dangerous!! As those plants behind you!”- As he pointed at them, Keith cautiously turned his head to look at them. –“There is a 42% chance that those are poisonous!”
-“I’m a god,”- Keith said, matter-of-factly, as he glanced back at the dragon. –“I can’t die like a human does.”
In regards to the god’s answer, the dragon rubbed his chin with his three right claws. -“Perhaps, but did you know that such poisonous plants may cause an irritating itch even to gods??”
Unconsciously, Keith retracted himself away from the wall, just slightly, as he observed the plants the dragon had pointed at. He decided, however, that the dragon was simply exaggerating, and the fact that he had actually went along with it was ridiculous.
So, he settled himself back on the wall, as he let his back hit the white marble as he let a breathed ‘oof’ escape his lips. With his closed off look, he decided to stare forward rather than at the creature, and when he answered, his quiet words sounded bitter.
–“Whatever you say…”
The dragon’s look lowered then, as he observed the god with a helpless tone. –“… Is there something wrong?”
-“What do you think?”- Keith immediately spat as he glanced up at the dragon, with a guarded yet mildly aggressive look.
A warning, as it seemed, but rather than coming out of pure malice, it just seemed what had triggered it had been some sort of a defensive mechanism the god had developed because of his own fears.
It was then that Keith looked down, to his legs and the floor beneath them. –“It’s obvious nobody wants me here.”- His tone lost its edge as he spoke, sounding almost broken as he said: -“I don’t belong…”
-“Well… there is an 89% possibility that that is true…”
Regarding the dragon’s nervous sort of… of failed comfort, Keith assumed, he peered Slav for a brief moment. –“Gee, thanks…”
The dragon’s eyes went subtly wide as he noted his efforts hand been unsuccessful. -“However, there is a… 11% chance that that isn’t… true…?”- He sported a nervous toothy smile as he regarded the god, who, in response, simply stared at him with a deadpan look in his eyes.
-“Uhm, am I interrupting something?”
The strange yet sort of familiar voice made Keith look to his left, to the part where, after some steps, the small path he sat on intercepted with a main pathway of the gardens. There, he noticed, stood the one strange god who had once been by the Queen’s right on the still fresh audience he had with them just some minutes prior.
As Keith’s surprised gaze feel upon the older god, Coran he remembered, it subtly faded to something low, something gloomy.
-“Not really.”- He quietly answered.
In response to him, the older god smiled warmly behind his mustache. –“May I?”- As he placed his hands on his back, he nodded towards the spot to Keith’s left.
Understanding the god’s request, Keith answered before he looked back down. –“Sure…”
Politely beaming, Coran walked the rest of the fair distance between both of them, and as the little dragon laid himself over the wall behind them, Coran took his spot. He calmly sat next to the young god, however, he kept a respectable distance, perhaps so Keith could feel comfortable having his personal space to himself.
Once on the floor, Coran extended both his legs forward and gently placed his clasped hands on his lap. He sat silent for some little quiet moments, as he simply observed the beautiful and almost natural sight before him.
Suddenly, he exhaled a long breath from his mouth, sounding as a breathed, content sigh. -“Is this not a beautiful sight?”
Regarding the question, Keith did not look at the older god, but instead, he lifted his look and glanced around, just like Coran was doing. However, the dark look in his eyes did not match Coran’s bright glint in his.
–“It’s very… colorful. And bright…”
-“Exactly!”- Coran cheerfully exclaimed, while in the meantime, Keith grimaced. Noticing, as Coran had peered subtly to the side at the god, his lively look lessened as he had realized the feelings of the younger god. –“Oh… I just realized you are probably not used to such sight, eh…?”
Keith had his gaze lowered again, as he had been staring at his bandaged right forearm still laying on his knee. –“Yeah, uhm… The Underworld is very dark. There’s this black mist of darkness or whatever everywhere. It’s the opposite of…”- He gestured around himself. –“all this.”
Understanding the god’s point, Coran simply quietly hummed. –“I see…”- And that was when his lively tone was back to his voice. –“But fear not, young god! You will surely get used to this!”- He noticed how, from the look on the god’s face, Keith didn’t look too convinced. –“Now, now, young fellow, you mustn’t worry too much.”- He raised his right index finger in the air. –“First days are always incredibly scary! Even mine was.”
-“Yeah… But you’re not from the Underworld…”
Coran regarded him for a silent second, thoughtfully, before he spoke up. –“… Well, yes, I may not be. However, young lad, you must keep in mind that I have attended this same academy a long time ago. In an era when the war had yet not begun.”
Keith peered at him then, realizing he had forgotten that Coran did look old enough to remember very well how life was before the war that has been raging for a millennium. -“Oh…”
-“Indeed. I have shared many classes with many fellows from the Underworld. Unlike many gods nowadays, I do still remember the time things were as they should be. I remember how most Underworld folk were considerate just alike any Overworld god.”
As he kept on going with his speech, Coran unconsciously gazed forward, upwards lightly, to the now darker sky of the start of the evening. –“It may be foolish of me, as perhaps my fond memories and nostalgia may be clouding my judgement. Nevertheless, I do still believe that there is still good in some inhabitants of the Underworld, even to this day. Or at least, I do hope…”- That was when he glanced at the young god. –“After all, your presence here, representing peace, is evidence to my belief.”
Keith stared at the god for a little, silent while, with his eyes subtly surprised, his lips lightly parted. It was then that as he shut his mouth, that the peered to the side with a grave look. –“I’m not so sure…”- He admitted, with a quiet voice.
With a sympathetic look on his own expression, Coran reached for the young god, and gently patted his shoulder. –“That’ll come in time. Just like the acceptance of the other students towards you.”
Having those words dwelling on his racing mind, Keith’s look, as he watched Coran, softened, just slightly. Although, somewhere in the immense indigo of his eyes, there was still a drop of guilt that never left his gaze.
Coran smiled then, as he patted the god’s shoulder once more, before he started to stand up. –“Now,”- He spoke as he was already up, extending an open hand to the young god. –“may I show you your new room?”
Pushing his thoughts and feelings and doubts aside, Keith stood up by taking the older god’s help. –“I’d like that, actually.”- He said once he was on his feet again.
-“Meanwhile,”- Started Slav, still laying on the half wall, whose presence both gods had forgotten. –“I will get Shiro.”
And just like that, with a sudden explosion of smoke, the dragon disappeared in it, leaving the other gods alone. Keith had watched the creature disappear until most smoke had dispersed and vanished, and once he looked over his shoulder to his right, he noticed Coran was already starting to walk.
Keith looked between Coran and the spot where the dragon once was, and in a second, he started to walk up to the older god, in a hurried pace to catch up to him.
-“Hey… Coran, right?”- He said once he reached the God’s right, walking some steps slightly behind him.
And just like that, Coran glanced over his shoulder at him, waiting for any word to be spoken.
The look on Keith’s face was guarded still, but his eyes, did not hide, as always, the emotions he was feeling. And in this case, it was gratitude. -“Thanks for being welcoming to me. I know it’s hard for you guys to accept someone like me here…”- He trailed off as he lowered his gaze to the side for a little second before he looked back at the god. –“I appreciate that.”
Because of such words, a warm smile appeared on Coran’s expression. –“Anytime.”
The night had taken over the skies of this realm just some hours after, and now, the sun was risen high once more. In the early morning, Coran’s classroom was already filled with most of his students, who sat around the classroom, a few alone, and others arranged in their own little groups.
In the back, the friend trio already were occupying their respective seats. Hunk, to the left, had his scroll open, and was quickly writing some notes in it, to prepare himself for the class. In the middle, Lance had a different scroll open, of a drama play, and was reading it intently.
To his right, Pidge was doing nothing. She had her cheek laid on her open right palm, looking out the windows to the indoors patio of the building, as at the same time, she beat her fingers on the tabletop in a constant rhythm. It was clear that something was on her inquisitive mind, something pulling on her natural curiosity.
It was then that she peered at her friends, out of a whim, and spoke up. -“… What class do you guys think the Underworld kid will be in?”
On the other side, Hunk dropped his quill on the table, the ink on its tip magically not spilling onto the wood. He looked at her with a grave tone, as he pointed his finger at her. –“It better not be ours.”
Regarding such answer, Pidge seemed unamused. –“Or else…?”
-“Or else I’ll, like…”- Hunk lost all the edge of his tone for a second as he struggled to come up with an answer, as to be fairly honest, he didn’t know himself what he’d do. –“I’ll… I’ll show them!”- He decided to answer, as he beat his right fist on his left palm.
In the meantime, Lance lightly diverted his attention from his read as he looked at his best friend from the side, as he still held his scroll. –“We all know you wouldn’t do that, Hunk. You’d just stare at them with The Look. Which is actually pretty scary…”- He shrugged then, as his eyes fell back on his reading. –“But, I’m with you on that.”
-“As if any of you ‘veikrs’ would actually do anything.”
The very familiar rough voice came from right before them. In front of the trio, between two desks, stood a large god, of a built alike Hunk’s, if only slightly thinner, though he was taller. He wore a sort of iron armor with a mix of leather and fur, like his shoulder pads, though it did not cover most of his torso, as it only was covered by a dark green shirt. Last of all, over his ginger hair, he wore a helmet with two horns curling backwards.
Vali, a god of Norse offspring, was one of the most feared fighters of the academy, currently holding the title of the best fighter in all current classes. His built, combined with his raging berserker battle style, were the key factors that made him the ruthless fighter he was.
And as his fighting style, his words were, too, ruthless and grotesque.
-“You would solely cower in fear as you’d lay your eyes upon the demon. Me?”- He crossed his arms around his chest. –“I would scoff at fear-“
Annoyed, Lance sighed as he dropped his scroll on his table. –“Yeah, yeah, you’re ‘the bravest warrior ever’, ‘the best there will ever be’, ‘the one who will bring Zarkon to his feet’. Sure thing, man, do you want a trophy or something? Wanna ask Allura to warn the humans to make the next Olympics in your honor?”
With scorn in his eyes, the Norse god frowned deeply as he gritted his teeth. –“Watch your tongue, spear limbs.”
-“Uhh, nope.”- Lance said as he leaned forward and placed a hand on his chest. –“It’s Lance. Not a spear, a lance.”- He grinned as he leaned back, placing his arms behind his head. –“You were close, though, I’ll give you that.”
The Norse god seemed even more irritated. He scoffed off the joke, and instead, he brought a hand up as he caressed his own beard, as he watched the Greek god with a thick raised eyebrow. –“… In other affairs, word told your father was here yesterday.”- His frown deepened. –“Surely fighting your own battles for you, as per usual.”
-“Dude, lay off!”- Pidge suddenly exclaimed as she set her warning eyes upon the Viking, who looked back at her with his chin lifted in a superior way, not saying a word.
-“Yeah! That’s like, so not cool.”- Hunk supplied, as he beat his fist on his desk.
-“Wait…”- As Lance spoke, his grin slowly vanished from his face as he let his arms fall to his sides. He furrowed his eyebrows as his lips slightly parted, his gaze falling upon the dark wood of his desk. –“My father was here yesterday…?”
The Norse god nodded.
Before the confirmation, Lance lowered his eyebrows as his sight fell back on his desk.
He didn’t even say hi…
It was true that Lance didn’t have the… the closest relationship with his father. His family was large, as he knew, since the old gods always had a whole lot of children, being those gods or demigods. The times both he and Poseidon had spoken had been very few, and when they did, Lance would always notice the stoic look on the god’s face.
His accomplishments were nothing compared to some of his siblings, he knew, and his father never seemed the least impressed with them.
It was hardly ever he had seen the old god’s look soften, especially at him, and once it would happen, Lance knew it was out of pity. It was basically that this so powerful and legendary being such as Poseidon was looking down at him, his son, his son with barely any worth, one amongst many others. Never with anything but pity. Never with a smile.
Unlike how his mother and his closest siblings were. And his grandmother. Those were his family, for sure. They treated him like a peer, with love and care, and the usual teasing any close family would partake in.
His father, however… Well, it was a complicated matter to Lance. And perhaps while before Vali’s words had not harmed him, these hit too close to home.
-“By any means,”- Vali started, as his sudden voice called upon Lance’s attention. –“do keep engaging on your affairs, ‘veikrs’.”
-“Do keep being as smart as a brick, moron.”- Pidge remarked.
The Norse god simply scoffed as he turned around.
As he was out of it, out of his thoughts and back to reality, Lance blinked before he slapped his hand on his desk and slightly stood up as he pointed at the Norse god with his finger. –“Yeah! Mind your own business you- you Minotaur lover!!”
However, the Norse god ignored him as he went back to his group. And noticing that, Lance let out a furious huff from his nose before he sat back down on his chair, and once he did so, he leaned back, crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the general direction of the Viking.
-“Really? ‘Minotaur lover’?”- Hunk commented by his side.
-“I was put on the spot!”- Lance retorted back as he slashed a hand forward. –“That’s the first thing that came to mind!”
Hunk lowered his eyebrows then, with concern, and leaned forward to peer at Pidge, who was already looking at him with the exact same look on her face. He felt sort of guilty he hadn’t interfered more, but Hunk wasn’t that much of a confrontational person like his friends were.
Perhaps he should be more assertive… Act more.
But now, all he could do was deal with the aftermath, as any good friend would. –“Hey buddy, you okay?”- He tentatively asked as his brown eyes fell upon his friend’s lowered face. –“… Don’t listen to him… He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s a jerk, right?”
-“Yeah,”- Pidge continued. –“He may kick our butts anytime but inside all that muscle and rage, there’s only a pea brain. He’s not worth our time.”
In response to his friend’s words, Lance groaned. –“What does that word even mean, anyway?”
-“Veikr?”- Pidge guessed. –“I think the dude’s trying to say ‘weak’ in Norse. Not sure about the way he used it though.”
That explanation only made Lance groan louder as he leaned back on his chair, letting himself slightly slip down, as he brought his hands to his face and tiredly rubbed by his eyes and forehead.
Meanwhile, his friends continued with the gossip. –“I mean, the guy thinks he’s so tough,”- Hunk continued. –“and he probably can and will kick our butts, but he’s got like, no right to do or say the things he does!”
-“You’re right. Remember when he got away with murder three times?”- Pidge said as she causally leaned back on her chair.
Hunk raised his hands in the air. –“That! Was! Insane! I knew Odin was very influential but wow, that jerk really got away with just a century of doing community work!?”
-“And that,”- Pidge said. –“is why I don’t believe in justice. I mean, Allura could at least have done something.”
-“She tried, remember? But Vali always got away because he’ll ‘be a great addition to the defensive armies’ and ‘if he doesn’t get the opportunity to keep learning here’ Odin would ‘retract the alliance between their realm and ours’.”- Hunk argued, using quotation marks as he quoted Odin’s arguments.
Pidge groaned just as she heard it again. She folded her arms on her desk as she laid her head on them. –“Sure, he will be a great addition to the Overworld armies, if he doesn’t kill his own.”
Hunk abruptly gestured at her with both his hands, as he wore an intense expression on his face, something meaning an exasperated ‘exactly!’
-“I appreciate you guys standing up for me,”- Lance suddenly started, as he eyed his friends, who immediately shifted their attention to him. –“and all this gossip which, by the way, I agree with one hundred percent, but… Can we maybe change the subject? I don’t wanna hear about that guy anymore.”
With the same preoccupied look in his eyes, Hunk answered for both. –“Sure, man…”
But before any of them could speak any further, Coran suddenly entered the room, as the rest of the other students, who were waiting outside, came in after him. That resulted on the rest of the students leaving their original spots to seat at their desks, rather than just gathering around one point. Some of them, including the trio, wished Coran a good morning.
-“Good morning to everyone, too!”- Coran announced as he leaned over the front of his desk. –“Please do quiet down a notch, I need your careful attention, for I have an important announcement to make!”
On the back, Hunk narrowed his eyes as he leaned back on his chair and crossed his arms. –“Oh no you don’t, Coran.”- He whispered, just so his friends could hear the comment. Truth be told, he already figured what was about to happen, but he didn’t want to believe it until it happened. At the very least.
-“We have a new student in our class!”- Coran joyfully announced, which made Hunk subtly groan in the background. –“I must bid you to welcome him with open arms!”
Just as Coran spoke, he glanced to his left, at the door and made a gesture with his head to encourage the student to come in. In a short spawn of seconds, the student finally did. Once he walked in and stood in front of the room, he crossed his arms and lowered his head, mostly covered by his dark hood which he, apparently, refused to lower.
After a little, the guy glanced over at Coran, and the older god nodded towards the class, to encourage the new student to speak up. And he did.
He lightly looked up, as the others could mildly see his face under the hood’s shadows and his dark bangs, and awkwardly brought his hand to the back of his neck, under the hood. –“Uhm, hey, everyone…”- He started as he briefly raised his other hand at them, before he crossed his arms again. –“I’m Keith and I, I’m from the Greek Underworld.”
As he spoke, some members of the class proceeded to greet him, and as he nodded at them, he glanced at Coran, looking for a clue that this presentation was over and he could just sit down. And understanding his look, Coran nodded.
-“There we go!”- Coran spoke, as the new student lowered his head again and made his way to an empty desk by the door, on the front row. –“Now, with no further ado-“
As Coran started to delve into his actual lesson for the day, and many students started to pay attention as well, the trio in the back, all of them, still had their eyes on the back of the head, or hood, of the new student, who was currently seating with his face leaned on his left fist, as he tried to look over at Coran.
-“… He looks chill.”- Pidge decided after a little while.
-“What?!”- Hunk exclaimed, in a hushed tone. He placed his hand on the left side of his mouth to muffle out his voice to unwanted ears. –“He’s a Galra!”
In the meanwhile, Lance had his arms crossed as he looked over at the tense-looking stranger, with an eyebrow raised. –“He doesn’t look that dangerous to be honest,”- He glanced at his best friend to the side. –“but I’m with Hunk.”
In response, Pidge simply sighed before she turned her attention back to her studies. –“Whatever you guys say…”
If there was a thing Keith started to realize during the class, was that he chose the worst seat possible. Maybe.
As he sat in the front, with his hood on, refusing to set it down, he could feel the stares of many other fellow students on his back, and he hated it. Even the kids next to him were constantly, anxiously glancing at him, and so, he couldn’t even look at Coran. Only forward or to his right, to the door. That is, unless he’d like to endure always seeing a god from the corner of his eyes staring, which he didn’t want to.
He hated this. All this unwanted attention was driving him crazy. He was suddenly becoming highly aware of his surroundings, and his actions, so he started to overthink every move he’d make, which was bunkers in his fair opinion.
