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The Prince and the Witch

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Lance was weary of this trip. He had been for some time, but now that the day had arrived, the coil in his gut tightened. The surrounding kingdoms of Altea are in disarray, magic at risk and villages purged. The Galran royalty in the Kingdom of Daibazaal had been fighting other kingdoms for more power, seizing them under control or wiping them out entirely. Daibazaal was once a proud, flourishing territory, its citizens excelling in technology and magical advancement. The royal family beheld all five elements of magic, the masters of the arts and able to lead their people into a new era. 

But the King and Queen became greedy, and wished for no other beings to hold a semblance of their power. They purged magical beings all across their lands, strapping them to pyres and igniting a painful fire, or thrusting them into the depths of water, drowning them in slow successions. Magic became banned, and the most persecuted were those of witch blood, able to wield the elements, enchantments, and curses. Those who survived the purges either fled the Kingdom of Daibazaal before the gates were closed or hid their powers deep within their bodies, never giving them time to manifest and flourish. Not when a friend can be an enemy; a bystander a spy; a child a traitor. 

With the sudden desire to overtake other territories, the Kingdom of Altea formed an alliance with their neighbors, wishing to spread prosperity and freedom, opening their doors to Daibazaal refugees. The Altean royals fought against the Galra, King Alfor pushing for negotiations and avoid war if possible. But the chances of avoiding all out bloodshed became smaller and smaller through time, tensions rising between the two rulers and villages and kingdoms falling to the Galran royal family. If not careful, Altea itself could crumble underneath the pressure of failing their people, gathering military leaders and royal families across the land for a last ditch attempt at getting through to King Zarkon’s greed.

Lance, the adopted prince of the Altean royal family, was to accompany them aside Princess Allura, exposing them to the world of politics and overarching war in case King Alfor cannot do as he wished in the future. Princess Allura was the one to push to be included the most, desiring not to stand at the sidelines like a stereotypical princess. She demanded diplomatic involvement, and knowing his daughter will not deter from her goals, allowed her and Lance to join him. Allura’s mother, the queen, and Coran, Alfor’s loyal advisor, are to stay behind and watch over the kingdom of Altea until their return. 

As the carriage made its way to Daibazaal, Lance kept his eyes out of the window, surveying the landscape before him. Though he wants the negotiations to go well, there is a gut feeling within him that is screaming this is a bad idea. That the royal Galran family is not easily swayed, and if anything they will fall into chaotic war as soon as they pass the gates. Who knows, maybe they would be slaughtered on sight. Maybe Alfor can get through to Zarkon. All Lance knew was he won’t be yielding easily. He will fight alongside Allura in saving the persecuted, spreading justice in whatever means necessary. 

What the young prince does not expect, however, is his fate intertwining with that of another being; a son born of witch blood, a young boy underneath the heel of Zarkon as a slave. One unaware of his heritage, and one in store for his world to come crumbling down in a heap of passion and fear. 

---

It is near dawn when the royal Altean court arrived in the Kingdom of Daibazaal, Keith promptly awaken from his deep slumber in the slave quarters. Shiro, the royal guard of Zarkon’s family and friend to Keith, made sure he was prepared to serve their majesty on time, quickly chucking Keith’s raggedy clothes for slightly brand new ones. A weathered, deep red tunic covered his body, black pants finished with faded, falling apart shoes. They were given two sets of clothes per month, and the shoes assumed to last for more than a year despite their poor construction.

Keith groans at Shiro’s push for him to rise, wishing for five more minutes of sleep. Usually the royal family isn’t awake until past 6 a.m., but what with the neighboring kingdoms arriving for a long overdue meeting, the slaves, staff,  and privileged bustled about the castle to meet the expectations of their iron fist ruler. The slaves themselves are the most anxious, the rate of slave deaths steadily increasing with Zarkon’s distaste for any semblance of individuality and magical properties. If he so much as suspected you are a witch, your eyes go so far as to glint a shade brighter within the confines of the castle or out in the gardens, you are sentenced to death within 24 hours. It doesn’t matter if you’re right. What matters is Zarkon prevents any magic from extending beyond the royalty; past the nobles deemed worthy enough to behold such strength. For no one outside of Zarkon’s inner, controlled circle is allowed to wield the beauty of starstruck gifts; the threat of vibrant curses and red hexes. 

If one was lucky, they could escape death by passing their powers down to the ruler and thus be left as a plain, sapped tool, void of potential riot and freedom.

It’s how Shiro managed to survive, though he did lose an arm in the process. He wasn’t too keen on giving up his powers, but when Zarkon dismembered his good arm and sent troops to murder his lover, he broke down.

Leaving him under the eyes of Zarkon and his court.

“The Altean royals will be here soon.” Shiro says, the two moving past several staff members down the lavished hall, their sight filled with indigo and crimson tapestries, the walls decorated with paintings of past rulers and a brief history elaborating on their accomplishments on a golden plaque. 

“I’m aware,” Keith says, biting down a yawn. “There is talk they are here to end the dwelling war between us and the other kingdoms.”

“Yes, King Alfor of Altea once was close to Zarkon,” Shiro states. “He may be able to end this...harsh outlook. Altea is known for their peaceful delegations and advancement in technology and magic.”

