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Story [Voltron] "There is Salt in the Sun", Ensemble Cast, Season 5 AU

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Mar 22, 2018.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    There is Salt in the Sun”

    Fandom:
    Voltron: Legendary Defender
    Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Season 5 rewrite
    Characters: Ensemble Cast

    Summary: In the end, they were looking for Shiro in all the wrong places. A journey from one side of their universe to the very edge of the multiverse itself has the potential to return the Black paladin to his place – and, for Allura, to unlock the hidden secrets of her heritage.

    Meanwhile, for Keith, finding what he's been searching for his entire life comes when he's least looking for it with the unexpected return of one of the Blade of Marmora's own. Together, their revelations just may take them one step closer to overthrowing Zarkon and his empire for good.


    Notes: Honestly, at first I just wanted to skip far ahead and tell my post-canon happy ending tale, but then I realized that in leaping over a few crucial steps in the story I was sacrificing a bit of an emotional impact to see those plotlines resolved. So, here I am – rewriting Season 5 to fit in with my previously established theories and headcanons. Yep. I'm doing exactly what I first told myself I wouldn't do. :p

    But, it's been ages since I last wrote a proper chaptered fic, so let's see how it goes. I'm guessing around ten chapters for this - if I stick to my outline. Yes - I'm going to try. ;)

    For those who want to build up to reading this story, the other works in my Voltron 'verse are:

    "The Erebrean Period"
    "The Warmth of Suns"

    "The Chaotian Era"

    For any new readers who are only familiar with the show, The Chaotian Era is where my deviation with canon really begins, and we're only going to vaguely mirror canon from here on out. I'm going rogue, guys - so wish me well. ;)

    As always, I thank you all for reading and hope that you enjoy. :)


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.



    OoOoO


    "There is Salt in the Sun"
    by Mira_Jade

    Prologue
    Her hands were poised at the controls, while, skipping in her chest, her blood thundered out a more telling beat.

    In that particular moment, Acxa was simply glad that she was alone in her pod of the ship. She didn't have to work to actively disguise her anxious energy to better put her comrades at ease. She simply was; even as she fought to keep her voice level and her tone disinterested enough to help maintain the illusion of control she strove to present. No matter what she was feeling inside, she knew what she had to do. To that end, emotions were a luxury – a luxury that could feasibly see them all killed if she didn't carefully consider her every move. From here on out, the fates would not treat errors on her part kindly.

    So – she would simply have to be very, very careful.

    “We're coming up on our exit point,” she readied her teammates over the comms, flicking her eyes over the swirl of space surrounding them as if she could physically see their destination ahead. When she looked, only the wheeling of the stars was visible to the naked eye. “Heads up, ladies.”

    “Copy that,” Zethrid was the first to reply – unsurprisingly so. Acxa would wager that she had scarce turned her attention from her own readouts from the moment they first entered hyperspeed. She glanced to see that, sure enough, Zethrid's eyes were narrowed in her comm-screen; her downturned mouth etched a deep scowl on her face. She wouldn't be content until this was over, Acxa knew - really, she couldn't quite begrudge her friend her ill mood in the slightest. Not this time.

    It took Ezor a moment longer to reply – but then, that too was to be expected. Acxa did not need to be in close physical proximity to know that her despondency still hung over her shoulders like a shadow. She could hear it in her voice – could see it in the pinched, unhappy expression she was unable to wholly disguise. Not from them.

    “You know, Acxa,” even so, Ezor pushed forward after a moment passed, “we don't have to do this. We know what this means for you.”

    A pause. Acxa blinked. “Our options are somewhat limited,” she forced a wryness to her voice that she did not truly feel – not in whole. “What would you have us do instead?”

    “Run,” Ezor replied bluntly. The single syllable dropped from her mouth like a blade falling. “We can run, and find somewhere to lay low on the universal rim - maybe find ourselves a nice, secluded tropical moon somewhere? There, we can keep our heads down with our toes in the sand - ”

    “ - I just ask that we avoid exiling ourselves to a swamp planet,” Zethrid growled. She did not immediately disagree with Ezor - which was a troubling enough sign in of itself. “Or anywhere with snow.” She made a fist, and slapped it against the palm of her opposite hand to punctuate her words.

    “ - there, maybe we can just wait this out?” Ezor continued. Her voice gained something of its usual pitch and verve as she quickly warmed to her own idea. “We can survive on our own, I know we can – we have before. And with Prince Lotor – well . . . with Lotor gone now, maybe Emperor Zarkon won't care that we slip away. He has, you know, the entire universe to busy himself with. We have to be the least of his concerns – right?”

    “Or the desert – I'd rather a swamp over the desert; I just hate sand,” Zethrid still muttered while Ezor spoke. “Though I could do somewhere with mountains, the more I think about it. Minus the snow, of course.”

    Acxa breathed out through her nose, and felt a small, sad smile twitch on her lips. “And for how long do you think we'll be able to hide on this theoretical moon, Ezor?” her voice sounded tired to her own ears. “It's only a matter of time before Voltron is captured and the rebellion crushed. It's shocking that they've lasted for as long as they have.” She could not yet think of how long Lotor would last with the full force of his father's might turned against him; not even when, scarce movements ago, she'd been determined to turn him over to that selfsame might in order to save both she and her shield-sisters. A betrayal for a betrayal. She hardened her jaw. “We hid something from the emperor that he's been seeking since times bygone. No, he will not forget us; he will not forgive us any more easily than that.”

    An uncomfortable silence met her words; they knew she was right. What was more than that, they'd each seen firsthand just how brutally the emperor could move to act when inspired - they'd been instruments of destruction, marching at his orders, more often than not in their careers - and they were not foolish enough as to underestimate the odds stacked against them in the slightest.

    Once, not too long ago, Acxa thought that she'd finally found a way to throw off the brutality of that yoke while still maintaining allegiance to her mother's people and the heritage she embraced. Once . . . before Lotor proved himself to be little better than his father when confronted with their first true test of trust and loyalty, that was. They were little more than pawns in a game of mehten to him – and she would not stand by to be so callously cast aside again.

    . . . but she could not yet allow herself to think of that; not then, not in whole. So, she did not.

    “Soooo, we throw in our lot with a faction that's just going to fail anyway? How's that any better?” Ezor made a dubious sound in the back of her throat. “I'd trust just we ourselves, on our own and looking out for each other.” For that much, at least, there was a spark of her old self in her voice.

    “With this, we are not aligning ourselves with the rebellion – not quite," Acxa shared her reasoning - again. "This order has survived since the time of Daibazaal the First; it's even older than the emperor himself. I'd wager that it will continue to exist for long after even we are gone.”

    Both Ezor and Zethrid were silent in reply. Acxa knew that they were not wholly convinced - yet they would follow where she led. That knowledge alone was another stone to add to the weight pressing down on her chest. For a moment, her breath was thin.

    “Alright,” she could hear the shrug in Ezor's voice, even without glancing to her screen, “whatever you think is best, we'll do.”

    “We're running out of time to back out, anyway. Our exit is approaching in about ten ticks - we'll need an opening line to avoid a firefight . . . unless,” Zethrid drew her lips back from her teeth, “you want a firefight? Because that's an option too.”

    Acxa watched the time dwindle down in the corner of her screen. She held her breath, and forced her pulse to calm. She could do this, she could do this, she chanted to herself; she would do this.

    Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .

    “Negative on the firefight,” she felt a smile tug at her mouth to check the other woman, even so. “Not this time.”

    “Well then – next time,” Zethrid smirked. At the very least, she appreciated the moment's honest consideration she'd given the idea. “You just say when.”

    The ticks continued to count down. Seven . . . six . . . five -

    “You know, there's still that tropical moon to fall back on if this fails,” Ezor pointed out, her voice tight. But her eyes were narrowed and her coloring was bright with more energy than Acxa had seen from her since Narti's death – since her murder.

    Four.

    Acxa felt the skin over her knuckles turn tight as she clenched the lever that would cut their speed. Her pulse pounded like thunder; she could feel her heartbeat in her fingertips.

    Three.

    “The moment you say so, we're getting out of here – I dare them to try and stop us,” Zethrid's promise was a low slash of sound – even when not being able to feel her blood-beat, hearing the protective growl in her voice was just as fortifying, in its own way. “We've got your back.”

    Two.

    “Acknowledged,” Acxa exhaled, and then -

    - one.

    There was no going back then – only forward; their opportunity to run had passed. With one smooth motion, Acxa stalwartly pushed the lever to ease the ship from hyperspeed. The elegant kaleidoscope of starlight around her viewport ebbed, and then stilled – well, as much as it could truly calm with the breathtaking play of cosmic forces that greeted their arrival.

    A great blue star immediately dominated their line of sight – a mighty stellar furnace blazing with intense heat and blinding light enough to send her sensors screaming for the gravitational havoc playing on her systems. A lesser ship would have been torn apart from the presence of the star alone – and that was before counting the event horizons of the twin black holes that bracketed the star, siphoning off energy from the blue giant with a slow, determined hunger. Their feast would last for millennia before the star burned out; their craving was insatiable enough to outlast even its great might.

    Yet, until then . . .

    Acxa opened up a hailing frequency, and found her courage to state with a boldness she did not entirely feel: “This is Acxa Eloy Tiye Khian aboard the starship Sincline II – my comrades and I have come to the Blade of Marmora seeking sanctuary . . . and bring with us intelligence that may turn the tide of the war.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    Tarsier likes this.
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    What a compelling thread title! I like Acxa, Zethrid, and Ezor's candor with one another; it is truly understandable they would be battle-weary. But they are courageous and realists and stalwart friends to one another.
    I hope the bit of intelligence will prove a tide-turner.
    :)
     
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  3. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Thank-you! The title felt like Nayyirah Warheed applied to space - once I jotted it down in my notebook I just never swayed from it and now here we are. :p And yes! These ladies have a beautiful bond, it's so true, and they are certainly battle-weary - and rightly so. I'm glad to hear you're enjoying their inclusion so far. I can't wait to tell the rest of this story, and, as always, I'm thrilled to have you along for the ride. ;) Thank you so much for reading, my friend! [face_love][:D]


    Now, here we go with more. :)


    OoOoO

    Chapter I: The First Lair

    The planet Erissalyn was a dull, rust colored sphere spinning on a mid-system orbit around its single white sun.

    There was little to set the planet apart from its neighboring worlds. Erissalyn had no flora or fauna to speak of, nor any notable characteristics in its landscape; it hadn't even boasted of an established civilization in almost ten thousand years.

    Yet, once . . .

    Prince Allura of Altea was silent as they passed through the upper atmosphere, where a wispy cloak of vapors provided only minimal protection from the rigors of outer space beyond. The clouds thinned even more so as they dropped down through the stratosphere, providing only the barest conglomeration of essential gases that, together, would never produce rain - not any more. The planet's once bountiful rivers and oceans had dried up centuries ago; she would never see Erissalyn's legendary silver sunsets over the turquoise Jaln sea again. The swaying fronds of the weeping kashiss trees had long since withered, with their once great trunks dissolving and petrifying underneath the strong hand of time. Only the rock-bed of the planet remained in sweeping formations of archways and alcoves amongst the mountains in muted colors of soft ocher and burnt orange. There were bands of burgundy and even deep blue-violet mixed through the rippling layers of sandstone; once, the plunging cliffs would have boasted of their own beauty, shimmering with a spectral majesty underneath the pale silver light of the white sun above. But now, without water and vegetation and life, the world was vacant and bare. The stars were eternally visible due to the thin constitution of the twilit atmosphere, giving the appearance of both day and night existing at once.

    Erissalyn was, in short, nothing like Allura recalled from her memories.

    “Ten thousand years ago, this was a sacred land to my people. Erissalyn used to be a thriving center for culture and spirituality,” Allura's voice was hushed with mourning as she spoke into her mic. She knew better than to remove her helmet as she disembarked from the shuttle with her companion – the planet was no longer capable of supporting life in that manner. “Now, it's so . . .”

    Parched. Empty. Desolate.

    But she found that she could not immediately choose from the dozen words building on her tongue; not then.

    “Soooo,” Hunk drew out the single syllable over the comms – speaking from where the paladins were holding in orbit above Erissalyn should they require support on the ground, “the aesthetic fits Haggar to a T, you mean to say? How shocking.”

    Allura flicked her gaze around – taking in the ruins of the once mighty city they'd landed just to the south of: a metropolis of temples and centers of worship and study for more than a hundred different civilizations, now empty and yawning into the lifeless wind. Unconsciously, the fingers of her right hand made a fist. At her left, a shadow moved, and she glanced to see Lotor as he outpaced her to crest the summit of the outcropping that shielded their landing. There, he paused to wait for her. The silver sunlight glinted off the panels of his armor; underneath his own visor, his mouth was thin and his eyes were narrowed into churning slits of blue and gold. She did not have to ask to guess his own thoughts, they were apparent enough.

    “Yes,” she replied, her voice tight. “I suppose it quite does. I am not surprised,” she amended, “it's only . . . ” yet, words failed her. How did she explain the bubbling sense of betrayal she felt – still, even after a year's time since her awakening to process the changed state of the universe? She continued to grapple with such rage and heartache and roused indignation all, and that only served to fuel her need to see the scales set to balance. She could not yet dull any of those emotions in her heart; sometimes, they felt enough to swallow her.

    Abstractly, she felt a pang of missing then. As practical a companion as Lotor was – that, even she had grudgingly come to admit, she dearly wished that Shiro was there with her. She did not want to do this alone.

    A moment passed, and then: “Are you okay, Princess?”

    It was Lance who asked the question aloud, his voice thick with concern. Allura allowed the clear tones of his worry to ease some of the tension binding her shoulders; she forced the barest edge of steel to relax from her spine. Shiro wasn't her only comrade, she reminded herself, and she would be strong in order to hold her companions up - just as they clearly sought to do with her.

    “I am fine, thank-you, Lance,” she assured him. Even so, her voice came out terse, the syllables clipped. Allura exhaled deeply, and tried again, “Or, at least, I will be fine.” The correction was slight, but necessary. “Let's just get this over with.”

    Sensing her movement, Lotor picked a path down from the summit without glancing back. A moment passed, and then Allura followed just a step behind him. The silver sunlight flickered as they made their progress, and she resisted the urge to look up at the starry field visible through the negligible atmosphere above. The lions would only appear as passing meteors - shooting stars, Lance called them - from her vantage point on the ground, but it helped knowing they were there. When planning the mission, it had quickly been agreed that the last thing they wanted to do was bring Voltron too close to Erissalyn unless it was absolutely necessary to do so. Who knew how the quintessence of the lions would react with the safe-guards Haggar undoubtedly had in place - especially when factoring in the particular quirks of Erissalyn itself? And, what was more than that . . .

    From further out, waiting just on the edge of the solar system, she knew that Kuron – that Ryou was waiting with Coran on the Castle bridge. Though they had scoured his mind and body to remove any trace of Haggar's presence with what means they had available to them – and Allura had used her own nascent abilities to make sure that his mind was clear of the witch's taint as best she could – the fact remained that they were not wholly sure what they were looking for, and they had been leery of the idea of bringing Haggar's experiment close to one of her seats of power. The need for such caution continued to sit ill with Allura, and though Ryou assured them that he understood, it just wasn't fair. It wasn't right, and she felt a stoked sense of righteous indignation breathe to life within her – rising above her feelings of betrayal and mourning, even. That burning emotion kept her step strong and her pace determined as they reached the floor of the crags and started to venture through the ruins of the city of Saelyna. Their mission that day was all for Shiro - and for Ryou too, as they were coming to know him. If it came down to it, Allura was ready for a fight; a part of her even welcomed the idea.

    “This was Haggar's initial lair following the loss of Daibazaal,” Lotor repeated what she already knew from his previous briefing the day before. Yet, hearing him speak helped, in a small way, to fill in the void surrounding them with some sort of life. “With the destruction of the Rift, she would have been near desperate for a new form of quintessence to sustain her revived life-force – and Zarkon's, too, for that matter. And, whatever Haggar had need of . . .”

    . . . Zarkon would provide, he did not need to finish and say - that, Allura already well understood. They were a disturbingly symbiont circle: the emperor and his high adviser, the god and the witch, their legend had since grown, the way such legends often did. Erissalyn had been a purposefully peaceful planet in her time; it had outlawed weapons of any sort, and boasted no defenses but for the good will of the universe as a whole. It stood no chance against the overwhelming force of the Galra empire then, and but little remained of its memory now.

    Yet Lotor merely tightened his jaw, and continued, “What you see here is one of Haggar's first – and perhaps sloppy, attempts to leach the quintessence of a planet in its entirety . . . and Erissalyn had much to give.”

    That, she could well imagine. It fit with what she once knew of the planet.

    “While our scientists had theories about alternate realities, even the sages prophesied about the existence of the multiverse and tried to reach out to those worlds from our own,” Allura shared her own bit of history. “Erissalyn was believed to hold potential gateways to those worlds. Here, only a thin veil separates us from several other dimensions. We were not the only ones to believe this – several races did, and Erissalyn became a haven for worship and study for many. I still remember the Festival of Veils, when Erissalyn's orbit was closest to its sun and the walls between realities were believed to be at their thinnest . . . you could see far-off times and places in the water, in the impression of others walking amongst the crowds, and each just as curious about you as you were about them. In my youth, it was a magical place to me . . . it remains so in my memories.”

    As they walked through the empty streets – now strewn with fallen stone and reclaimed by what little wild the planet still had to boast of – she felt the surrounding desolation pull at her heart. Lotor was silent to her memories, but then, he didn't have anything to add to what should have been shared between them tenfold . . . once, almost - had the ancients been kinder in their guardianship of history, that was.

    My scans are complete - Green's not picking up on any signs of sentient life – but she's found an energy source emitting from underneath the city,” Pidge's voice cut in through her helmet only a moment later. “It's frankly bizarre, the overlaying readings I'm getting from the planet – it's like picking apart the layers of an onion, only to find another onion underneath! But, there's an unusual fluctuation that doesn't quite match up with the natural flow of the planet's energy when I pull it all apart – I betcha that's what we're looking for.

    An onion? Lotor turned to mouth the unfamiliar word, a single brow raised in puzzlement. She gave an honest shrug in answer. Terrans, she did not have to say out loud for him to understand. She'd grown used to their colloquialisms; eventually, should he keep to his course, Lotor would as well.

    “That is most certainly what we seek,” Allura agreed. “If you would be so kind as to give us a route to follow, Pidge?”

    “I'm already on it, Princess,” the Green paladin answered. Even as she spoke, a light on her gauntlet flashed and Allura accepted the transmission. She waved her hand, and a holographic map sprung to life before them – guiding them through the ruins to what once would have been the city-center. They did not have far to go.

    Good, Allura thought. The planet was enough to send her own senses as a sacred Altean spinning - it had always been so, even when it was healthy and thriving in its prime. She did not quite care for the ebb and pull she felt on her heart then. Not in the slightest.