Nonetheless, he just wished he could go back to being almost invisible like he had been in the Underworld. In the Galra academies he attended, there was no time in any class for students to slack off, much less to just constantly stare at anyone, unlike here, he started to assume. After all, there, every student had to take the lessons seriously, hear about the sanguinary history of their Under-Lord and know it back to back.
And the arena classes… The still fresh memories of dark beings taking over his mind still haunted him. The arena classes had to be taken as an affair of life or death.
Alas, he was in the Overworld now, so he supposed some things were a little different.
He didn’t even have any sort of paper to write down some notes as he had seen his peers do, and he was too nervous to speak up about it to Coran because he was sure that would only call more attention upon him and he… didn’t want that. So he just sat there… doing nothing as he waited time to pass. Feeling the stares of his peers, imagining just how much they were already judging him.
As if he’d care.
When the ominous sounding bell rang the fourth time that morning, it was about midday. Coran had explained to him before class how the schedule basically worked, so he assumed this was lunch time so they were free to go. And that was how he was the first leaving class.
Just as it rang, he hastily got himself up, didn’t even look at Coran, and just rushed out of the door.
He didn’t go to the eating place or anything either. Instead, he left the entire building, and headed to the park of the campus, which was to the left, considering their classroom.
In the middle of the greenery and beige marble paths, was a large fountain with a statue of Poseidon in the middle of it, holding his trident on his risen arm. That was the place Keith decided to settle by, as not many being were by the park, only passing by to head over to their dorms or the cafeteria.
He didn’t need lunch. Gods did not need to eat like humans do, only if they wished to restore energy or store it. But he didn’t need to. He had been trained in the Underworld to be used to fight with low energy, as it would be ‘the most accurate battle scenario’. He had slept for the last entire night anyway, his energy was just fine.
He sat down by the fountain’s foundation, on the floor, having his back to the marble. He extended his left leg forward and once again had his right knee a little bit up, just slightly. This time, he rested with his arms crossed over his chest.
This was such a ridiculous thing to endure. If this was how he had to live his everyday life from now on, then he had been wrong. He would much rather spend most his days either on the battle arenas, as regular school in the Underworld was already over for gods his age, and then he’d get to head over to this little cabin amongst a dark forest and spend his time there with his only friend, who, no, wasn’t Thace. Just a lone creature alike him who lived in the nearby forest.
Here, here he had to be around beings constantly, as well as he had to attend diplomatic affairs in the future. He didn’t even know how those worked, he didn’t learn this, he wasn’t the slightest prepared for any of this… This was crazy.
Why was he even chosen, again?
The unfamiliar voice broke him out of his train of thought, and with a surprised gaze, he looked to his left, to where it had come from. There, he saw a little god with a brown, ginger-ish messy short hair sat many steps from him, on the fountain’s foundation.
As he initially did not answer anything, not knowing what to say, she raised her eyebrow at him as she readjusted her round glasses.
Before such gesture, he cautiously narrowed his eyes, and spoke in the same tone. –“… Nothing… much…?”
-“Yeah, I figured.”- She said with a shrug, as she crossed her arms, too. –“I mean, but at the same time there’s gotta be a lot of stuff going on, you know, in your mind, since you’re like in a totally different world.”
Keith wasn’t really understanding why this god started any conversation with him, so his cautious yet confused look only deepened when she spoke that. –“I… I guess so…”
-“Cool.”- She said, with a little smirk. –“You’re Keith, right? I’m Pidge.”
-“Uhh…”- With a furrow of his eyebrows, he glanced away. –“Okay…”
The little god, Pidge, remained in silence as she observed him with a questioning look, just for a little while, before she spoke up next. –“… Jeez, you’re terrible at this.”
-“Well I’m sorry I don’t know how to relate to any of you.”- Keith immediately spat out with a defensive edge in his voice, as he tightened the grip of his crossed arms over his chest and never looked up at the little god. –“Kinda sucks.”
Pidge paused for a little bit as she watched him in astonishment, her amber eyes blown wide in surprise regarding his blunt answer. But quickly, the surprised look shifted to something inquisitive, and in a way, understanding of his meaning.
–“Hum… Yeah, I guess I didn’t take into account that your culture is different from ours…”- She sheepishly grinned. –“Sorry about that.”- She, then, raised a brow. –“You guys aren’t too big on introductions or something?”
Still amazed how the conversation, somehow, was still going, Keith looked up at her for a second before he glanced back forward, to the ground before his feet. –“We aren’t too big at anything ‘friendly’.”- He said, with quotation marks. At least there was one thing that seemed to be universal, as Pidge seemed to understand his meaning.
And before he explained any further, he stopped himself, as he lightly frowned. –“Why would you care, anyway?”- He inquired as he looked up at her.
In response, Pidge pursed her lips as she casually shrugged. –“Dunno. Just curious.”
She shrugged again. –“Cuz’ you’re someone from a realm I haven’t met anyone else from.”- As she answered, she was not looking at him, but rather, forward, towards the expansion of gardens around the park. –“I like to know about stuff, learn new things, cultures and ideologies.”- Then, she lowered her gaze to her feet. –“… I guess that comes with being a child of Athena.”
Keith remembered pretty well how he learned Athena was no more, so instead of saying anything else in the hopes of not offending this stranger, he answered simply and shortly.
Such answer made Pidge peer at him from the corner of her eyes with a questioning, almost judgmental look. -“… Gee, you’re a talker.”- Keith seemed to frown at her sarcastic remark, which was why she lightened her look. –“Okay, dude, here we go.”- She turned more to him and pointed a commanding finger at him. –“Prepare to listen to this, and be sure to hear it all the first time cuz’ I won’t be repeating it.”
Keith blinked in surprise, but remained quiet, as he gave Pidge the room to talk all she wanted.
Understanding, Pidge drew in a deep inhale, and some seconds after, let it escape her nose. –“I mean, we get it, okay?”- She started, as she turned back to him. –“You’re out of your element, and you’re probably just as wary of being here like other people are wary of your presence. And it’s not exactly like you can easily fit in, either, I mean… The differences are kinda…”- She generally gestured towards him. –“…Visible.”
As he looked around, Keith knew exactly what she meant. As he had noted the previous day, this realm was so colorful, so chirpy and alive. Unlike him. His attire was mainly black, his skin, having its grey undertone, looked as a lifeless body, and in the shade, it appeared even darker.
In the meantime, Pidge continued her reasoning. –“But isn’t that your mission, or objective or whatever? To be here like a normal student and try to fit in? To vouch for whatever that non-harm pact thing is?”
Keith slowly nodded in response.
-“Then damnit, dude, lighten up a little!”- Just as she spoke, Pidge’s eyes went a little wide, and as she realized her mistake, she waved her hands at him while wearing a sheepish smile. –“Oops, sorry, I, I didn’t mean to sound like a jerk.”- She crossed her arms again. –“I just meant, like… You know, you should at least try to settle in.”- She raised a brow at him. –“Don’t you think making friends will, I don’t know, help you?”
During the entire speech, Keith had been listening to everything the little younger god said with bewildered eyes, not expecting that a being this young would hold such knowledge. But in all fairness, he should have expected it, as again, he was reminded that she was a child of Athena. Knowledge and wisdom would probably be Pidge’s greatest virtues.
And as she finished speaking, Keith lowered his eyebrows as he glanced back forward. –“I’m sorry… I’m just not…”- He gritted his teeth lightly as he paused. –“… In the Underworld, we don’t really make friends.”- He glanced at her. –“We’re either alone or forge pacts that could benefit us. For survival purposes. I guess I never really had a friend because nobody was trustworthy.”- He admitted as he looked back forward with a gloomy gaze. –“Well, other than Thace…”
-“Huh…”- Pidge quietly said, as she leaned forward, resting her forearms by her knees. –“Felt bad leaving your buddy behind?”
Keith subtly, lightly moved his head, as if he had nodded. -“I mean, yeah. He was like… A father to me, if that doesn’t sound… weird…”
Immediately as she took in that information, Pidge strangely frowned. –“… Hold up, your only friend was an old dude?!”
The Hybrid slowly looked towards her, with a look in his eyes that showed how he was not understanding why she was making such a big deal out of that fact, or at least her tone of voice implied so.
Pidge observed him for a little while longer with an exasperated expression on her face, eyebrows furrowed and mouth gaping. Then, she pinched the bridge of her nose as she sighed tiredly. –“Oh my gods…”- She leaned back, doing a fast shrugging gesture with her hands as she made a face. –“It’s actually worse than I thought…”
Regarding the unexpected answer, Keith lightly scoffed. –“Uhh, thanks for the honesty?”
She eyed him then, and sensing the sarcastic tone coming from his words, which she appreciated, Pidge grinned. –“You’re welcome. Alright, look.”- She settled her forearms by her knees again. –“If you’re okay with it, we can hang out sometime.”
That only drew a confused look out of Keith’s face. –“Uhm…”
-“It means doing stuff together,”- She cared to explain as she rolled her eyes. –“like normal friends do.”
-“People… do that?”
-“Both people and Gods.”- Noticing the deadpan look on Keith’s face regarding her joke, Pidge breathed a small laugh. –“Yes. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s part of a friendship, you know, doing fun stuff with your friends, building memories…”
-“That seems exhausting.”- Keith commented, matter-of-factly.
Which made Pidge laugh. –“Sometimes.”- She shrugged as she looked forward. –“But it’s worth it.”
Such answer made Keith observe the little god with a strange look in his eyes, confused, before he glanced forward, and as he took in the strange foreign landscape into his eyes, he allowed his thoughts to flow.
He had never been the greatest at friendship, and even the actual definition of such concept seemed still foreign to him thus far. As he had stated, friends weren’t made in the Underworld, and if so, that would be a rare occasion. He’d make allies, and that was the closest he was about to get with anyone.
Of course, he had Thace, but he was sure that if it hadn’t been Thace’s connections with his mother, that Keith would have never met him, and probably would have to fend for his own, which could result on his ultimate death. Then again, he couldn’t really call the relationship he had with Thace a friendship.
If Pidge’s words were anything to go by, he hadn’t really built many memories with Thace. Perhaps some nice moments, but then again, the older god was a busy and distant being. Even if he was incredibly understanding. Keith supposed their relationship had always been alike a father-son one, even if it felt distant, for obvious reasons. But it was really all he got from the Underworld.
Aside from when he would go back to his cabin in the dark forest after a long day, which he’d spend hanging out on his porch with a bit of paper and a pencil, or charcoal, and with the company of a creature from the forest. Though he considered the silent creature a friend, he was aware it was more like a pet, as it had the general shape of a dog, an animal humans were so used to have around them.
This creature, thought, it had no fur, and its skin was made of smooth cooled lava rock, with cracks here and there, showing a glowing purple on its inside. Still, pet, or friend, this creature was the only being he got used to have around, other than Thace. He wondered how it was doing now without his presence, too, because truly, Keith was already missing its calming existence by his side.
And so, in silence both Keith and Pidge remained, as Keith kept thinking of her words, as well as reminiscing on his old memories. It actually felt calming now that he thought about it. He was glad Pidge hadn’t questioned the sudden silence either, and even, respected it.
Looking at her from the corner of his eyes, Keith wondered that, perhaps, there was something in her that he saw himself in. A sort of aura that mirrored his, even though Keith couldn’t describe what it was for certain. Only that, somehow, she seemed to be similar, in a way, even if there were jarring differences between the two.
All of a sudden, a loud voice echoed through the air, ending the quiet and calm moment. It sounded strained, but in panic, desperate.
As both looked up, in front of them, they saw a large man hurrying right towards them, who Pidge immediately recognized as Hunk. She noticed how he was already wearing his golden armor, ready for the battle arena for the afternoon.
Once he arrived, he fluidly mimicked the gesture of holding something on both his hands, close to his torso, and then, in a cloud of dust and little fiery sparks, a large iron war hammer appeared on his large hands, as if it had just been forged and submerged into a river of ice.
Approaching, he looked just like a storm that could not be stopped, and when he got close to them, his intense dark eyes fell right upon the god from the Underworld, as he watched the Hybrid shifting from a wide-eyed look to a closed off, defensive glare, and tense body language, alike a wild beast that had been backed away into a corner.
And that warning look was what made Hunk stop on his heels, holding his hammer with a tighter grip, as his fears and cowardice started to flutter over his previous rage. He really didn’t like confrontations and it showed, as he hesitated right now, before the Hybrid from the Underworld.
-“Hunk!”- Pidge started then, with an insanely irritated expression on her eyes, as she gestured widely at him. –“No! No, Hunk, no, put that thing away…"
He glanced at his friend for a little, his stern look breaking just slightly as his cowardice spoke louder just a little. He closed his eyes then, and took a deep breath, before he settled his gaze back on the god from the Underworld, hoping his gaze was, at the very least, a little intimidating.
-“What’s the Galra telling you, Pidge?”- Just then, when his eyes settled back on his friend, his look softened. –“You’re okay? Has he done anything?”
Meanwhile, such hostility, opposing stance and insinuations activated Keith’s fight or flight response. Which used to be pretty much just ‘fight’.
As such, as his intense emotions started to shift into something highly negative, something enraging, his before calm or gloomy indigo eyes suddenly turned into pure darkness, leaving not even the white around it untouched.
From his trembling right hand, which Keith had curled into a fist, dark matter started oozing off of it, slowly, yet as it grew bigger and wider, it quickly became something that wouldn’t go unnoticed, especially as the same darkness started to smoke out of his own shoulder and arm, too. And even as he gritted his teeth, his slightly short yet sharp canines were, as well, becoming visible.
In the meantime, the others kept going with their argument.
–“Honest to gods, Hunk!”- Pidge exclaimed as she pointed with her hand to the god from the Underworld. –“You’re only making things w-!”
-“Woah, woah, woah there!?!”- A different, unfamiliar voice, to Keith, sounded off coming from Hunk’s left.
Keith had little time to see who it belonged to, as the corners of his vision were darkening, but he saw a god wearing a pure blue complete Greek armor, except for the helmet. The guy’s gaze, however, was entirely focused on him, and as it seemed, he looked alarmed and on edge, just like Hunk.
-“What in the Underworld is going on with him?!”- The stranger inquired, probably to his friends, as he pointed towards Keith, and reacting, the others stopped their argument to look at him, too, expressions turning into a mix of bewilderment and fright. –“Is he losing it?”- The guy continued before he paused, eyebrows furrowing. –“Wait…”- He quickly glanced at his friends. –“Is that guy trying to hurt any of you?!”
Just as Keith had snapped, he bit his response down and stopped himself, as he realized how badly he had elevated his voice, probably calling upon quite a lot of unwanted attention to himself. And as the others stared at him with wide eyes, he noticed the pressure he was putting on his own muscles, as the intense way he was frowning and gritting his teeth like an enraged wolf.
He realized, then, that whoever this new guy was, he was right. Keith was really losing it. He could feel his own darkness spilling from his right side, oozing off into the material world, causing not only the other three to stare at him, like all the other students passing by, whose attention had been captured by his shout.
With the reality of the situation settled in his mind, Keith’s expression slowly fell from his previous anger. Keith lowered his gaze to himself, as he blinked his eyes, trying to get his dark matter, which had been activated by his negative emotions, to ease.
In the meantime, the stranger still observed him with a warning gaze, one tainted with a little of confusion, as he really wasn’t understand what was going on with the student of the Underworld. It was then that, after a second or two in silence, he decided to point his accusing finger at the guy.
–“… Listen here, pal, I don’t know who you think you are, but this isn’t the Underworld.”- His frown deepened as he leaned back and crossed his arms. –“So keep in mind that your actions have consequences, here. If you ever hurt my friends, I’ll send you to the depths of the oceans.”
So, a Poseidon’s child, Keith assumed.
And even as Keith tried to gain control over his power, while the whole world around him sounded muffled and looked as it was trembling, he was still able to hear the irritated shout that echoed in his mind.
Immediately after hearing their names, Lance and Hunk slowly turned their heads to their right, where Pidge stood, with her arms stiff to her sides, fists clenched. The irritation that had been in her voice was plastered all over her facial expression.
–“First of all,”- She started as she raised one finger. –“you’re both dead wrong if you think I need protection. In fact, I could beat you both into oblivion before you even had time to blink!”- She raised up another finger in the same hand. –“Second,”- She rapidly beat the back of her hand against her chest. –“I approached him!”
Both her friends remained in silence for a little while, before Hunk broke it as his surprised expression turned into a frown. –“… You what?!?”
-“Yeah!”- Pidge crossed her arms. –“I was just curious, okay? You guys know me. Besides, I don’t think he’s something to worry about.”- She said, as she glanced down at Keith. She noticed that the strange thing that had been orbiting around him had vanished, and now he simply looked shaken. –“He’s like… He’s like a puppy.”
Suddenly, hearing the comment, Keith’s now calm, normal indigo eyes went wide, as his raised eyebrow twitched. –“… A what?!”- He inquired as he indignantly looked up.
At that, Pidge smirked. –“Okay, maybe like, a cat.”- She mused as she looked at Hunk.
And Keith did look ready to protest, but before he could, Pidge’s friend spoke up first.
–“That’s kind of an understatement.”- Hunk commented as he looked back at Pidge. It was then that his brown eyes feel upon Keith, as the stern look was back on the big guy’s face, and he never took his eyes off of the stranger as he spoke to his smaller friend. –“… You sure this guy’s cool?”
-“Positive.”- Pidge answered with a final tone.
Hearing his friend’s answer, Hunk looked back at Pidge and observed her for a while, looking as if he was studying the situation and everyone involved in it, even if his expression was still quite suspicious. Or as his friends called it, he was wearing ‘The Look’ in his expression.
But Pidge’s amber eyes looked back at him sternly, never backing down. And in the end, Hunk ended up being the one to give in. Sighing, he lightly shook his war hammer on his loosened grip, and just like the weapon had materialized into the material world within dust and fiery sparks, it ceased to exist.
-“Fine,”- It as clear how there was still a forced tone behind Hunk’s voice, still sounding reluctant. –“if you really think so, then I believe you.”
It was then that his gaze went from Pidge to Keith, who tensed under it, and noticing, Hunk lowered his eyebrows in a friendliest way he could, as a warm smile took over his lips. –“Sorry man…”- He said to him, as he rubbed the back of his head with his hand, and pointed at the strange god with the other. –“You know how it is, we can never be too sure… Because you’re, like…”
-“Because I’m Galra.”- Keith’s assured voice completed exactly what Hunk was trying to say, though it was clear there was a little bit of bitterness in it. –“It get it.”- Once he spoke, his look lowered, as guilt started to creep over his system, and his mind. That because, he had been willing to be violent while facing a problem, right on his first day.