Keith fixes him with a steady look, his brows maring into a frown. “End it?” He whispers, glancing around to make sure no one else is listening. They passed a few guards, their armor shining under the bright chandeliers as they studied the two slaves for a couple of seconds, then moved on with their duty. Keith and Shiro made sure to quiet down around them, knowing well the guards are not to be trusted when it comes to discussion about the royal family or magic. 

As soon as they passed, Keith takes a breath. 

“I don’t think it’s going to work. If anything, I think this meeting is going to prompt Zarkon into seizing power at a faster rate.”

“It’s a possibility, but we should be hopeful. This could push for new laws. Maybe open the border.”

“You and I both know Zarkon won’t legally allow any of his subjects to leave the country unless they are of nobility.”

“True, but he wasn’t always evil.” Shiro remarks. “I don’t think Alfor would have been close with a tyrant in the past.”

Keith shook his head. “Evil is never born, but it is made. I don’t see how you can be optimistic about this meeting when the likelihood of them being slaughtered behind closed doors is more prominent than peace. Look what they did to your body--to Adam.”

Shiro winces at the mention of his lost love, his human hand grasping the metal, makeshift arm Zarkon’s scientific subjects imbued on him for labor. To them, Shiro was useless without an arm, and rather than give him the sweet release of death and reunite with his love, they patched him up to prolong his suffering.

“Sorry,” Keith apologizes, guilt instantly washing through his veins. “I didn’t mean to reopen old wounds.”

Shiro gave him a small, sad smile. “It’s alright. It’s been awhile.”

“Doesn’t mean it hurts less.” Keith says quietly. Keith is no stranger to pain, losing his parents at a young age. He never got to know his mother, his father saying she was killed in a long forgotten riot when the genocide of witches and magical creators began. His father raised him until ten, when he was tracked down deep within the Daibazaal woods and seized by soldiers. Keith could recall it as if it were yesterday, the screams of his tiny lungs ringing in his ears as he was ripped from his father’s grasp, the royal guard’s armor digging into his plump belly. He thrashed and kicked, his throat growing sore from the yelling as he demanded to be released. For his father to be let go and to take away the sword at the base of his neck. That is as far as Keith is able to remember of his father, not able to recall how he ended up with Shiro in the end. He blacked out after the stress got to his tiny self, especially with the sword possibly slicing his father’s neck. He doesn’t remember the death. All he can remember after the incident is being left in the middle of the field in the arms of Shiro, dried tears staining his cheek and his body strangely exhausted more than usual. 

Shiro squeezes Keith’s shoulder, knocking him out of is revery and his sad smile turning kind. “Hey, at least I have my brat brother with me.”

Keith’s eye twitches. He is about to respond with a cheeky reply when they reached the throne room, the guards stationing themselves in front of the slaves to check them for any weapons. They pat Shiro and Keith down, the two men void of anything considered sharp or lethal. After the Galra soldiers nodded to one another they opened the doors, Keith internally bracing himself for another day of hell.

 

---

 

“This way, your majesties.” The Galran guard said, motioning with their arm for King Alfor, princess Allura, and prince Lance to enter the awaiting throne room. As the doors opened to a dark room, a dark purple carpet guiding them to the very back of the room, Lance notices two figures taking their place on one side of the towering throne. They stood on the right side, rigid and stoic, one considerably shorter and less muscular than the other one. He had long black hair, a scar running down the left side of his cheek. The other has a tuft of white bangs, the rest of his hair black and cut towards the base of his head. Their hands remain behind them, their eyes downcast so that Lance could not see the color of their eyes. Their clothes are frayed at the edges, shoes practically falling apart, and hung over their forms in a loose manner. Lance wonders if they are even given a proper diet, instant worry grasping his heart. Altea doesn’t have slaves. While they had servants, they were paid handsomely and were made sure to be given proper, crisp clothing and elaborate meals fit for royalty. Altea ceased slavery long ago, before Lance was a thought. 

“I’m already getting bad vibes,” Lance whispers to Allura. She leans back to hear him, her pointy ears perking up. She kept her eyes on the throne, but tilted her head for Lance to hear but not her father.

“As am I. Stay on your guard, and remember this is a diplomatic meeting.” She warns. “Not a call for war.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.”

“True, but this is the Zarkon’s territory. We have to be very careful, as does father. We are no longer in control like back in Altea.”

As Lance and Allura talked to one another in hushed voices as they await Zarkon’s presence, Lance could not help but take glances at the two slaves. Specifically, the one with the longer hair. His eyes, though staring at the ground, seemed to flash an iridescent indigo for a quick moment, the dullness returning in succession as if the spark of a fire was snuffed out by pinched fingers. Lance could tell he is undernourished, the contours of his collar bone popping out of the shabby tunic. Shadows accompanied his dimmed eyes, and his fingers--splayed out on his knees as a way of showing he has nothing hidden beneath his palms--were twigs close to snapping any second. His counterpart is less physically affected by a lack of a proper diet, but is missing an arm. It is replaced by a rusting metal, the top of its design the least consumed by rust most likely due to forced maintenance so they did not have to send a slave out of the Kingdom for the needed medicine. According to Lance’s sources, they are rationing medicine, it only for the wealthy due to its mixture in the magical arts. 