    “And . . .” if she didn't know any better, she would say that Pidge was hesitant to speak. Her tone softened considerably to amend, “just because I'm not picking up on signs of life doesn't mean anything. Who knows what measures Haggar has in place? I wouldn't put anything past her; this could still be what we're searching for.”

    He could still be here, Allura heard the ghost of her meaning, even when not spoken outright. We can still find Shiro and return him home today. If anything, such tired, empty avenues of pursuit were a sadly familiar road to Pidge. Allura felt a small, fond expression grow for her efforts at shared sympathy; her commiseration was appreciated.

    Hunk, however, chose to assign a different meaning to Pidge's words – but then, he hadn't quite approved of their mission to begin with, and his caution was now an anxious sort of energy in his voice as he said, “Yeah - you don't need live soldiers down there to find a threat waiting for you. You could be about to stick your hand into a nest of drones, or - ”

    “ - or something even worse, knowing Haggar,” Lance too was little enthused by her choice to brave the witch's lair with only Lotor's word as to its existence and the extent of its security. “Drones we can handle – but Haggar is the ultimate dungeon master. Who knows what you're walking into?”

    “But we know you'll be vigilant,” Pidge's voice was tinged with exasperation to check the concerns of her fellow paladins – she, perhaps unsurprisingly, had supported Allura's decision from the first. “Whatever precautions Haggar has taken, we can more than handle.”

    Allura could well imagine the energy of Lance's glare, she could feel it, even planet-side as she was – but he would not continue to argue his opinion after the team made their decision. He and Hunk had been out-voted, and he would honor that. Instead, Lance sighed out through his nose with an audible huff of breath. “The moment you need backup, from anything, we'll be there,” his gave his promise. “You just say the word, Princess.”

    “Of course, Lance,” Allura assured him. A note of fondness lightened her voice – she truly did appreciate his concern and understood where it stemmed from, even if she wouldn't let his caution stop her in the end. “We're going radio silent now, I'll break that if we need you.”

    According to the map Pidge had provided, they were coming up on their entry point. Lance's caution did ring true in that regard - Allura wasn't sure what, exactly, Haggar had rigged to tip off her security, and she'd rather not take any chances she could more easily avoid. To that end, she heard each of the paladins sign off with an affirmative, and then her helmet went silent. The eerie stillness of the planet was even more punctuated without the chatter of her comrades; she could hear her own breath echo in her ears; her heartbeat thrummed in her clenched fists.

    Yet, only a few ticks passed before they reached their destination – a deceivingly decayed entryway that led to one of the buildings built into the rock of the planet itself. Once, one of the stronger potential gates was thought to have existed here. If Allura remembered correctly, this was one of the few major portals claimed by scientists from their galaxy, rather than the mystics over at the temples.

    “Well, at least she was not blasphemous enough to make her lair in one of the centers of worship,” Allura voiced her last thought aloud. “That is what I first would have guessed.”

    Lotor, however, was little impressed. “No matter what little of Honerva there may have been within Haggar at the time," he scoffed, "I find it hard to believe that was even a thought that crossed her mind.”

    A quick scan of the ruins showed a concentration of energy to the left side of the entryway. After only a moment's hesitation, Lotor raised his hand and placed it against the hidden key that existed, at first invisible to the naked eye. They were committed then.

    Allura was not sure what she was expecting – but she was not counting on the scanner to wink at them, just before a small, unobtrusive door appeared and swished open behind one of the fallen stone pillars. They had found the way in, it seemed . . . they had easily found the way in - perhaps too easily. A soft glow of purple light beckoned them from deep within the nest of shadows; the doorway gaped like the mouth of a void.

    “The witch must not have been here in some time if my biometrics can still unlock her security,” Lotor offered one possible explanation as to their luck. “That is . . . unexpected.”

    Or, Allura better thought, the ease of their access meant that something far worse awaited them within. She narrowed her eyes, slow to trust the path before them.

    “ - or,” Lotor voiced her thought aloud, “this is nothing more than a trap. As loath as I am to agree with your Red paladin – we may not find what you seek here.”

    She understood his warning – his preparing her for finding only more questions than answers – but she was determined. She would not let caution for the unknown, or fear of yet another dead end, sway her from her course.

    “If that is so, I will take what I can get,” Allura tilted her chin up to state. Shiro would not have hesitated to do the same for her, she knew; she would not disregard even a chance of finding a clue as to his whereabouts. She could not.

    But that was a thought for herself, and not for him. Instead of wasting more time on words, she squared her shoulders and took her first step through the doorway into the hidden corridor beyond. Lotor was only a heartbeat slow to follow her.

    The lighting system was all Altean, she recognized as glowing pillars blinked to illuminate their way and then darkened behind them in a clean, practical conservation of energy. Of course the design is Altean, she thought with a pang. Yet, the deeper they went, the more Allura felt her unease grow when nothing appeared to impede their progress. She – perhaps irrationally – was reminded of a Terran movie the paladins had shown her, the one with the archeological explorer inside a primitive temple filled with gruesome traps – Indian Jaws? No, that wasn't quite right. She was confusing terms, she knew. But the idea remained in her mind, and she was admittedly tense as they came to the end of the corridor to see a large, open room with high, yawning ceilings. This was a central chamber, they soon deduced after further exploration. From that central chamber there were several branching pathways, each leading to a room of their own like spokes on a wheel. It did not take them long to understand that the lair was some manner of store-house, all sorted to a system that Allura could not understand at first glance. Trinkets and odds and ends from a hundred different galaxies filled the space, and it was so -

    “ - I can well believe that this was Haggar's first lair,” Allura finally commented. Her voice seemed overly loud to break the silence. “It's so . . .”

    Frenetic. Chaotic. Disorganized.

    “It's like a caglepie's nest,” Allura sniffed to summise. Had Haggar merely grasped for anything and everything she thought could aid her pursuit of a pure form of quintessence at the time, or -

    . . . was she looking for something to help her remember?

    But that thought was one Allura quickly banished. She had too much weighing on her shoulders to even begin indulging in sympathy for the enemy; her sense of justice would not fully allow it, at that. Instead, she quickly concluded that there were only inorganic objects collected here. There was nothing of flesh and bone hiding in the shadows, not even sleeping in stasis. Shiro was not here . . . again. If this lair had ever been a lab for Haggar's experiments, it was clearly only used for storage now; this was another dead end.

    . . . potentially, at least.

    “There's a good century's worth of information to cipher through here alone,” Lotor remarked, carefully watching her from the corner of his eye as she listlessly fingered a ceremonial Ty'myn face-mask – a relic from a long dead civilization, cast thoughtlessly atop a stacked tower of petrified Kolmiri reesk eggs . . . another extinct beast, she knew, from a world long since past.

    “Yes,” Allura steeled herself, and stalwartly squared her shoulders. “We may yet find a clue to follow. Let's start looking.”

    In the main chamber, there was only one computer console. Allura chose to start there. Ten thousand years worth of gleaned information would require some sort of index, after all – Haggar was uncannily competent, yes, but not omnipotent, and Allura was determined to find what she sought. She was not yet deterred in the slightest.

    It took some tinkering – and, in the end, she was simply grateful that most of the system mirrored the Altean models Allura better knew than the Galran ones more often favored now – but, after quite a bit of searching and nearly calling Pidge for assistance, she was able to find a log of last-activated files. She blinked at the dates and times of their access, seeing -

    “ - Haggar has been here recently,” Allura shared out loud – summoning Lotor's attention from where he was thoughtfully rummaging through a chest of Altean mapping chips on one of the shelves lining the chamber walls.

    Lotor frowned, but came to stand by her side as she drew up the file Haggar had last opened. Even if not to find Shiro and return him home, if they could glean anything of use in their struggle against the empire . . .

    - but she was startled when, instead of schematics for some weapon or notes on a current experiment or anything else of that sort, a recording popped up and began to play on the screen. It was a very old recording, if the initial static interference was anything to go by, and the image settled to calm and reveal an achingly familiar face.

    “Father,” Allura breathed under her breath to see King Alfor – younger than she'd ever known him, and standing shoulder to shoulder with an equally young Lady Honerva. It was an alchemist's log, she understood as both her father and Honerva launched into a breathless explanation of a series of experiments they'd recently conducted on Dalterion seed-pods. She stared, transfixed as the two spoke over and constantly interrupted each other, only to finish the other's sentences in their eagerness to share the results of their work. The ease of their discourse was similar to how Hunk and Pidge could rattle on about their own findings – they'd worked alongside each other for so long that their words and thoughts were shared and communicated in easy synchrony. Looking at the picture they presented, she could scarcely recall a time when her father was so light in spirit, and, as for Honerva . . .

    . . . had the no-nonsense, almost stoic empress of the Galra ever smiled in such a way? Allura was curious to wonder. Even before the end, had the Rift truly, and so utterly -

    “ - Dalterion seed-pods,” she found herself speaking without any conscious intention to first do so. Her hand raised, as if to reach out and touch the image before her – and oh, how she wished that her father was as close as that. “This must have been at the dawn of the original Coalition. My father was only a prince then, while my grandmother still reigned, and newly graduated from the academies of alchemy. That's . . . that's where he met your mother.”

    He is just as young here as I am now, Allura thought, but did not say . . . she already felt centuries older than Alfor appeared - ancient, at times, down to her very bones. Her father wouldn't have experienced a similar such weariness until centuries later, after Zarkon's apparent death and stupefying resurrection . . . he aged so fast in the end; grief and regret left him a haggard presence in his body, even as he stood tall and fought for the good of the universe against a foe he'd once called brother. But, here – then: At this time, he's still working up the courage to hold an actual conversation with my mother, she centered herself on happier memories, from happier times. Here, my existence was nothing more than a far-off hope in his mind; I'm nothing but a dream of a possible future, yet to come.

    She curled her out-stretched fingers in against her palm, and slowly let her hand fall away. There was nothing to reach out and touch; not any more.

    “Their work with the seed-spores paved the way to our ships being able to repair themselves in battle – even the Castle was re-outfitted with their programs, and those same processing codes are those we still use to this day,” Allura continued, her voice soft at first, but steadily gaining strength. “They were later able to adapt their hypotheses to terraforming overly industrialized planets – keeping the artificial, necessary structures of a society while restoring balance to the natural ecosystems of any given world. It was truly remarkable, what they were able to build from so little to start with.”

    A smile slowly grew to stretch across her face as she recounted her father's achievements. The sight of King Alfor was bittersweet, yes, but refreshing in its own way. It reminded her of who she was, and reenforced every reason she had to stay strong and fight. She felt a renewed sense of purpose flood her veins, granting her weary spirit the succor and support she hadn't realized she'd so dearly needed. She breathed in deep, and felt certain of her course.

    Yet, while she stared at the image of her father, mesmerized, she was aware of Lotor backing a step away from the screen with an unreadable expression on his face. He was not at all taken by his memories as she was. Not nearly.

    “Why would Haggar have drudged these out of her archives?” Lotor asked the far more relevant question aloud. His voice was hard as he tapped the chin of his face-mask in thought. “Amazing as this was for their time, this is old technology by today's standards; obsolete, even.”

    Allura was not sure if it was the strange aura of the planet or her own imagination that had her envisioning Haggar standing right where she was in her mind's eye - staring at these same recordings and searching for . . . something. Anything, perhaps. Pity never fully materialized in her heart – it could not, not in whole, but she did feel a moment's brush of regret, at the very least. She briefly allowed herself to acknowledge what could have been, and moved on.

    She looked at her father one last time - sadly, wistfully - before switching over to the next file. Yet it was more of the same - old alchemy logs, all from Honerva's records of long ago. She skimmed through the recordings, finding some with her father and some without. Others were shared with Honerva's fellow alchemists at the Rift. Some, even, had Emperor Zarkon just out of focus on the picture, clearly content to let his wife ramble on about her discoveries to her heart's delight, until, near the end -

    “ - yes, well, that's enough of that,” Lotor finally cut in as a haggard and care-worn Honerva muttered on the screen – something about unlocking the secrets of life itself and more, always more -

    “If you wish to indulge your curiosity, download what you can and take them with you,” he turned from the console without looking back at her. His every movement was terse with a bristling, near hostile aura of roused irritation. Her own powers rippled and threatened to snap in reply to what they still perceived as a threat. “This is not relevant to our search, and a waste of our time.”

    Allura stared at his turned back and narrowed her eyes, little appreciating his tone in the slightest. She was not a child to be chided in such a manner, nor was she one of his underlings to so thoughtlessly command. Yet, he was not wholly wrong . . . and she did understand why Honerva's logs would throw his composure from its axis. She felt a measure of sympathy bloom, and it was that she chose to focus on, rather than her own, admittedly easily roused ire – especially as of late. She exhaled crossly, but let his words go.

    “Yes,” she bit her tongue to acknowledge, “you're quite right.”

    Even so, she did believe that there was knowledge to be found in these recordings – no matter that she didn't have time to sift through them just then. She tapped a few keys on her gauntlet, and started the data transfer to the Castle's servers. She received a green pulse from Pidge to acknowledge the files being received – at any rate, Allura knew that Pidge would appreciate the treasure trove of knowledge to be found in Honerva's records as a scientist – the likes of which Earth, with all of its great minds combined, could only hope to someday match.

    Yet, until then, Allura turned from her memories and walked deeper into the witch's lair.



    .

    .


    “They're taking too long. I don't like this at all.”

    “It's hardly been a half-hour, Lance,” Pidge's voice was quick to cut in over the comms and chide. “Just hold your horses and chill out. Give Allura a chance to actually complete her mission before you start jumping at shadows.”

    “Exactly,” Lance retorted, staring moodily at the Green lion as she hovered beside him - he proudly resisted the somewhat adolescent urge he had to knock his lion into hers as if they were flying bumper-cars instead of highly advanced semi-sentient alien warships. “It's been a half an hour. That's a half an hour too long, in my opinion.”

    He could hear Pidge sigh – she was reaching the point where she was done dealing with him, and Lance, both the younger and older brother of three, knew how to stand his ground against that tone and hold his position without budging. Pidge didn't stand a chance.

    “Come on, Pidge,” his voice was flat and hard. “You can't tell me that everything about this sits right with you - I know you're smarter than that.”

    That, at least, had Pidge drawing up short for a moment; she was honestly considering his words. No matter how much she was personally invested in finding Shiro - just as they all were, she couldn't close her mind off to the logic of any given situation, not in whole. Yet, while she chewed on her reply – and, hopefully, applied her big brain where Lance needed her to for once, Hunk cut in and said, “I'm with Lance on this one – my stomach is a mess, and that's as clear a sign as you can ask for. I've gotta trust my gut, Pidge.”

    “Hunk,” Pidge countered dryly, “your stomach is always in knots. How is this time any different?”

    “Oh, I have my ways – believe you me. A man knows his gut!” Hunk chose to take offense to Pidge's teasing, and then – perhaps somewhat predictably – off they were. Lance's moment of breaking through with actual reason was put aside in favor of Pidge dogging Hunk's gastrointestinal issues with a practiced, razor sharp glee. Of course; really, he shouldn't have expected anything else.

    Lance heaved a sigh, and slouched in his seat as his friends continued to bicker. Instead of even trying to interrupt, he just concentrated on keeping Red to a holding pattern amongst the tricky magnetic fields surrounding Erissalyn - between the planet itself and the old white dwarf sun at the center of the system, there were plenty of technical factors to keep in mind while piloting. He briefly wished he could do more – they had initially ran drills together after Allura left with Lotor, before their preoccupation with the planet down below clearly distracted them from accomplishing anything useful. It was hard to be productive while Allura was potentially putting herself in danger without them. Yet a part of him still wanted to try – he always felt there was a next level he could reach (always just beyond his reach) with Red, no matter that both Hunk and Pidge were like old married couples with their own lions. They didn't quite understand his intensive need to practice and perfect what he felt deserved to be perfected. Maybe that was just him, too – Pidge and Hunk had the prodigy card to play, each in their own right, but Lance was used to advancing himself through hard work. He'd never suceeded on raw, natural talent alone, and he'd always pushed himself to be where he was – now, he was determined to do the same with Red. His lion deserved nothing less from him.

    So, while his friends clearly weren't going to cooperate with him, he tried to simply float in space and let Red take his thoughts for what little while he could. He was tired - so tired in both body and mind, and he did welcome the moment to relax, but Red was not as . . . cuddly, as Blue was. It was the wrong word to capture the entirety of what he felt – it didn't quite encompass the difference in his relationship with the two lions, not even in the slightest, and he could feel Red huff in his mind for even trying to put the sentiment into words, at that . . . but, there it was.

    “I'm not saying you're not great,” Lance patted a fond hand against the console and grinned his most charming grin, “because you're the best. Obviously. All the other lions wish they could be you.”

    In reply, Red only bristled, not nearly appeased – and there was an edge to the lion's irritation that was so different from Blue. Blue would have had been taken aback to protest his thoughts on a nearly vainglorious level. His girl could get jealous, and Lance appreciated that; Red just felt like he wanted to bicker.

    Of course, you were Keith's lion, Lance rolled his eyes to think, even if he didn't say so aloud, and this is casting some serious suspicion on King Alfor's character too, you have to know. I think that, secretly, he also was a bit -

    “ - um, Lance?”

    “You were thinking very loudly there, buddy.”

    Huh . . . so he was. Lance had never really gained control of his own windows and blinds – the preternatural sort of quasi-telepathic bond binding him together with the other paladins of Voltron. He was usually the one emoting through that bond the most, and he couldn't quite bring himself to stop. A part of him didn't much see the need to, either, even if that meant -

    “So, how have you been doing, Lance? There hasn't been much time to talk, with everything going on these last few weeks.”

    - even if that meant he was opening himself up to comments such as those. But Hunk was sincere in his concern, and while that was nice and all in its own right, Lance didn't want his friends to worry about him just then. Really he didn't.

    “I'm fine. Great. Awesome, even. Just like the rest of us,” he knew that his tone was clipped - and thus unconvincing. He was just so tired, and the idea of talking about why he was tired only seemed poised to add onto that exhaustion – no matter how much he knew that he needed to. Just as they all did.

    Uncomfortably, he fidgeted in his seat. As a distraction, his eyes unconsciously flickered to the screen that kept a steady monitor on the vitals in Allura's armor. The static task comforted him, even as he distantly allowed himself to acknowledge just how rough dwelling with the knowledge of Shiro's disappearance (again) and the existence of Kuron (of Ryou) had been since Lotor pulled away that particular curtain. Lance had remained Shiro's right hand since Black accepted his return – then, he'd simply been honored that Red continued to allow his presence in their new formation, even when Keith wasn't the leader of Voltron. He'd understood why he was positioned as the dominant hand to Keith's headship; it'd made sense at the time, and he'd played a much needed buffer to Keith's rather . . . unique style of leadership and looked after the team as best he could to make them all stronger in the end. They had worked well that way, together. Yet . . .