It was true Keith had no idea what the Overworld was like, or how it worked. It had only been a day, and the little Coran was able to explain to him, then Shiro explained even less. And Keith couldn’t blame him. Shiro had been too tired the night prior, as he would finally get a good night rest, and Keith agreed they’d talk more about the Overworld the day after. And although that seemed like the most considerate decision at the time, a selfish part of him was still regretting it, because he was completely lost.
He knew one thing for sure, though. That most gods in the Overworld would rather settle things peacefully rather than through violence, unlike it had been in the Underworld. It was true that once he saw the big god coming at him with a battle hammer ready in hands, Keith felt the same urge to respond to this problem the same way he would have back... home.
But he was glad he hadn’t.
It appeared Coran and Shiro were the only beings trying to help him, at least the day prior to this. However, now, Keith could see Pidge was a potential ally, or… friend…? And Hunk, well, maybe he wasn’t that bad, either.
So because of that, a soft yet still guilty look took over his eyes. –“I’m sorry, too.”- He admitted, with a lower voice. –“I… didn’t want to attack you or anything, I was just getting ready to defend myself.”
Surprisingly, Hunk smiled sheepishly at him, as he rubbed the back of his neck even more. –“Yeah… I’d do that too if I saw a big guy with a huge hammer on his hands glaring right at me, to be honest.”- Regarding his own answer, the big god lightly chuckled.
It was undeniable how Keith looked lost after Hunk had spoken, not really knowing how or what to answer to this. He simply kept staring up at the other god with wide confused eyes, as his mind tried its hardest to understand this interaction. Because really, Keith hadn’t come up with an answer to what Hunk had said. Was an answer even needed…?
In the meantime, Hunk waited a little too long for a response he didn’t get, and once he realized that, he furrowed his eyebrows awkwardly. –“… Heh, okay… So… I’m Hunk,”- He gestured at his own chest. –“you’ve already met Pidge,”- He gestured at her. –“and this is Lance. We’re all best buds. Nice to meet ya, man.”
Once Hunk spoke, Pidge looked from her friends to Keith expectantly. In the meantime, Lance simply lamely waved, with no feeling to it whatsoever, before he crossed his arms over his chest, subtly putting his weight on one hip. It was clear how he had a skeptical look on his face, as he observed the god from the Underworld with a judgmental raised eyebrow.
Keith responded to Hunk by nodding politely. –“It’s uhh… It’s nice to meet you all, too…? Uhm, I’m Keith.”
-“Yeah.”- Lance started, dryly and slowly. –“We know. You’re in our class.”
Reacting to Lance’s statement, Keith raised both his eyebrows. –“Oh. I didn’t notice.”
Such passive-aggressive comment coming from the god in the blue armor made Keith frown yet again. Overall, he had decided he liked Pidge, as she seemed to be quite accepting of him, as well as she was actually trying to understand him and, in a way, she seemed to be a little alike him. And Hunk, well, they didn’t have the most pleasant introduction, but now, Hunk seemed to also be a pretty okay guy, who was obviously trying his hardest to be friendly towards Keith.
This guy, Lance, on the other hand… He was being completely insufferable. In the worst kind of way.
-“… Anyway,”- Said Pidge, in a not so obvious attempt to shift the conversation from the tense atmosphere Lance’s comment had settled it on. As she started speaking to her friends, she also turned halfway to point at Keith with her right hand. –“Keith here was telling me about some social stuff about the Underworld and… Not gonna lie, it’s kind of depressing. Long story short… He needs friends.”
Hearing the news, Hunk’s mood shifted from something kind of sad in a sympathetic way, to something more light-hearted and hopeful. –“… Oh?”
In the meantime, however, Lance’s expression remained the same way it had been previously. Defensive, in a way, and skeptical, almost completely lacking of something friendly. –“Yeah, well, good for him.”
Regarding his answer, both his friends looked at him from the side, both wearing not so impressed expressions. Hunk was the one that spoke in a slow voice, as if he was calling out his best friend due to his attitude. –“Lance…”
However, Lance seemed to not be the least regretful about his attitude, and as his friend spoke, he casually shrugged, even with his arms crossed. –“What?”
-“Don’t be a jackass.”- Pidge bluntly said.
Hearing his friend’s comment, Lance’s face went from a childish pout to an overly-dramatic look, as he gasped loudly and furrowed his eyebrows in indignation. He proceeded to make wide and wild gestures all around himself, all the while making incoherent noises, as he looked from his friends to the Hybrid repeatedly. In a second, he stopped, and as his outraged expression shifted to a pout again, he groaned as he let his shoulders slump and crossed his arms.
All the while, Keith simply observed the Overworld gods with a strange look, not really understanding what was going on with any of them. He simply watched as Pidge and Hunk shared a look after Lance refused to look at any of them.
After he broke his shared look with Pidge, Hunk lowered his head as he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, as he kept his left hand on his waist. –“Right…”- It was then that he looked up again and somehow his look was friendly, warm and welcoming, as he observed Keith. –“Sorry about Lance,”- As he said his best friend’s name, he looked to his left, from the side of his eyes, at Lance, just briefly, before his gaze settled back on Keith. –“he’s just wary, is all, and can’t control his pettiness.”
Lance’s look shifted from Hunk to his left side again, away from any of them as he grumbled to himself ‘look who’s talking’.
Hunk’s not impressed gaze settled upon his friend again for a brief second. -“I heard that. Anyway…”- He looked back at the Hybrid with a smile, as he placed both hands on his large waist. –“You ready for fighting class? It’ll start in like, thirty.”
In a second, Keith’s mildly awkward and sort of shy gaze shifted into something harder, something serious, as if, suddenly, he was channeling the aura of the soldier within. –“Yes,”- He started, as he lifted his chin. –“I’m always ready for battle.”
Regarding such ominous answer, Hunk’s heavily concerned look took over his face, as he slowly glanced to his right, at Pidge. And once he did look at her, he noticed that she was already staring at him, wearing an expression quite a lot alike his, for the exact same reason.
-“Uhm…”- Pidge started, as she looked back at Keith, with her eyebrows still raised. –“… neat.”
-“You’re uhh, probably gonna feel at home there.”- Hunk said as he forced a polite smile on his face, trying to forget that slightly off exchange. –“I mean, we don’t really have the strictest teacher, so it’s pretty fun.”
Keith nodded at the information. –“Alright… Should we go?”
-“Yeah, c’mon.”- Said Pidge, as she made a causal gesture that meant for him to get up and follow them.
And so, acting upon the request, Keith did get himself up, noting how the fingertips of his right hand felt unusually cold. He supposed, that was because of how his power had been activated, as feeling his extremities cold was a little side effect after every time he called upon his power.
As they walked, Pidge took the lead, having Hunk right behind her and Lance to his left, who appeared to be over his pouty state, though he still looked somewhat guarded. Keith, he simply opted to walk behind them all, and rather than paying attention to the conversation Pidge and Hunk were delving in about some sort of unknown planes of existence, he opted to, instead, look at the scenery all around them.
It was true his eyes were still getting used to all this brightness, alike his tastes, as he was trying to get used to all this life all around him. Rather than the usual death he was used to see in the Underworld. Still, he was beginning to appreciate these new sights and he had to admit that this realm had its own beauty, just in a different way that Keith was not used to experience.
And as they walked through the rest of the park, Keith saw the well-kept greenery of the gardens and all the white buildings around them, give way to a slightly different landscape. As they left the park, the white marble floors ended, and now they were walking by a dirt path, much alike the ones in human towns at the time. The green of the plants was slightly darker, and the dirt, most of it, had a yellow-ish tone to it, alike many rock boulders all around. Even though, they were in no desert, as there were still plenty of patches of wild grass by both sides of the path they were taking.
Keith noted they were walking up after a little while, as he could see the end of the cliffs they were walking on not so far away, to his right side, where it dropped off into the pure blue and now calm ocean.
About that time in their little journey, Keith noticed that the god who was not so friendly towards him, Lance, subtly looked over his shoulder at him, with a cautious look on his face, and once he noticed Keith saw it, he simply looked back forward and made a playful comment about something Hunk had just said.
Keith, however, he simply shrugged off the exchange, not paying too much mind to it.
It was then that, after a little more of walking, they stumbled upon what seemed to be the end of the cliff they were walking on, but the path itself did not stop there. Because, right in front of the edge of the cliff, was a deep ravine, and right in front of it, was the beginning of another cliff, which was where, in the distance, by the mountains, the circular shape of the arena was already visible to them.
The path between ravines was connected by a large, wide and solid wooden bridge, which had some strong log railings to the sides of it.
It was then, that as they were halfway across the bridge, and the conversation between the other three gods had eased, that Keith, on a whim, decided to quicken his pace so he could catch up to Hunk’s right. And once he did, he spoke. –“… So, is this fighting class serious?”
Mildly startled, Hunk shifted his gaze towards him, as for the other two, and in a second, he waved his hand dismissively. –“Oh, totally. I mean, we’re being trained to defend our realms, so, yeah. We’ve gotta do our best out there.”
-“Bold of you to say such things, Hunk.”- Pidge said, as she glanced over her shoulder to look at him, with a teasing tone in her eyes and her smirk.
Hearing his friend’s teasing, Hunk gasped, before he furrowed his eyebrows as a protesting look took over his face. –“I’m not the worst fighter???”
-“Well,”- Lance started, by his left side. –“you’re definitely not the best fighter either, bud.”- Once he spoke, Poseidon’s child patted his friend’s shoulder.
And while for the first part Hunk’s look was slightly offended, it slowly shifted to one of understanding of his friend’s comments. In the end, Hunk ended up agreeing as he nodded his head. –“You know what, I don’t think I can really handle a face-off with Vali, so honestly, I’m good with my ‘somewhat mediocre’ performance in the arena.”
Lance let out a ‘psh’ sound as he collected his arm to himself again, but still looked at his friend. –“Like my mom always used to say, don’t sell yourself short, man. There’s always room for improvement.”
Suddenly, Keith couldn’t keep quiet anymore, since while the other gods were bantering, the conversation sparked some interest in him. So, he decided to interfere. –“Wait, who’s Vali?”
-“A jackass.”- Pidge’s matter-of-factly voice only made Keith raise his eyebrow.
Hunk cared to elaborate it for him this time. –“Well, the dude thinks he’s like, unbeatable because he’s the best fighter here.”- Hunk leaned a little closer to Keith as he covered part of his mouth with his left hand, as he was speaking in a quieter tone. –“He spreads rumors he could even beat some of the old gods if he wanted to.”- He leaned back to his place, then. –“Basically he’s just a bully.”- There was a pause. –“… Wait, do you guys have bullies in the Underworld…?”
-“Pft, they’re all bullies.”- Lance remarked as he subtly looked at Keith from Hunk’s side, just briefly.
Such comment which made Keith frown. –“Yes.”- He sternly answered as he directed his frown for a little bit towards Lance, before his gaze settled back on Hunk. –“I’m aware of what bullies are.”
-“Well,”- Hunk said as he shrugged. –“there you go.”
In the meantime, they have reached the end of the bridge, and once in land again, Pidge glanced back at them over her shoulder. –“He’s insanely good, though. One day he threw his axe right at a kid’s head.”
Such callback made Lance visually cringe. –“Oof, that day was… messy.”
Pidge nodded before she settled her gaze back on Keith, who was carefully listening. –“Mhm. Plus, the guy is all the kinds of jerk one can be. You know, doesn’t take women seriously, makes some jokes about some realms, is kind of a homophobe, so, yeah, he’s ‘the whole package’.”- She ended her statement making quotation marks.
Before such information, there was a little twitch in Keith’s serious face, one that almost gave way to a frown, but it never came to that. He did understand everything Pidge had said, and now he could see how the Norse god was seen as an antagonist by these three gods. If Keith himself was being fairly honest, he, too, did not think he’d be the biggest fan of this Vali god, either. There were just too many things in those two sentences Pidge had said that ticked him off.
Plus, some did hit closer to heart than others.
He kept on walking in silence, as all the others, until he lowered his gaze, just slightly, to the path before him, and spoke with a low voice. -“Mmm. I see.”
There was no response after.
Once they’ve arrived to the arena’s archway, Keith found himself looking up at it, until the back of his neck hurt. It truly was not alike the arena he was used to fight in, which was just as tall as a two-store home. This one, this was as grand as the palace of the Under-Lord, and it was just an arena. It wasn’t even as great as the palace he had seen when he arrived to this realm.
And again, the arena was so, so bright, just alike anything in this realm. Made of the purest white marble, with columns all along its circular shape. There were statues adorning every single archway on the second floor and beyond, of many gods and creatures with great history, Keith assumed.
When they crossed the large hallway, they were bathed in a slight darkness, as the tunnel they were walking through was mildly long, but in seconds, they stepped out into the arena’s floor. All around them, taking over the skies, were the endless rows of seats, and in the middle of the arena, the baby blue sky, bearing no cloud today, complimented the white pigment of the marble with gentleness.
The sand on the arena’s floor was not grey as the one he had stepped on many and many times on his daily life back in the Underworld, but this one, instead, was a mix of orange and cream, which gave even more life to the color palette of the amphitheater.
Though there were some students sitting by the nearest rows of seats around the arena, mostly of other classes, there were more gods in the actual arena itself, getting ready for their class. Many were already wearing their armor, alike Hunk and Lance, while others were choosing theirs so they could get changed.
There were weapon stands everywhere, many pieces of armor with so many shapes and sizes and colors and styles everywhere to be picked. Alike a large variety of weapons, though those looked quite simple, alike the ones humans would wear, instead of looking and having unique proprieties like the weapons forged by gods had.
Keith had to admit to himself that, even though this wasn’t the arena he almost lost his life in countless times, it still made him feel, sort of, more eased. This ambient, of a before battle scenario, he was used to it. It was familiar and, consequently, calming. In its own, weird way. Even if the aesthetic and still quite cheerful vibe of the place made it feel slightly off to him.
But still, seeing these gods getting ready, choosing their armor and weapons carefully, observing the attentive looks on their faces as they focused on their task, it was something that made Keith feel less anxious.
Once they were generally by the middle of the amphitheater, they came to a stop, right when Pidge turned around to face him. –“And welcome to our not so humble training arena.”- She announced with a grin on her face, as she held her arms by her sides widely. –“Pretty cool, right?”
-“It’s impressive.”- Keith responded with a little subtle smile on his face.
Right when he spoke, behind him, slightly to his left, Hunk started chuckling nervously. –“Cool! Hey, uhh, why won’t you, like, settle in and-“- As he spoke, he placed his large hands, each over Keith’s shoulders, who seemed to be taken by surprise and confusion, and spun the Underworld god to the left –“get some gear ready, huh?”- He said as he placed his hands on his waist. –“You probably need some armor.”
Regarding the sudden strange tone from the bigger god, Keith glanced over his shoulder at him with a little confused frown. –“Okay, sure…?”
Hunk smiled brightly as he nodded and raised a thumbs up with both his hands. To which in response, Keith lifted an eyebrow, but did not question anything, as he shrugged, turned back around and made his way to the armor and weapon stands Hunk hand pointed him to.
In the meantime, Hunk smiled and waved. –“No problem! Call if you need help!”- And once he understood that the Underworld god was at a fairly decent distance from them, he turned right around to face Pidge, and right then, the friendly look on his face turned into something exasperated.
–“Pidge, what the quiznak?!”
Facing the sudden change in her friend’s demeanor, Pidge dumbly stared at him for a split second before she furrowed her eyebrows. –“What?!”
Hunk gaped before he made some wide gestures in the air, hoping she’d understand, but in a second, he abruptly stopped and dropped his shoulders. –“Like, did we seriously just accept the Underworld student into our group??”
Right then, Lance showed up by Hunk’s left and swiftly placed his forearm over Hunk’s left shoulder, as he leaned into his bigger friend. –“I mean, we can always dump him whenever.”- As he spoke, he made a gesture with his hand, while a sly grin took over his face.
Such suggestion that made Pidge tiredly sigh when her amber eyes fell upon her friend. –“Lance…”
Reacting to his friend’s ‘done’ voice, Lance’s grin widened. –“Just laying down some options here.”- He mused as he closed his eyes and lifted his chin.
Regarding her friend’s answer, Pidge stared at him with a deadpan look, while she crossed her arms over her chest a little too tightly. Then, when she diverted her gaze to Hunk, she saw how the bigger god was about to open his mouth to say something, but she just held up her finger, making him immediately shut his mouth.
-“Nope, don’t even say anything I already know what you’re gonna say.”- She, then, adapted a mocking posture as she overly-dramatically imitated her friend. –“‘Oh no, Pidge, it is dangerous because we’re welcoming a murderer in our group!’”
Lance, still on Hunk’s side, now lost his grin, and a fully serious expression, accompanied with a frown, took over his face. –“That’s because we are!”
-“He’s a diplomat!”- Pidge protested back, as she leaned forward. –“He’s not gonna go around on a killing spree!”
Meanwhile, Hunk had his right hand over his chin, having his elbow supported on his left arm that was across his chest. He hummed as he subtly raised an eyebrow, before he spoke. –“Well, to be honest,”- He slightly leaned his hand forward, not away from his chin. –“for a diplomat he doesn’t seem very, well, diplomatic. I mean,”- He crossed his arms. –“he was basically just sitting alone before you showed, right? Isn’t he supposed to, I don’t know, actively trying to make allies?”
Pidge lost the previous edge on her expression, and voice, as she was faced with those facts. –“… Well, yeah…”
That was when Lance shimmed into the conversation, still having his forearm over Hunk’s shoulder, and now, he raised a finger in the air. –“And not to add more dirt into this but, he also kinda did that demonic shadow stuff thingy with his hand like if he was about to kill us,”- Lance cared to make a wiggly gesture with his fingers, as if he was symbolizing the gesture Keith had done earlier. –“which was kinda freaky…”
Hunk nodded. –“True. And he also doesn’t sound like he could be someone who’s, like, able to keep it cool? Imagine he’s in a debate or whatever and he just goes off.”
-“Guys,”- Pidge began, with a serious voice, mirroring the look on her face. –“seriously, just stop.”- She extended her right arm to the right, pointing to the general direction Keith was at. –“The dude’s just as terrified of being here as we’re terrified of having him here. Give him a break, honestly, I mean this is such a different experience for him because apparently, the Underworld is very different from the Overworld. He’s basically lost. Just look at him…”
And as their friend requested, Lance and Hunk followed Pidge’s gesture, and laid their eyes upon Keith.
By the stands where the Hybrid was at, there weren’t many beings next to him, only some passing by. Keith himself was intently staring at a weapon stand by the trio’s left, having one arm over his chest, and a hand on his chin. It was clear, by the furrow of his eyebrows, that he was well focused on his own thoughts, probably debating over which weapon he should chose.