Lance wants to vomit. How could a ruler allow not only slaves, but to leave them weak and in pain?

Lance goes to point this out to Allura, but at that moment the grand doors to the left of the room opened, a towering, bulky figure emerging from the darkness. King Zarkon, ruler of Daibaazal, has appeared. 

And oh how Lance feels so small around the power oozing out of the iron fist ruler.

He is plated in purple armor, it blinding the trio as the many chandeliers hit the man with enormous force. The Galran symbol is etched into the center of the chest plate, it wringed with a silver blessed by the Gods or emanating with dark magic cursed from the fallen. His eyes, bathed in sulfur yellow, held no irises, yet it felt as if he were attempting to burn them with a scarring glare. His skin, once a smooth, pure indigo like the citizens of Diabazaal, is lined with age and an abundance of stolen gifts. Alfor is of equal power, but his stance has never been as intimidating; as raw and filled with the power of judgement and death. Lance can feel a cold sweat break out, his gaze resisting the urge the look away like the slaves. His presence demands respect. His stance orders for unrelenting punishment. If Lance twitches wrong, he can envision himself being sent to the gallows immediately. 

King Zarkon made his way to his throne and sat, seeing no reason to bow at a race he considers lesser than him. On the other hand, Alfor takes a knee, placing a fist over his heart and bows his head. Allura and Lance,wishing not to be disrespectful and place negotiations at risk, followed King Alfor. The long haired slave flashes a glance at them, but as Lance goes to make eye contact he is back to staring at the ground.

“Vrepit Sa, King Zarkon.” 

“I see you are as persistent as ever to embark on an unnecessary discussion.” The Galran king says. Though his face did not shift into a different expression, Lance’s body is seized by a sense of a deep frown. 

The trio stands back up, Alfor’s brows creased with concern and a hint of frustration. 

“As your once dear friend, I ask you hear me out on the current standing of the kingdoms you have been conquering.”

“You know what I do with my troops and kingdom is not of your business.” He replies, his levelled voice sounding more like a growing roar.

“But it also involves the Balmeran kingdom, where we both have joint control over for the crystals they provide for our technology. Zarkon, there is much to be discussed.”

“I have no desire to hear you preach about the ethical bounds of ruling,” Zarkon begins to stand, ready to depart. “The reason I brought you here is to prevent your influence. My half is to remain untouched by you, as well as my territory. Unless you wish for the same war as those opposing me.” His eyes narrow, the slits baring ice in their bones. 

“I will not hesitate to crush you beneath my foot.”

Lance nervously glances at Allura, analyzing her reaction to Zarkon’s unmoving thoughts. She betrayed no emotions, though her jaw clenched as Zarkon declared no mercy on their people if they were to get involved. This is bad, and it isn’t even the formal meeting yet. Alfor has yet to bring up the internal issues of Daibazaal, but as of now it seems they will not get that far. 

King Alfor straightens, his chin lifting to emmenate an equal amount of powerful control as his counterpart. His blue markings glowed, a display of his Altean status to inform Zarkon who he is talking to.

“I wish no war with you. But I strongly urge you, please hear me out. Considering my half of the territory is being affected, you must acknowledge the issue we have on our plate.” His gaze pierces Zarkon’s, exposing no sense of being another subordinate of Zarkon’s tyrannical exercise. The two stared each other down, words at a loss for both the rulers. Allura knew it is not time for her to speak, her father to keep his hands on the reigns of the negotiations. She will have her time, as well as Lance, but at the moment the struggle for a winner in the opposing arguments stays between the official representatives of their kingdoms. 

After what seems like ages, King Zarkon waves a hand in the air and brings his soldiers to life. They approach their ruler, awaiting instructions.

“Escort the Altean royal court to their rooms. A discussion will be held in three days time. As for now,” Zarkon points a glare back at Alfor once again. “Stay out of my way.”

The heavy doors slam behind King Zarkon’s body, the overwhelming magical power finally relieving Lance of his inner fear. 

---

 

Despite Allura’s and Lance’s discomfort, the trio were given slaves to attend to their every need and desire. The princess and prince attempted to reject the offer, uncomfortable with the idea of using slaves, let alone owning them for three days. But Alfor, equally as uncomfortable but well versed in Zarkon’s customs, pushed for them to accept the “considerate gift”. By their definition it is barbaric, but King Alfor is doing what he can to keep himself on Zarkon’s good side. Trying to maintain a mode of equality between the two rulers so it can be easier for him to convince the Galran king to cease his toxic, self destructive thinking. 

King Alfor is given one of Zarkon’s slaves--a young Galran by the name of Thace. Allura and Lance on the other hand, were given the two slaves who were in the throne room. Allura, the man with one arm and white hair, who is learned to be named Shiro. While the long haired, scarred boy is to tend to Lance, his name a single syllable: Keith. 

They are escorted to their rooms, all in separate but close quarters for the royal Alteans to easily visit one another. They are strongly advised not to roam away from their assigned wing, and are left alone by the guards with their slaves. They will be called later for supper.

King Alfor encourages them to get to know their slaves; to treat them as people, despite the expectation from the castle’s occupant to act harshly to the servants. It would be good to get them to know of the world beyond persecution and conquering.