    What kind of right hand was he, that he hadn't noticed that something was so incredibly different about his leader? Shiro was his goal, his hero, his friend . . . and he should have known. That was part of the role of being the Red paladin – to support Black and be supported in return. He should have known.

    Maybe, a certain amount of blindness . . . of seeing what they wanted to see, instead of what actually was, came with the package of being the Red paladin to the Black. History certainly had a habit of supporting that theory. But that was a depressing thought in its entirety - and one that Lance wasn't at all inclined to humor. So, he let it go as best he could.

    “Is that really what you think? Lance, you can't put that on yourself,” Pidge's voice was surprisingly gentle to cut into his thoughts. Gentle, but firm. “No one noticed that something was off about Shiro – well, not to the point where him being a clone would explain everything better than him simply adjusting to escaping the Galra again,” she amended, somewhat ruefully. “Keith didn't even notice a difference – Allura didn't either.”

    “You need to cut yourself a break,” Hunk concluded. “Otherwise we'd all have a reason to blame ourselves for not figuring this out sooner.”

    It was hard when their words made sense on the one hand, but, no matter how his brain acknowledged their logic, he couldn't quite accept their reasoning as true. He couldn't wholly make their thinking his own, no matter how he tried. Especially, when -

    “ - guys,” he found the words tumbling out before he could even think to pull them back in, “do you think I'm the right paladin for Red?”

    A moment of confused silence met his question – that wasn't the response Pidge and Hunk had been expecting, and they were momentarily blindsided. Yet, they only needed a moment to process, and then:

    “What? Of course!”

    “Where did that thought even come from? Absolutely!”

    It was hard to tell one voice from the other as they both answered in immediate protest. Lance supposed it helped that his friends didn't even have to blink before trying to put his mind at ease – but that still didn't erase the fact that Red was . . . well, Red. Red still wasn't Blue, and Lance wondered if his ease with - if his preference for – one over the other was a reflection of his skill as a pilot, or the bond that was supposed to be instinctively forged between a lion and its paladin. Allura, even, didn't have that easy, immediate bond that he first had with Blue, no matter that she was an amazing pilot in her own right - and she'd been doing so for much longer than him. Some things weren't about skill or personal glory, he was slowly coming to realize - but rather about something that was still bigger than them all, something so big that he still couldn't wholly wrap his head around the idea. This was worlds different than him fighting to be the best in his class at the Garrison - where all he wanted was to be the next Sora Shirogane or Neil Armstrong; this was so much more.

    Perhaps, his silence on the matter was more telling than anything else. Lance couldn't even begin to put his thoughts into words – he wasn't even sure where to start.

    “A year ago, you would have bragged about being able to pilot both Red and Blue,” Pidge pointed out.

    “Yeah,” Hunk agreed wryly, “you'd have patted yourself on the back for the upgrade.”

    “No,” Lance's reply was clear and decisive. “There's no upgrade between any of the lions. Being a paladin of Voltron is being a paladin of Voltron; it's an honor in any capacity.”

    He knew that he may have been unnecessarily firm in his declaration – his words were a realization that had come upon him slowly over time, sure, yet the realization had come to him. It was an honor beyond compare to pilot any of the lions; they would not settle for anything less than what they felt they deserved, and that thought bolstered him whenever his mind liked to slip into dark places; that knowledge anchored him. Both Red and Blue had found him worthy; he'd never let himself forget that.

    Yet, even so . . . “And, piloting Red is nice and all, but being a leg is still the coolest,” he felt like he had to salvage his moment of honest introspection with a more Lance-esque comment. He had a reputation to maintain, after all.

    He waited for it, then: the teasing remarks, reminding him of how long he'd sat in Black's chair and tried to will a connection into place that didn't fit. It had taken him time, but he'd come to realize - even then - that it was not about one's ability to lead so much as it was about how the quintessence of the pilot was mirrored in the quintessence of the lion. Blue had mirrored him – perfectly, down to every little detail. Red, in a way, mirrored him too . . . their reflection just felt foggy, at times, like a mirror clouded by steam. It was still a reflection, though.

    “You've really come a long way since leaving Earth.” Yet instead of teasing, Pidge surprised him with an honest comment of her own – and Lance knew his friend well enough to hear a compliment, even in the blunt shape of her statement.

    He smiled, no matter that the expression was somewhat sad. He couldn't wholly turn up the corners of his mouth. "I'd say we all have.” Earth was a long ways behind them, true – but, hopefully, that meant that it was even closer to them in other aspects. For the first time in a long time, defeating Zarkon felt like the barest of an attainable possibility, rather than a far-fetched shot in the dark. They could do this, they could – they were going to save their friend and free the universe, and then - then - they would return to Earth. They could go home.

    But, no matter his own doubts about Red – or his moments of missing Blue and the instinctive ease of their connection, the fact remained that Red had chosen him – and Red was tied to Black on a symbiont level. King Alfor had subconsciously built that into their deepest infrastructure millennia ago, and that wasn't going to change any time soon. No matter what Pidge and Hunk said, he felt the need to return Shiro to his place as a weight slung across his shoulders. That was a burden he proudly chose to bear, and if Red was where Voltron needed him to be, then that's where he would be.

    He was still, perhaps, trying to find a way to put his thoughts into words – the windows and blinds between their minds didn't really share everything, after all – when he saw a sharp rise in Allura's body heat and blood pressure ping a warning on his screen. She'd gone into a defensive stance, Lance understood – and she did so suddenly, as if taken by surprise. They'd definitely sprung some sort of trap in Haggar's lair - which surprised no one.

    His hands tightened on the controls as he instantly slipped into battle-mode, even as Pidge spoke over his headpiece. “Well guys, I hate to break up this little heart to heart – but it's go-time. My energy readings are off the charts - they're spiking beyond my ability to even wholly understand. Lance, I know you hate to say - ”

    “ - I told you so,” he didn't even let Pidge finish. Because, really: he had. “I totally told you so.”

    But, in the end, that didn't matter. Not in the slightest.

    “Now, come on, team,” Lance spun Red around to dive for the planet below in a neck breaking, near vertical descent. “We're not letting the witch have another win.” He felt as his vow was echoed by that small, warm spot Pidge and Hunk both shared in his mind. Underneath his hands, Red thrummed with a low, eager growl to share his intentions in their entirety - they were working with one mind, that day. “Not on our watch.”



    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  4. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Gorgeous descriptions of how lovely Erissalyn was when verdant and the Festival of Veils. =D=

    Allura's musings and discovery -- how intriguing! I can imagine it will hold clues even if the seed pods aren't in themselves useful. [face_thinking] Her feelings on seeing her father younger and enthusiastic before all the troubles, definitely bittersweet!

    Lotor's reaction is understandable. He has all kinds of desire to not be reminded of his parents' actions.

    Loved Lance's thoughts and the talk with Pidge and Hunk; the camaraderie and mutual support. I like to think he has an affinity for more than one Lion even though one is easier than the other. :cool:

    :eek: [face_worried] A trap was indeed sprung! So I will eagerly wait on the edge of my seat for what's next.

    @};-
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
  5. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Thank-you! The planet was a lot of fun to come up with, and I'm glad you like its asthetic. Then, Allura and Lotor's view on the past is such an interesting juxtaposition that I couldn't resist exploring that just a little bit here - especially as that was such a big cornerstone of season 5. It's also great to see memories of Alfor give her more encouragement and determination, more so than grief alone, as time goes on. [face_love]

    Eugh - I hate everything about the lion swapping in Season 3. o_O :rolleyes: Breaking up Lance and Blue hurt my heart something fierce, and both Red and Black passing over Allura for Keith pushed every one of my This Is Not Right buttons. This story is my paltry attempt to fix a bullet wound with a Band-Aid - but I'm going to try! But Lance is such a dear, you're too right - and if anyone has the adaptability to mold himself to fit more than one lion, it's him. [face_love] His relationship with Pidge and Hunk is still the trio we started out with, so it was fun to give a glimpse at their continuing validation and mutual support here. I'm glad that you're enjoying their bonds, as always!

    And oh, we're getting to Haggar's latest nest of thorns, just you wait. [face_mischief] But first! To check in with Keith and Acxa . . .

    Thank-you so much for reading, again, my friend! I can't tell you how much I appreciate it and look forward to your thoughts. [face_love][:D]



    OoO

    Chapter II: The Prodigal Blade

    As soon as he dodged one sword edge, there was another blade swinging towards his face.

    Adrenaline seared through his veins, granting him speed enough to dodge the second blow while still remaining conscious of the first. Behind his mask, his eyes narrowed. That was cutting it close, even for training – especially for training.

    Yet, no matter his thoughts, Keith had long since learned not to waste his breath in protest – he would never receive a reply unless it fit the purpose of the exercise. Instead, he grit his teeth and fell back into a defensive stance, lightly balancing his weight on the balls of his feet as he eyed both his opponents at once. It was difficult for him to play this safe; the very concept of defense ran contrary to every spark of energy he could feel pulsing through his body; he wanted to end this, and quickly.

    But his fellow blades were not going to make any victory easy for him. For that morning’s match, his sparring partners were a pair of sisters, Ilun and Iaret. He hadn't known them for long; the Order was far from static, and their ranks rose and fell and shifted about faster than Keith could keep track of. For those who did survive, there was little to no emphasis - or interest, it sometimes seemed - placed on personal ties between members. They came together for training and missions, and, beyond that, Keith knew but little about his fellow blades. In his own way, he was learning not to get attached, and, thankfully, Ilun and Iaret were not making that difficult for him.

    Instead, Keith concentrated on what he did know – which, admittedly, still wasn't very much. The sisters were relatively short for Galra, and he had no idea what their mixed heritage was – after ten thousand years of conquering, pure Galra blood was a rarity (and a right for bragging amongst the elite castes) and hybrids were the norm within the universe. Nothing about their visible figures set them apart from any other blade; even their gender was obscured by their armor until their masks came away. Yet, that was how the Order worked: with secrecy and silence, even between members.

    - and there was too much silence with them. Keith couldn't hear their blood-beats – well, more so than he could most, that was. The majority of the blades had the uncanny ability to dim themselves to his extra senses, but Ilun and Iaret seemingly disappeared. Whatever their secondary blood was, it was keeping him from being able to wholly sense them. Yet they were perfectly able to sense him – and Roth, the drill master overseeing the match, knew that. That day's exercise hadn't been chosen for them, Keith understood, but for him.

    “You are louder than a newborn cub wailing for its dam,” had been Antok's snide summation of his skills, back during the first days of his training. “Anyone with their senses about them knows exactly what you are feeling – and exactly how you will move, long before you even consciously know yourself.”

    "You do understand what he refers to, don't you, Keith?” Kolivan, however, had a penchant for insight that went deeper than his first blade’s. It hadn't taken long for the blademaster to understand that most everything about his Galra heritage was a mystery to him. For eighteen years, he'd never thought of himself as anything other than human. To the contrary, he'd long held his preternatural abilities as disquieting and disturbingly other on Earth. Now, he knew that his extra senses were commonplace and even essential to communication for his mother's people. They were nothing unusual, nothing to fear or shy away from; he'd simply never been told why, or shown how to handle the secrets of his blood. He'd never had anyone to show him the way. Yet, all that was changing now.

    It was, admittedly, a lot for him to catch up on – and he oftentimes felt like Kolivan was raising a child, more than crafting a soldier, where he was concerned. There was so much about his second half that was still so alien to him, no matter that he was determined to catch up on lost time and learn everything he could about his maternal people. He hated lagging behind in anything, and he refused to do so here; he refused to be a burden to anyone, especially when there was a war going on that better deserved their attention elsewhere.

    Yet, no matter his frustration with his own, self-perceived limitations, Kolivan himself had personally handled those first few sessions with him – much to his surprise. Kolivan had taken the time to teach him how to quell the beat of his own blood, and showed him how to understand that same, unspoken language in others. It was a skill Keith understood in principle, and had long instinctively used, but still had difficulties putting into conscious, effective use.

    All of that, the drill master knew, of course - and Roth was clearly tired of their circling around each other without a clear victor being decided. Without warning, the lights in the training hall went dark, turning his sense of sight useless. It was time for him to sink or swim, apparently.

    The settings on his mask automatically switched over to infrared, but only the hall itself was faintly illuminated to his vision; he couldn’t see anything more than that. The sisters had such control over their bodies that they could hide even the heat of their blood, making them invisible to even artificial scanners. Keith fought the urge he had to growl in frustration as he dropped into a low, defensive stance and waited. He couldn't see them, but he knew: they can see me.

    - which was more than apparent when his legs were swept out from underneath him just a half-second later, and he was pinned before he even had time to properly register what was happening. The sisters were fast, too - inhumanly so. His knife was kicked away from his grasp, even as another blade swung down to press flat against the skin of his throat. If he even breathed too deeply, he would bleed. He swallowed, and tasted iron.

    “Yield,” Ilun's low, raspy voice demanded without inflection – if she felt triumph over the moment, or even amusement for how easily he’d hit the ground, she didn’t let it show.

    But Keith only huffed and narrowed his eyes. Well then, if he couldn't yet win like a Galra, then there was always mankind's tried and true fallback of unpredictability: he let the constraints he'd been placing on his own body fall away, and with that first, surprising explosion of feeling and sensory information he took the moment he needed to capitalize on Ilun's distraction to reach up and twist her wrist. With a moment's effort, her blade was his, even as he swept his legs to the side and took her balance with a simple scissoring motion. Ilun hit the ground, just as he felt the pulse of his own lost blade whisper against his senses. He scrambled to scoop up the knife and summon its true form, and was just able to spin back around and point the sword tip down at Ilun's throat while holding her second, untransformed knife up and ready against Iaret's approach.

    “Ah ah,” he warned, pressing down with the blade, “don't come any closer. Do you yield?”

    He knew that Iaret was staring at him, even though he couldn't see her – that primitive, hind part of his brain was still screaming predator and danger, no matter that'd never stopped him before. He could feel his own pulse thunder in his veins as his lungs worked from the exertion of the exercise; his hold on the second knife was slick, but steady.

    Yet, he was banking on what a human would do – on what he would do, even . . . and it cost him.

    Keith was taken aback when, a moment later, Iaret ignored the threat posed to her sister, and lunged forward to barrel into him anyway. It was over quickly then – this time, when pinned by a physically stronger opponent, Keith couldn't immediately free himself and find his feet. When Ilun escaped while he grappled with Iaret, his odds of winning the bout plunged even further. A tick later, it was Roth himself who ended the match before Keith could even think of a way to struggle out from the mess he'd entangled himself in.

    “Enough,” the drill master's voice rang out from the observation rings above. “The match is decided. Keith, you are defeated. ”

    Even then, Keith wanted to protest – no matter that it may have seemed that he wouldn't have been able to free himself had it been a live battle, he'd gotten himself out of worse situations before. He had no doubt that he could do so again . . . well, maybe, anyway.

    Yet, he 'd learned an important lesson that day: his trusting the honor of an enemy had potentially cost him his own life . . . and he wouldn't soon forget that.

    “But she's your sister,” even so, Keith couldn't help but make a face as Ilun gave him a hand up. It was hard for him to be gracious in defeat. “You really would have just let her die?” He knew that his glower was visible as the lights flickered back on to illuminate the hall, but he didn’t bother to tuck the expression away.

    Iaret cocked her head, and had to consider her reply. For all the world, Keith got the impression that she did not understand his confusion in the slightest. “She was not my sister in that moment, she was a fellow blade,” Iaret pointed out, even as she turned to pass Ilun's knife back to her. “Had this been a true mission, she would have done the same – just as I’d want her to.”

    Keith glanced to Ilun as her mask whispered away to reveal a sharply chiseled face with narrow, slanted eyes. She had no hair or tufts of fur to speak of, but dark, vertical ridges crested down the back of her skull, stretching from brow to nape. Two broad stripes of cool, white-violet color bisected the otherwise warm, plum complexion of her face. Her sister, contrarily, had only one stripe of color stretching from her brow, down over her nose and chin. Her eyes were a wholly bright yellow-gold, without distinction between iris and sclera, and her teeth were sharp.

    Ilun bared those same teeth at him in what passed for a grin – or, in what Keith assumed was a grin, at least.

    “You are growing stronger, Earthling,” she inclined her head as she sheathed her own blade. “But your Terran blood holds you back. Your emotions are a luxury your enemies will not share.”

    She was the not first one to say so - he expected to hear that same critique repeated at least once or twice before the day was out, at that. And, with that in mind -

    - he glanced up, expecting to see Roth staring down at them with his own comments ready to add, but the elder Galra was gone. Keith frowned in puzzlement. It was unusual for the senior blade overseeing the ring not to offer feedback after a match; it was one of the purposes of him observing the exercise.

    “Where did Roth go off to?” Keith asked aloud.

    Ilun followed his gaze and looked up. If she too was surprised by the absence of the drill master, she did not let it show. Instead, she merely rolled her shoulders, little concerned. “His movements are not for us to know,” she dismissed.

    “He would tell us, if needed,” Iaret agreed. She came to stand next to her sister. “It must not be needed.”

    “Yeah,” Keith reached up to run a hand through his hair, “I guess so.”

    “It is so,” Iaret stated firmly. Her eyes narrowed on him for just a moment, before she clearly decided that she had passed enough time on the subject. That was that for them, and they were content to let the matter go.

    “Until tomorrow, then, Earthling,” Ilun gave a short wave, and the sisters headed out to where a hot shower and a morning meal were usually next on the day’s agenda.

    Watching them turn to leave, his stomach growled – clearly prompting him to do the same. Yet Keith was slow to follow. Instead, he looked down at the seemingly innocuous knife he still held in his hand, and then up to where Roth had disappeared. Something was bothering him, he knew enough to acknowledge – pulling deeply at his senses and tugging. He knew better than to ignore that instinct; it had never led him astray before.

    And . . . he wasn't quite ready for stillness, at that. If he slowed down too much, he’d only give his mind an opportunity to wander. If his mind wandered, then he would only remember, and berate, and mourn -

    - but, he was decidedly not thinking about that. Not then. He couldn't - not until Shiro, his Shiro was found and returned home. Until then, he couldn't allow himself a moment to let his thoughts rest; that was his only option if he wanted to maintain any sort of composure.

    So, he washed up as quickly as he could and grabbed a packet of protein supplement to scarf down rather than sitting with his comrades for a cooked breakfast. Something was off, he decided, and he wouldn't feel right until he understood just what that was.

    Keith followed his intuition, and found himself at the command center. He was permitted to enter, and his eyes were immediately drawn to where Kolivan was standing before a wide wall of monitors. The blademaster’s stare was focused, and his mouth was pressed in an even thinner line than usual. Just beyond him, a half dozen high ranking blades were gathered around a tactical table and discussing a matter softly amongst themselves. Roth, he saw, was one of them. The drill master looked up at him, before glancing once to Kolivan, and then he returned to his work again.