A little second later, he decided to reach out for a simple-looking mace. He felt it on his hand, its weight, trying to inspect if the weapon truly was something he could use. Decided that it was good enough, Keith turned around and walked to a dummy that was some meters behind him, by the wall of the arena. Keith, then, got himself in a fighting stance, and sent a strike, with the mace, against the dummy’s head.
Unfortunately, the mace itself got stuck on the dummy’s head, and realizing, Keith’s alarmed face appeared for a flash of a second, before he tried to pull the mace out of the dummy. And he was, well, half successful, as he did retrieve part of the mace from the dummy - its handle - though its actual spikey sphere stayed stuck to the dummy’s head.
Keith stood back with a big-eyed look as he gazed at the piece of wood on his hand and the rest of the mace on the dummy. Acting quickly, he looked around before he swiftly leaned down, placed the mace’s broken handle behind the dummy’s feet, and then jumped back up again. He looked around again as he placed his hands behind his back, and tried to, subtly, walk back over to the weapon stand, as if nothing happened.
However, as he was walking to the weapon stand, still looking behind to see if anyone noticed his mistake, he was startled by a sudden voice.
-“Well, hello there!!”
Keith actually jumped back, making a little alarmed noise as he did so, and even ended up being in a half defensive stance. It was then that he noticed a god looking at him, probably one of the maintenance people that took care of the arena.
In the meantime, the guy giggled at the Underworld god’s reaction. –“You silly one! You need a weapon if you wanna fight! Here, let me help.”- He said as he waved up and down with his hand.
As Keith curiously observed what the man was doing, the maintenance worker placed a hand on his chin as he looked over at the weapon stand, as he hummed, and in a matter of seconds, his expression seemed to light up. He reached down and brought up, with both hands, a large battle axe, almost as tall as both the gods. He proceeded to, very quickly, dump it on Keith’s forearms, who had brought them up to catch the incoming weapon.
-“Oh and you need armor, too!”
Just as he said that, the god turned to his left, by the arena’s wall, and searched for a set of armor in a container full of random armor pieces. He proceeded to pick each piece and piled it all up on Keith’s arms.
-“And…”- The god said just as he was placing the helmet on top of the pile on Keith’s arms, whose face was now all covered by a giant wall of metal. –“here you go!”- The maintenance worker said as he was walking off. –“You’re welcome, dear!”
Keith stayed put for at least five seconds longer, as, probably, a very confused expression was taking over his face. And even when he spoke, his voice sounded muffled because of the armor in front of his face. –“Uh… thanks…?”
Meanwhile, Lance, Hunk and Pidge were watching the scene. It was then that Pidge slowly looked to her left, at both her friends who were still staring at Keith. –“Like I was saying... harmless and confused as hell.”
It was then that Hunk’s expression fell, as he glanced at his little friend with a sincere look. –“I don’t know… It’s just hard to trust someone from his realm…”- He crossed his arms. –“I mean I’m trying, alright?”
-“Yeah, at least some of us are trying…”- It was clear, by the way Pidge bolded her statement and leaned forward to look beyond Hunk’s left, that she was hinting towards Lance.
And, noticing, he, too, leaned forward to face Pidge. –“Look, it’s not my fault the guy just jumped into ‘attack mode’… and besides, I don’t like his vibe. He’s fishy.”
Regarding such response, Pidge simply sighed. –“Just at least try to give him a chance…”
As Pidge spoke, both she and Hunk looked over at Lance with awaiting expressions, ones that very suspiciously looked like both were trying to persuade him with some sort of light form of the puppy eyes.
Because of that, Lance crossed his arms as he buried his neck on his shoulders, and pouted.
A little later, they were all set. Lance and Hunk already had their classic Greek armor on, and now, both had their helmets. Hunk’s was of a golden color, though had no fur nor fluff on top of it. Instead, its top was adorned by a little half circle that went along with the helmet’s shape. Lance’s, on the other hand, had fluff instead of said circle. It started straight and stiff on the front, and as it fell back, it fell upon his neck. His helmet, which was open, covered the sides of his cheeks with a rectangle on each side obliquely coming down.
In the meantime, by their side, Pidge was, well… Ready. In her own, Pidge-like way. And by that, it meant that Pidge was fully wearing, from head to toe, a full iron Berserker armor, that was so big on her, that her huge shoulder plates were an obvious and quite hilarious contrast against her noodle arms.
Still she looked pretty amused, and quite confident on herself. She even had a small double-edged axe that she simply neglected as she just tossed it on the ground next to her feet.
It was then, as the three were gleefully chatting along, that they heard clank noises approaching, and of course, reacting to the strange sound, they all slowly turned to its general direction to see what that was all about.
Turned out there was a being coming at them a full mismatched armor. The right arm had Viking attire, alike the shoulder pad and the wrist armor. The torso was a bland Greek breastplate with little to no detail and the left arm was covered by nothing but a bandage glove. There was a Greek skirt coming down to the being’s knees, matching the breastplate, and the legs were covered by some sort of bronze beefy armor. Finally, the being’s head was completely covered by a shining silver knightly helmet, having a beige fluffy plume coming down its back. Lastly, the being was carrying a completely huge double-edged battle axe.
He set the axe down with a little grunt, as its edge stick into the dirt, and its wooden end was sticking up. It was then that the fighter reached for his helmet’s visor, and made a show of rising it, as it creaked and squealed with the slow motion.
Of course, not so surprisingly, the lack of visor gave away Keith’s frowning face.
There was a moment of silence as each god stared at him with subtly wide eyes, not fully comprehending how they should react next to this. But, obviously, there was only one way of going about this situation, and apparently, all three figured it out without even needing to communicate, because, suddenly, all three cracked and started laughing.
Keith’s unimpressed face dropped even more at the sight of it.
As she wheezed, Pidge dried a tear out of her eye and tried to contain herself. –“Wow,”- She giggled a little more as she held onto her stomach with a hand. –“…nice look.”
-“Hah!”- Lance straightened himself up as a look took over his eyes, something sly, accompanied with a fitting grin and a quirk of an eyebrow. –“It just looks like it’s ‘wear all your outfits at once’ day and you’re eagerly participating in it.”
Hearing the comments, Keith groaned loudly as he stuck the battle axe more firmly to the ground, to his left side, and kept on holding it with his left hand. It was then that Keith looked to the side as he muttered. –“This is ridiculous…”
-“Your outfit?”- Lance countered as he crossed his arms, his expression growing even more amused. –“Totally.”
Regarding the comment, Keith turned his head to face the other god, as he wore an impatient frown on his face. –“I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”
However, Lance simply shrugged, his grin never leaving his lips. –“Like many other great things in life, my opinion is for free.”- Once he spoke, he glanced back at the Underworld god with a smug grin, as Pidge and Hunk groaned in the background.
The seriousness on Keith’s face never left him, even after the joke. -“Sure… Say whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better.”
Regarding Keith’s slash, Lance’s smug smiling expression turned into a surprised one in a second, and as he started to appear a little offended and wanted to fight back, Hunk came into the conversation before anything else could be said.
-“Ha, ha, okay..! Nice!”- Hunk’s nervous voice was extremely obvious, but his friends appreciated his effort. –“Uhh, so, yeah,”- He looked at Keith. –“now we wait for our teacher and we just do whatever he says.”
Keith sighed, and let his shoulders fall with the motion, as his head lowered a little. But in a second, he raised his eyes to meet Hunk, even though he hadn’t lifted his head at all. And his voice, sounded almost tired now. –“Can I at least take this thing off and use my weapon?”
Without even meaning to, Pidge started to speak over Hunk’s answer, but he stopped to let her speak anyway. –“The weapons are just there for the gods who still have no godly weapon, or for beginners.”
Hearing the explanation, Keith released a relieved sigh. –“Thank Hades.”
The classes had started just a little bit after Keith managed to strip himself out of the horrible armor set and ditch the giant axe, so he could be back on his clothes.
And well, these classes were definitely not like what Keith had been expecting. These were quite chilled out, even after Hunk had told him that these could be a pretty big deal since they were being trained to defend their realm and others of the Overworld.
However, this class in particular was even more chilled out for Keith in specific. That was because this was his first day, and the teacher had told him he didn’t want Keith going into an arena fight just yet. Instead, the teacher wanted to study him closely, to evaluate how he fought so later he could work on trying to train the new god and assort interesting matchups for his upcoming arena fights.
That was why, as the others were warming up, the teacher hovered around Keith as he did a series of small little tests. First off, he trained with the dummies, alike many other students were doing in the arena. A simple exercise. And though Keith thought he’d spend the class around these new group of people he was befriending, he wasn’t too displeased about that either.
It was while the others ran, did obstacle courses and kept on doing various other training exercises, that Keith was moved out from the dummies and had a little spar with the teacher, who had requested it. Of course, there was no usage of powers in the spar, they could simply use their weapons and their fighting techniques. But even without all the flashy powers, the attention of the other students was sometimes, randomly caught by the sparring.
Keith noticed, mainly, a large Viking guy observing him many times during the sparring, with a distant, heavy gaze settled upon him. A Gaze that would be kept for a long amount of seconds, before he looked away again, off to do his own thing. Keith did find it a little bizarre, and truly, he didn’t like the way this god was observing him. Nonetheless, he couldn’t really do anything about it, so he just ignored it.
When the teacher decided that his spar with the Underworld god had gone for long enough, they both ended the match and that was when the teacher gathered up the rest of the students. There, he announced that the arena matchups were about to begin, and he’d like for everyone to head over to the outside walls of the arena, maybe take some seats if they’d like, and only he and two names he’d announce would stay in the arena. When the spar between the random students was over, he’d swap those for two more names.
In the end, not everybody fought, as there was not much time left for everybody to spar. Some students even managed to escape their duty to actually participate in a matchup.
Like Pidge. The group wasn’t really sure what Pidge pulled off, if they were being honest, especially Keith, but she just walked up to the teacher, had a hushed little conversation with him, and then the teacher nodded and gestured for her to go back to the seats. And even when Pidge came back to them and was asked about what she said to convince the teacher, she did not budge.
However, Keith was able, in the next fight, to see Hunk participate in it.
And truth be told, Hunk wasn’t exactly what Keith expected him to be in the arena. The Underworld god did figure that he was a heavy fighter. That had to be his class. And a heavy fighter was usually slow, however, whenever any hits would land, they would cause devastating damage. They were best at defense as well, but if they had the time, they could also attempt to attack.
Hunk was sort of different, though. Well, Keith was sure there was potential for Hunk to actually be an incredible heavy fighter, but he was not putting in the effort. Or, rather, the confidence in himself nor his moves. He was sloppy and his reflexes were all over the place. Most of all, Keith noticed the biggest flaw on the big god: hesitation.
He didn’t really know why Hunk would hesitate, even though he did hesitate a little when he was threatening Keith with his hammer, as dark matter started to materialize on Keith’s palm. Keith played up as he hadn’t noticed, but he had seen the way a flash of fear and hesitation passed by Hunk’s eyes as he saw the smoke.
Either way, Keith was only seeing this about Hunk, because he got to observe the god in a combat. He was oblivious with beings, not too good with many kinds of social interaction, only formal ones Thace had taught him since young. But for centuries, he was trained to be the best soldier he could be in the Underworld, and that wasn’t only physical.
He was taught to psychoanalyze his opponents, or anyone in that matter, in the battle field. Hence why, after so many years of learning and experiences, he managed to decently spot what was wrong with Hunk’s technique. However, Keith was certain, that if there were present an actual Galra official like his old instructor, they would surely point out way more than Keith had noticed about Hunk’s fighting.
There were some instances in the fight, too, that it appeared like Hunk was attempting to just escape the fight completely, even if it were subtly. But by the way his movements were being made, combined with his facial expressions alike, it was clear to Akira that he was trying to get away.
Perhaps Hunk was some sort of pacifist. Keith wasn’t too sure. Perhaps he was just overanalyzing it.
Though Keith did sympathize with Hunk’s escape attempts and fighting style. He, too, had been like that one day, long centuries ago. When he was a little scared boy who had just started his fighting practices in the Underworld.
It was then that, by the middle of the fight, the teacher pointed out Hunk’s shaky stance, wobbly moves and hesitation. Perhaps that was when a fire lit up on Hunk’s demeanor, because it appeared that he stood a little taller after hearing the teacher’s words.
And he stayed still for some little seconds, before a large boost of energy cursed through him, as well as confidence, which made him go for it. He lunged himself forward, hammer risen, and wielded it as best as he could, swinging it here and there, with a brutal force. The hits that actually met the target, made his opponent almost fall flat on the sand.
However, Hunk lacked what seemed to be balance and battle experience, even when he wasn’t hesitating. His moves were brutal but not polished. There were little too much seconds spent by him recovering from each swing he made, as he tried to collect the hammer to himself. And by the end of the day, that was what made him lose the battle. His unrefined movements.
A fast yet strong swing of the spear of his opponent that went straight to his kneecaps, was what got him off his feet, and consequently, out of the fight.
After the fight, the teacher walked over to the two fighters and gave them some commentary, alike what they did right and wrong, and what they should work on. Then, Hunk turned around to his friends, dusted a little bit of sand off his helmet, and walked towards them with a smile.
Right when he stopped in front of the half wall that separated him from the other three, Lance, the one the furthest to Hunk’s right, seemed to be beaming as he was jumped quickly on his feet.
-“Hey man, good job out there!”- Lance exclaimed as he raised his hand for a hi5, and beaming, too, Hunk took it. Immediately after, Lance collected his hand and pointed a finger gun at his best friend. –“There’s a long way ahead of ya, but you’re improving a lot.”
In the middle of the other two, Pidge had some sort of enthusiastic look mixed with a tint of mischievousness in her eyes, as she had both her curled fists against her face. –“That random boost of energy was sick!”
She also proceeded to hi5 Hunk, who took it as he lightly chuckled. –“Aww guys, thanks!”
Lance, then, leaned against the half wall, as he folded his arms on top of it. –“No need to thank us, amigo, just know you’re awesome.”
In the meantime, Pidge nodded, before her glowing eyes settled to her right. –“Hey, Keith, whatcha’ gotta say about Hunk’s performance?”
That was when Keith felt all their eyes turn to him, as well as, in the meantime, he also felt a small knot in his stomach. The latter which he ignored as he swallowed a little.
-“… Uhm, yeah,”- He had his arms crossed at the time, and then, without uncrossing them, he pointed a hand, lightly, at Hunk. –“I mean you were good. I just noticed you hesitate so try not to.”- He placed his risen hand on its previous spot on his folded arms. –“And uhh you’ve gotta work on your concentration. But besides that, you were fine.”
In the meantime, to his left, Lance hunched his shoulders as he crossed his arms. He glanced to his left, away from the others, with a frown on his face, eyes narrowed, as he muttered to himself: –“Someone’s a critic…”
Such comment, however, was not heard by the others, or was at least ignored. That because, as well, Hunk started to reply to the Underworld god right at the same time.
–“Nah, dude, you don’t need to sugar coat it, I can take it.”- Hunk explained as he lifted his palms slightly to the air, by his chest level. –“Look, I know I’m not the best fighter, heck I’m not even in the average, but I’m trying.”- A light smile appeared on his face, then. –“Thanks for the advice though.”
And before such warm smile, Keith mimicked it with one of his own, though it was subtler. –“Anytime.”
That was when, before any other could start a conversation or intervene on this one, the loud voice of their teacher was heard, as he called for the next student to fight in the arena. After the name of the god was spoken, there was cheering from many students.
As the group peered at the arena to see what the fuss was about, they saw a large god walking into the arena, as he swung himself over the half wall effortlessly.
He wore makeshift iron armor, which really did not cover much of his body. Mainly, it covered his shoulders, chest but not stomach, his forearms and his lower leg. All of the iron was accompanied with leather and beige fur, and his torso was covered with a dark green shirt, as well as his legs with brown pants. Finally, his head was covered by a large iron helmet, adorned with large rolled horns.
In the middle of the arena, the Viking raised his left arm to the air, and within sparks of fire, a large double-edged battle axe appeared in his hand.
In the group, the first one to break silence was Hunk, as his look shifted from a big-eyed expression, to a furrow of his eyebrows and a mistrustful gaze. –“Uh oh…”
-“There he is…”- Said Lance, with a deadpan look in his eyes.
As he glanced around the group with a raised eyebrow, Keith clearly put the pieces together. He nodded towards the arena as he asked: -“Is this the guy?”
-“Yep.”- Pidge pretty much immediately answered, with a dry voice, mirroring her expression. –“The idiot himself.”
Hearing the answer, Keith glanced back at the arena to the giant Viking, who was standing on the same spot, right in the middle. Vali brought his battle axe in the air countless times as he roared a war cry that echoed throughout the whole amphitheater, said in words Keith did not understand.
And in silence, all four students watched the Norse god, with mildly concerned looks on their faces. It was then, that Hunk broke the silence. –“…Well,”- After he crossed his arms, he pointed a thumb over to the arena. –“at least I’m done with the arena fights for today. I’m glad it’s not me going down there now.”
At the same time, Pidge leaned back as she smirked. –“Glad I managed to, once again, escape the arena fights.”
Keith raised an eyebrow as he looked down at her, to his left. –“You know, you can probably benefit from each fight.”
She looked up at him then, and with the same mischievous smirk, she adjusted her glasses as she said: -“I can benefit from them even more if I don’t partake in them.”
To their left, Lance quietly laughed as he leaned his folded arms further on the half wall, before he faced his little friend with a playful grin of his own. –“Pidge, the little gremlin berserker who’s always looking for trouble, yet in fighting class, you avoid fights.”
In response, Pidge simply shrugged. –“What’s the point of it if I can’t play by my own rules?”
Seeing his little friend’s mischievous hint in her eyes as she said such thing, made a small mistrustful and confused glint appear in Hunk’s face. –“… That’s… not how fights work…”
-“Again, bold of you to say such thing, Hunk.”
As Hunk gasped in an exasperated way, Lance brought himself up from his leaning position and leaned the left side of his waist on the half wall instead, as he faced his friends.
-“Either way, against Vali, everything is valid.”- In the background, Pidge groaned, which made Lance’s grin widen. –“No pun intended.”- He, then, nodded towards the arena. –“I do feel bad for whoever’s gonna get in there next, though.”
Life was full of ironies, Lance discovered.
Whether he was expecting it – which he should have – or not, his name had been the one his teacher called to the arena, just some minutes after Vali’s own name was called. He had blinked in surprise when that happened, and even asked Hunk to pinch him – which his best friend did, much to Lance’s dismay.
And just like that, all in a matter of minutes, there he was, standing in the opposite side of the ring considering Vali’s side.