But as Lance is left alone with the young servant, he is at a loss for words. The guy possibly thinks Altea is like Daibazaal; that they are always in need of luxury and to be waited on. Lance wonders how he could breach the subject without sounding too blunt. Starting with “hey you’re a servant, spill the tea on your shit ruler” doesn’t sound like a good route.

As he stood there, staring at the door behind Keith, the young servant knelt before Lance, head downcast and eyes closed.

“Is there anything I can retrieve for you, your majesty?” He asks, voice gruff and oddly out of place in Lance’s expectations of what he would sound like. It may just be him, but he is sure the rough, aggressive built of his body and structure of his angular facial features screamed internalized rebel than submissive slave.

Lance resists the urge to cringe at the breathy voice, despising the formality and lack of equality between the two. Back at Altea, the servants weren’t servants, but employees of the castle. They knew the royal family and feared none of them, speaking freely and openly exposing their thoughts and expressions. Here, it is like a pillow is smothering their individuality. 

“Er, no. No, there is nothing you need to grab.” 

“Then ready a bath for you?”

“No, I can do that myself.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Surely then some towels. I can drop by the laundry quarters--”

Lance takes short steps towards the servant and kneels in front of him, blue levelling with bright amethyst. Keith practically jumps out of his skin from how close Lance is, feeling the need to scoot away from the royal visitor. They held eye contact for a moment, but it was telling enough of what Lance needed to know.

Lance takes a step back, but doesn’t remove is gaze. “No, no like I said, I don’t need help. Where I come from we are pretty independent.” His eyes soften, reaching a hand out to touch Keith’s shoulder. He watches Lance’s hand, but still keeps himself from making the same mistake in eye contact. 

“Around me, we are equals. Unless we are in the presence of Zarkon, I am not royalty and you are not a slave.” Lance smiles kindly, attempting to send ease to the boy. “We actually pay our ‘servants’, who really aren’t servants. They are more like friendly employees.”

For a couple of moments, Lance is sure he is talking to a statue, for Keith doesn’t move. Doesn’t seem to breathe. Doesn’t so much as blink. His shoulders tense, his gaze transfixed on the dark purple carpet beneath their feet, his mouth forms into a tight line. It is as if Lance casted a spell on him, rendering him useless to movement and talking. 

But slowly--painfully slow--Keith moves his gaze from the floor, to the aqua and ivory of Lane’s pants, past his bejewelled neck, and finally to the calm ocean dowsing Keith’s rigid, conditioned body. Keith, so used to serving the royalty of Daibazaal, wholly consumed by the horrors of bloody slashes on scarred backs, the dismembering of various body parts as a form of irreversible punishment, the brutal bruises constantly blossoming on various areas of the body, the purposeful loss of one of the five senses as retaliation, such acts do not appear on the prince’s face. Keith is skeptical of the outside--could life truly be better away from Daibazaal? Weren’t most rulers like that of Zarkon--thirsty for power and a strong believer in harsh punishment for the lower citizens not even considered worthy of existence in the king’s eyes? He has heard rumors of slaves managing to escape to Altea, but Keith was sure they were fairy tales made up to preserve hope. But as he meets the prince’s eyes, as he searches the smooth, open face for any signs of deceit and corruption, he couldn’t find it. Not a glimmer of a lie, not a knowing smirk staining a corner of his lips. All Keith can see is gentleness and a hidden melancholy swirling around in those deep irises. 

Keith’s heart skips a beat as he meets the prince’s eyes, never to have looked at royalty in such a way.

Lance, relief flooding his veins over Keith somewhat breaking out of his servitude mind, raises a hand to him.

“There is a table by the balcony. Why don’t we talk over there”

And thus began a long stream of talking, laughing, teaching Keith to play chess (who actually beat Lance in their first game), and the discussion of Zarkon’s reign.

 

---

 

By the third day, the servant and prince are at ease with one another, showing an air of authority in times of being in the presence of Zarkon and his family, while in private easing the servant boy out of his slave tendencies.

Lance came to realize there is more to Keith than the submissive boy who hardly talked and leaned towards silent rage. As the two talked, as they munched on sweets Lance snuck from the galra kitchen and Keith snatched a few forbidden books from the royal library, Lance came to learn the spitfire Keith really is. Separate from his servant duties, he is blunt and to the point, not one to alleviate the other of brutal honesty. He had much to say about Zarkon and his tyrannical deliverance of law, as well as his treatment of the slaves. Especially those crippled by his snatching of their powers, choosing to murder the witches who made their powers known, or steal so much of their powers they become borderline vegetablized. There are those able to function without their powers. One such individual being Shiro, Keith’s adoptive older brother.

However, they are not commonly known to last long. And Keith feared Shiro’s demise due to lack of care for his corroding, pained limb. Apparently he has been experiencing sharp pains between the metal and flesh, an infection brewing from long periods of it going unattended to by doctors.

“But you have the substances to fix his affliction, right?” Lance asks, his attention fully on Keith and his cards forgotten. “Daibazaal has been known for its medical practices and herb techniques.”

Keith frowns, turning towards the night sky and resting his head on his scarred hand, torn and calloused from years of use. 

“Yes, but ever since Zarkon turned from benevolent to self serving, only the nobility has access. To him, there are plenty of servants to go around. The death of a couple hundred means nothing to him.”