    Whatever mission they were planning, he would hear about it soon enough – or wouldn't, as the case was. But he took it as a good sign when Kolivan didn't immediately turn him away. Keith took what invitation there was in the lack of a dismissal, and came to stand by the blademaster's side.

    “You are still unable to control your blood-beat around others,” Kolivan gave in lieu of a greeting. He still did not turn away from the monitors to address him.

    Keith fought the urge he had to bristle. “I held my own.” Until he didn't, of course. But, in the end, his loss was due to another matter entirely.

    It was hard telling with the uniform shade of Kolivan's eyes, but Keith felt that he glanced down at him and then away from the corner of his gaze. His mouth hooked while, just barely, the great muscles of his arms rippled. “You missed the purpose of the exercise in its entirety, Keith.”

    “The purpose of the exercise was for me to defeat my opponents,” Keith did not agree. “I would have done just that had Roth not ended the match.” Maybe that was a bit of a stretch – but he'd been in worse scrapes before and came out on top; he would have found a way again.

    Kolivan was definitely looking at him then. Keith could feel the massive, steady thunder of his blood-beat (always given in a bold - comforting, warning - statement of his presence to those he led) flicker; a sigh rested deep within his chest, even if he never gave it a voice. Instead, he said, “You have proven, time and again, that you can hold your own in battle - even when outnumbered. Yet, while granting you much of your tenacity, your Terran blood may yet be a detriment to you in the field if you cannot learn to control what most Galra do from early childhood.”

    Kolivan didn't even begin to address the handicap of his caring for others – and expecting his enemies to do the same; it wouldn't have been the first time they'd had that particular conversation, after all.

    “I didn't exactly have a choice on that,” Keith still couldn't keep a note of bitterness from his voice. Knowing who and what he was was still worlds away from knowing whose he was . . . and why she had ever left to begin with. “This is all still brand new to me.”

    “That simply means you will have to learn faster – and work harder to do so,” Kolivan countered without pity. “Concentrate on why a lesson is given, rather than rushing to the end of it – look down your path as you go, rather than simply running towards its conclusion. You will be stronger in the end, and your comrades will only benefit from your strength.”

    There was logic to his advice – maybe even a superior logic to his own. Even so, Keith set his jaw and fought to respectfully hold his silence. No matter that he found the sense in Kolivan’s words, that didn't mean he had to like hearing it.

    Well then, that was enough of that.

    “What's on the agenda for today?” Keith asked, rather than responding outright. Instead, he changed the subject as his eyes flitted over the screens. Most of it was a whirl of information, hinting at a bigger picture that Keith couldn't quite wholly see from his place on the ground. The Order was compartmentalized for a reason; there was strength in secrecy, and the left hand quite literally didn't know what the right hand was doing on purpose. It was safer that way for any blade whose identity was compromised in the field.

    Kolivan paused; for a moment, Keith thought that he wouldn't let the subject go, and something deep inside of him threatened to bristle.

    Yet, Kolivan simply blinked, and then turned away from him. His attention clearly returned to the monitors. “Nothing that yet concerns you.”

    His answer was much as Keith expected, and he didn't yet feel the need to push the matter. When there was a mission that required his participation, he would be informed. And, until then, he could find it within himself to be patient.

    That was, until -

    - the rapidly flashing pictures paused on a woman, a woman he didn't know completely, but who was nonetheless familiar to him. Even before the screen showed her face, Keith recognized her by the way she moved – with a leashed fluidity and a staggering ability to keep her aim, no matter how many acrobatics she wove into her motions during the thick of combat. It was an ability Keith knew was impressive – most sharpshooters needed distance and stillness to make their shots. Lance hadn’t been able to stop ogling over her marksmanship for a week after their encounter in the Ulippa system - annoyingly so. A thrum of recognition whispered inside of him, and he felt his hand lift from his side as if to reach out to the image before he folded his fingers in against his palm and squelched the impulse. Ridiculous.

    “What information do we have on her? She's one of Lotor's generals,” Keith found himself blurting before he even considered his words. Just what, his mind raced, did the Blade of Marmora have to do with -

    “ - she was formerly, yes,” Kolivan did not turn towards him, but Keith suddenly felt as if he had the blademaster's full attention, regardless. “You’ve had interactions in the past.” It was a statement, but Keith understood the question waiting underneath; he was being invited to share what he knew.

    “Yeah, we've definitely butted heads,” Keith huffed out a breath. Just how many times Lotor had slipped away from them during his thankfully brief, tumultuous time heading Voltron was not something he wanted to think about - especially not then. Yet, what was more than that . . . “But, the first time we met, in the weblum," he muttered to remember, "we worked together to survive.”

    Then, he hadn't thought about his actions. There was someone who needed his help, so he'd helped them - Galra or not. It had felt right at the time, tugging on those same senses that he'd first followed in the desert and then on to Shiro and Voltron, now so long ago. It hadn't mattered that his lowering his defenses had only smacked him in the face later; if he had the chance to do it all over again, he still wouldn't change a thing.

    “You met inside the weblum?” Kolivan’s tone was short to clarify. His broad ears twitched; if he was anyone else, Keith had the distant sense that he would have rolled his eyes and pinched his nose in exasperation. As it was, the blademaster never needed to hear anything twice in order to understand a matter in its entirety.

    “Yeah, inside the weblum,” Keith cocked a wry grin to confirm. It was definitely one of their more . . . risky endeavors, even he could admit. But it had worked in the end. “We were harvesting scaultrite from its stomach – and, apparently, so was she. We actually worked well together . . . while we worked together, of course.”

    He still couldn't quite put into words why her taking her own share of the scaultrite, at gunpoint, sat so badly with him. She was a Galra soldier; he was a paladin of Voltron; he still couldn't explain why he expected them to act like anything else.

    Pushing his thoughts aside, he pressed his mouth into a thin line, and drew in a deep breath. Slowly, he exhaled. “Is she a target?” he asked. “Or is she -”

    “ - it's another matter entirely,” Kolivan did not allow him to finish his sentence. “One that does not concern you.”

    That, he wanted to protest – and, what was more than that, something deep inside of him was moving him to act on this; he couldn't quite hold himself back. A dozen sentences built in his mouth and demanded that he speak, but -

    - first, he bit his tongue, and acknowledged that he would have to choose his words carefully. He wouldn’t gain anything by rashly pushing ahead, like he first wanted to. “I’m not questioning your decision, Leader,” he felt like he was shaving iron with his teeth to say, “but I do have a history with her. I have fought with and against her, and my insight could be of value. If there is a mission being planned - ”

    “ - it is not a mission,” Kolivan interrupted to reveal. He tilted his head, but after a moment's consideration next added, “to the contrary, she and two companions have reached out to us, and called for a parlay.”

    Keith blinked, drawn up short. That . . . he had not expected. Lotor had somehow managed to find a band of followers whose loyalty and zeal were unmatched, almost fanatically so. He – and the rest of Voltron, had wondered why Lotor had shown up, alone, after Naxzela, but that question had never been answered to his satisfaction. Something had clearly happened to sunder Lotor's team and scatter his resources – or, they were lying in wait behind their leader to sweep in at his command, and now the answer to that particular riddle was there, right before them. He had questions, and this woman, potentially, had answers.

    “Only two?” he muttered as he processed the new information. “Where's the third one, then?”

    Kolivan frowned for his words, and something about the brooding shape of his expression took on a troubled edge - it was as deep a display of emotion as he'd ever seen from the blademaster, and that alone cemented his own curiosity. Whatever it was about this woman, she had a history with the Blade of Marmora; she had a history with Lotor; just as she had a way of orbiting him, himself that he couldn't quite explain. Not in full.

    At the thought, Keith narrowed his eyes, not liking anything about their current situation in the slightest. He still didn't trust Lotor – and he most certainly didn't trust his intentions with Voltron. He hadn't been able to speak for his incredulity over his former team's decision to keep the disgraced prince of the Galra with them at the time, and he'd ignored most of Lance's messages to him since then. He hadn't yet been able to order his own thoughts on the matter beyond his anger (beyond his hurt for what was missing . . . for what he’d too long missed) and he didn't yet know how to speak to anyone else about the subject. He couldn't . . . so, he did not.

    If Lotor's generals could shed any insight as to what he was really up to, he thought with a growl, or, even better yet, where Shiro – his Shiro – truly was while Lotor kept his cards close to his chest . . .

    Purpose filled him; he could feel his blood thrum with a barely leashed energy as desire became intention in his mind. He had to make fists of his hands to keep them steady.

    “Leader,” he phrased his request again. Everything, he felt, rested on the way he was able to shape his next few words. He couldn’t let Kolivan turn down this path without him – he wouldn’t. “You know that my loyalty is to the ways of Marmora, above all else, but Voltron is still the universe's best chance at doing away with Zarkon and his empire for good. If she has anything to share that might help us – that could help them, then I feel that I need to come along. I am requesting that I be allowed to join whatever team you assemble.”

    Kolivan did not immediately acknowledge his words. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the displays – where the flurry of images had stilled to zoom in on the general's face. Keith wondered what he was thinking as he stared at her before, just barely, his gaze narrowed.

    Without a word, Kolivan turned from him, and walked away. Keith blinked, at first startled, and then taken aback when the blademaster maintained his stoic silence. His expression did not flicker in the slightest; his blood-beat remained steady with purpose.

    Just barely, Keith resisted the urge he had to call out and ask for a more definitive answered than that. He felt his own brow furrow, and he opened and closed his mouth, until -

    “You have a half varga before we depart,” was all that Kolivan said over his shoulder. “Be ready.”



    .

    .

    “Of course there's snow. There's snow everywhere.”

    The planet M-1v2 was a small, undeveloped world in a relatively young solar system in the V'goss galactic quadrant, near the edge of the universal rim. At this stage in its growth, the juvenile planet was locked in ice from pole to pole. Eventually, its volcanic activity would release greenhouse gases enough to warm the atmosphere and break the arctic age, but it still had thousands of years to go before the ever-winter would give. Someday, perhaps, M-1v2 would support life, yet, for the time being, the temperature was miserable and the winds were bitter as they howled through the crags of the plunging glacial cliffs. The planet was far from hospitable, and it was hard to imagine a future that was anything other than barren.

    Only a few flurries fell from the fractured grey clouds above, at least . . . mostly, the landscape was just saturated in an untold depth of of the stuff. In what small consolation there was for the frigid climate, there was a sort of beauty in the way M-1v2's sister planets were close enough to see as massive orbs of color through the breaks in the clouds, even with the light of high noon. With so many planets sharing such close orbits, and another dozen moons circling the planet itself, she wondered what the oceans on this world would someday look like. Eventually, she supposed, those tides would be quite the sight to see.

    Yet, for the time being, Acxa was cold, and she set her teeth against the sting in the air. She crossed her arms over her chest, not only to present a nonchalance she didn't quite feel, but to hold what warmth she could in against her core. Her armor could only do so much without her donning her helmet to engage its climate controls, and that she stubbornly refused to do in front of anyone from the Order.

    “He wants you to feel off balance,” Acxa glanced towards Zethrid. The poor Kythra's blood, mixed alongside her Galran heritage, favored hot, dry weather, and she’d be nothing but miserable until they returned to the ship. Already, the snow was melting and refreezing in the fur cresting her skull, and her large ears were drooped in misery. “That's the only reason he chose this world to meet on. His tactics are petty; don't give into them.”

    “Well, his tactics are working,” Zethrid rumbled. Her breath made a visible cloud of vapor on the air as she heaved out a sigh.

    Ezor's coloring was little better – her usually vibrant pink skin was pale and her single head-tail twitched in agitation. The bright, colorful bands of her markings had turned waxy and dull to withstand the cold. “Remember that tropical moon we discussed?” she grumbled under her breath. Her teeth clenched as a shiver wracked her body. “That sounds pretty good right about now, doesn’t it?”

    Acxa felt a ghost of a smile twist about her mouth. “That’s still an option if this doesn't go to plan,” she lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “The idea isn’t completely out.”

    Ezor snorted. “Well, I propose a new rule, then: in the future, whatever idea has the most sun and ocean views wins; it always wins.”

    “Acknowledged,” Acxa gave wryly. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

    She felt a playful leap in Ezor’s blood-beat brush against her senses, encouraging her own tension to ease over and sooth in what small way it could. Distantly, Acxa appreciated her words for the distraction they clearly intended – she thought her teeth would break if she continued to clench them any more while waiting. She felt like a tether pulled tight - too tight, near to snapping - which was not a state of mind she could at all afford to indulge. The Blademaster of Marmora was ever adept at noticing such weak strands and tugging on them to his own advantage. She refused to be the latest of Kolivan Xhom Kaht Sentek’s victims, not when so much was at stake.

    Just as the thought crossed her mind, she heard the tell-tale sonic boom that heralded a starship breaking atmosphere, and she looked up in time to see a dark blue and grey shuttle flicker between the clouds before coming down to settle on the glacial ridge before them. The violent whirl of the landing repulsors sent up a draft of cold air and freezing snow, and Acxa steadied her stance to keep from taking a step back. She did not lift an arm to shield her face, even as the snow blew past her.

    Her companions did much the same – Zethrid’s posture straightened, and any visible sign of her discomfort fell away as she crossed her broad arms and stood up to her full, impressive height. The right side of her mouth drew back from her teeth to show her fangs in a resting snarl; a growl rumbled in the back of her throat as she breathed.

    Ezor too found her battle pose. She propped her hands on her hips, and smiled a deceivingly cheerful smile - one that was bellied by the way her eyes took on a dangerous glint. She stood close enough so that the shoulders of their armor were almost touching; her blood-beat was loud and constant in her ears, ensuring that her trust and certainty were the loudest thing she heard. It was that, rather than the dropping in her own stomach, that Acxa chose to focus on as the ship’s ramp lowered and their parlay began.

    Even when masked, in full uniform, Kolivan was instantly recognizable to her senses - even more so than to her eyes. She did not need to see his face, or even the signature mark of his white braid. Instead, the slow, punctuated pulse of his blood was one she’d never forget. Kolivan was flanked by only two of his blades, no doubt to put himself on equal terms with her as the honor of their parlay demanded. Usually standing even larger than Kolivan, she half expected to see Antok – the first blade was never far from the blademaster, after all. Yet she did not recognize the figure to his right, and, to the left . . . such a slight excuse for a soldier held his flanking position. She fought the urge she had to snort, wondering if the Order’s wells had truly gone so dry - even as something else whispered, deep inside of her, prompting her to tread lightly. There was something almost familiar about this blade, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on what -

    - but there was no time for her to indulge the curiosities inherent to her blood just then. (And she most certainly did not think about who she least expected Kolivan to bring . . . but perhaps, childishly most wanted to see. After all, she resigned herself, her absence was for the best; just as it always was.) Instead, Acxa cleared her mind of everything but for the goal she had, right there within her reach. She squared her jaw and tilted her head up high, no matter the nearly instinctive urge she had to lower her eyes and respectively touch her fist to her heart in a sign of fealty. Her days of bowing before Kolivan – before anyone, were over. She’d never hang her head again.

    “Acxa.” Kolivan’s blunt address was the only greeting she received. The slight figure to Kolivan’s left started to hear her name, and she had the sense of being stared at – studied, even. Such an uncontrolled response surprised her – one from an obviously new blade, then. A dull pang of insult prodded at her ego. Was that truly the extent of the threat they presented, if Kolivan thought to bring such an untested warrior in answer to their already proven strength?

    “Kolivan,” Acxa brushed her thoughts aside to respond in kind, keeping her voice as bland and disinterested as his. Leader still waited on the back of her tongue, but she swallowed the title and refused to give it a voice.

    With that, their pleasantries were concluded. “You said you had reason to treat with us,” Kolivan opened the way for her to begin. “If you wish to speak, then speak.” His voice was low, and pointed. She could feel his presence push in against her bones.

    So, she planted her feet, and refused to budge. “I seek an exchange of favors,” Acxa did not waste her time on needless words. Instead, she pushed crisply forward. “I have information to share in return, to ensure an equal trade between us.”

    “You offer information,” Kolivan did not even pause to blink, “and, in return you seek?”

    Only then did she hesitate. The universe was no longer a safe place, away from the shadow of Lotor's protection, and she had long considered their best step forward over many sleepless nights. Though she liked it but little – and her pride stung for what a picture she knew she presented to her former mentor, she truly believed this to be their best course of action. Now, all she had to do was fight to take this chance for survival. And, fight she would.

    “No one is better than the Blade of Marmora at hiding in plain sight,” she carefully gave her desires a voice. “In exchange, I seek new identities and asylum in one of the reclaimed territories, for both my comrades and myself. Neither would be difficult for the Order to procure.”

    Acxa didn’t expect the rebellion to last indefinitely, and who knew how long the reclaimed territories would stay reclaimed by the Coalition? But, for the time being, it was the safest step she could think to take. From there, they could plan their contingencies, and by the time Zarkon took back what he considered to be rightfully his, they would be ready to move again.

    Yet, until then, they needed time to rest . . . time to recover and mourn. They’d find no clear way forward without first doing so.

    She watched as Kolivan’s head tilted; she couldn’t see his eyes narrow, but she could feel the way his blood-beat skipped. She had surprised him, at least, and she had his attention.

    “I must admit to some dubiousness – to incredulity, even,” Kolivan finally answered. “You were so certain of your course when you took your leave of us. In so little time, much has changed.”

    Yet there was no question in his words – only an observation, and one she cared but little for as it pressed on every raw place that still bruised her skin. Acxa felt her mouth thin. “Is that a question, Kolivan?” her response was perhaps too quick – and more petulant than she would have liked. She wanted to smack her head in frustration for allowing him to so easily coax such a response from her. She was a child no more, but here, before him, her higher reasoning seemed to forget that.

    “I seek clarification – you may read a question in that, if you wish,” Kolivan was swift to answer – like a hunting gaz-falcon sweeping down on its prey. “If you desire my cooperation, I would suggest that you complete the gaps in my knowledge.”

    “I offer you the chance to know the comings and goings of your enemy; anything more than that is inconsequential,” Axca did not see the need for his prying. The Blade of Marmora had never much cared about the individual beyond the weapon they could wield, after all. Why start then, with this?

    “It is indeed in the Blade's best interest to know the affairs of the enemy. And this, I most certainly consider to be,” Kolivan did not approve of her bucking against his wishes. For the first, the cool tones of his voice thinned with a barely strained patience. It was, once, a familiar timbre to her ears. “If you are not with your prince, then something has clearly happened to - ”

    “ - he is not my prince. Do not turn my leaving the Order into something as trivial as that,” Acxa felt as what she had for fangs flashed. “Prince Lotor is . . . or was, the rightful heir to Zarkon's throne, and a way to end the tyranny of the empire without resorting to outright treason. The mandate I chose to leave and follow was not so far from your own - if you’d only do away with your prejudices long enough to see your similarities, rather than your differences. If you will use his title, do so with respect.”