As he took a long deep breath, Lance closed his eyes and demanded his mind to focus, even just for a little, to prepare himself for the upcoming fight. He made sure he had his helmet on, which, check, he did. All his armor felt like it was on the way it should, too. Now all he was lacking, was his weapon.
Releasing his breath, Lance extended his left arm as forward as it’d go, having his hand curled in a fist having a little space in between his fingers. The inside of his hand, just as his mind was focusing on his demand, started feeling colder by the second, until a cloud of frost took a large shape beyond his hands, especially to the sides.
When Lance felt the cold growing cozy, as his body adjusted to it, he opened his eyes, just in time to see the last sparks of frost falling to melt on the ground of the arena. And where before, in his hand, was nothing, now, a large ice bow took over.
It was large and sharp, its ice looking matted rather than see-through alike glass. It was also not smooth. Instead, it was quite the opposite. The ice, even though it mimicked the shape of a bow perfectly, was uneven and, in a way, rocky. The only thing seeming regular on the bow was its string, looking as good as new.
A light smirk appeared on his face as it registered on his mind that, once again, his weapon did come to aid him, unlike how, sometimes, he feared that it wouldn’t. Yet, instead of dwelling on how many ways things could go wrong, Lance took another deep breath, as he held his bow, now, slightly oblique.
Gently, his other, unoccupied hand went to touch the string lightly, and slowly, he brought it backwards, stopping mere inches away from his cheek, which was covered by the side of his helmet. Magically, after half a second of the previous movement of the string, an ice arrow appeared on the bow and right between Lance’s fingers.
It came to life just like the bow had, in a cloud of frost and icy bits. The arrow itself was not shaped as a regular arrow. Instead, its tail part was thin yet a little wide, and it narrowed down until its spikey tip. It was not smooth either, as many little ice spikes came out of its sides, facing backwards.
Lance’s eyes were right on the tip of the arrow, and as he observed its trajectory, his eyes slowly fell upon the Viking, who was still raising his hands in abrupt movements, trying and succeeding to get the crowd to cheer, which also psyched him up.
Letting a little rush of air escaping his nose, sounding almost like a light breathy scoff, Lance allowed his eyes to trail to the side.
To his left, he found his friends – and the Underworld god – engaging in what seemed to be a conversation. Hunk was widely gesturing to the foreign god, as Pidge stood in the middle, seeming to complete his sentences. All the while, Keith appeared to be quiet, only moving his mouth to speak every so often.
And even though Lance wanted to make a comment about it, over how his friends probably shouldn’t be so friendly towards a literal Galra, one of those who completely ruined the Overworld, and still were, he didn’t. He felt as though he had spoken enough, and if his warnings were not enough to convince his friends, then so be it.
His mind would still go back to the moment the strange god’s hand was taken over by a dark, slimy fog, ready to hurt whoever dared to step any closer.
Yet again, his mind also reminded him how he did promise Pidge to give the god a chance. After all, Pidge and Hunk were, in his eyes, rarely wrong. And if Pidge managed to convince Hunk, who was the best judge of character Lance has ever met, to try to be friendly to the Underworld god, could Lance even question them? Could he even say anything after Hunk had, too, welcomed Keith into the group?
Of course not.
They were his friends. He couldn’t just pester them about their decisions, even if he did not agree too much with them. All he could do was to stand behind them and support them, and if things did go wrong, he’d help them fix it. Because, in his mind, that’s what friends do. Help each other. Trust each other.
But the dark look in the Underworld god’s eyes…
Before his mind even had time to start racing with a new wave of worry about his new foe, however, Vali’s loud voice muffled over his thoughts, making Lance switch his focused gaze towards him once again.
The Norse god had the axe held high still, and as he noted Lance’s focus was back on him, Vali brought down the axe to his chest, holding it, now, with both his hands. He looked down at it as he felt its weight, and once he glanced at Lance once more, he spoke in a language Lance could understand.
-“This… will surely be interesting.”
The grim tone of such statement, said in such a grave way, could have been interpreted as something to fear. However, Lance chose to, not surprisingly, ignore that undertone, perhaps to make himself feel more confident about this match up and not let such comment bring him down.
Instead, he lowered his bow from his face, and the focused expression he wore before, was replaced by a gradual smug grin. He chuckled at the Norse god’s statement, noting how it might have sounded a little bit forced, but he did not mind.
It was then that Lance brought the bow almost horizontally to his waist level, arrow still notched, ready to be fired right at his target. His eyes left his target for a little, as he tilted his head to his right side subtly, and mused: –“Yeah, more interesting than you’ll ever manage be in your life, how does that feel for ya?”
Said taunt, though, was completely ignored by Vali. Any bit of amusement was drained from his features, and now, he simply focused his intense live green eyes on the Greek god. –“We shall see if your words measure up to your abilities.”- Even his voice, as he spoke, was grimmer.
Which was the complete contrast regarding Lance’s playful yet taunting expression. -“Easy-peasy, my good sir.”- He mused as he adjusted the position of his bow.
In response to the joking tone coming from Poseidon’s child, Vali simply grunted, which was exactly when the bell rang, marking the beginning of the fight.
And so, it commenced.
Immediately after the bell rang and Vali started to walk forward, Lance let go of his first arrow, as he fired a quick shot. And even though firing one of those was less accurate, Lance’s arrow was still on target.
The arrow itself made its journey upward, only being blocked from Vali’s face by his own hand, which moved up just at the right pace. There was a large impact made as the arrow broke against the back of the Norse god’s hand, sounding alike glass being shattered.
But the arrow did its job.
It did not pierce the god’s hand, as the usage of any weapon lethally was completely illegal in the academy. Even as the gods wielded their own godly weapons, no matter how deadly those were, they couldn’t be used for such. So, Lance, of course, had to use a variation of his arrows that only stung and froze, but had no potential to impale anything.
Grunting, the Norse god looked down at his stinging hand, finding the back of it completely frozen, and even some parts of the frost escaped inside the god’s tight grip, proving it rather uncomfortable to wield his battle axe.
Yet again, nothing a berserker like the god would let get over his head. He’d endure it. Pain was his friend. It’d fuel him, his anger, to fight through the rest of the battle in a fiercer way.
As his eyes met his opponent, he saw the Poseidon’s child taunting him with a playful wiggle of his eyebrows. And said gesture, alike the stinging pain, only urged the Child of Odin to fight back harder. So, with an ungodly growl, and a heart full of fury, the Norse god charged forward.
Surprised with the sudden charge, Lance felt his eyes blow wide with panic. There were some flashes of seconds of delay that passed by, before his body reacted upon his screaming warning thoughts. He hastily, almost clumsily, drew the string of his bow, an arrow appeared once more, and he fired it as quickly as he could, proceeding to, then, repeat the same process two more times.
This first shot was merely dodged by Vali as he ducked his head mid-run. As he saw the second coming, he raised his axe, in between his hands, up, and the arrow landed right on the wooden body of it, freezing a large part of it, though it was not able to reach the god’s hands.
At last, the final arrow had such a brief delay between itself and the previous one, that Vali was not able to dodge it nor block it. As such, it shattered right as it landed on his chest, and froze a good portion of it.
Vali felt most the air in his lungs rush out as the impact affected him. But he was thankful to the gods that he was born strong, and as a Norse god, the cold was not anything that he wasn’t used to, even if it weren’t part of his godly powers.
So even though the hit had made him slow down his charge, and miss a couple of steps, Vali was quick to recover, and in no time, he was back rushing forward alike before, even with a portion of his chest frozen. He was willing to do anything to cut the distance between the Greek god and himself, because he knew Lance was not the greatest at combat in close quarters.
His weapon took the form of a bow, for gods’ sake. Up close, he was an easy target.
And Lance knew that. It was because of that, when he saw that his shot did little to no damage to the Norse god, who continued to rush towards him, Lance started to walk backwards as he notched more arrows and frantically shot them.
With an overly-worried expression on his face, Lance watched as his aim started to grow sloppy, because of the way some of his shots were missing. And as he kept on worrying about that, the more he felt his heartbeat raise, the more his hands trembled, and the more he missed.
Though, luck seemed to be on his side. Perhaps Artemis had blessed him with a lucky shot, because an arrow managed to land on the tip of Vali’s boot, purging him to the ground.
The Norse god grunted and growled as he tried to pry his boot from the ground. The thought that he could potentially just leave his boot behind and continue this fight barefoot did cross his mind, too, but once he tried to slide his foot off the boot, he found that the ice of the arrow had also infiltrated his boot, and froze his foot with it.
So, the only way was to pry it off the ground, and surely, it should have been easier to break the little ice blast that was covering both Vali’s foot and the ground before it.
Still astonished with his shot, as he felt as though it had been unbelievable that he had landed such hit which had such effect, Lance felt the corners of his lips slowly raise. Although, his surprised gaze turned to a smug look and a confident grin in no time, as he leaned himself upright.
-“Hah!”- As Lance started, he placed his unoccupied hand over his chest. –“Yep, you were absolutely right, Vali, this really is being interesting.”
When the hit had landed, the crowd had gone wild with surprised cheering. Though many appreciated Vali’s strength, mostly out of fear, they also enjoyed to root for the underdog. Who didn’t?
Lance’s friends specifically, cheered the loudest.
-“Yeah!!”- Hunk shouted as he put his hand sideways by the side of his mouth, using his other hand to bring his fist in the air. –“Go Lance!!!”
Pidge was jumping a little, repeatedly, as she had her hands gripping the half wall. It was then that she let out a loud ‘ha-ha!’, sounding enthusiastic as well as bewildered, due to the unexpected way the hit landed. As she proceeded to lean away from the wall, she spoke: -“I can’t believe that sucker is still alive…”
-“Not just alive!”- Hunk shouted as his eyes briefly fell upon his little friend. –“He’s winning!”
The sudden serious tone of voice, as well at its graver pitch, made both friends freeze in time as they slowly lowered their arms, and looked over at the Hybrid. They saw Keith looking over the arena with a furrow of his eyebrows, something that almost seemed as a focused look to them, or perhaps, it was simply something coming from his own dismay.
Because of it, Pidge tilted her head slightly as she raised an eyebrow. –“Way to kill the good mood…”
Noticing the dry tone coming from the Child of Athena, Keith glanced over at them from the side, still wearing the same serious look. –“I’m just saying,”- He crossed his arms tighter around his chest as he looked back at the arena. –“right now, he’s being too over-confident. In a fight, that can be deadly.”
A loud crack sounded through the confines of the arena, accompanied by a loud grunt, sounding as furious as a growl. Vali had gotten his foot out of the shattering ice, and once he was free, there was nothing stopping him. It was as if his sight went straight into tunnel vision, because he did not recover, he only rushed forward, as fast as he could.
Just as soon as the ice had cracked, Lance, who had his arms raised as he walked around and raveled on the crowd’s cheering, felt his stomach drop. A little freezing sting, the sensation of danger and the fear that came with it. That was what he felt as he completely lost his grin, blending into an expression of distress.
His first reaction was to turn around with a yelp to the raging god, and with his bow by his stomach, he drew and fired some shots. The result, however, was pitiful, as, since he was in distress and not focused at all, his aim became sloppy. From many frantic arrows fired, only two landed, both times on the Norse god’s chest, but those did not seem to have stopped him, now.
Vali looked as he was a force of nature, or pure rage itself. Pain did not seem as it was weighting him down any longer.
It was when the Norse god was in close proximities, that Lance’s eyes went wide with panic, and only by a lucky inch he managed to dodge the incoming axe, by diving to his left.
In a brief second, Lance found himself kneeling with one leg, as he balanced himself by having his left hand supporting him on the ground, by his side. As he tightened the grip on his bow with the other hand, he gritted his teeth as his loud thoughts took over his mind for two heartbeats.
He had been completely irrational. Instead of taking the opportunity of taking down his opponent and win the fighting exercise, he, instead, raveled in the crowd’s cheering. He dived deep into the praise, into the recognition, without even having his task completed.
It had been a terrible mistake. All because of his wishes of greatness and desire for attention.
With that last thought in mind, Lance shut his eyes closed as his eyebrows twitched, his lips curling as they were tasting the sour feeling of regret. But in a flash of a second, his eyes slid open, as he heard and felt the Viking rushing towards him. Quickly he drew an arrow and fired it.
It landed right on the left side of the god’s torso, but it did not stop him, either. No matter, because it did for Lance what he wanted it to: it bought him some time to get back up and fall back.
However, seeing the Norse god still persisting to getting close to him, and seeing the space between them lessen, Lance braced himself for the inevitable. He quickly lifted his bow horizontally in the exact moment Vali raised his battle axe, and in a second, he felt the tremendous impact both weapons made upon contact.
He had closed his eyes slightly, just for half a second, feeling bits of frost falling from his bow right down his face. When he peeked, he saw the neck of the axe right against the middle of his bow, and saw the sharp end of the weapon dangerously close to a bit of his hair, on top of his head.
Well, that was a relief. Truth be told, Lance wasn’t too sure what would happen if his bow had absorbed the sharp impact of the axe’s end.
But soon enough, Lance found the feeling of relief to be fleeting, as he began to feel the strength of the Norse god pressing down on his weapon. Finding his own grunting being muffled by Vali’s own growls, Lance decided, this was too much to take. It would only be dumb to keep trying to win a battle he knew he couldn’t.
So, suddenly, he ducked down as he tilted his bow to the right. A maneuver that made Vali, who was putting too much strength into the weapon, stumble past Lance, who turned to him.
It was fairly quick for Vali to find his footing, and once he did and turned around to face his opponent, he quickly swung his axe at Lance, who dodged the hit by jumping backwards.
As the Norse god kept persisting, Lance desperately tried to notch an arrow into his bow’s string, but before it appeared, Vali rammed into him. And as the Norse god’s shoulder made contact with Lance’s stomach, he was thankful he had his breastplate on, but he still felt all his air rush out of his mouth, as an ‘oof’ escaped him.
In a moment, he was airborne as his feet left the ground of the arena. A rush of adrenaline and desperate survival instincts kicking in made him hear his blood cursing through his veins. That moment of uncertainty vanished, however, when he felt the back of his breastplate finally hit the ground, and then his head.
The crowd let out surprised utters of terror.
Once he landed, his bow fell from his hand and a little cloud of sand and dirt raised around him, as he could feel the warm sand stinging underneath his exposed skin.
His mind was a mess, due to the impact of his head. All he could hear was the continuous sound of his own blood rushing, and now, a loud, strident ringing taking over his hearing.
It was when that sound lessened, that Lance felt himself coming back. He pressed down his closed eyelids a little more as he winced and groaned. His blinking eyes unraveled the bright baby blue sky, absent of clouds. And the fleeting ringing on his ears gave away the loud shouts in a foreign language from the Norse god, as well as the timid cheering of the crowd.
Lifting his head, Lance saw Vali doing what he had done before. The Norse god had both his arms raised, and was banging his axe in the air as he sought for more cheering from the crowd. And right when his gaze locked on Lance’s, he lowered his axe, and even ignored some words that were being shouted at him by raising his other hand towards them.
Within a heartbeat of observing each other’s gazes from afar, Vali seemed to have made up his mind, as he started to walk forward, which turned into a run as he roared a war cry.
Lance felt his breathing itch at that moment, especially because part of himself thought the fight was over. It usually was over when things were getting too dangerous. But he wasn’t even entirely himself to fully comprehend what was going on around him.
But those survival instincts that had kicked in were screaming at him to get to the bow.
He hastily looked to his right side, and found his weapon close. With a little grunt, he struggled to get his hands on it, but when the tip of his finger reached it, he managed to, repeatedly, bring it close enough so he could grab it.
The next, happened way too fast.
Lance had no time to think, he simply instinctively brought his bow up, holding it with both hands. And just when his bow was right above his eye level, he watched as Vali’s axe appeared in a rapid speed. It came down on him, right in the middle of the bow, between Lance’s eyes.
And when it landed, it caused a loud sound, and an explosion resulting in a white, pristine cloud of frost.
The crowd, after letting out panicked utters, went quiet. Everything did.
Lance’s desperation rose as his sight was taken over by the fog, an anxiety fearing over how he could not see anything that was going on around him, nor the axe.
Soon enough, Lance found that his expectation of the frost cloud dispersing soon did not really happen. In fact, the frost all around him seemed to, somehow, getting brighter by the second. It was then that a bright glow started to come from his hands, right where he was holding his bow.
Fright flared on his panicked blue eyes before he had to shut them close, as the glowing was growing too bright to handle. Though his mind still raced, and his anxieties feared the worst.
This was it. The last light of his weapon giving out, for sure. Vali’s axe was extremely mighty, as he and many members of the academy knew. It would be foolish to hope that a brittle ice bow, no matter how magical it could be, would be able to stand a tremendous slice from the axe.
And so, with closed eyes and gritted teeth, Lance had to experience his bow’s last stand. The final moments of this weapon that had accompanied him in combat training since he was a teen and first walked into this arena. The weapon he expected to wield against Galra.
Now, those hopes would all vanish, and the memories would, too, in time.
Suddenly, a rush of wind started to come out of his bow from all angles, and little seconds later, Lance could feel something stinging and taking over his hands.
His own frost, the material which the bow had been carefully made of by Hephaestus.
Shivering, Lance tried to focus on holding his weapon, which was proving to be difficult, as his frost kept on invading his arms, and the cold started to take his tact from his hands. The wind itself kept pouring out of his weapon, feeling colder than any breeze he had ever experienced. It felt as though a blizzard was being let out as his weapon was giving out.
And such kept going, and going, growing larger in intensity.
Until it all stopped.
Lance heard a little last whistle of the cold breeze passing by his side, feeling it gently rocking some of his hair. And then, when it stopped, there was nothingness. No more movement he could feel, no more wind he could hear.
And he felt on his eyelids that the bright glowing had stopped, too.
All that was left, had been the same cold of his frost. But that, started to fade away as well. The numbness he was feeling on his fingers because of it eased, and then, he started to feel tact again.
Like Lance had feared, there was not, any longer, the familiar comforting feeling of his bow in his hands. It had felt alike the gentle touch of the first snowflakes that fell in the start of the winter. It felt as feeble as a stick and yet as strong as rock. As agile as water, and as firm as ice.
And now, that was no more.
Although… what Lance expected to feel after his weapon had been gone, was nothing but his own, frosty fingers.
That was not the case.
He felt something. Something more than his own frost, that still nestled between his fingers. He felt something tougher in his hands, something alike… pure ice. Smooth and strong, firm. Though, also colder. In fact, it was freezing cold.
Furrowing his eyebrows, Lance decided it was time to face reality. He needed to see the outcome of such blow. He needed to see what it was that he was holding. It couldn’t possibly be his bow, it did not feel like it had its… its essence.