Lance wishes he could say he is surprised; to exclaim unexpected anger and swear on his life he would convince Alfor to do something about this slaughtering. But, as with the witch hunts, there is only so much they can do out of Altean territory. Kingdoms being vanquished, species being eradicated or enslaved, Balmeran crystals growing scarce, now those under the command of an unfeeling king are doomed to suffer until the bitter end. Lance makes a face, disgusted by the brutality.

“What a barbarian,” he says, putting his cards down as well and staring at his jewelled hands. “He is your king. He is supposed to protect you; aid those who cannot help themselves due to status or financial predicaments. Yet I see he is worse than we heard from the Balmerans on our side.”

“Yeah...” Keith whispers, gaze lost in the stars above. “Yeah, it’s bad. And it’s only going to get worse. The witch hunting has become more prevalent.” He closes his eyes. “ This year I think there was more burnings than there was slave deaths.”

“By the Goddess,” Lance says. “I’m assuming he doesn’t even give them a proper trial.”

Keith shakes his head, confirming Lance’s suspicions. “No. Prince Lotor pushes for it, but Zarkon won’t listen to him. There is talk Prince Lotor isn’t fit for the crown and Zarkon will pass the throne down to his favorite knight: Sendak.”

Lance, about to take a sip of his wine, spits out its contents on the cards. He coughs and heaves, Keith moving to pat Lance on the back. As he hacks away at his lungs, Lance swears lavender stars spark from Keith’s fingertips and eyes, his dark irises becoming bright at the sign of distress from his friend. Not in the happy sense, but in the way a healer of Altea shines blue as they exchange their quintessence into an injured citizen, their abilities transferred through numerous devices to prevent the raw energy from sapping the healer dry. Lance has never seen a Galran with magic, what with them being persecuted and executed. But, if the Altean definition of magic aligns with the definition of Galra, then Keith may be gifted with powers as well.

Which also means Keith will very well meet the same treatment as his fallen brothers and sisters. And if he isn’t aware of it--to which he does not seem so--leaves him all the more at risk.

“Are you okay?” Keith asks, concern written on his face. 

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” Lance waves away the concern, patting him on the hand. “Went down the wrong pipe. You surprised me there, I thought you said Sendak may take the throne--”

“I did.”

Lance flops down on the floor, covering his face and groaning. “Fantastic. Wonderful. Allura is going to love these turn of events.”

“I take the Alteans are aware of his...extracurricular activities.”

“You mean the ones where he puts the heads of dead witches on a pike? Fully aware.” Lance pinches the bridge of his nose, stress pulsing beneath his skin. If Sendak takes the throne, there is definitely no way King Alfor or his children can get through to that monster. Is there even a point to them delegating with Zarkon? If the ruler is considering giving the crown to a crueler being rather than his own humane son, then their meeting is for nothing. Come six months, a year, maybe five years, either way Altea and Daibazaal will be facing war. It doesn’t matter if they try keeping face, the future is doomed if Zarkon is willing to go so far as to allow a closed minded savage take the throne.

What’s going to happen to Altea? The Balmeran people on their side? 

What about Keith and the remaining witches?

Lance can see it, blood slowly coursing down rivers. Innocents hung from trees, their bodies burnt to the crisp as if they were bearers of fruit. Balmeran crystals becoming scarce, most kingdoms suffering from the depleted resource that kept their domain in good health. Galra soldiers stationed at the gates of fallen kingdoms, Altea’s castle and villages lit by an angry blaze of orange and red. Soldiers, both on the good and the bad side, impaled by swords or riddled with cartelized wounds. The screams of the people--of their people--encompassing the air in quick succession, silencing only when the foreboding God of the underworld comes to whisk their souls away. 

King Alfor dead. Allura and Coran and he trying to restore order, surrounded by chaos and death.

And Keith. Keith and his brother Shiro surely dead, because Keith is a witch and Shiro would die before anything happened to his brother. 

It is too much. If Lance wasn’t sitting down he would have collapsed. 

Reading the horror on Lance’s face, Keith shifts closer to the prince, placing a cool hand against his forehead.

“Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He retorts, all his attention on the prince’s health rather than the impending future that fell atop Lance’s shoulders. He is no psychic, but he does not need to be to know where this road is going.

Before he could say anything about his prediction, his forehead--coated in a thin sheen of sweat--began to cool down by Keith’s touch. Lance expected Keith’s hand to be warm, adding to the sweat leaking from him. But it is just the opposite, an icy sensation creeping from the corners of his head to the center. It is nice. It doesn’t give Lance a headache or bring about a cold. Rather, it is like a cool rag on his hot skin, alleviating the discomfort quickly. It is as if Keith is sucking away his anxiety; the worry plaguing his mind. His eyes flutter close, leaning in to the touch.

But then it is gone, gone as fast as it appeared. Lance, partially confused, opens his eyes to ask if there is something wrong. 

When he met Keith’s shocked gaze, he too is at a loss for words.

Keith is glowing. No, not glowing, but shining. His whole body is surrounded by a violet aura, transparent stars dancing and twinkling about, dousing his form in a wave of starlight. He is staring at his hands, his eyes matching his body as he moves his hands about, the beautiful purple leaving a strand behind as he moves them from one place to another. His hair, usually confined in its mullet state, is flowing with ease around him, a halo of dark tendrils gently whisking through the air. Once dull orbs shown with an intensity Lance’s own eyes teared up, an amethyst jewel thrown into an afternoon’s sunkissed rays. 