    . . . too few in the empire did, she burned to know. They mouths said prince, but their eyes and blood chortled to say: hybrid, disgrace, weakling, brat. She'd heard what should have been an honor used as a slur too many times before to not feel her blood raze through her veins and her hackles rise. Even then, after everything, the part of her soul that was still loyal to his demanded justice. She could feel both Ezor and Zethrid match her with a thinly leashed aggression at her back – and she knew that they felt much the same as she. No matter their grievances, no matter their wounds, they had stood as a shield for Lotor for too long to so quickly do anything else. It was . . . a difficult habit to unlearn.

    Kolivan was only silent in answer to her tirade. He simply regarded her for a long, long moment. Even when masked, his gaze was unnerving in its stillness – just as it always had been. Acxa felt like she was an erring youth all over again, clumsy and ungainly and getting into some mischief or the other and being judged for her disobedience. She tilted her head up as best she could to meet his superior height, and held his gaze without blinking. In that, at least, she would not budge.

    “You still defend him,” Kolivan finally commented. There was no question in his statement, only an observation. She had indulged his curiosity, even without meaning to. “After everything . . . no matter what, exactly, has sundered your ties, you are still bound to him.”

    There was a measure of truth in his words . . . and she hated herself for it. She fought the urge she had to close her eyes and remind herself: for Narti. In other ways were Lotor and Kolivan all too similar, and she'd remember that; she’d never allow herself to forget that. From there on out her loyalty was to herself and her shield-sisters alone; let the empire burn and the universe with it – she cared not. She no longer had the strength within her to defend that which didn't consider she, herself, worthy of that same dignity in return.

    “I am simply tired of war,” Acxa finally exhaled, and answered the only way she could. The words sounded small to her own ears. “I want no more of it.”

    “Such is the same for all who fight to see our battles end,” Kolivan’s voice was pitiless. “Are you truly so easily defeated, after being so certain of your course?”

    Years ago, his words would have shamed her. Yet, they couldn’t knock her down – not anymore. Not then. Acxa met his gaze, and stated without hesitation: “Until you can show me someone – anyone who values the few as well as the whole, who does not callously throw away those who fall on the wrong side of the scale then, yes. I will not pick up arms again.”

    The ticks passed as Kolivan regarded her in silence. The arctic winds moaned through the glacial shelves as Ezor shifted her weight to dispel her restless energy and Zethrid huffed out a breath in a display of clearly strained patience. Acxa too felt defeat rise within her. Perhaps, this had been a fool’s gambit after all. She was considering how to best extract herself from the conversation, and was already considering the next course they could take, when -

    “I pray to Maahes that you learn to understand loyalty, Acxa,” Kolivan finally rumbled, his decision made. “True loyalty to a cause, at that; to something bigger than us all. Until then – if your information proves useful, we will do as you ask. I will arrange the sanctuary you seek.”

    It was not the answer she least expected to hear. She blinked, momentarily taken aback, and had to stop herself from audibly seeking a confirmation. He . . . would, just like that? Zethrid and Ezor too were startled, she knew from the sudden punctuation of their blood-beats. She could feel a matching such surprise reverberate from the blade standing to Kolivan’s left - they were nearly as invested in their conversation as the blademaster was, she felt, even if she didn’t understand why. She flicked her gaze over their sightless mask, before turning back to Kolivan.

    “You understand the importance of what I've shared, then?” her voice was solemn to ask. No matter what side of the battle-lines they manned, that . . . abomination was a threat to the very fabric of the universe itself. Just barely, she shuddered.

    “Warlord Ranveig has been on our radar for decaphoebs,” Kolivan gave only a moment’s consideration, before confirming. “We’ve had an operative in place since he began his project, yet she’s been silent for some time now. It has . . . troubled us.”

    Such a wealth of meaning assigned to one innocuous word, coming from Kolivan. Acxa felt her eyes narrow as a whisper of warning stoked to life within her. It was an instinct that had never failed her before, and she had well learned to trust her intuition by then. Then, her senses whispered danger and trap. There was a blade hanging over her head, she understood, just waiting to fall.

    Yet . . . she had no idea how to untangle herself from the web slowly closing in around her. She was walking into this with her eyes wide open, unsure as she was of how to do anything else.

    “You are no longer one of my blades, and I cannot order you – yet, if you'd ask this favor of me, then this is what I demand in return: aid my warriors in neutralizing this threat and extracting my agent, and I will give you and yours the asylum you seek,” Kolivan’s outstretched hand sounded as a challenge, even so. She could well imagine his eyes glinting underneath the pall of his mask. “That is,” he added, “if sanctuary is still what you desire.”

    And there it was . . . the falling of the blade.

    Acxa sucked in a breath, and considered her options. Returning to the Order in any way – even for a facsimile of a true mission, was not an option she favored in the slightest – and she most certainly did not want to drag Zethrid and Ezor onto the path the way of Marmora often followed. Little more did she desire to go anywhere near Ranveig’s stronghold, and the horror that had been unleashed there. She was torn, knowing what she wanted, yet, also knowing . . .

    She fought the urge she had to glance over her shoulder and physically look at her comrades. Yet, in the end, she didn’t have to. Zethrid’s presence surged at her back, already confident - and eager, perhaps - to meet any obstacle in their way, even the likes of which Ranveig had unleashed. Her blood pulsed to reach out to her, the same as her physically putting a hand on her shoulder in encouragement – just as Ezor blazed to her senses in much the same way at her opposite side. They trusted her to make this decision for them; they would follow where she led.

    Where she led . . . and that was a burden all its own, wasn’t it? One of a different sort, entirely. Acxa sucked in a breath, and then slowly released it. There was a path waiting before her now, she only needed to set her feet upon it.

    As she deliberated, she felt her eyes drawn to the blade at Kolivan’s left as her instincts whispered - making her choice before she even came to a conscious conclusion with her higher logic. She met their eyes, before shaking her head as if to clear her vision. She didn’t need any more distractions, especially not then.

    Instead, she tilted her chin up and boldly returned her gaze to Kolivan's. Then, she took her leap: “You have a deal.”


    ~MJ @};-
     
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  6. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Excellent musings and spar between blades.
    Kolivan is a forthright blademaster as we can tell from:
    “That simply means you will have to learn faster – and work harder to do so,” Kolivan countered without pity. “Concentrate on why a lesson is given, rather than rushing to the end of it – look down your path as you go, rather than simply running towards its conclusion. You will be stronger in the end, and your comrades will only benefit from your strength.”
    Definitely what Keith sees as an advantage must be turned on its head.
    [face_thinking]

    Keith's reaction to Acxa is indeed complicated. ;)

    Acxa's meeting with Kolivan is one of contesting demands and testing of trustworthiness. I can feel her battle weariness which is understandable.

    But exchanging information and lending practical help - that seems a reasonable bargain.

    =D=
     
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  7. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Kolivan is so, so good for Keith! The entire arc of the Blade of Marmora helping Keith accept his Galra heritage was one I loved on the show. It really went a long way to help him become a team player and accept the idea of found family - which I wish they would have focused more on before he found his birth-mother. (I have no idea why the pro-writers dropped that arc to shove him into Shiro's role as Black's paladin and the leader of Voltron, instead. :confused: o_O :rolleyes: It's . . . well, I'm not going to go on about that here, because I am happy to get this story back going, and I love what I have in store for Keith. So there! :D [face_love])

    I will live and die on my they-are-siblings theory. (Fight me, canon! [face_not_talking]) There's just no other way to describe how easily they fell into perfect sync together so quickly in the "Tailing a Comet" episode in S3 - even their fighting styles perfectly mirrored each other, and they've been bound ever since! So I'm going to dive much, much more into that here! [face_love]

    I really feel for Acxa in this story - she's trying so hard to find a cause worthy of fighting for. She had a complicated past as a Marmorite, and she thought she left for good when she turned away from the Blade to follow Lotor instead. With that alliance now having fallen through (though I am going to fix that too - once again, I am ignoring you, canon!), she really is eating her pride to turn back to them for help - more for Zethrid and Ezor than for herself. Her comrades are hers to protect, and she'll do that to the best of her ability. Kolivan has every right to be wary of her motives, but, in the end, he wants what's best for her too. He always has, ever since she was a youngling - even if Acxa was unable to see it! [face_love]

    Oh, and it's going to lead them all on a merry adventure, just you wait! [face_mischief]


    As always, I thank you so much for reading, my friend. I probably wouldn't still be dabbling with this series without your support. I hope you continue to enjoy this tale as it goes. [face_love][:D]

    Alrighty, more will be up in just a few! :D


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2018
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  8. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Chapter III: The Scarred Veil
    This was his first time seeing a white dwarf star up close. It was a strange, impressive sight, different than any other celestial body he’d yet seen during his time with Voltron. The massive orb of light seemed to glow, in a sense, rather than burn. Eriss was an ancient star, nearing the end of its incomprehensibly long life. Fusion had long ceased to generate in its core; instead, it was the core remaining from some collapsed red giant of old. The star shone with stored thermal energy, but it was cooling - cooling and crystallizing. Someday, nothing like anything they knew in their reality would exist in its place. Their scientists had theories as to what would happen when the white dwarf’s stored energy ran out, of course – but even their universe itself was too young for them to know for a certainty. This old wonder would yet outlive them by millennia upon millennia, at that. The final stage of its life – whether it be a black dwarf or some last silver supernova, wouldn’t be theirs to witness.

    Their own native Sol would someday share this fate, he couldn’t help but marvel with a shiver – that familiar yellow star Earth orbited, light-years and light-years away. Observing this lonely white sun, even from the edge of its system, was like glimpsing a bit of mankind’s own future. Awed, he looked out the viewport with wide eyes for the brilliance of the heavenly phenomena. He was, he distantly thought again, so very far from home.

    Or at least, Ryou acknowledged: the memories implanted in his mind told him that he was a long way from home. He knew that Shiro (the division between his perception of self and his true self was still enough to send his axis thoroughly spinning) held a love and wonder for the stars that had long predated Voltron. That love was why he’d reached out to explore the expanses of outer space in the first place. Perhaps, that love was one part of Shiro that Ryou didn’t mind keeping as he drew away from who he was to figure out he, himself instead.

    “My scans are complete. Green's not picking up on any signs of sentient life – but she's found an energy source emitting from underneath the city,”

    Pulled like a tether by Allura’s reply, sounding next over the speakers, Ryou glanced away from the viewport to look back at the holographic monitors then dominating much of the Castle’s bridge. One display showed a map of Erissalyn, where two red blips marked their companions’ position on the ground below. Allura and Lotor were making their way towards the energy reading Pidge had triangulated for them. So far all was well, like the calm before a storm.

    And, fast on the heels of that thought, Hunk’s voice cut into the conversation next:

    “Yeah - you don't need live soldiers down there to find a threat waiting for you. You could be about to stick your hand into a nest of drones, or - ”

    “ - or something even worse, knowing Haggar.” Lance’s frank reply was sobering, and very, very true.

    His words went without saying, at that. They all knew just how easily their expedition could turn for worse, with very little doing on their part. Ryou felt a shiver run up and down his spine, both frustrated and yet terribly glad (relieved, he could only admit to himself) that he didn’t have to go anywhere near the witch’s lair. He had no desire to step foot in any stronghold of Haggar’s ever again.

    A heartbeat passed, and Allura signaled her intention for radio-silence before turning off her comm. Ryou watched the strong, easy pulse of her energy signature on the screens for only a moment longer, and then turned his eyes back to the stars.

    From further up on the flight deck, standing at the Castle’s helm, Coran had been watching him all the while. Since Lotor’s revelation about who and what he was, it was rare that he didn’t have someone’s eyes on him, in some form or another. Coran’s stare, at least, wasn’t half as bad as most of those looks could be.

    “What are you thinking, two-point-oh?” the Altean majordomo asked him outright. Coran never saw the harm in voicing his curiosity aloud when there was something he didn’t know, and, strangely enough, Ryou never minded answering him. Coran’s concern was . . . different than the kids’ earnest questions and Allura’s wary sense of expectation. Coran, he felt, he could talk to using just his own memories. He didn’t need Shiro for this.

    “The star, Eriss . . . it’s beautiful,” he answered, the only way he knew how. He gestured to the crystalline white dwarf, haloed by pale blue and faint violet light, and watched as Coran followed his trajectory.

    For that, something very soft and fond lit the elder Altean’s eyes. “She's a lovely star, isn’t she? A true gem amongst the cosmos.” For the subtle wordplay, his mustache twitched in amusement. “If you like good ol’ Eriss, you’d have loved Erissalyn as it once was. The planet was a haven for ideology and expression, where science quite often met magic - so much so that they were oftentimes very hard to tell apart.”

    Following that, Coran fell silent, clearly lost in thought. During the previous day’s briefing, Ryou remembered what Allura had shared of her own memories of Erissalyn. The Festival of Veils, she'd said, had been an annual event attended by her family. Coran would have been there, faithfully following behind his king every step of the way.

    “And, standing in the presence of such great shadows,” Coran continued, his voice turning from wistfulness to something that was gentle, more coaxing, “it’s natural to have maudlin thoughts. If you ever feel the need to share, I want you to know that I’ll always be more than happy to provide a listening ear. Two of them, even!”

    Ryou looked down to where his hands gripped the console’s edge – both his organic hand of flesh and bone and the one that was not. If he squeezed too hard, even without meaning to, he could bend the Altean forged steel and leave a mark. He never did have much sense of feeling in his Galran arm, and it was easy to forget both himself and his strength. He could do very real damage if he wasn’t careful. That . . . was an observation that seemed to encapsulate much of his life, lately.

    He let out a sigh as the paladins’ chatter continued to sound through the bridge. While he may have been grateful not to be planetside in Haggar’s lair, he could nevertheless admit to feeling a bit like a caged bear, staying trapped on the Castle out of necessity instead. He should have been out there with his team, where they needed him – where they needed Shiro, at least. Ryou couldn’t tell if that wanting was his own or not, but it felt like such an integral part of who he was – and who Shiro was too, for that matter, that he couldn’t imagine separating one from the other. This would always remain a fixed point of his being.

    Even so, there was wisdom in keeping him away from the day’s mission. Ryou understood that – honest he did. If he was there to give out orders and organize an attack, who was to say that the commands he gave would truly be his own? He wasn’t trustworthy – he didn’t even trust himself, not really. What he felt was right meant nothing; his instincts were inconsequential as long as he remained a puppet tethered on Haggar’s strings. It didn’t matter that he thought the migraines were getting better. Lotor’s revelation about his existence (he was a clone, he wasn't real) had been like a rubber-band drawn tight and finally snapping. He . . . he’d known that something was off since his return; he’d just known. Since then, trying to figure out just what was different was a secret thought that’d terrified him. Knowing the truth, at least, no matter how awful that truth was, had been a relief all its own.

    Since then, he’d sat through innumerable tests with Coran and Pidge and Hunk to scour both his Galran arm and the organic parts of his body for Haggar’s influence. They were all reasonably certain they’d weeded out every seed of her sciences they could find. Even Allura had cleansed the aura of his body’s quintessence as best she could. But her abilities were still only nascent, and largely instinctual - just as Pidge and Hunk, and even Coran, had no idea what to look for or how to remove whatever they may have found. Ryou felt like a ticking time bomb, ready to detonate in his own skin. It wasn't just his imagination any more, he was confirmed to be a potential danger to his team – to Shiro’s team. That thought sickened him as much as it terrified him; he couldn’t stand to see that future pass.

    He had to breathe in deeply to keep his thoughts from overwhelming him. Sometimes, Ryou wished that Haggar hadn’t made him so fine a copy. Having these loves already so deeply rooted in the very fabric of his being, only to grow through his own further experiences, and then knowing that he could – and did – have the power to do them any sort of harm . . . it was cruelty as he could only think to define. No matter what, he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of being a weapon in her hands; he refused.

    “ - would you believe me if I said I’m doing just fine?” Ryou finally replied aloud. Bellying his words, his teeth grit together against the sudden pounding in his head – the natural kind of migraine, at least, and one that was more than understandable after thinking such thoughts. He lifted his organic hand to rub at his temples, trying to coax away the ache blooming there.

    “If you tried, I’d say that your pants are on fire, two-point-oh,” Coran narrowed a look at him. “Liar.”

    For that, however, Ryou did snort. Oh, Lance.

    “Well then,” he felt the corner of his mouth grudgingly quirk, “how about: I’m doing as well as I can . . . or I’m trying to, at least. I think I’m coping.”

    That was a little better. Coran continued to study him, only slightly mollified. The expression snared at something within him, and distantly – very distantly, Ryou allowed himself to admit just how much the other man’s concern bolstered him. Concern for him, he felt, rather than the shadow he represented. In a way he still couldn’t fully put into words, the paladins and Allura drawing back from him had wounded him more than words could say. Their reactions were all slight and unconscious – they’d be horrified, Ryou thought, if they even realized what they were doing – but the fact remained that their hesitance was there. No matter what, he’d already decided to help them return Shiro to his place, and he meant that; he was determined to make his stand. But . . .

    . . . where would that leave him, in the end? It was no longer just Shiro’s memories – his heart and soul copied and then multiplied into him – that urged him to find his place and belonging and home here. This team, being a paladin of Voltron, meant everything to him, just as it had to Shiro. Ryou didn’t want to let them go, and he was sick for the knowledge that, someday, he would have to.

    Still, even with his own future being nothing more than one gaping question mark, he wouldn’t change a single step of his course. This was what had to be done; so, he’d see it accomplished to the best of his ability.

    He heard a faint rumbling in the back of his mind – always so distant, always so hard to hear in a way that now shamed him to understand – as Black roused for the dark turn of his thoughts. Even as relatively close as the bridge was to the hangar, he couldn’t translate an impression of words from her presence – not like Shiro had been able to, no matter their physical proximity. But, at the very least, he could understand a sort of warmth and intention. In a way that he couldn’t wholly explain, he felt like Black was wrapping herself around him and holding him close. Her presence in his mind was very warm, and massive for all that it wasn’t clearly defined. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d needed her until she was there. Mentally, he sighed, and felt as Black soothed that over too.

    The lions reflected the quintessence of their pilots, Allura had said – now, what felt like a lifetime ago. It was Shiro’s life-force she’d bonded to and expressed herself through, but Ryou hadn't been born from nothing; he had a template. Haggar had created him from Shiro’s quintessence, and thus, his existing as even a shadow of his progenitor had been enough for Black to reach out and anchor herself in – and he in turn to her.

    Until they got Shiro back, that would have to be enough.

    “You can still hear her, can’t you?”