So, releasing a long icy breath from his mouth, Lance slowly blinked. The light of the sun had been blocked from him, by a dark shadow belonging to someone great. He saw what seemed to be his still lifted arms, and saw the uneven lines where the brown of his skin was enveloped by pristine frost.
Before him, he saw the shade of his opponent, but not his gaze. The Norse god’s eyes were hidden behind a pure white line held between Lance’s hands, just alike he had been holding his bow.
Such sight had captured Lance’s curiosity, so much that he blinked more to try to get his vision to finally clear out. And when it did, when the image before his eyes was no longer blurry, the sight Lance was met with made him itch his breathing.
Right where his bow once was, now rested a large blade. It looked as though it was made of the purest, strongest ice in existence. It was incredibly smooth, sharp-looking and large. Considering its length, it seemed as it was a long sword.
Amazed before the sight, Lance allowed his gaze to travel from the tip of the blade, which reflected a little sunray into his eyes, to the handle. The latter was made of a material alike silver, though it looked purer. And at the very end, rested a blue gem, alike a sapphire from the Earth Realm.
Lance had been so astonished, and in awe, that he did not even realize the axe still held strongly against his new weapon. He had not noticed when the crowd, before such sighting, had gasped in bewilderment.
Back on the first row of the arena seats, the other three gods stood, observing the scene with looks just as astonished as Lance’s.
Seeing the blade, Keith’s eyes grew subtly wide, as his lips fell slightly apart, unconsciously. Of all the outcomes for this fight, he would never in his lifetime foresee such ending. He had never expected to watch the bow disappear into a cloud of frost and morphing into a blade.
Hephaestus had surely crafted this weapon with care and great detail. Though the look on the face of Poseidon’s offspring made it seem, to Keith, that this weapon’s new form had been a total surprise for Lance, too.
Which was strange, but something Keith also could relate to.
In the meantime, Hunk had both his hands on top of the half wall, and was completely leaning himself forward. The look on his face was one of raw terror, one matching with his gaping lips. His brow eyes seemed of a deeper color, as the wood of a tree when it rained.
It was clear that his inside, his soul, had been petrified for his friend, and now, now he did not know how to react. He did not know how to start up again.
The only thing moving his body was by his right arm. Pidge was the one holding it with both her arms, hugging it as a sort of pillow. And she was, currently, shaking it, trying to get Hunk to react, while she, too, was trying to react herself. Her wide eyes, just alike Hunk’s, were still fallen upon her other friend, and in the wobbly amber of them, the look of concern was unmistakable.
As Lance’s mind started to come back to reality, he could hear the crowd’s murmuring amongst the silence in the air. He could hear his own breathing, loud and clear, coming out shaky and uneven. An obvious contrast against the Viking’s rough and strong huffs of breaths coming out of his mouth.
And then, louder than anything had been for a while, a strident whistle sounded off in the air.
-“That’s it! Fight’s over! Stand back, students!”
The voice of his teacher was the most abrupt factor that forced Lance’s mind to sober.
Blinking, it took a second for the meaning of said words to make sense in his own mind, but when they did, Lance understood that it was all over. The fight, that is.
Until when his eyes, for no good reason rather than accidentally, fell upon Vali’s own gaze. One that was staring right down at him, with such hatred it seemed as though he was about to not listen to their teacher’s words.
And for some seconds, it seemed as though, that was what was going to happen. Vali’s gaze stayed on Lance’s for long seconds, as his hands trembled, just alike Lance’s, who, now, was starting to give in to the Norse god’s strength.
But then, the Viking’s breathing itched with infuriation, and as his pupils grew thin, and fury drowned his expression, Vali drew back with an annoyed grunt.
He stood, then, sideways, refusing to face the child of Poseidon. With his head lowered, as well as his axe’s head, which was facing the ground, the Norse god took a long breath, and when he exhaled it, he started to walk away.
Lance had observed him, and at that precise moment, relief invaded his system to see his potential threat leave. Letting out a little breath, Lance relaxed all the muscles on his body, let his head fall back on the ground, and allowed himself to fully recover.
When the teacher had rushed into the arena, the first thing he did was to kneel by the fallen god, and started to try to talk to him. It had been a sight that was intently observed by Hunk, who stood behind the half wall of the amphitheater with large, preoccupied eyes.
None of the other gods with him dared to speak, either. It might have been a good thing. Hunk was sure he’d lose it if any word was spoken, especially if anyone would ask him if he was alright. He couldn’t help it, he was emotional. Anyone who had witnessed their best friend being in such danger would probably feel things, too.
As Lance’s head nodded and he started to slowly get up with the help of their teacher, was when Hunk huffed out a relieved breath, and allowed his muscles to relax. He noticed the way he lowered his head entirely, and slumped his shoulders, allowing himself to support his weight on his hands, which were still gripping the wall.
He heard, at that moment, Pidge mutter something alike ‘thanks gods’, and noticed the now annoyed tone in her voice. It was alike Pidge, if he was being fairly honest. She cared, and it showed, but she also would try to mask it. He couldn’t blame her, not everybody was as open with their emotions as he was.
And that was okay. Not everybody can be the same.
He actually wondered how the Underworld god would show worry. Hunk subtly glanced at Keith with that thought in mind, and saw the god with his arms crossed, his eyes focused on the arena, where his friend was.
The neutral look on the god’s face made Hunk furrow his eyebrows. He observed Keith with a little more attention, and still came out empty. Or, almost. There was something in his eyes, the wobbly way they shined as they were so intently fixed on Hunk’s friend, that, for a second, made Hunk wonder if that was some sort of worry.
But, he couldn’t tell too much, as the way Keith’s eyebrows were furrowed could also look as though he was furious. To be fair, it was hard to read new people, especially those with questionable intentions.
So, with a tiny shrug, Hunk allowed himself to look back forward, and was pleasantly surprised that he saw his best friend already standing. Lance nodded in response to some words the teacher had been telling him, and then turned around right to them.
Lance’s face filled with a big smile when his eyes landed on his friends, and as he walked back to them, Hunk noticed his limping. But his overwhelming joy to see his friend alright took over his pessimistic reasoning.
Before his friend could answer, Hunk impulsively swung a leg over the wall, and then the other. He was so caught up in his concern that he did not even notice how effortlessly he had done such thing. That because, at the same time he tried to cross the wall, Pidge went to his left and also tried to climb the wall.
She had tried to swung her foot over the wall, but only managed to put the side of it on the wall the second try. She proceeded to lay on her stomach on the wall, and as that tedious process was over, she released a little ‘phew’.
However, when it was time for her to slide to the side of the arena, she slid too much and ended up slipping to the ground.
Hunk, who already had his feet in the arena, glanced at Pidge when she fell, and saw as she quickly jumped up, saying ‘I’m okay!’, as she gave him a thumbs up and then proceeded to dust off her large armor.
In the meantime, Keith did not jump side, but he did lean himself forward on the half wall, having both his hands on it.
Right when Lance was at arms-length with his best friend, Hunk quickly placed his steady hand against Lance’s right shoulder. –“Buddy, you’re okay?!?”
-“He has a sword…”- Said Pidge, quietly as her eyes went wide. She hadn’t even had the time to properly process what had just happened, so it was all ganging up on her.
Meanwhile, Hunk gripped both Lance’s shoulders with each of his hands as he gently shook his friend. –“You almost died!!!”
In the background of the two, Pidge’s expression shifted to one of excitement. –“It was so awesome!!!”- She curled up her fists as she looked up at a grinning Lance.
Hunk, however, he let go of Lance and extended his arms wide to the sides as he faced his other friend with a rather exasperated expression. –“Pidge?!?”
With all the attention turned to her, Pidge simply shrugged. –“What? He did so well! And he has a freaking ice sword!!”- She exclaimed as she widely gestured towards Lance’s hands, where his ice sword still rested.
Quickly, Pidge’s eyes fell on the blade, observing it for a little second, before her now inquisitive eyes lifted to meet Lance’s. –“… How does it work??”
Faced with the question, Lance’s eyebrows went lightly up, before his gaze fell on the blade in his hands. It was then, that he lightly frowned. –“I… Uhh… dunno? I just got it…”
However, as a thought flared through his mind, he slowly looked up as he, again, raised both his eyebrows and slowly, his expression started to blend into a grin. One that seemed to be getting a little too smug.
-“… It was pretty cool though, right?”- Lance mused as he swiftly swung his sword to place it over his right shoulder. –“I mean, I must have looked so bada-“
Before he could finish that word, he was interrupted by none other than Keith whose voice sounded quite dry, with a non-enthusiastic tone. –“Yep… He’s okay.”
As Lance rapidly turned to glare at the Underworld god, who raised an unimpressed brow at him, Hunk was still frozen. He shook his head then, and turned to them. –“Okay, but… am I the only one who noticed that Lance almost died?!?”
Pidge shot between both he and Lance, and right then, she placed a hand on Lance’s right shoulder, and the other on Hunk’s left shoulder. –“He didn’t though! Besides,”- She glanced at Lance and patted his shoulder. –“you were lucky Vali didn’t use his ‘axe throw of doom’ signature move.”
Only the mention of such thing made Lance grimace. –“You’re right about that…”
That voice, deep, rough and slightly growly, didn’t match any of those in the small circle. But all of them, especially the Overworld kids, knew exactly to who it belonged to. A voice that sent shivers run down Lance’s spine, as it evoked the still fresh memories of the Viking’s rageful face twist in fury as he resentfully let go of the fight when he was ordered to.
No wonder. They’ve had fights before, as it was obvious, but never had one ended with such result. Never had Lance not have to swallow his own words.
Come to think of it, perhaps angering one of the most powerful students in the academy when they were younger wasn’t really the wisest decision Lance has ever made.
The Norse god appeared from behind Lance’s back, but more to the left of him, with a visible distance between them. Once he reached the group, the large god, who was even slightly taller than Hunk himself, faced the group as he crossed his arms.
He looked around them, noticing the way everybody stiffed into defensive mindsets, noticeable in their body language. Though Vali, he didn’t care.
-“There surely were some… unexpected turns of events.”
It was weird, Lance found, the way that Vali’s words actually sounded as a true statement, not having any tint of sarcasm in them. Therefore, he grinned, as he took in the Norse god. –“Hah, not expecting that, were ya? I mean you were lucky our teacher didn’t let us go any further or else I’d totally kick your-“
Before he could finish, Vali interrupted with a higher voice. –“Do keep dreaming, child of Poseidon.”- He uncrossed his arms. –“The gods’ blessings were simply on your side today, but luck usually runs out, and that is when skill comes into play.”- As he spoke, Vali slightly lowered his chin to level Lance’s gaze with his own. –“Alas, I have not come for you.”
That was the last statement that made Lance, and his friends, blink in confusion. –“Wh-“
It was then that without even regarding the others, Vali glanced forward, to beyond the half-wall, and his live green eyes fell upon the Underworld god, who instinctively took a step back, noticing the new attention he had gained.
Vali’s voice, as he spoke his announcement, was grave and low, alike his gaze. –“I am here, for the demon.”
The nickname, it was the word that awakened Keith to retake a step forward, and since his hands were no longer on the wall, he crossed his arms defensively instead, and stood as tall as he could. As imposing.
He felt the same defensive glare he wore in public when he was in the Underworld return to his face, and even had to school his darkness power to ease, as a little smoky shadow was already seeping through his elbow, into the atmosphere.
In the meantime, the other three gods watched the extremely tense glare-exchange-contest-whatever it was with gaping mouths. Their faces comically mirrored each other’s, even the wide eyes and raised eyebrows.
Hunk actually held back from commenting ‘oh no, you didn’t’ towards Vali’s passive aggressive and completely rude statement, yet again, he calculated that if he did, he’d have the Viking’s rageful attention, and he wasn’t about that.
Unsurprisingly, Vali was the one to speak first, as his tone continued the same. –“I am not sure if you were aware, demon, but I have been cautiously observing you.”
That was right, Keith thought. Back when their teacher was working with Keith, he felt many stares on his back, but when he turned, Vali’s ones were the most recurring. Though, at the time, he did not know the stares belonged to the god who his classmates warned him about. However, he should have guessed.
Keith even wondered if Vali had observed him even before the arena class.
-“For what I have seen,”- The Viking continued as he uncrossed his arms, and stood taller, chin lifted. –“you do actually possess some abilities in the art of one-on-one battle… unlike most of my previous opponents…”
-“Aww come on!”- Lance protested as he wildly gestured towards himself with both hands. –“I’m right here!!”
Hunk pursed his lips as he nodded, his gaze fallen to the side, and Pidge lightly patted Lance’s shoulder.
Alike Vali, Keith had temporarily glanced at Lance with a lifted brow, but within a second, his gaze fell back upon the Viking, and the glare was back. –“What’s it to you?”
-“I was simply stating the obvious.”- The Viking shrugged. –“After all, I would expect no less from someone who was born to be a killer.”
Keith felt his eyebrows slowly raise, glare transforming into a surprised expression. However, he schooled the glare back on his face immediately, the glint in his eyes oozing off a defensive energy.
-“I’m a diplomat-“
The Norse god did not even care for Keith’s interjection. -“A killer, as I was raised to be.”- As he spoke, Vali noticed the now confused furrow on the Underworld god’s eyebrows. –“The only differences between you and I is that I fight for the Overworld, and you, for the Underworld. You have no right of being here, in the domain of light, and as such… I must see you out myself.”
As his glare turned sharper, it was noticeable to the other gods how Keith’s dark eyes were turning darker. A fiery indigo had gone almost completely black, just alike when he had felt threatened by Hunk and Lance’s accusations.
And his tone of voice, it mimicked his grave look perfectly. –“Well, too bad for you, because I’m here to stay.”
-“That is, indeed, how things were agreed upon. But agreements may as well be broken when there is no logic behind them.”- Vali lowered his chin to meet the demon’s gaze, with no hesitation, showing how his was just as threatening. –“The matter is simple. Darkness does not belong in realms of light, so I must see you out.”
The more Keith spoke, the more irritably his words came out of his mouth. –“Yeah? You’re gonna make me?”
-“Okay…!”- Hunk interjected, slowly and apprehensively dragging out the word. –“Hehe, so… who here likes melons?! Cuz I sure love them! In fact, why won’t we all go for a nice piece of melon and just talk this out instead, yeah…?”
Sadly, Hunk’s efforts seemed to have been ignored by the two gods, as neither even seemed to have acknowledged his words. In fact, it seemed as though they weren’t acknowledging anything but their tense argument.
-“You have made me do this…”- Vali’s grave voice came out low, under his breath, as he hadn’t even noticed he was lightly hunched over. When he did, he straightened up, and when his voice came out, it was loud, again, as an honorable announcement. –“Tonight, when the moon rises high as the first star appears, we shall duel. Right in this very arena.”
-“What do I have to gain with that?”
The Viking’s answer was instant. -“Glory, as in any fight. As well as your righteous place to stay in this realm.”
There was a little laugh, sounding like a scoff, to Vali’s right, and when he turned his head to it, he saw it belonged to the little god in the middle of Lance and Hunk.
-“Pretty sure it’s Allura who gets to decide that…”- Pidge’s voice, as her pointed look when she stared up at the Viking, was unimpressed, defiant, even, in its undertones.
-“So does Odin.”- The Norse god answered without hesitation, as he looked down to the child of Athena. It was then, that he glanced back towards Keith. –“Plus, he surely was unpleased when he found out about the eventual presence of a demon in this realm.”
Vali continued, as he rose his voice to a loud growl. –“A demon who will end up KILLING US ALL!”
The fury in Keith’s eyes amplified, and in response, he rose his voice to match the same tone as his challenger. –“I’M NOT HERE FOR THAT!!”
Regarding the heated answer he received back, Vali gritted his teeth. He closed his eyes as he inhaled unevenly through his teeth, his breath shaky from his sheer anger. Once he exhaled, however, he was more composed.
So, he looked back towards the Underworld god, and his low, rough voice came out of his mouth before he was even in control. –“I care for no words coming from such vile creature, even less trust them.”
Reacting to the absolutely disrespectful comment, Keith huffed. –“You know WHAT-“
In the background, Hunk sighed tiredly, with his eyes semi-narrowed. –“And there it is…”- He mumbled under his breath, earning equally tired hums from his other two friends.
-“FINE!”- Keith uncrossed his arms and took a step forward, noting that everything about his body language – from his tense, hunched shoulders and his low warning gaze – was defensive. –“If you wanna fight me so bad, then sure, let’s do it tonight,”- He pointed to the ground beneath his feet. –“right here.”
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so much, the Norse god did not seem as irritated anymore. He looked pleased. He was, after all, getting exactly what he wanted. –“Good. I am looking forward to our face-off, demon.”
Once he had honorably made his last statement, Vali did not hesitate to turn around, and proceeded to leave.
Letting out a long, calming breath from his nose, Keith lowered his head as he closed his eyes, trying to regain control of his power. His power was emotion-driven, after all, and any slight emotion, especially a negative one, could activate it. The last thing he wanted was to appear as though he wasn’t in control.
And when his eyes slid back open, still fallen upon the shrinking back of his challenger, he frowned. -“May the Under-Lord have no mercy on you when the time comes…”
The whisper was hardly heard by the other three, who were still watching Vali going off into the distance. Which was good, as Keith’s pupils were now, again, completely black, and his dark, slimy smoke was coming off his right arm yet again.
Such words, said in such a low voice, were a curse when muttered out of a demon’s mouth. The darkness oozing off of his corpse-looking skin was merely a side-effect from the cursed words.
His trance was only interrupted by Pidge’s voice. –“… Well, that just happened…”
-“You can’t possibly be thinking you’re gonna do this duel right?!”
Blinking back into reality, as the voiceless whispers from his dark power cleared from his head, Keith was met with the attention of the other gods. And the very own question that had brought him fully back, was inquired by none other than Lance.
In the meantime, not even realizing Keith was still trying to sobering from his power, Lance continued in a hurried pace. –“I mean the guy almost broke my skull in half!”
To his side, with crossed arms and pursed lips, Hunk slowly looked towards his friend. –“You address that fact now…”- To which Lance responded with a shrug.
-“It’s already done,”- Keith suddenly announced. –“I have to keep my word. Besides he’s a jerk, right? He’ll deserve it.”
Letting out an annoyed huff, Lance glared at him. –“He’ll crush you!!”
Yet again, Keith felt his emotions burning, as his now fiery indigo eyes fell upon Lance. –“Why would you suddenly care anyway?!”
Faced with the inquiring half question, half accusation, Lance felt as though he was at a loss for words. His eyebrows raised as he gaped with bewilderment, and his voice scrambled to utter out something.