He is enchanting. Lance can’t look away. Here was a slave, one downtrodden and forced into diminishing his character, blooming into a fantastic spectacle. He mirrored the blessed in Altea and the royals, all holding the skill of quintessence alchemy. The only other time he has seen someone this bright and flourishing is when Allura attended her first alchemy lesson, her magic encasing the room in  a bright, welcoming pink hue. Her quintessence is considered the most powerful out of anyone in the royal house of Altea, including their father. Lance has an abundance of quintessence, but not nearly as much as Allura. 

“Woah...” Lance exclaims. “You’re...”

“A witch.” Keith mutters, fear edging into his tone. As his fear became more real, as the threat of him being discovered smacks him in the face, his magic reacted in turn, going from bright to blinding. The aura transforms into a comet, the source losing control. The core of his stability is losing control, going from cruising the atmosphere to a crash landing. His hands came up to his scalp, tearing at his roots as if it could rid him of the magic haphazardly escaping his body.

“No. No no no, I can’t--I can’t be one. I refuse!” He continues to claw at his hair, eventually finding it unsatisfying and reaching for his eyes. He had to rid himself of the power. Had to free himself--save himself. He knew he was different, but not this kind. Maybe the magic came from his sight. Maybe, maybe if he blinds himself he will be normal. Not under the threat of a burning. Not fearing every day, waiting to be ratted out and sent to the prisons. To--

“Keith, stop!” Lance yells, grabbing his hands. Keith struggles, trying to push him away. For him to release him and let him do what must be done and rid himself of his curse. He refuses to be another victim of the Galra--he refuses to be another statistic--

“Keith, listen to me!” Despite his slightly malnourished form, the servant boy sure held up a fight. He went so far as to try and bite Lance, to which he narrowly avoids and keeps his hands over keith’s sharp nails. “You can control your powers, it’s okay. It’s okay!”

“The hell it is!” Keith spits back, glaring up at Lance. “You don’t have to live here. You aren’t hunted down, YOU get to leave without resistance or death.” His power continues to rage, growing by the seconds. But he does not seem to care, though Lance knew if this keeps up, guards will be sent to his quarters for investigation if spotted from the open window.

“Yes, you’re right,” Lance begins, his tone hurried, but soft. “But listen, Keith. I may have a solution, but I need you to breathe. To calm your magic. Or Zarkon’s guards will figure you out sooner than later.”

Keith glances at him, but then focuses his gaze on the floor, his hands clenched by his sides and his ragged breathing slowing. He shuts his eyes, attempting to quell the fiery violet aura. But as he places strain on his wish to die it down, as the brow between his eyes furrow and sweat beads along his hairline, it only grew worse. Lance is guessing he is on the verge of  a panic attack, the magic licking the too red curtains and edging its way towards Lance. Not in the threatening manner, for as it nears him he could only feel a slight warmth rather than a blistering heat. Regardless of it being a threat or not, it is a threat to Keith’s life. And Lance will be damned before he allows the soldiers to whisk him away to the gallows in front of his very eyes. 

So, with a gentle hand, Lance clasps Keith’s fist in his and summons his own magic, a light blue encompassing his body. It glimmers around him, the blue travelling down his fingertips to Keith’s and connecting to his magic. It is a waterfall streaming over the blaze, a cool sensation washing over the young servant. His heart, erratic from the discovery, began to beat at a normal pace. His sweat dries up, a breeze wiping away the stress into the void. Lance’s Altean markings, the same hue as his magic, glows brightly until he is sure Keith’s flames are calmed. The roaring fire is but a condensed flame, the only sign of magic being Keith’s illuminescent orbs staring at their conjoined hands. Lance could not tell if he is marvelled by the fact he took his hand, or that he helped control his magic. 

Lance breathes a sigh of relief, the blue evaporating as soon as he is content with Keith’s emotional state. It made him a little tired, but nothing he isn’t used to.

He smiles kindly and goes to release his hand, but Keith held on, his grip tight and strong. 

“Better?” Lance asks, quiet.

“Er...” Keith opens and closes his mouth, at a loss for words. “I...How did you do that?”

Lance shrugs. “It’s a magic thing. Something anyone with abilities can do if they practice. Altea is liberal with their teachings.”

“They learn?”

“Oh yeah, Allura teaches the kids.” Lance says, pride in his tone. “To be honest, she can do more than me. She taught me everything I know. And we can do the same for you.”

Keith is taken aback, not quite seeing how that is possible. Lance is to return to Altea with his royal family. Keith is to remain in Daibazaal, the realization of what he is tied to him as if it were the weight of the world. There is no way he can help Keith, not from miles away.

“How can you possibly help me? You can remain here.”

“I didn’t say I would stay.”

“Then how--”

“Our carriage is big enough for four,” Lance continues, determination taking root in his soul. He has seen the atrocities here; heard enough to make him want to vomit. But though he cannot save all lives, he can at least save one. One who, in the past three days, he has come to be fond of. Even with his temper and his tendency to groom his hair terribly.