    Ryou blinked, and looked up again. For a moment he’d forgotten that he wasn’t alone on the bridge. It usually took all of his concentration and then some to commune with Black, and he had a tendency to lose himself whenever he opened his thoughts to her. (Never mind that, to Shiro’s memories, reciprocating their bond had been as easy as breathing; one never had to think of how to breathe and live and love simultaneously, after all.)

    “Yeah,” Ryou’s voice was soft to acknowledge. “She hasn’t left me.”

    For that, Coran’s expression crinkled at the corners of his eyes. “Well, there you have it,” he spread his arms in a wide gesture. “If you ever feel like you can’t trust yourself, then trust her. She’ll not steer you wrong.”

    “I don’t know,” Ryou muttered. “She’s had . . . questionable taste before.” That, he pointed out as delicately as he could. Black’s original paladin was still a memory that remained fresh and cutting to Coran, even as the repercussions of that bond lingered down through the centuries to effect them all. He didn’t want to harm his friend with a reminder of the past, but the reminder was there.

    Yet Coran didn’t lose his smile, for all that it turned shadowed. His eyes fluttered, and he sighed. “No,” even so, he still did not quite agree. “She’s never demanded anything less than the best for her helm. And that, she still feels you to be.”

    Black then settled in his mind with what Ryou could only describe as a satisfied huff for Coran’s words. She turned heavy and draping over his thoughts in a way that didn’t allow him to dredge up anything she felt was unimportant for him to consider. Her doing so was . . . a relief when things became overwhelming. Ryou felt his heart twist.

    Meanwhile, Coran decided to try a different approach. “On Altea we considered every birth to be sacred,” he revealed. “Children were hard fought for, and when born they were much celebrated. The Life Givers bestowed their gifts only sparingly, after all, and not one of those gifts was ever viewed as less than another. You, my boy, are not a wasted birth. You live; you breathe; you love – there is no more telling a requirement of selfhood than that. No, you are not our Shiro – but that’s okay, you don’t have to be. Instead, you are you, yourself, and I for one am honored to be apart of your path as you figure out exactly who that is. That question is what every sentient being looks to solve, after all. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know, right here and now. Few do.”

    In reply, Ryou could only look at Coran. His mouth worked, but no sound came out. He wanted to speak then, to say something equally meaningful in reply to express just how much those words had meant and how he really, truly took them to heart, but -

    - of course, the universe had other plans.

    Well guys, I hate to break up this little heart to heart – but it's go-time. The energy readings from Haggar's lair are off the charts now, they're spiking beyond my ability to even wholly understand. Lance, I know you hate to say - ”

    Shiro whipped back towards the Castle’s screens, just as Coran darted forward to join him by the monitors. His eyes found Allura’s marker just in time to see her biometrics spike and then flicker alarmingly. That wavering red pulse of energy was then all he could see as his blood rushed to roar in his ears. Instinctively, his hands tightened into fists.

    “ - I told you so! I totally told you so,” Lance crowed before instantly snapping to attention and drawing his teammates into formation. Because, in the end, that didn't matter – not when she needed them.

    Ryou too found his attention narrowing to a laser-sharp point of focus. They had only one objective, now: extraction. Using the Castle’s overrides, he broke the radio-silence on her frequency to ask, “Allura, are you okay? What’s going on?”

    At first there was only the feathery sound of static in reply. Ryou stared as the monitors showed the three lions racing for the planet below.

    “We’re quite alright,” after a long, tense moment of waiting, Allura’s voice was wry to respond. But, no matter her words, the scans from her suit were showing a different matter entirely. “Only,” a note of strain entered her tone, “it seems that the floor is quite literally disappearing from under us.”

    That drew a huffing sound from Hunk. “Now that’s just needlessly dramatic,” he deadpanned. “It’s overkill, really.”

    “Oh yeah, because the evil super-villain is going to care that you think she’s being extra,” Lance’s tone of voice was tense, no matter how his words were shaped to banter.

    “I don’t know,” Pidge carried on next. “If it was my super secret lair of evil and I had unwelcome guests, then I’d -”

    “ - focus, team, now’s not the time for chatter,” Ryou snapped. That part of Shiro’s role came easily enough to him, at least – and the teenagers were all quick to listen. Even as he spoke, they touched down on the planet’s surface. “Allura, talk to us. What do you see?”

    There’d been nothing but the sound of her labored breathing in the meantime, and what sounded suspiciously like crashes and explosions from around her – audible even over her helmet’s mic. “There’s some sort of energy pool underneath the lair, and we’re being forced down towards it. Haggar’s clearly built on - ” but static stole the rest of her sentence. “We’re - ” again her speech cut out. Ryou felt his fists tighten. “There’s nothing - ”

    Then, there truly was nothing. The static roared with a rush of white noise, and then cut out entirely. Beside him, working hard to boost the Castle’s range, Coran spoke with a deceptive calm, “Princess? We’re losing you! Can you read us?”

    Ryou turned to stare at the little red blip transmitting from Allura’s suit, but even that flickered once, alarmingly, and then cut out completely. It vanished. Beside hers, Lotor’s instantly did the same.

    “Guys,” Pidge’s voice turned high with anxiety to confirm, “they both just disappeared from Green’s sight.”

    “Wait, what?” Hunk’s voice wobbled. “Disappeared? Do you mean that they - ”

    “ - no!” the single word was a growled slash of sound from Pidge. “They’re not. I’d have been able to read that. Instead, they’ve just vanished – it’s more like they’ve never even existed at all! And I can’t – eugh, I really, really hate this planet. Its . . . the whatever-it-is around Erissalyn is wrecking havoc on my sensors. I’m having difficulties calibrating.”

    Pidge, keep working on that,” Lance filled in the void to command before Ryou could even voice the order himself. “And Hunk, you - ”

    “ - oh, I’m way ahead of you, buddy. Got it!”

    With that, Yellow put his massive paws to the ground and started to dig.

    As their screens flickered to show Yellow’s onboard cams, Ryou watched with his heart in his throat. Coran stayed busy by his side, his eyes narrowed and his hands flying to swipe through one command after another. But, no matter what he or Pidge did, nothing was able to restore their signals. With each passing second they were all increasingly aware of just how long they’d gone without hearing from Allura. Time was now their enemy.

    In the back of his mind, Ryou could feel Black stirring for the turbulence of his thoughts. She was pressing against his consciousness, trying to push him forward with the command to do something. But he didn’t know how to answer her. He knew what Shiro would do, of course; he knew what he wanted to do, even, but -

    . . . but he wasn’t Shiro; he was Kuron. It didn’t matter what he'd decided to call himself instead. And it would be lunacy of the highest order for him to go anywhere near one of Haggar’s death-traps when he was one of those selfsame traps. It could mean danger for his entire team – for Shiro’s entire team, if he went anywhere near the might offered by Voltron. And he’d already sworn that he would do everything in his power to keep them safe - especially from himself.

    Yet . . .

    “Guys, there’s nothing here!”
    Hunk’s voice was fraught with strain as he shared his lion’s effort of carving into the planet’s crust. Already a massive crater, some stories deep, existed from the swiping of Yellow’s claws. Behind him, Red and Green worked together to clear the debris away. “I’m going deeper and deeper – and I don’t want to crush them once I hit the lair. But by the scans from earlier, I should have been there by now. This doesn’t make any sense.”

    There’s most definitely something there – keep digging! My energy readings are spiking like wild, and that has to come from something. I haven’t had readouts like this since . . . ” but there her voice tapered off, as if she couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing.

    “ - since the trans-dimensional gap,” Coran paled to mutter as he understood what Pidge was trying to say. “The ancients be kind, but we’re dealing with tears in space-time, here.”

    “ - I haven’t had readings like this since the last time Voltron went trans-dimensional,” she sobered to conclude. “Coran,” she immediately shifted her focus. “With what you were saying about Erissalyn being a thin-point between theoretical dimensions, and a potential gateway to the multiverse . . . could Haggar have - ”

    “ - no,” Coran swiftly answered. His voice was firm with certainty. “If Haggar had found a way to reap the quintessence between realities, none of us would be standing here right now. We’re safe from that, at least.”

    And wasn’t that a sobering thought? For a moment, Ryou couldn’t make sense of anything more than Black’s growl rumbling in his ears. He could feel her call rattle in his bones before settling to echo behind his heart. She was clearly trying to reach out to him, and, above all else, he felt her frustration for not being immediately obeyed. She didn’t at all care for being ignored.

    Stubbornly, Ryou planted his feet, and tried to push her voice aside. Didn’t she understand that he couldn’t? He was stuck as support for this round. They would have to figure this out without him.

    “Yet,” Pidge theorized, at first slowly and then with growing, grim confidence, “that doesn’t mean that she didn’t try to force a gateway open anyway. Lotor said this was her first lair – right after the Rift was destroyed. In trying to create a new tear in reality, who knows what kinds of scars and bruises there are on the veils? I don’t have any proof of what I’m trying to say, and I don’t even know how to begin looking for what I think is down there, but, I’m almost positive I’m right.”

    If what he thought Pidge was trying to say was anywhere near true, Allura and Lotor were suddenly much further beyond their reach than would be solved by a little digging. Instead, they’d need -

    - well, Voltron couldn’t be the answer to this, either, Ryou realized with a grim certainty. Without Allura there to pilot Blue, they were currently down one essential component. And he . . . the entire team, together, hadn’t formed Voltron since the revelation about Shiro and who he wasn’t. Ryou didn’t trust himself at the helm of that much power – not now, not when Haggar must have surely realized that her hand was shown. Even beginning to trust himself was dangerously foolhardy and short-sighted. In the end, he just couldn’t.

    . . . couldn’t he? For a moment, he felt his certainty waver. It threatened to crumble the longer it took Allura’s beacon to reappear onscreen. With a blinking, he hesitated.

    That, in the end, was all it took.

    If you do not trust who I know you are, then trust me, Paladin.

    That one, well-formed thought suddenly bludgeoned into his mind with all of the force of an exploding star as Black finally bridged the gap between them long enough to pour her will into his own. Even before Ryou was consciously aware of what he was doing, he turned to leave the bridge, not so much a puppet drawn on strings as much as he was finally giving in to what he wanted to do all along.

    Black thought he could help, he slowly resigned himself – she was demanding that he help, at that. So, for better or worse, help he would. He could only hope that, if this was the wrong choice, she could pull him back from that abyss too.

    Ryou didn’t have to stop and think about what Shiro would do, of course. Already the part of his being that was more him than himself was chanting Allura, Allura, Allura with a near desperate edge. Shiro was always ready to risk everything for her; he wouldn’t let any harm come to her if there was even a fraction of a chance that he could stand as her shield instead. If he didn’t do this, he felt like that part of himself was all but ready to burst out of his skin.

    And, what’s more than that, Ryou wanted to do this. He wanted to do this for himself, and for the own love he bore Allura. This wasn’t only for Shiro.

    “Two-point-oh!” Coran exclaimed from the bridge – he wasn’t able to wholly turn, engrossed as he was in his own task of trying to bring Allura’s signal back online. “Where are you going?”

    “I’m going after her,” between one heartbeat and the next, his decision was made. “They shouldn’t have to do this alone.”

    Deep in his mind, Black rumbled in satisfied agreement. For better or worse, he was committed.



    .

    .

    It started, as most things did, with a whisper. Something, she knew before knowing, was not quite right.

    At first, Allura wasn’t wholly aware of a change. Instead, she was kneeling over yet another drawer of antiquated Altean mapping chips, studying the date and locator stamps and casting aside the ones that held no interest for her. She already had a fair collection of ones she wanted to keep – possible leads for wherever Shiro was being kept, she hoped – and was in the process of downloading and sending them to Pidge when -

    - all of a sudden, she became aware of a faint, white-gold tint glowing to illuminate her surroundings. The dark interior of the underground lair suddenly seemed to shimmer with a growing sheen of iridescence, gilding everything around her in a pale light not quite unlike the silver sunrises this planet was once known for.

    But that was where all pleasant comparison ended. Allura felt her senses flare in warning, even as Lotor’s hand came down heavy on her shoulder to urge her to her feet. “I believe we’ve overstayed our welcome, Princess. Best we take our leave now.”

    “I think you’re right,” she found herself in ready agreement as she pocketed the last few chips and sprinted off with Lotor, back towards the main chamber. Yet it didn’t take them long to realize that even the little time they thought they had was already rapidly waning. What began as a subtle change was turning into a full fledged transformation as the lair shuddered and groaned around them. The ground beneath their feet turned white and burning with an icy intensity, even as the walls shook and chunks of stone fell from the ceiling. It was quintessence she could feel flooding the space – dark and insidious and so completely opposite of the light and life she normally associated with her own gifts as a Sacred Altean. This was a well-spring of force and power they’d best not trifle with; it had Haggar’s unholy mark all over it.

    Obviously, they’d tripped some sort of fail-safe with their presence. Allura would wager that this transformation had started from the moment Lotor’s biometrics had first unlocked the entrance, and her skin ran cold for the knowledge. Haggar was truly ready to sacrifice the whole of her collection if it meant doing away with the intruders inside – if it meant doing away with the threat her son represented, no matter how ignorant she may have been of their connection. Allura winced as the falling debris struck the petrified reesk eggs she’d been admiring earlier, crushing the ancient fossils. The feathered Ty’myn face masks – the last relics of a lost civilization – touched the glowing white-gold energy rising from the floor and disturbingly turned to ash. From further in the caverns, she could hear the sounds of explosions, coming closer and closer. They would not be able to reach the lair’s single point of entry before it fell down around them, she knew with grim certainty. Their time was up.

    Allura didn’t spare a thought before activating her suit’s jet pack – and just in time as the floor quite literally fell away and sank into the gaping expanse of a burning white void rising up from beneath them. She reached out, but didn’t even have to shout his name before Lotor caught onto her intention and took her hand. She swung him up and away as she flew towards the vaulted ceiling – suddenly grateful for that defining trademark of Galran architecture; she had more than enough room to maneuver here.

    “Jet packs,” Lotor gave a long suffering sigh, but otherwise maintained a good face for his sudden role of damsel, as Lance would say. Helpfully, he shifted so that he had an arm braced around her shoulders so she could better support his weight. He was much denser than her Human comrades, but nothing too taxing for her to carry. “Acxa recommended that we develop something similar after running into your Red paladin in the weblum,” his vowels were just clipped enough for her to tell for strain. Strain, and perhaps a bit of regret, quickly muffled. “Now I’m loathe for not listening to her counsel sooner.”

    “Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” Allura said with a confidence she didn’t wholly feel for just how alarmingly Haggar’s lair was falling to pieces around them. “Just don’t say anything that’ll make me want to drop you, and we’ll get through this together.”

    “How comforting,” Lotor gave a droll rumble. “I’m all ease for the knowledge, Princess.”

    “You would do well to trust more, Prince Lotor; I keep my word once given,” she growled as she dove to avoid another falling boulder, and then abruptly swerved up and away from the rising tide of quintessence. Lotor, helpfully, had drawn his sword and was able to deflect what he could of the debris that she couldn’t wholly avoid. His style was based enough on Altean forms that she moved easily with him, and he had the tactical sense to anticipate her flight and react accordingly. Grudgingly – very grudgingly, she admitted that they were a well matched team. “And, what’s more than that,” she hissed, “know that I don’t feel like giving the witch any sort of victory here today – and that includes any harm befalling you. Only,” she allowed a note of worry to leech into her tone, “I don’t like the look of this at all.”

    Whatever the rising energy was, it was not merely quintessence, Allura more than thought – this she knew, instinctively so. Distantly, through a memory so old that it may as well have been a dream, she remembered visiting the Rift when her father was still on good terms with Empress Honerva and her experiments there. She remembered how the Rift had plucked across and sang to her senses; she remembered how it had whispered, how it had promised so many things. The way between ways had always seemed alive to her immaterial eyes and ears, and this -

    “Erissalyn was always thought to be a potential gateway between realities,” she started to venture, unsure how to completely voice her suspicions aloud. “Could - ”

    “ - those claims of old were proved inconclusive in the end,” Lotor did not immediately agree. But there was not the force of conviction behind his words. His teeth were tightly gnashed, showing his fangs. “The witch was never able to garner enough force to puncture the veil. For that, she’d need something with more power than anything even she was able to create.”

    Like Voltron, he did not need to say aloud. What they risked with the lions ever falling into Galran hands was too terrible a future to contemplate, even in silence. So, she did not.

    “Yet,” she hazarded, “that did not stop Haggar from trying. And I fear, in her efforts . . .”

    Perhaps, the veil was more scarred, rather than torn, then? Were they being pushed down towards a bruise – a blister, of a sort, on reality? She could feel that truth in her bones, and yet was unable to quantify it aloud; she had no way to collaborate or confirm her suspicions. It was becoming difficult to think, at that – to process anything even at all. Allura could feel the swirl of dark quintessence rising in the cavern; it was sticking in her lungs and seeping through her pores in no way her armored flight-suit could even hope to guard against. She glanced over when Lotor didn’t immediately respond, concerned when she could no longer see the blue in her companion’s eyes. Instead, his gaze seemed to almost wholly reflect the swirling void steadily rising beneath them. His weapon had gone still in his hand. Only reflex, she had a vague premonition, had him hanging onto the relative safety she provided. Haggar’s power, she suspected, was affecting him as much as it was affecting her – albeit in a different way.

    “Lotor, what’s wrong?” she tried to rouse him, jostling him as best she could without dropping him entirely. “Lotor, snap out of it!”

    But he only turned heavier in her arms. The void below, she had a vague premonition, was drawing on him as if kindred. She felt a disquieting pulse thrum through her gut at the thought. Beyond the secrets she knew he kept, there were still too many questions she held about Lotor in general that had too long gone unanswered. Just how much, she wondered then, was his hybrid existence due to Empress Honerva’s experiments on the Rift? Quintessence was life, in more ways than one – perhaps even enough to help stitch two disparate genetic profiles together as a third interwoven strand. Allura chided herself for not seeking answers to her questions sooner.

    But, before she could allow herself to puzzle through that mystery any further -

    - Allura, are you okay?” at long last, she suddenly heard Shiro – she heard Ryou speak over her comm. She felt a flood of relief engulf her for the familiar sound of his voice. “What’s going on?”

    “We’re quite alright,” Allura forced a wryness to her words that she did not wholly feel. “Only,” a note of strain intruded, even so, “it seems that the floor is quite literally disappearing from under us.”

    That, she thought as the churning sea of white-gold energy rose higher and higher – and she had to fly all the more erratically to avoid the falling debris – may have been an understatement. She could see bands of crackling black-violet energy flashing through the white-gold as the vortex grew. Soon, there’d be no room left for evasion.

    Her words drew a huff of sound from Hunk. “Now that’s just needlessly dramatic,” he deadpanned. “It’s overkill, really.”

    “Oh yeah, because the evil super-villain is going to care that you think she’s being extra,” Lance’s voice came out tense, no matter the shape of his words. She could feel the worry their banter was trying to cover, regardless.