Fortunately for him, or perhaps not, Pidge spoke over him, choosing to not acknowledge the tension between the two gods. –“Honestly, as much as I’d like to see Vali get what he deserves, I’m with Lance on this one.”- As she spoke, she watched Keith. –“I mean, I don’t know how you fight, but Vali is ruthless.”
-“He’s literally killed three kids on purpose and came really close to kill a whole lot more!”- Hunk cared to supply.
There was a pause, and as Keith took in their warnings, he lowered his gaze to the ground beneath his feet. His gaze was no longer rageful, but not the least emotional. There was a sadness in his eyes, or… guiltiness, that wasn’t hard to read for the others, even Lance.
-“… There… are Galra soldiers with hundreds of kills of our own.”
His confession, uttered in such a low murmur, was still well heard by his classmates. And it was received by silence.
Though, he knew what they might be thinking. He knew they were putting the pieces together, just like he thought they would.
He was an Underworld soldier. He, too, had done it.
Hearing Pidge’s faint, unbelievable voice, Keith took in a deep breath and steeled them with a look of his own he hoped was, the very least, stoic.
-“It’s nothing new to me.”- He crossed his arms, feeling more protected by the metaphorical barrier, and glanced to the side. –“And it doesn’t matter if he has killed one or one hundred. I’ve given my word, and I can’t just back down now.”
When he finished his sentence, he looked back up to his classmates, and this time, there was an obvious taint of decidedness in the look of his eyes.
-“I’m doing this and no one will stop me.”
The first star had appeared already on the darkened sky, marking the incoming beginning of the duel. Torches lit up the areas of the arena the bright full moon couldn’t, their flames dancing with each light blow of the night’s chilly breeze.
To their surprise, many students, even from other classes, cared to show up, as they scattered themselves in groups around the large, tall seats of the arena. No guards nor ‘adult’ gods showed up to supervise, meaning the rumor did not spread enough to the administration’s hears. Which was good, nobody really wanted to get in trouble for assisting an illegal duel.
However, perhaps the same could not be said about those who were going to fight.
-“Are you really sure you wanna get out there?”
Keith was gazing off into the soil of the arena he had yet to set foot in for a real fight, until he realized the question was aimed towards him. When he glanced back to the group, he found in the middle of both his friends, Lance gazing at him with a pointed look, waiting for an answer. Hunk, to Lance’s right, and Pidge, to his left, were also observing him.
Regarding the question, and those looks, Keith simply sighed, exhaling deeply from his nose, as he briefly lowered his head. –“We… went over this...”
-“Uhh, yeah, we did,”- Hunk said as he crossed his arms, having a little of a petty tilt on his eyebrows. –“but like, are you really, really sure you wanna get into this fight? Vali’s duels are usually deadly or almost deadly, you can’t possibly think you’ll get out of this without a scratch! Besides, maybe like, you should be laying low? Aren’t you under control by the administration or anything?”
It was true that Hunk had completely valid concerns. The most reasonable part of Keith’s mind was telling him so, knocking him on his own head with a metaphorical mace. However, his word had been given, his mind was already set on it, and when Keith’s mind had set on something, it usually meant it was, to him, set in stone. And that stone was hardly broken.
Which was why, as he leveled Hunk with a serious look, he closed his eyes as he spoke with a low, rough voice: -“I don’t have time for this…”
The three gods before him shared looks, most of them of concern, before Pidge sighed and took the cue.
-“Alright, if you’re actually gonna do this, you’ve gotta know about some stuff.”- She noticed Keith’s attention falling upon her. –“Vali’s killer move is throwing his axe, and by all means, do not let that thing get near you. It literally crashes through armor like a knife through butter. And you’re not even wearing any…”
-“You should probably just dodge it.”- Lance added.
Pidge nodded at him before she continued. –“Also keep in mind that it’s a duel, it’s got no supervision, so he’s gonna fight dirty. You won’t see the Vali you saw against Lance earlier, he won’t stop.”
It wasn’t a coincidence Keith had taken a like to Pidge’s friendship. It was clear that she thought alike him. While the others were trying to convince him to get off board, Pidge hadn’t pushed too much about it. She probably knew Keith wouldn’t back down, and just pressing the issue would only worsen his mood.
Perhaps that wasn’t the wisest thing to support, his decision, because he was sure as hell this was completely irresponsible. But he was a young adult, easily riled up, fighting a god – or monster, to be honest – who hated Keith’s gut just because he existed.
And while it was understandable that Vali hated the Underworld and the Galra, as they were, after all, a nation invading many others with war, some of Vali’s hatred wasn’t excusable at all. As Pidge had let Keith know, the Viking was hateful towards many things, and many sorts of beings just because they were who they were.
Without even knowing, he hated Keith not just because he was from the Underworld. And that… That revolting feeling might had been the one that fueled Keith’s willingness to partake on this crazy duel.
So, he was glad he was at least supported by a friend. It was, however, a little surprising to him Lance had finally given up and seemed to be on board, too. His last comment gave that away.
He was helping.
Keith didn’t really know why, and honestly, he wasn’t going to ask, nor dwell on it for too long.
He had a duel to win.
It was then that Hunk found not only Keith, but both his friends, too, – those traitors – looking at him expectantly. As if they were asking for his consent.
Sure, the most reasonable of the four had to give in, Hunk grumpily thought.
He crossed his arms tight on his chest, squeezing his now casual tunic onto himself. The look on his face was as one of a whining child, though this one had all the reasons in the world to complain. His friends were insane and so was the Galra.
But as he looked between them, he knew he had to give them an answer, so he let out a long exhale from his mouth before speaking. –“… I still don’t approve of this.”- He made sure to lower his voice, speaking in a hushed tone. –“I have never even witnessed a duel, but this is the shadiest environment I’ve ever been in. So, maybe we should just, go out for the night…”
-“That’s a lost battle you’re fighting, and you know it, buddy.”
He knew Lance was right. This was a lost battle. He glanced at Keith then, with a tired expression all over his face. –“You’re not giving up, are you?”
The Underworld god’s answer was short and simple. –“Nope.”
That only made Hunk let out another tired sigh as he deflated on himself. –“Sure, okay, that’s totally cool.”- His petty tone increased as he spoke. –“But when things turn sour-“
-“Sure buddy, we’ll hear it from you.”- Lance said, sounding actually truthful and serious, as he patted his best friend’s shoulder. –“We know.”
Hunk simply let out a protesting groan.
Chuckling, as she watched her friend’s exchange, Pidge shook her head before her eyes fell upon Keith, seeing that he had a tiny ghost of a smile on his lips, – which had only been noticeable because of the bright, amused glint in his eyes – before he, too, turned to her.
So, Pidge took the chance to speak before he could. -“Anyway, good luck out there, dude.”- She extended her fist forward, and was pleasantly surprised that Keith understood her intention and fist bumped her. –“Knock em’ dead.”
As he took his hand back to his side, Keith huffed a little breath. –“Thanks.”
He looked up then, at the other two gods who were farther from him, noticing they were, too, observing him. To them, he simply nodded once, wearing a serious expression on his face. A silent farewell, of mutual understanding. It was, after all, what he was used to do in the Underworld, as he’d bid his casual goodbye to Thace.
Keith knew this was different, but he didn’t think he had it in him to say anything else. So, he just turned his back on them, hesitated a little, and with a deep breath, he started to make his way down towards the center of the arena.
In the meantime, Hunk crossed his arms as he narrowed his eyes warily. –“Why do I have a feeling this is not gonna end up well?”
Hunk’s faint murmur made Lance glance at him from the corner of his eyes, just briefly, before he allowed his gaze to fall back down in the arena.
-“It’s not just you, man…”- He whispered back, as everybody around them cheered when both fighters entered the arena.
Vali was on the other side of the arena, as he had jumped in the same time Keith did. The Viking had paid no mind to the Underworld god, nor everyone around him, as he raised his right arm to the sky and looked up.
On his almost curled hand, a lime green shine started to flare through, and before they knew it, the light was replaced with Vali’s large battle axe. It hadn’t been too easy to notice in the light of the day, but now, at night, it was easy to notice the swirling details drawn on the iron of both heads. Especially because, when light reflected on it, those drawings looked as they glowed a grim lime tone.
The Norse god brought down the axe to examine it, passing his finger through both sharp ends of each side of it, making sure it was sharpened well.
Seeming pleased, he abruptly brought the axe in the air as he roared a brief battle shout, and then proceeded to repeat the same two more times. In the end of the third time, he shouted to the skies in a powerful voice, words that Keith couldn’t understand.
In the meantime, Keith prepared himself, too.
Releasing a deep breath, as he muttered to himself ‘let’s do this’, Keith lifted his right hand upwards, having his open palm facing the sky. He just needed to concentrate a little bit before his own power, his dark matter, started to leak out of his skin, first on his palm, and then, gradually, his entire right arm.
Feeling his power bubbling inside him, begging to be used again, Keith looked down at his palm, not being able to mask away the frown that came to his face.
Sometimes, even though he has worked on his power for centuries, it felt like it still wasn’t his. It was as though it belonged to someone else, and Keith was simply borrowing it. Thus, he sometimes would feel like he couldn’t control it the way he wanted to. However, surely the worst times it happened were after each of the two times he dared to use his other side. His fire.
But those thoughts were pushed away from his own mind as he willed himself to continue. He’d need not only his fighting skills for this match, but his power, too. He had to trust himself and his ability.
He was in control.
He had to be.
It was with those encouraging words that he tilted his hand down, and extended his arm to his side. Around his arm, his darkness started to twist and twirl, especially around his half-curled hand.
Only some seconds after, when his slimy darkness started to disperse from his hand, a shine of a polished obsidian-like smooth blade reflected the light of the torches around him.
Feeling the now comfortable weight of his short sword in his hand, Keith took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tuned out the loud cheering of their audience, as well as the Viking’s own shouting. He only allowed his mind to focus on his thoughts.
Victory or Death.
His first thought wasn’t startling. It was the motto he had learned since he was a little child soldier. The saying of the Galra. It was all he knew, all that had been drilled in his mind. It was his second thought that did, however, shake him.
In a way… Vali was right. He was brought up to be a killer, or to die failing to be one.
Perhaps that conclusion made Keith despise this situation more. He was out of place, but he knew that he wouldn’t be accepted, at least not easily. Thace had warned him about it before they parted ways.
He was aware that the Overworld was different, but he also didn’t understand how. Normality to him was all that happened in the Underworld, not here. There was never a thought in his mind that he was basically a killer, even though he truly was one. Because being a killer, it was normal in the Galra army. It was encouraged, even. It was treated as a glorious thing. A demonstration of power and might.
He wasn’t sure if that was the Overworld way.
It seemed to be sometimes, but others, he got mixed messages. In a moment, he was regarded to be a filthy Galra, a killer that other gods should be wary of – and he had to admit, perhaps they should be. But other times, so did other gods like Vali consider themselves to be killers, and seemed to be taking pride in those statements.
Keith found himself admitting, right then, that he would have liked to ask more advice to Coran. Or Shiro, who he had only seen in the morning to wish him good luck on his first day.
Well, turns out his first day here, hadn’t been much different from his first day in the Underworld… But that was another story.
Now, however, he was by himself, with no guidance. There was a brief moment he considered to tap out of this, that maybe this really was crazy.
Until a voice in the back of his mind reminded him of reality. He might be an antagonist in this Overworld environment, but so was Vali. He was an oppressing abuser, with too conservative ideals for a god.
Not even in the Underworld most gods thought alike him in those regards.
And suddenly, there it was again. This feeling of anger, in Keith’s heart, reminding him how Vali looked down on him, and if he knew everything Keith was, he would, undoubtedly, try his hardest to get rid of him. He would call him impure, with those humanized ideals of his.
So, Keith decided there was only one way to deal with this situation. The only way he knew how.
The Galra way.
When he opened his eyes, it was obvious he was determined, he was ready to fight. From his right side, especially shoulder and arm, dark matter seeped through his skin and into the atmosphere as lazy smoke, spreading into the night’s air.
He hadn’t noticed the way his jaw was clenched, teeth gritted, showing his little demon fangs. The indigo of his eyes was now replaced by a dark color, which would in a matter of seconds turn into pure black.
Vali stopped, then.
All this time he had been psyching himself up for battle, gathering energy to fight alike a true challenger. Now, however, his look turned serious as it fell upon the Underworld god. He stood, there, holding the axe with both hands, one higher than the other.
The flames dancing around them cast shadows on his face, hidden mostly by the shade of his helmet. Though the look of his eyes was undoubtedly grim, and as he spoke, so was his voice.
-“We shall see if you fight like a true killer.”
His words were faint, but Keith heard them, which only made his own look deepen. His own skin seemed to have to lost the only little bits of color they usually had, as on his right side, his silhouette was almost completely taken by his dark matter, some of it trying to twist into his left side, over his skin. His eyes were, now, two black holes, and even a little of darkness oozed off of them.
In the background considering both fighters, by the edifications of the arena, two large torches were lit up, their flames growing higher and hungrier than the others.
Suddenly, the flames of the two seemed to almost explode, as they abruptly combusted into the night’s air.
That was the signal for the beginning of the duel.
Without missing a beat, both fighters rushed forward at the same time they heard the flame’s combustion. The expressions on their faces were more than pure focus, but of rage as well.
Being the fastest, Keith was rapidly in front of the Viking as he raised his sword in the air. Doing a little jump, where he held the sword with, now, both hands, he felt time slowing down as his feet were off the air.
Until he brought his sword down, with both arms, as he landed.
The attack was brutally blocked as Vali placed each his hands by each of his axe’s ends, and held it up towards the sword that came down on him.
Instantly upon impact, the Viking grunted and pushed himself and his arms forward, sending his opponent jumping back a couple of steps, who only wobbled a bit, before he regained his composure.
At that moment, Keith furrowed his eyebrows.
That push almost sent him flying across the arena if he weren’t agile and balanced. He noted by the way the Norse god had moved, that he hadn’t put much effort into it, either. If any at all.
It was then that realization flared through his mind, making his eyes grow subtly wide.
He knew what Vali’s power was. He hadn’t even thought about it, but now it was all in the table for him to see. The Norse god’s power was probably some sort of strength enhancement. It made sense why his hits looked so powerful. And it also answered why his weapon was so deadly and strong.
Hephaestus’ way of forging weapons was to fit each god’s abilities and quirks. That was common knowledge. If Vali’s power was in some way connected to strength, then it made sense his weapon was, too. So, if he was stronger than most gods, so was his weapon stronger than other weapons, even others that Hephaestus himself had forged.
Keith’s breath hitched when his eyes captured his opponent suddenly rushing towards him, startling him out of his thoughts.
Right, he was in middle of battle. He had to focus damnit! If he failed, he’d bring shame to all Galra.
Immediately, the Norse god was way too close to him, his axe already in position to strike. Vali swung it then, sideways, over his head, from left to right. Keith was only able to dodge it by half a second, as he ducked away, feeling the wind the axe’s slash had created rush by his head.
Right when Vali caught his axe mid-swing, noticing his strike hadn’t hit, he rapidly attacked again, this time by lifting his axe up alike a lumberjack and bringing it down on the other god. Keith, just like the last time, only managed to leap away by a small margin.
When Vali’s axe didn’t find the Underworld god’s head under it, it kept going until its head hit the ground.
Once in first contact with the soil, its impact made a shockwave flare through the ground like an earthquake. A mild one, but still impressive considering what had caused it. The sand of the arena around the axe was shaken out of its spots, making a large cloud of dust appear by the Viking’s axe.
With a grunt, Vali managed to pry his axe from the ground with an aggressive jerk. He turned himself to the left then, as he reclaimed his axe on his own hands, and found, there, his opponent looking at him.
The demon was observing him, having both his arms mildly fallen to his sides. He was making no move to advance on Vali, not even when he was occupied with his axe. And Vali saw why.
As much as the moody lighting of the arena cast shadows on each warrior’s faces, he still could see the expression on the demon’s black eyes. One of shock, and a tint of fear, or hesitation, which fueled the god’s confidence.
It was a look Vali would see a lot in his opponent’s eyes, when they would realize how obnoxiously overpowered he seemed to be. Although he couldn’t read the demon’s thoughts, he knew exactly what those were.
‘How can I defeat him?’
And Vali smirked as the answer was fairly obvious in his mind.
When Vali growled as he lunged forward, with his axe clutched close to his chest, he found himself getting surprised by how the Underworld god ran towards him, too, almost at the same time.
They met in the middle of the arena, as Vali’s axe was pushed forward, and Keith’s blade raised against its neck, right under the axe’s head met its handle. However, neither of them retreated. Both stayed there, in the same position, applying strength into their own weapons.
A lost battle, Keith knew. His strength wasn’t abnormal, and not only that, he was positioned slightly lower than the Viking, feeling Vali’s strength pushing him down, willing him to give up.
He wasn’t going to, though.
Still pushing his own strength into his sword, Keith tilted the way he was holding it to the side, as so he did with his posture. In a second, he ran his sword through the axe’s neck, and managed to hurriedly duck to his left, out of the way of the axe.
That move had made an unsuspecting Vali, who was pushing much of his strength into the clash, stumble forward, suddenly out of balance.
A voice in the back of Keith’s mind sounded almost amused, congratulating himself by applying this move well, as well as reminding him how it had been oddly similar to something that Poseidon’s kid had used in his prior battle against Vali as well.
To be fair, a great fighter must be observant and apply new tricks to their arsenal no matter where the inspiration had come from.
Meanwhile, the Norse god had been quick to recover.
When he turned around, he was fast, for a big guy wielding a large weapon. He slashed his axe obliquely, in large movements. One to the side and other to the other. Keith had jumped back many steps each time to avoid it, as Vali kept on persisting.
Tired of dodging, as his patience ran short, Keith tried to land a hit, but didn’t manage. He lunged forward, but Vali quickly pushed his incoming sword away with a jerk of his axe, making Keith’s sword – and his whole arm with it– flying backwards.
The impulse had been too strong, and Keith noticed that upon this direct contact with the axe’s blade, the drawings covering it glowed lime green, just for a flash of a second, as it made some sort of energy pulsing sound.
His sword, the way it was now, he realized, wouldn’t be enough to resist the axe. He had to focus his mind more.
He had to use his power.
Glancing forward, he saw Vali marching towards him. The pointed upper edges of the axe were turned towards his chest, as if the Viking was to use his weapon as a ram.
This is it. He has to respond. He has to do more than just dance around the Viking as if he’s a bull he must dodge.
With a deep inhale Keith called upon his power, his darkness, that was lazily oozing off of his arm, eager to be used. In the back of his mind, there was a voice of reason reminding him how it was still unsure if using it was the best idea, but he didn’t have time to think about it.