“We can sneak you out.” His grip, loose in Keith’s hands moments ago, meets Keith’s tightness. “We can bring you to Altea so you do not have to succumb to the gallows.”

“Escaping to...Altea..” Keith tastes the words on his lips, awestruck. He can get out of here. He doesn’t have to serve the Galra anymore. Not witness anymore gruesome deaths, whether they be through slow burning or the draining of a witch’s magical essence. He can practice his abilities, become someone. Maybe, possibly help Lance and the Altean royals in saving the Galra people. Not all are bad. Just the ones holding the throne, demanding ruthless slaughter and an iron fist rather than compassion. To aid the people who, based off tales slaves returned from the Balmeran capital, smuggled out those they can in efforts to secretly undermine Zarkon’s authority. 

But as hope blooms within Keith’s cold chest, a revelation hits him. One that leaves him sorrowful, but renews a different sense of ease.

“I...I can’t go with you.” He whispers, avoiding Lance’s pleading look.

“What? Why? Keith, you don’t want to stay here. This could be your only chance.” Lance reasons. 

“I know. But there is someone who needs it more than me.”

 

---

 

By the next day, the plan is already hatched out. The Alteans are leaving at dawn, a long trek ahead of them through carriage. Delegations between Zarkon and Alfor remains fruitless, the two unable to come to a rational conclusion on both the state of Zarkon’s kingdom and the fragile co-ownership of the Balmeran kingdom. Zarkon, outraged by the suggestion of him relinquishing his hold on his half, ended the meeting early and sent the Alteans packing. King Alfor is not surprised, and both princess Allura and Prince Lance filled with icy rage. 

As they set to leave the palace, Keith and Shiro are sent to the front gardens, prince Lotor requesting for them to pick flowers so he can give them to his mother. Other servants were ordered to carry out the task, a small game for them to gather several species of flowers for Lotor to pick from. Little did the guards and Zarkon know Prince Lotor requested the task in order to aid in the Alteans’ plan to sneak one of their servants out of the bounds of Daibazaal. Princess Allura, able to get the prince alone the evening before, managed to persuade him in their plot. It did not take much convincing, since prince Lotor supports their wishes on the Balmeran kingdom and their view against the current treatment of the civilians. Though he holds no voice to the King, he has some semblance of control over the guards and servants. His luck hasn’t ran out yet, and he might as well put it to good use.

Keith is skeptical about Lotor, but does not argue. Instead, he agrees and grabs baskets and a bundle of cloth from the servant quarters, Keith’s and Shiro’s specifically made to be more plump in cloth. The excuse is they will be excavating an area with an overly abundant amount of flowers, hence the need for more material than the others. What others did not know outside of the small group is that the baskets held Altean clothing for Shiro to disguise himself in, made to act as if he were a personal advisor or guard sent for King Alfor.

“I don’t see how this is going to work,” Shiro says in Keith’s ear as they arrived at the hedges, deep within the walls of green and rose petals. “They are noted to have come with 3 Alteans, not four.”

“Yes, but the same guards aren’t on duty,” Keith assures, unwrapping one of the baskets and holding out white embellished pants to him. “Lotor did what he could to call on the ones that were. Not all are well informed, and most don’t care to remember. As long as no witch or civilian is running to the exit, they are clueless. Now hurry and get dressed, we have a small window before the carriage arrives.”

Shiro shakes his head but puts on the pants, making a face at the stiffness. As Keith hands him his shirt a wonky looking hat meant to hide his white bangs, Shiro stops. He looks at the clothes, then back at Keith, conflict flickering in his eyes.

“What? What’s the matter? You need to hurry.” Keith says, checking around the corners in case any guards are around to hear them. They should be good, but one could never be too safe.

“I know, it’s just...Keith it should be you leaving. Not me.”

“We talked about this yesterday, Shiro. Now is not the time to get cold feet.”

Shiro shuffles closer to Keith, making a quick once over on if they are being heard. He speaks quietly. “You’re a witch. Your time here is going to come to a more brutal end than mine. You should get these clothes on and leave, like Prince Lance suggested.”

“And Zarkon is ready to throw you out and kill you because you’re slowing down. How long has it been since your arm got checked?”

Shiro said nothing.

“Exactly,” Keith says, pointing to his robotic arm. Shiro made to cover it, but Keith is already familiar with what is there. How red welts surrounds the circumference of metal meeting flesh. The painful grunts Shiro made with each lift of his arm, the lack of medicine available to ease his suffering. The infection is getting worse. Altea has antibiotics, Diabazaal does not for the lower class. Keith has to get him somewhere safe. Somewhere he can be treated properly.

“You went through one new arm, Zarkon is not going to give you another.”

“Keith--”

The boy shoves the clothes in his face, silencing the man. “Shut up and take the fucking chance, Shiro. I can take care of myself. Now get those on before we both end up on the chopping block.”

Shiro attempts to argue again, but the far away sound of horses neighing and the churn of wooden wheels and bolts ceases it, Keith already shoving the hat on his head.

“Go. I’ll be okay.” Keith gives him a weary smile. “I’m a survivor.”