    “I don’t know,” Pidge carried on. “If it was my super secret lair of evil and I had unwelcome guests, then I’d -”

    “ - focus, team, now’s not the time for chatter,” Ryou snapped, and the paladins were quick to listen. “Allura, talk to us. What do you see?”

    “There’s some sort of energy pool underneath the lair, and we’re being forced down towards it. Haggar’s clearly built on some sort of blister on the veil, a wounded pocket between realities. We’re not going to be able to escape its reach. There’s nothing more I can do to maneuver away - not for much longer.”

    But, only static answered her. Below – now so, so close – she could see the forks of purple lightning grow in intensity through the void. She was running out of time – they both were, she felt worry pierce through her as Lotor turned to a wholly dead weight in her grasp. She shifted so as to not let him fall. She’d see them both through this; she would.

    Shiro?” she called, before wincing. It was still so instinctive to look for him by her side, and she then missed him like she would her right hand. Shamed, she instantly corrected herself: “Ryou?" When he didn't answer, she tried, "Coran? Paladins? Can you read me?!”

    But silence was her only answer, and silent she knew they would remain. She was on her own until they - or she, found a way out from this place. They'd have to find a solution soon, too, before Haggar’s first lair became their final resting place.

    Allura flashed her teeth at the thought. The Galra already had enough Altean blood on their hands, and she would not allow herself – or her companion, to become one victim more. Not before her father’s legacy was honored, and his death avenged in full.

    That left her only one course, then.

    “Lotor,” she exhaled, instinctively feeling what she needed to do, “if you’re still in there . . . don’t fight this, and please, for the love of the ancients just trust me. I can’t spare the energy if you don’t.”

    Allura let her hands flare with pure bands of pink-violet energy – glowing and then growing to encompass both her and him, and then dove down into the vortex below.




    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2018
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wow! Wonderful musings of Ryou about Eriss and his place with the team. Lovely just-wht-is-needed words from Coran about belonging and then ... =D= Allura and Lotor are really really someplace else :eek: ... but with Ryou's timely connection with Black ... they have options again. [face_relieved] [face_thinking]
     
    Mira_Jade likes this.
  10. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Thank-you! This show has given me some awesome opportunities to play with some wacky sci-fi themes, which I love! Setting up this scenario was all sorts of fun, and I'm giddy to share the resolution, too.

    And Kuron!!! Ryou. [face_love] Honestly, with all the things about the show that made me grumble, it was Kuron/Ryou's treatment that really, really hit me as unnecessarily cold and cruel, especially for a 'kid's show.' Coran's words were what I wish were said in canon! I'm going to give Ryou the story he deserved if it's the last thing I do! And, oh boy, here we go. I have to explain to you why this means so much to me, if you don't mind me ranting for a minute. :p Just -

    We spent four seasons getting to know this character - a character that loved his team/family, and who knew that something was wrong with him to the point that it scared him. This character joked and played and cared and apologized when he was wrong, and fought so, so hard against Haggar, only to lose his body to Shiro's spirit and then be remembered as 'it' and 'evil' without a sliver of remorse or mourning or understanding from anyone on the show. That just hit me as a real failing on the writers' part. And you can't even tell me that Shiro and Kuron are 'one' being, or however the writers were trying to backpedal to cover themselves. No. That's the stuff of sci-fi horror, no matter how they glossed over it. That's honestly when I stopped watching the show, and just skimmed the rest instead. So many themes in science fiction involve dealing with artificial intelligence and perception of self - answering the question of what really makes someone human. Clones are characters we're used to seeing in that narrative. Kuron was his own person, not just a knock-off of Shiro, and for the writers to seemingly be surprised that the fans cared for and were horrified by his treatment just strikes me as cold to an unbelievable degree. [face_plain] And the sad thing was that it would have been so easy to keep both Shiros. Shiro had a twin brother in the original series; this could have been a twist to add Ryou to the reboot. (But the writers would have to like Shiro in the first place to do that - speaking of a character they torture over and over again for no logical reason and with no satisfying resolution. Eugh! :rolleyes:) So! I am going to fix that here. Obviously.

    Just look at this dear, dear boy and then tell me he's doesn't even warrant a single line remembering him with some kind of positive emotion!!

    Kuron, trying to recover Shiro's bond with Black:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    And trying to figure out what's wrong, without anyone on the team - except Lance, sorta, briefly - trying to help when he's clearly struggling:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Who loved just as deeply as Shiro did:

    [​IMG]

    Who picked being a paladin in the space-Dungeons and Dragons game over and over again, and who was absolutely silly playing with his team in the first place.

    [​IMG]

    (By the way - Shiro, the only character who ever wanted to see the stars and didn't want to go back to Earth, loses his bond with Black to Keith and is no longer a paladin after literally fighting Zarkon for Black and them both healing from their respective Galra-induced truama together. Because that makes sense.)

    JUST LOOK AT THIS DORK!!!

    [​IMG]

    Then, in the end, for him to try and break through Haggar's influence (which in of itself is an amazing feat) because of his love for Keith, and for this moment of horrified realization of what he'd done to be his last:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It's cruel writing that shows a staggering lack of basic human empathy, and I'll never get over it.

    Just, look:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Yep. He's clearly an evil clone that deserved the treatment he got. Great message to send to the kids! Really, there's nothing more for me to say than that. ;)

    And, as a last side point, the funny thing is, one of Lotor's most villainous moments in the series was killing Narti when she was mind-controlled by Haggar and unwittingly betrayed her team. Narti, though it wasn't her fault, betrayed their plans, and as a result, Zarkon gave a kill order for his son and anyone allied with him. Even under those circumstances, Lotor, the villain, showed emotion for killing Narti. His demeanor was different throughout the rest of S4. And that action - one you could even argue as necessary - sundered his generals from him. Lotor even told Acxa he understood why she was parting ways; he didn't fight her. If there's some level of moral awareness from the villians, why was Kuron treated differently? His death was just as regrettable as Narti's, and it could have been easily avoided by the writers. Or they could have given him an honorable death and a good legacy, at the very least. But the paladins are the heroes, so the writers didn't even bat their eyes at what comes off as chillingly cruel behavior. We're supposed to just accept it instead. o_O


    But hey, that's what fan fiction is for! You better believe that I have an entire list of things to check off and fix. Thanks canon, but no thanks. ;)

    I'll have more up after just a little more tweaking. :) Thank-you for reading, my friend, as always!!

    [:D]

    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
  11. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Chapter IV: Beyond The Veil, Pt. I
    Allura looked into the gap of the void, and this is what she saw:

    A memory.

    She was a child again, still wide eyed from the nursery and only beginning to understand just how vast the universe beyond Altea truly was. She’d thought herself quite grown up, attending the Festival of Veils for the first. Her parents had told her stories of the World of Gateways before, and she was giddy to see Erissalyn for herself.

    The planet was wondrous in every way, beyond even her wildest expectations. The principle city of Saelyna was a graceful metropolis of fluted buildings made from multicolored glass and a pearly material that reminded her of the inside of a seashell. The skyline of temples and museums and centers of science glittered underneath the silvery rays of the white dwarf sun above. To the east of the city was the awesome expanse of the turquoise Jaln sea, to the west a range of colorfully banded sandstone cliffs. Inside the city itself, streamers and banners had been strung between every possible building and balcony, and homes were decorated with festive flare. Everywhere she looked the streets were crowded with people of all species, dressed up as something they were not, with masks pulled down over their faces in spirit of the festival. The entire city had been transformed into a cacophony of glitter and celebration and noise. She’d already had several more sweets than she was usually allowed in a day, and, instead of wearing a mask, one of the street vendors had painted her face with periwinkle and gold wings to match the system's native flutter-flies. She had a new dress for the occasion, a lovely gown in the pastel blue and white of the royal House of Airell. She even had pink ribbons tied about the puffy shapes of her sleeves – her mother’s one concession for her to wear the very grown up color. “Let me worry about mourning the fallen,” Queen Fala had winked at her, smoothing down the panels of her own gown. “You represent Altea’s future, dear, not our past.”

    Yet, no matter her mother’s words, she held her head up high and composed herself with as much grace and dignity as possible for bearing that bit of royal duty. She wanted to do her parents proud and prove that she was old enough for more: she was the princess of Altea, heir to the crown of Altus, and she was ready to accept the duties inherent of that role.

    . . . which meant that she would never admit to feeling just the slightest bit overwhelmed for the chaos of the festival. Never mind the crowded streets full of masked festival-goers, the music playing on every corner, and the constant ringing of the temple bells – there were also the people who weren’t from their universe walking amongst the masses like silvery ghosts rising from the shadows. She could feel them with her gifts as a Sacred Altean; the shades were real . . . but yet not, and her mind reeled for the dichotomy of her senses.

    “Here, during this precious window of time, we can glimpse into realities other than our own,” Fala gently explained before their journey. “The shades cannot interact with you in any way – you can only see them, just as they can see you. But this festival is a powerful reminder that we are not alone; our universe is only one of an infinite many. For those who bear the yoke of leadership, it’s humbling – and even necessary, to remember just how small we really are in the grand order of things.”

    Even so, they’d sat down before the trip to work on practicing her mental shields, as the thinning veils could be an overwhelming experience for an untrained novice. Now that the festival was proving to be so, Allura wanted to show her mother that she’d been listening. She was more than capable of fulfilling her role as Altea’s crown princess; she was old enough to stand up tall, and not want for her parents to hold her hand at every turn.

    But . . . everywhere she looked the shades walked – some curious and friendly and yet others just staring at her with piercing, timeless eyes. It was as if, a small voice in her mind whispered, they knew something that she did not. What they knew, she felt, was too terrifying to comprehend. And, finally, she couldn’t -

    - overwhelmed, Allura darted into a quiet alleyway, losing even Coran’s careful attention in the chaos as she did so. The side-street led to a park, concealed in a small courtyard, that was untouched by the fervor of the festival. In the middle of the gardens there was a fountain, with silver waters leaping merrily from the tier of spouts in its center. Feeling a sense of peace fill her for the sight, she headed towards the basin and slumped down to sit on the soft grass beside it. She pillowed her head on her arms over the rim of the fountain, and concentrated on her breathing – deeply in and deeply out, over and over again until her heartbeat calmed.

    Yet, the Festival of Veils managed to reach her, even there. The nearly transparent points in time and space knew not of boundaries; it was silly of her to think she could ever escape them in the first place.

    When she finally lifted her head, it was not her own reflection she saw looking back at her in the water. Instead, there was the image of a boy forming in the ripples – a young boy, seemingly about her age, with a night-dark head of hair and pale, creamy colored skin. His eyes were narrow in shape, a beautiful shade of soft grey with pupils just as black as his hair – a combination unlike anything she’d seen on Altea before. She stared, admittedly unable to look away as she felt a shiver run up and down her spine. A blush rose on her cheeks. Even though she could say that she’d never seen this boy before in her life, she felt like she knew him. (She felt like she’d always know him.)

    But, while she may have felt one thing, her mouth instead opened to blurt: “What’s wrong with your ears?”

    The boy’s mouth dropped open, and he gaped at her. “What’s wrong with my ears?” he seemed dumbfounded to echo her. “What about your ears?”

    Allura started to hear him speak. The shades were supposed to be unable to interact; they were just impressions of other times and places. This was not right - the boy in the fountain was an impossibility, one that she did not immediately understand. She felt her heart leap into her throat for her inability to explain what her senses were telling her.

    “My ears are natural and right,” even so, she turned her nose up to say. It didn’t matter that her ears were currently much too big for her head – she was growing into them. He’d know that if he knew anything. “I am the crown princess of Altea, and I command that you not mention them again.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings - honest,” the boy clearly faltered, and a blush bloomed over his cheeks. Shame gripped her for hearing his words. He shouldn’t have to apologize - she’d been the one to forget her manners first, after all. He’d merely responded in kind. But before she could say anything of the like, he worked his mouth as if bravely gathering himself and blurted, “You . . . you’re beautiful.”

    She’d been told that she was beautiful many times before. Just that morning, Coran had twirled her about in her new dress and declared that she was more lovely than even Aldwyn the Fairest. But, it seemed to mean something different, coming from this boy.

    Allura knew her markings were glowing, and she couldn’t have that. Yet, as she searched for her words to graciously return his compliment – just as she’d seen her mother do with countless courtiers before, she head something from the boy’s side of the veil: “Takashi!” the distant voice called. “It’s time to come in; supper’s ready!”

    “I have to go now,” the boy – Takashi, looked regretful, but he obediently stood. Already it was growing difficult to make out his image in the pool as the veils shifted. “That’s my grandfather. I - ”

    Even as she turned away from his reflection, she heard her own guardians coming towards her: “Allura! Allura, Are you here? Where did you run off to?”

    (Something, thousands of years later, tugged deep inside of her, and she sucked in a breath. She didn’t want to let him leave.) When she looked back at the fountain, the boy was gone, but she thought she could hear: “Jii-chan, Jii-chan! There was a princess from outer space in the stream just a moment ago. A princess!”

    “Father?” she found her voice as King Alfor appeared from the alley, worry clearly pinching his expression. She felt guilt flush through her, knowing that she’d caused him a fright. She shouldn’t have ran off, but . . . the boy . . . she already missed him; she wanted his reflection to return. Yet, no matter how she stared, the water was merely silver now, showing nothing more than a mirror image of the gardens in the courtyard. Irrationally, she felt a stabbing sensation in her chest. For some queer moment, it hurt to breathe.

    (Weightless in the scar upon realities, something teased at Allura’s slowly recovering mind. She still wanted him to come back; she needed to return him to his place like she needed breath for her lungs. Shiro.)

    Ignorant of her thoughts, Alfor darted forward to scoop her up in his arms. There, no matter how grown-up she was endeavoring to be, she buried her face in the crook of his neck and let him hold her. Over his shoulder she could see her mother and Coran, each wearing relieved looks of their own. Furthering her contentment, her mother reached up to smooth her curls back from her brow, even as Coran ran a restless hand over her shoulders as if to assure himself that she was well. She hadn’t meant to scare them, but it seemed as though she had.

    “I saw one of the shades in the fountain,” she tried to explain as Alfor sat her down again. She wiped at her eyes, surprised to find tears there. “There was a boy . . . and he spoke to me.” He called me beautiful, she didn’t know how to find the words to say. I told him that his ears were funny.

    Her parents exchanged a look. That, she knew, was not supposed to be possible.

    “Well . . . the veils have been known to work in mysterious ways before,” Fala finally shrugged. She was devout to the mystical arts as a Sacred Altean, and accepted that there were things greater than their ability to comprehend; her father, however, sought to explain and understand his own connection to the ether of the universe through science. Usually, they met somewhere in between. “Perhaps,” she theorized, “the shade is someone you will meet again in the time to come?”

    That immediately sounded agreeable to her. Yet her father gave a grimace that she couldn’t quite understand. “Not that we want any potential suitors seeking her out in this or any reality,” he muttered – more to her mother than to her, she felt. “The ancients help me, but I thought we still had decaphoebs to go before that became an issue?”

    Fala gave a dimpling grin, but she did not say anything to put her husband’s mind at ease – for which Alfor’s eyes widened in alarm. “Come now, dear,” instead she moved on entirely, “the sun is setting, and the sky display will start soon. We should be on our way.”

    Of course; it was time to be a princess again. Allura wiped her eyes one last time and smoothed down her rumpled skirts as best she could. She wrinkled her nose where she noticed that her new gown was now stained with grass. But she took one of her parent’s hands in each of her own as they walked out of the garden together, and soon forgot about her dress. Coran too was a comforting presence at her back, just within reach as he always ways. She was right where she was supposed to be, surrounded by those she loved most. And, there in her mind’s eye was also -

    - but no. No. This was a memory. It was not real. It wasn’t real.

    (Adrift in the scar on the veil, held at bay from the forces that should have been tearing her apart by the sacred spark of the Life Givers, deep within her spirit, Allura held on tighter to the hand grasped in her own. She had to be strong, for herself and both of them. She needed -

    - but, even as she struggled for consciousness, the white glow of her surroundings took her again, and she fell deeper into the depression of displaced energy. The surface of reality – her reality, then seemed further away than ever before.)



    .

    .

    The same as always, Ryou felt nothing but joy for settling into Black’s cockpit and feeling her roar to life around him. Her presence bloomed in his mind, filling him with a sense of purpose and belonging – even greater than Shiro’s memories of breaching Earth’s atmosphere for the first time as a cadet. The stars are so incredibly bright out here, he could still recall that overwhelming rush of awe as if it'd been his own. I want to visit them all. This was similar, and yet still more in a way. No matter any other change in his life, the privilege of being Black's paladin, even for the time being until they found Shiro, was something Ryou would never grow used to. He never wanted to give this bond up, if he was being completely honest with himself. But that inevitability, like so many others, was something he refused to think about. He couldn’t just then, not when Allura needed him.

    In no time at all, Black left the Castle behind and sped off towards Erissalyn. In a blinking, he put half the solar system behind him. After he finally breached the planet's scant atmosphere, he zeroed in for the massive crater Hunk had cleared. Yellow's efforts had destroyed a good portion of what remained of Saelyna even further, but that couldn’t be helped at the moment. Their problem was that they couldn’t go deeper – not for something that didn’t exist in their plane of reality, not anymore. Ryou could feel Hunk’s strain over the bond connecting all the paladins together, and Yellow shared his impatience and frustration as a rattling in all their bones. Yellow didn’t much care for any problem he couldn’t solve through his sheer strength alone, and this, protecting her, was something he considered his duty above all else.

    Yet before Ryou could speak, Black gave a comforting rumble to greet her brother. Just slightly, Yellow pulled back from the bottom of the crater and bowed his great head to answer her with a pitiful sounding yowl. Ryou felt his heart twist to hear the usually mighty entity make such a defeated sound. Firm, dependable Yellow was always a bulwark, and his siblings were all projecting their agitation to feel him as anything else.

    “What? Wait, Ryou?” Hunk was the first to understand what his lion was telling him. “Is that you, and Black?”

    Ryou understood the incredulity in Hunk’s voice, and even shared a bit of it himself, still, if he was being completely honest. After all, he hadn’t trusted himself at Black’s helm since finding out who he truly was . . . and who, by extension, he wasn’t. By unspoken agreement, his decision had been supported by his teammates.

    Once again, he closed his eyes and hoped that he wasn’t making a mistake. Too much was at risk if he was. Allura.

    “Ryou!” he head Lance exclaim next. As always, Black’s intimate awareness of Red was a deep, steady thrum of contentment in his mind. One would never fully function without the other, twined together as they were. “We weren’t expecting you – but, honestly, I think we could use some help. We’ve hit rock bottom here – literally.”