As his exhale escaped his mouth, his dark matter stopped moving like smoke and shadows, and instead, rushed like desperate slime. It went from his torso, his shoulder, his arm, his hand, into his obsidian blade, making it, in a second, leak darkness as well.
Keith only had time to lift his sword to meet Vali’s axe. And then there was a shockwave, again.
Though this time, it was caused by both weapons.
The impact made an explosion of dark matter drift to all sides, and in the middle of it was that lime green shine from Vali’s weapon, before the shockwave went through both opponents.
It sent Keith almost flying, as he fell down on his back with a grunt many steps away from the Viking, who, on the other hand, managed to withstand the shockwave.
Such outcome urged various surprised noises from the crowd.
Wheezing a little as dust raised all over him, Keith’s mind screamed for him to get back up. The shockwave had been brutal if he was going to be honest, and he felt many bits of his body sore. But he was a fighter, and his mind was right. He had to get up and fight.
Though he couldn’t wash off the feeling that even with his power loaded on his sword, it wasn’t enough to defeat Vali’s.
Grunting, he placed his left palm on the ground, a steady support for himself. Then, he proceeded to lift his bottom body upward, leaned a little to his left, in the middle of a flip, until the only thing securing him on the ground was his steady hand.
But as his world went upside down, it quickly turned upward again, as his left foot hit the ground, succeeded by his right.
Back on his feet, he saw the Viking marching towards him again. This time, Keith didn’t let him gain momentum to ram into him, though. He ran forward.
In seconds, his blade fell right on the middle of both heads of Vali’s axe.
The same exact move had the same result of before. The impact was the same, even visually, and the shockwave still went through them. But this time, Keith managed to stay on his feet.
Not because of his own efforts.
There was something driving him, he could feel its power slowly pulsating through the right side of his body. Not enough that had him fighting for control, but enough that made him worry just a bit, as his heartrate rose.
But then, when his gaze fell right on the menacing eyes of the Viking before him, all his worries dispersed as pure fury took over his mind.
Vali’s eyes were the color of steel now, as if it was tainted with green dye. They immediately mirrored Keith’s energy, growing cold, greener.
At the same time Vali, who was holding his axe up, facing the Underworld god’s head, applied more force to it, enhancing the difficulty of this clash. Keith, in the meantime, gripped the handle of his sword harder as he tried to push it away from his face.
He still was trying to apply his dark matter into it, too, just like it seemed Vali was feeding his weapon’s strength, by the way its carvings glowed green with no trace of shyness now.
There was one thing Keith knew. He was struggling. He had no idea how he even was managing to stand against Vali’s clash of strength, guessing it was due to the aid of his darkness. Due to the aid of that… something that was doing things for him, even if just really subtly.
Although, that lent strength was, too, fading.
Shaking, feeling his muscles giving out, the demon looked up again. For a second his expression was of distress before he was able to mask it with a frantic frown, because he, right in that moment, saw the expression on Vali’s face.
There was something in the god’s eyes that was darker than any other time Keith had seen them. Something Keith had seen in many of his opponent’s eyes: screaming for bloodshed.
And in that moment, he knew. The way Vali was looking at him, was as if the Norse god had seen all of his well-hidden secrets. All of who he was, all of what his mind was hiding. And his response had been only one.
That this duel slowly became one where only one warrior was to be left standing.
In a second, after that realization, Keith felt it. All of Vali’s force came down on him, making him take a step back, while still not giving up of the clash. Gods, how it was unbearable. The pressure made it feel as though his bones were about to break like if he was a feeble human.
Vali had been holding back. Not anymore.
Because of that, Keith was forced to make a decision. One that he would regret, one that was even more reckless and unstable than using his darkness power in a wide manner. Something that was still even more foreign to him.
Slowly, as he allowed his right hand to adapt to the strength of the clash on its own – just for a little, just so he could do this – Keith took his left hand away from his handle. He was grunting all the way, pretty sure he was now only hanging on due to that one thing helping him.
In the meantime, his left fist curled by his side. He drew it abruptly, before he threw it forward, with all the speed he could muster.
When his fist met the side of the stomach on the armor of the Norse god, there was yet another explosion.
Not of darkness, nor a shockwave this time.
The explosion of light almost blinded Vali, as the combustion that came with the punch sent him flying through the arena.
When his body hit the ground, he rolled, and rolled again, until he finally came to a stop, stomach to the ground. When his senses started to come back to him, Vali noticed he was wheezing, his breaths coming out uneven and quick.
The shrill ringing in his ears was throwing him off, making it difficult to adept his mind back to the lucid world. And there was a pain, he felt. It was almost as shrill as the sound in his ears, one that he felt on his right side, just above his waist.
Shaking his head in a desperate attempt to block out the ringing, he proceeded to lift his upper body, supporting it on his right forearm as he grunted.
When his side was off the ground, he saw it, on his waist, where the pain was coming from.
A large scorch mark.
He ran his trembling fingers by it, as black smoke tainted them as they passed. He felt it still burning hot but did not whine, nor jerked his hand away. Though his surely bruised flesh under his armor was still stinging in pain.
He tuned it all out by willing himself to get up. He was a warrior. Prideful son of Odin, nonetheless. A little punch couldn’t bring him down.
Bewildered, he slowly slid his head to look forward, away from his wound, and what he saw, made his green eyes widen, as they reflected flames frantically moving.
He was up against a Hybrid.
His opponent hadn’t moved an inch from where he was.
The demon’s dark power was still present, oozing off of his right side as if it were smoke, now lazily flowing into the atmosphere instead of rushing into his sword. The difference, the biggest one, was the demon’s left.
The bandage glove had all but burned off, its pieces simply ashes fallen on the ground. Its absence gave away fire burning out of the god’s arm, but not randomly. The demon’s skin on his forearm looked as though it was made of obsidian, only having some cracks exposing a fiery lava-like glow. And those cracks perfectly depicted a mark of a long dragon circling the god’s arm, its open mouth over the back of his hand. The rest of his hand had more tiny cracks, as if its obsidian looking crust was close to crack into pure lava.
His sword, which he still held on his right hand, was now, as well, glowing, but only half of it. It looked as though its smooth obsidian, inside, was giving way to a solid lava, daring to take over the whole blade.
When Keith raised his chin, he had his eyes closed, but not for long. As his eyelids slid open, his eyes were brighter than usual. They only had glowed this way two times prior to this, a still conscious part of his mind reminded him.
Where before there was black, on his pupils, now was a glowing shade of purple.
He bit back a whine.
This transformation has always been painful to him. Granted, the first one had been way worse than this time, but Keith still couldn’t get used to it. The way his normal soft skin hardened into obsidian as his dragon mark turned into cracks of lava and fire stung like hell.
He wasn’t even sure if using his dragon side was meant to be this painful, but to him, it was.
Still, with his arm shaking, he stood tall.
Not on his own, though.
Keith’s consciousness was something now far from lucidity. It was like he was living the images before him from a distance, having some sort of fog clouding his sight. The sounds came to him as echoes, as if he was distant from the scene.
His footing moved but he hadn’t willed his legs to. He didn’t feel himself moving.
When he slightly lifted his left forearm and curled his hand into a fist, it hadn’t been his mind that ordered his body to do so.
It was only then that he noticed… The pain he was feeling in his left arm was, now, fleeting. It was hardly there, just a little inconvenience in the back of his mind. Even though he felt more like he himself was in the back of his own mind.
He felt as though he was having a lucid dream, where every movement his mind demanded his body to do, came out on an entirely different way that he did not mean to.
Alarming thoughts flared through his conscious mind.
Something was wrong.
At that moment, however, Keith almost had no time to panic. That because, as his eyes focused from his burning hand to his front, he saw the Viking getting himself up.
Slowly, Vali was on his feet again, loosely holding his axe. His teeth were gritted, and his posture, for the initial second, was brittle. But not for long, as his eyes almost seemed to glow with pure rage as he growled and lunged himself forward, back into battle.
It was no surprise. He was a Viking. Pain was his friend.
Keith was frozen. Which was quite ironic considering his arm was literally set on fire by lava. But he couldn’t move, he didn’t give any command to his body to react. He would take a pretty hardcore hit, but he didn’t even think of that.
It was almost difficult for him to think.
When his left hand moved up, Keith only watched in shock. Before he gave in, and let it be.
He juggled his weapon to his other hand, not even surprised when the handle of his sword didn’t even melt upon contact. Quickly, then, he pointed his right hand towards the running Viking, and all the dark matter that was fluttering out of his body rushed into his arm, into his hand.
And when it leaked into the atmosphere again, it was fast.
However, it was not used as a stun tactic alike it had been in his previous battle.
Instead, the darkness remained solid, almost slimy, and went for the Viking’s chest. When it hit him, making a surprised yelp come out of him, the dark matter hardened, as it could grip him like if it were any other solid matter.
With a quick jerk of his hand, where the dark matter was still attached to, Keith abruptly brought his open palm up, almost over his shoulder. Mimicking the movement of its master, the dark matter did the same, taking the Viking with it, literally sending him flying. Until it let go of him, and the Viking landed further from the demon’s left, right by the edge of the arena.
The crowd gasped, astonished.
When landing on the ground, on his right shoulder, Vali grunted loudly as the sand burning against his skin stung. His breathing was heavy with exhaustion as his glare fell upon the Hybrid, who had turned around to face him again, never leaving his spot in the middle of the arena.
Those glowing eyes were fixed on him.
The Viking observed as the blade of the Underworld god’s sword completely turned into glowing, hot lava, looking as though it was contained inside a thin layer of glass. Or, even better, that the lava itself hardened into a blade, but never cooled down, in fact, its heat raised even more.
Growling, Vali made a move standing to his feet, trying not to stumble, with the help of his axe. This was really getting into his nerves. This demon was throwing him around like a ragdoll, making him look like a fool. Like a weak fool.
And he wasn’t even making a move as Vali recovered anymore. He was waiting for him to get up. He was mocking the Viking, right to his face.
So, with a new-found fury, Vali concluded that this was it. There was only one thing he could do to stop this, to stop the looks he saw from the side coming from the audience. Of shock to see the best fighter getting destroyed by a random Underworld soldier.
He was ending this fight right here, right now.
Sternly, Vali clutched his axe’s handle with his right hand, close to his side. He lifted it up from the ground, feeling its weight, and as his eyes lifted from his weapon to the Hybrid, the numerous details on his axe’s iron started to glow in its lime green, never stopping.
His voice, as it came out of his lips, sounded like a low growl, only heard by himself.
-“This. Ends. Now.”
With his own arm trembling as he held the axe, Vali brought it slightly backward, and with no hesitation, he threw it forward, letting go of his axe in the exact moment he should have.
As his weapon hurled in the air, as time seemed to slow down, the Viking noted his aim was perfect, and the strength put into the throw made it fast. Surely its result would be demising.
There was no way the Hybrid would be able to dodge this.
It was fitting that Keith didn’t even try to move out of the way.
Three heartbeats passed by, as the only movement Keith attempted to make was with his left arm. He brought it up, with a little force, aiming his glowing lava sword right towards the axe that was incoming too rapidly.
His sword’s glow lighted up his face, bringing out the purple glow in his eyes, highlighting his sharply furrowed eyebrows, his showing gritted teeth, his concentrated expression. Until bits of lime green appeared by his face, in little subtle shades, just at the moment the axe of his opponent was about to collide with him.
With his sword, which he held oblique to his face.
A shockwave flared though the arena once again, one last time, this night.
But the shockwave, this time, did not wave through it by every side. Only one. Forward, against the Viking’s weapon.
Just as the tip of the blade of the axe collided with the Hybrid’s sword, it seemed as though it was going to crush the sword, break it in half, like it always happened. Instead, the axe felt its blade melt upon contact with the sword, just a tiny bit, just for a flash of a second, before the shockwave happened.
Fire combusted as green lit up the middle of the arena. In no time at all, however, the fire emerging from the sword grew higher, greater, furious, as it conquered the lime glow.
Within the combustion caused by the touch of both weapons, the axe gave out. It crumbled into tiny pieces of iron that were sent airborne, before some fell by the demon’s feet, and others sprawled around the general area, some really close to the Viking.
The looks on every and each members of the audience in the seats were all different variations of amazement and shock. After the loud sound of the combustion and its shockwave, as well, there was a deafening silence. No cheering, no gasping, no booing. Just pure nothingness.
For Odin, what had happened before his very own eyes?
Vali’s look was one of pure shock, astonished with what had just happened.
His weapon… it was tailored for him; it was made for one who truly held brute strength in them. Raw power.
But it was gone… It
It had been destroyed… By an Underworld Soldier.
An Underworld soldier.
Were… all Galra this powerful? Or at least held weapons this powerful?
If so… Vali might have… underestimated his opponent. And all of those alike him, of his nation, who Vali so used to say he could tear through them like a knife through butter.
The Overworld wasn’t prepared for this. It wasn’t prepared to match the Underworld’s power…
As he handed his own sword to his own right hand again, the demon’s eyes were watching him. Standing tall, with fire burning out of his left arm, into the night’s air, and dark matter seeping out of his right side, doing just the same.
The Viking didn’t realize he was gaping. The expression on his face had slowly morphed from shock to fright, even if subtly, but it was there, on his now, darker eyes, looking like soaked greenery after heavy rain.
He was the one who imposed this duel, the challenger, and the one who also pushed this far.
And now, the fate he had carefully tailored for himself, was about to unfold.
The Hybrid’s left hand curled into a fist. He drew it back with no tint of hesitation, and right then, he launched it forward.
Fire came out of his fist like fire coming out of a dragon’s mouth, flaring its hellish way towards the still frozen Viking. Only that it did not hit him. Instead, the fire hit the floor until it formed a wall on his right side. As the fire blast stopped, Keith drew his hand back again, and as he launched it forward, it did the same thing, but to Vali’s left.
The third time the Hybrid drew a punch and launched his continuous, enormous fire string forward, it was clear it was aimed right at the Viking’s chest.
Feeling his eyes widening as he saw the incoming fire hurling towards him, Vali acted upon reflex and put his arms, in the form of an ‘x’, in front of himself for protection, as he hid his head low. When the fire hit him, he could feel it stinging his flesh, he could feel it burning off the fur on his armguards.
But it stopped just as it hit him, as he let his arms fall to his sides, smoke coming out of them and his red skin. If he were a human, he was sure he would be experiencing third degree burns by now.
His chest was heaving as he gasped for air, having his shoulders lowered, as his head. His knees were weak, but he would never let anyone notice that.
He was a warrior, son of Odin. He was the face of power and might. He was one of the best fighters in the academy. The best, even.
The Hybrid held his sword low on his right hand. It was still glowing just as much as before, little flames burning into life here and there, just for some small moments.
He, too, was breathing heavily. He wasn’t even feeling the heat he was sure he should be feeling from his left side. His consciousness was dizzy, as reality had been swept off his feet for various minutes, now.
He saw it all. He did it all, somehow…
His right arm was moving. He could feel his emotions raging on his head, so loud, so red.
Anger, fury, rage, any negative emotions that emoted the color red. Those were his fuel, his drive. And they were so compelling, so demanding. It was like those were being imposed on him, amplified somehow. Like if… Like if they were being used by something to gain his approval.
He didn’t even know he had consented it.
Before he knew it, before anyone in the audience, or even his opponent, could predict it, his right arm was arched to his side, sword pointing upward.
He heard a loud growl escape his mouth as his whole body lunged forward, in a leap, and his right arm jerked forward. As his fingers uncurled, his hand let go of his sword. At the exact right moment.
Almost instantly, the blade took its target by surprise. A sizzling sound came out of it as it sunk into the Norse god’s flesh, alike burning hot iron when sunk into freezing cold water. The chocked scream that came out of its victim’s mouth was deafening, bloodcurdling, contrasting with all the gasps and panicked shouts of the crowd.
He fell to his knees, hands aimlessly roaming his chest, trying and failing to clutch the weapon.
If he were a human, blood would already be streaming out of his mouth, leaking out of his wound, but it wasn’t. He was a god, gods didn’t bleed. But it was clear how his own life was bleeding out of him, drop by drop.
With trembling hands, the Norse god willed himself to look up one last time at the Hybrid, who was watching him with a low gaze. His bared teeth showed his little canines well, even in the distance, even through a distorted vision. But there was something in his eyes different from last time Vali saw them.
They were subtly wide, as the demon lightly trembled. It couldn’t possibly be easy for their crowd to see, but Vali could. It was like if he was only now reacting to his own decision, of throwing his sword, in a deadly hit.
Only now had he recognized what he had done.
That was the last image Vali’s mind could capture, before his eyelids gave in.
He fell to his side, his shoulder hitting the ground, lifeless.
A heartbeat passed, as the crowd remained silent, until the inevitable happened. Vali’s body, now lifeless, started to disintegrate into burning ashes with a combustion coming from within. In seconds, his bulky silhouette was gone, as the now grey ashes fell to the ground like feathers.
The sword itself fell, too, making a dull clank sound as it hit the ground, its blade now back to its normal, cold obsidian.
All around, in the seats towering above, the students looked around, speechless, sharing looks of terror and shock. This fight, had been something they had never seen, it was alike something they’d hear stories about only. It was something new, and astonishing, as equally terrifying.
Even to the three gods on one of the higher seats, watching the demon’s left side turned to them.
Lance’s eyes were blown completely wide, showing off the now dark blue glint on his pupils. His lips were parted, lightly, before he spoke, softly, faintly.
-“What… just happened…?”
There was a long pause, where neither of his friends answered, until to his left, he heard Hunk’s voice, almost perfectly mirroring his own tone. –“Vali’s gone… How… He… He was our greatest fighter…”
-“Well…”- Pidge began, again, with the same tone as her friends. She was staring down, towards the Underworld god, who stood still on his spot. –“Not anymore…”
Keith’s consciousness was growing back. As he blinked, he could feel it radiating in waves through his body. The pain of his still burning arm, of his skin turned to rock, was all too overwhelming for him. He bit back a pained whine as he winced, shutting his eyes closed.
He focused on his uneven breathing, trying his hardest to steady it, and perhaps, he was failing to. As his legs trembled, he could tell he was about to fall over. His energy was growing slim, due to the exertion coming from wielding two powers at the same time, one of them which physically harmed him.
I… Killed him…
A voice in his mind seemed to have finally caught up.
That’s… That’s not…
As he opened his eyes, in the wobbly purple shine, panic was the only emotion present in them. He tried to stand tall, to resist to all this pain and lack of energy, and emotional exhaustion.
When he forced his eyes to look up, to roam around the crowd in the seats, he saw them frozen, just alike he was. There was no loud reaction, no cheering, no protesting.
Behind him, the two torches that were still ablaze combusted, once again, in a large explosion of fire.
This time, announcing the end of the battle.