Shiro, wishing there was a way the both of them could escape, pulls him in for an embrace. He has always watched over Keith, treating the boy as if he were his actual brother and taking the brunt of most punishments to keep Keith unscathed.. Yet here he was, protecting Shiro rather than vice versa. It broke his heart, because to him he feels as if his protection is of no use anymore. All because he lost an arm. All because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Shiro could turn back time, he would have found a way to run away from Daibazaal as soon as he found him at a tender age, killed all the guards with his magic after seeing his father murdered in front of his very eyes. He should have told Keith once he reached the age of understanding. Pushed him to run. But he didn’t. And now it is Shiro running rather than Keith, when to him he should be left in Daibazaal. Of course there is no convincing Keith of that, the boy more likely to knock Shiro out and force him into the carriage than leave Shiro behind.

“Take care of yourself. Please.” Shiro squeezes his eyes shut to keep the stinging behind his lids at bay.

Keith pats his back and pulls away. “I will. Now go.”

Dressed as an Altean (and some markings drawn on Shiro’s cheeks thanks to Keith’s artistic skills), the carriage stops for the exiting royal Altean family. There are no Galra guards, not until the carriage heads for the gate leaving the castle. Shiro gets in first, King Alfor, Allura, and Lance shielding his body in case of any prying eyes. For a split second Lance and Keith makes eye contact, the Altean boy’s blue irises mournful over leaving his friend. But Keith just forces a smile, silently telling him this is for the best. 

And as the carriage begins to move to the exit, Keith waves goodbye to them, mouthing ’thank you’ as Lance stares back at him until his face is overshadowed by the sun’s rays.

Keith, knowing there is still a “task” he must complete, travels throughout the garden for flowers, taking note to cut the thorns later on. He kept his thoughts in the task, ignoring the dull ache in his chest.

It isn’t until he hears a commotion at the front gate that his ears perked up and a frown morphs his expression.

He peeks from behind a bush, his eyes growing big in horror as he looks on.

Sendak is at the gate. And he wants to check the carriage.

King Alfor, right next to Shiro, is poking his head out of the window and working to reason with Sendak and the guards. Keith overhears him say it is unnecessary, that last time there was no need to check the carriage. That he is an honored guest of the King. But Sendak doesn’t budge, glaring down at the Altean and placing a hand on the carriage to pull it away.

No, no this isn’t good. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. If he opens the carriage fully knowing there are supposed to be three Alteans and not four, Shiro is doomed. Shiro will be sent to the stake or the gallows, immediately sentenced to death for defying the law. 

There is only one thing Keith can do. One thing going against everything Lance and Shiro wanted. But what choice did he have, knowing the other option is worse?

Before he could second guess himself, Keith jumps out of the bushes. The guards turn to him, perplexed.

Keith doesn’t know how, doesn’t quite understand how he is able to do it. All he could think of was his brother--his friend and the Alteans who put their country at risk of war for this. How Sendak would immediately throw them to Zarkon’s judgement and rat out Lotor, officially putting Sendak in Zarkon’s favor. War will rage between Altea and Daibazaal. Altean and Galra lives would be lost--more than needed for such a small act of charity. All he could think is the carnage that would ensue, and the overwhelming feeling of the need to stop it.

As his body hums with a wave of warmth, as his body is surrounded by a purple aura, Keith puts a hand out and sends his magic to one of the guards. It circles around their waist, Keith lifting his hand and moving it downwards, slamming the guard on the ground. Keith takes his other hand and sends the energy to the guard closest to Sendak, shoving him against the shocked and enraged Galra.

Next he focuses on his surroundings. He can hear the heavy thud of metal against cement behind him, reinforcements from the front of the castle making haste to catch the outed witch. Seeing a lone, unused carriage to his left, he moves that and throws it behind him, the guards tumbling together in a heap. 

While they are down, Keith yells for the driver to go. Hearing his cue, the driver whips the horses into gear, pushing for them to go fast rather than their leisurely pace from earlier. Keith lets out a breath of relief, his knees hitting the floor as he lets exhaustion set in. Keith has never used that much magic before, and it has left him physically and mentally tired. His lungs hurt, as if they ran a mile nonstop. Sweat beads around his hairline, and his shoulders slump forward, looking for a way to ease the burning in his body. 

But his relief is short-lived, for the next thing he knew is his body is being shoved down, several armored guards smacking his head against the pavement and forcing his arms behind him, wrapping them in a special rope that nullifies magic. Sendak is back up, the carriage forgotten and his yellow scleras boring down on Keith. He kicks Keith in the ribs, the boy huffing out an agonized moan. 

“You impudent little witch. Zarkon will be pleased to have caught an abomination.” Sendak spits, kicking him again in the head.

Keith’s vision sees stars. Darkness coats the edges of his sight, the guards caring not as they yank his body to stand. He is dragged to the palace, Sendak keeping a close eye on Keith, waiting for him to make a move to fight. But Keith didn’t. He doesn’t have it in him. His energy is literally being sapped from the rope around his wrists, a familiar sense of drowsiness blanketing him. 

The last thing he saw as he is being taken to his judgement is Lance, struggling against a delicate but firm dark hands. He is reaching towards Keith, screaming words Keith cannot accurately comprehend. His eyes begin to flutter, and as they closed the image burned into his eyelids is of the Altean prince, tears carving their way into his cheeks from a sea of azure. 

 

To be continued... :)