    Hunk, as always, was more cautious than Lance. “Are you sure you’re okay, man?” he asked warily. He sounded like he hated every word he said, but was obligated to push forward anyway, “Because, if you’re not, we really - ”

    “ - of course he’s sure,” Lance interrupted. His voice was breezy, but his presence flashed in their bond to give his words a note of command. “He wouldn’t be here otherwise, would he? So let’s not waste time with useless questions. Welcome back, Ryou,” he added, his voice warming to address him more specifically. “It’s good to see you in action again.”

    “It’s good to be back,” Ryou thanked him with a silent flush of gratitude. “I hadn’t realized just how much I missed our connection before this.” Deep in his heart, he felt Black give a satisfied purr. No matter the dangers of their situation, he smiled as he settled into the pilot’s chair. He could do this.

    Which brought him to -

    “ - alright then, let’s get back to work,” he focused his attention on the problem at hand. “What’ve you got for us, Pidge?”

    “Nothing much,” her voice came over the comms, thick with distraction and strain as she spared them an answer. Green herself was hissing like a wet cat, bearing her teeth and ineffectively swiping her claws at the barrier she couldn’t breach – and Pidge's frustration only encouraged her lion's ire. Subtly, Black reached out to help calm both lion and paladin; clearer minds would always prevail over those not, and they needed every advantage they could get just then. “I’m trying to figure out a way to scan for quantum particles beyond our reality, hoping to see what’s trapped Allura,” Pidge let out a terse breath to continue, “but I’m not having any luck.”

    “It’s okay,” Lance encouraged his friend. “If anyone has a bigger brain than Haggar, it’s you,” he didn't have a single doubt. “You’ve got this.”

    “Yeah . . . I suppose,” but, only for a moment, Pidge’s voice sounded small to their ears. She’d seen her sixteenth birthday with Voltron, but she still wasn’t any older than that, Ryou reminded himself. Haggar, to the contrary, had thousands of years to perfect her understanding of the universe . . . and use that knowledge to her advantage.

    But Ryou knew who he’d put his money on, any day of the week. If anyone could figure this out, it was Pidge.

    No matter how feathery his mental connection to the others was as opposed to Shiro’s, Pidge caught that last thought from him as clearly as if he'd spoken it aloud. He felt her gratitude, and even a small flush of pleasure across their bond. His opinion meant a great deal to her, whether he was the real Shiro or not, and that knowledge humbled him in return. A moment later, she sucked in a breath, and blew it out crossly.

    “It’s just . . . I’ve read essays by Hugh Everett and Stephan Hawking and the like, and I appreciate the idea of the multiverse – but we had so many ideas about the nature of the universe back on Earth and no way to support any one theory over another. The science was impossible to prove or disprove beyond merely hypothesizing,” she tried to work the problem out loud. “Too much about the cosmos is beyond our ability to comprehend – we can’t even wholly map our own universe, even with the advanced knowledge and technology that’s available out here. It kinda makes me laugh whenever someone says that Zarkon’s conquered the universe – it's a figure of speech, because anything more than that’s impossible. Maybe he’s subdued a great deal of what’s known of it, sure, but, beyond that . . . it’s overwhelming, thinking about other worlds, when just our own reality is infinite.”

    “Then work the problem, Pidge,” Ryou gentled his voice. “We don’t need to worry about every possible universe right now. We just need to focus on this one, bruised part of our own.”

    For a long moment, there was only silence over the comms. But he felt the exact moment when Pidge stumbled across a possible answer . . . only, it was one he didn’t think she much liked. He braced himself to hear why.

    “I guess, if I can’t figure this out using science,” slowly, Pidge hazarded aloud, “there may be another way.”

    “What’re you thinking, Pidge?” Lance coaxed again. “Whatever it is, we can handle it.”

    “Well,” she drew out that single word, and soldiered on, “Voltron itself was created from a comet that passed from another universe to our own – that trans-dimensional ore is what makes the lions so unique, and powerful. In a way, we’re already connected to the gaps in space-time by virtue of being created from a material that fell through one of those gaps.”

    “But we don’t have Voltron now,” Lance pointed out. “We need Allura and Blue for that.” With Voltron, it’d be easy – well, relatively speaking, of course, to reach wherever it was she and Lotor were trapped.

    “Yeah, but there is one lion who’s already capable of accessing more than the three dimensional reality our minds can comprehend,” Pidge pointed out tightly. “And Allura’s life-force was, in turn, bound to the lions by King Alfor . . . I think that, maybe, if Black put her mind to it . . .”

    Instantly, they all understood what Pidge was trying to say at once.

    And they all recoiled.

    “Are you talking about teleportation?” Hunk sounded incredulous. “Even Shiro only managed that once. And, when he did . . .”

    Well, that desperate, all out offensive against Zarkon was the last time they’d seen Shiro alive. Afterward, all they’d been able to find was Black, floating lifeless and empty amongst the debris littering the battlefield. Following that was where Ryou’s memories of waking up in Galran captivity – again, picked up. They still had no idea what happened to Shiro beyond that moment.

    “ - yeah,” Pidge’s tone was clipped. “I know – we all know. You don’t have to remind us.”

    “And who’s to say that Ryou can even manage accessing that power at all?” the apology was thick in Hunk’s voice to continue, but he pushed on with the ugly truth regardless. “Sorry, buddy, but we know that it can be . . . difficult for you, to pilot Black for long periods of time anyway. It makes sense now, knowing what we know – you only have a shadow of Shiro’s quintessence connecting you to Black. You’ve been able to make that work, but for how much she’d have to draw on you, personally, to jump anywhere, let alone into a pool of trans-reality energy . . .”

    Hunk didn’t need to spell it out for him. Unseen by the paladins, he grimaced.

    “Well, I’m used to migraines – what’s one more?” but, no matter his attempt for humor, his words came out thin. This was . . . a big risk, with much at stake for him, personally, if things went wrong.

    “I don’t think this would be just a migraine you’re risking, Ryou,” Hunk’s voice darkened to say. It helped, but only just, to know that it was concern for him, personally, that drove Hunk to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. “Trying something that requires this much energy could tear you apart. And, quite frankly, we’re sick of losing Shiros - and that includes you, too. We’d like to keep you around if at all possible.”

    “But, then,” Lance pointed out in a soft voice, “what about Allura?”

    And, when it came down to that – to her, there was no question in Ryou’s mind, not in the slightest. He focused his attention inward, to where Black had gone quiet and waiting in his consciousness. She thought he could do this, he knew – what’s more than that, she wanted to do this. Allura was the cub of their creator, and Voltron’s heart in the purest sense of the word; Black adored her in a way that was only just surpassed by Red – and now Blue, in a way. This . . . this was why she’d pushed for him to join the battle in the first place, Ryou suspected. She knew what their only option would be, and she was ready to walk that path if he was too. But there was still a risk – such a risk, much as Hunk had clearly spelled out for him. For that risk, she wouldn’t force him to go any further without his full agreement. This was a choice he had to make on his own; she wouldn’t influence him, one way or another.

    His hands flexed over the pilot’s yoke, and he took in a deep breath. In the end, he didn’t allow himself to entertain any other choice.

    “Black has helped me do things I wouldn’t have thought possible before,” he summed up his thoughts the only way he knew how. “I trust her to do so again.”

    Thankfully, no one mentioned that she had done those things with Shiro, mostly. It didn’t matter. They didn’t have Shiro now, they had him. He had to be enough.

    “Alright then,” Hunk sighed through his nose. “Don’t mind me, just fretting and stressing out over here. I’m sure you’ll be just fine. Awesome, even,” he rambled. “Jumping around the veils of time and space is a walk in the park. Just another day with Voltron, right? Yep. Easy peasy.”

    “Don’t worry,” Ryou offered a wan smile, hoping to help put the Yellow paladin’s mind at ease. He almost said: it’s okay if everything goes wrong, really. I’m expendable, right? But he swallowed those words. “I trust Black,” instead, he firmly repeated. “That’ll be enough.”

    After all, it always was before.

    “Then let's go,” Pidge was the one to sum up decisively. “If this is what we’re doing, we have to move quickly. I’m sending over my last readings from Allura and the lair before everything went dark. Even if I can’t make heads or tails of the data, maybe Black can.”

    The Black lion was more than just the head of Voltron, after all – she possessed an awareness of cosmic energy and even time itself that was unique amongst the lions. She had a connection to the universe that was special, and Shiro had traveled with her to higher planes of existence before. If anyone could reach Allura and Lotor . . .

    . . . well, Ryou could be a vessel for Black to do what needed to be done. He could.

    “Just . . . be careful, Ryou,” Pidge added in a soft voice. “I’m not interested in trading one friend for another today.”

    “Don’t worry,” Ryou felt a curious sense of calm settle over him. His assurance was genuine. “I’ve got this – we’ve got this. We’re going to bring Allura back.”

    There was no more time to spare, then. Without allowing himself to think his course through any further, he thrust his bayard into the console, and felt the weapon lock into position. Giving himself over to Black completely, he turned the bayard clockwise and surrendered his consciousness into her keeping. Trusting her completely, he let her draw him through and beyond.

    A heartbeat later, they disappeared from view, and pierced the scar on the veil.



    .

    .

    Allura struggled to look beyond the gap of the void – wanting to find the surface as if she was drowning in an ocean swell and trying to tell up from down. Instead of showing her the way out, however, the veils only parted for her to see:

    A future, now impossible.

    Somehow managing to retain a vague perception of herself this time, she blinked to look through the eyes of a possible version of her future self. This Allura, from one of the infinite universes pressing in against their own, sat firm and confident in the cockpit of her lion. At first, her hands tightened over the familiar grips of her pilot’s levers and she sank into her chair, ease and contentment buffeting through her veins as her lion roared a greeting in her heart. But, where she first looked to find the familiar ebb and flow of Blue’s presence pulsing alongside her mind, she felt something else instead. This was far different from the fluid, soothing rhythm of piloting Blue. Instead, she sank into her bond with her lion, and felt fire.

    Fire?

    Red!

    Allura gasped in understanding, startled to feel a consciousness that raced alongside her own like wildfire dancing across a forest. The flames were intertwined with her thoughts so completely, but never once consumed her own perception of herself. Instead, she only felt so thoroughly, impossibly warmed - as if she'd never know a moment of cold again. Through their connection, Red seemed to anticipate and react to an action or two down the line rather than existing solely in her own limited perception of time. Much like the Blue lion, who was the penultimate ability to adapt and respond to change, and a sure footing amongst the twists and turns during the tide of battle (and, through that ability for acceptance, healing and stability), Red reacted wholly through perception and instinct. Whereas Blue flowed as water, Red bellowed as fire; each element had the potential for chaos when unbound, but here, harnessed together with their pilots, they were an unstoppable force.

    What easy harmony, a part of her heart rejoiced for their connection. What perfect synchrony! Here she was flying her father’s lion – her father’s lion, the same as she’d dreamed of doing since she was old enough to understand just what being a paladin of Voltron truly entailed. She understood, then as she had not before, why Alfor had been so devoted to Red. Red was a way to let every single overwhelming thought go towards a single, united purpose in the midst of Voltron. Alfor’s mind had been a scientist’s mind, drawn in so many different directions, and his shoulders bore the weight of a king’s mantle. Red had taken the excess of each from him, and in turn allowed him to exist simply for the sheer joy of doing so. Red was so fast, Allura marveled next; faster than any of his siblings could ever hope to match. He could even fly circles around Black, Black, who -

    Allura was used to experiencing the bond that united the paladins of Voltron in her own world – never mind that her connection to the rest of the group had always felt hazy, as if she was on the outskirts of the web that connected her Human comrades together. For some time, she’d accepted that as a side effect of having joined their formation so late in the game. Now, she reconsidered that line of thought. Perhaps . . . her reasoning was wrong - because this experience was so incredibly different from anything she'd once thought to understand, and through that understanding, know.

    Hazily, in a way that reminded her that this was still an unreality, she was aware of four other paladins flanking her, each different from her own reality. But there, dominating the forefront of her awareness, was Black. It was then and only then that she fully grasped what it meant for Red to be the right hand to Black. The two lions were bound together through design – the seat of thought and the dominant hand for action – and neither wholly existed alone. Without one, the other would be powerless. With scarce a fully formed thought, Black read her intentions even before she understood her reasoning herself. Red, in turn, attuned his quicker reflexes to Black's thinking, and adjusted their course without a word said aloud. It was an exhilarating, breathtaking dance between their minds that allowed them to accomplish their goal – which was currently weaving through an asteroid field. To make their way safely through the constantly changing terrain, they had to trust their lion’s perception of the shifting landscape while interlocking their own reflexes to see them through the maze together. Prior to this vision, she hadn’t known that it was possible to move so easily alongside another being. Black and Red moved in perfect harmony with their every move, and the remaining three lions followed the example they set. In no time at all, they had traveled the full distance of the asteroid belt, and emerged again in empty space.

    Following the exercise - for that's what it had been, this version of herself knew - they returned to the Castle hangars. Allura still found it difficult to catch her breath, amazed as she was by what she had just experienced. She’d thought to understand what it meant to be a paladin before. But there, with Red, she had an entirely new awareness of the possibilities that were there, just beyond her reach. She couldn’t help but grin as she unbuckled her harness, and laughter bubbled up in her throat from thr sheer joy of it all as Red bid a farewell in her mind. She couldn’t seem to keep her giddiness in, not when such a jubilation was searing through her veins.

    (No matter the euphoria of the vision, her higher self was trying her best to open her eyes from what she was seeing. She . . . she’d tried and failed to gain Red’s acceptance before, the memory still cut like a knife. Whatever this was . . . it wasn’t real. And she needed to accept that.)

    Her armor had changed too, she noticed as she walked down the steps of Red’s hangar to the figures standing in the distance. No matter which lion she piloted, she couldn’t imagine turning from the pink plates she wore to memorialize the dead. For her father and mother and Altea . . . and for Shiro, when she had first thought him gone. She would always honor what had been lost. Yet, here her armor was proudly marked in shades of crimson, as befit her father’s heir and the newest Red paladin of Voltron. Here, she had no need to remember the fallen, not when -

    - no one had fallen, she finally understood. The truth of this reality struck her like a blow when she reached the waiting two figures and saw one of them turn to her with a wide, beaming grin. He was . . . Father! She looked with wide, disbelieving eyes to see King Alfor standing before her, living and breathing and an age older than he’d ever lived to in her time. There were lines crinkling around his eyes from laughter, rather than sorrow, and he leaned his weight on a walking stick, favoring what must have been an old battle wound. He wasn’t wearing a paladin’s armor, or even his ornate robes as king. Instead, he was dressed simply in blue and white. Only the plain gold circlet about his brow gave his title away. The hand he didn’t have braced on his staff, he had affectionately resting on the shoulder of the much taller being standing to his right. And, there -

    - Emperor Zarkon. No matter the clearly benign nature of her vision, she felt a part of herself recoil. Even amongst the hazy vestiges of her joy and contentment, Allura wanted to bare her teeth and stalk forth with an intention to do the destroyer of her people a very real harm. She felt capable enough just then, and her screaming sense of justice demanded nothing less.

    But there was a very old, very familiar affection resting in Zarkon’s eyes that drew her up short – one that, once, she wouldn’t have found unusual in the slightest. Allura faltered when she didn’t see the eerie, white-violet glow of the Rift about his eyes. Instead, he looked much as she remembered from her memories – just older, like her father, with new ridges to his crest and the bone edges lining his jaw having grown longer, more pronounced. He too wore no armor – neither that of a paladin or the intimidating dress that he always favored as a warrior king of the Galra. He had no need here, not amongst comrades and loved ones.

    And that’s just what this gathering was, she understood as the Black paladin she’d been so instinctively attuned to earlier walked up behind her. His hand came to rest on her shoulder in greeting, which was only right and comfortable according to this version of herself. Allura instinctively accepted that, at least, until he reached up with his opposite hand to remove his helmet. For a moment, she expected to see Shiro’s face – her Shiro, but, at the spill of white hair that fell free instead, and the almost feline, two-toned eyes that fixed on her –

    Lotor?

    His hand fell from her shoulder to trace down her arm, and he laced his fingers through her own with such casual intimacy. Gently, he squeezed, and this version of herself affectionately returned the pressure. In her vision, she felt only contentment and even love; yet, trapped in the scar on the veils as she was, Allura fought the urge she had to scream.

    “Well done, you two,” Alfor was the first one to speak, drawing Allura's attention again. “You beat even our own record running the Petherion Maze – which is no easy feat. You’re trusting the bond you have with your lions, and each other, all the more so every time you fly.”

    Dual emotions tore through her to hear the obvious pride in her father’s voice. She closed her eyes to better appreciate the sound of his affection, wishing that she could hear him speak as such even one last time in her own reality. But this, this . . . it wasn’t real. She had to remember that, or risk losing herself to this vision entirely.

    “Yet, I am not so sure,” Zarkon, as always, was slower to provide praise than Alfor - never mind that there was a glint about his eyes that this version of herself knew for humor. “There was a point, about the second turn of the third stretch, where you could have shaved entire ticks off your time if you - ”

    “ - and yet, who was it that successfully beat your record, Father?” Lotor gave a sharp grin to interrupt. “Are you sure that you want us to compound your loss by further extending the margin of our victory?”

    Allura felt her ears twitch, somehow expecting to hear derision and scorn dripping from the words. But, instead, there was only a gentle, affectionate teasing in his tone - the same as any family would interact with each other. It was as right as it should have been natural, but, only -

    - this possibility no longer existed.

    (In the void, her companion was becoming heavier as he too turned towards the vision. It was difficult for her to avert her own eyes from this gleaning of what could have been – the future that may have existed if Empress Honerva had ceased her work on the rift and Zarkon repaired his relationship with her father before it was too late. Here, she could have grown to take her place as queen and paladin naturally, without resorting to the trials by fire as she knew instead. If she herself still yearned and mourned for this lost possibility, even in the furthest recesses of her mind, it only stood to reason that Lotor did too.)

    “Honestly! The cheek of the young,” Alfor drew himself up taller to give an exaggerated sniff. “Did you hear that, Zarkon? Such conceit I’ll not tolerate! That’s it – the gauntlet is thrown and I'll accept that challenge. Suit up, old friend; we’re going flying! It’s time to show the children how it’s really done -”

    “ - there is no need, Alfor – calm yourself,” instead, Zarkon’s deep voice rumbled. “It is only right to be succeeded by those who will grow beyond our own achievements, wouldn’t you say? If the boy is content merely surpassing me, that is well enough, yet I must admit to some disappointment. I’d rather his reign make our people forget my own in its entirety – and I had thought him to desire the same.”

    That rejoinder, Lotor clearly had not anticipated. His eyes widened just slightly as he understood that he had no possible parry left to his defense. Zarkon shot his son a wicked, challenging grin, knowing that he had his heir pinned with only a few, well chosen words. Lotor, in the end, had no choice but to concede defeat.

    But, this version of herself stepped up to save him from that. “We would be grateful for any pointers you could share, of course,” she turned her most charming grin on Zarkon to save Lotor from having to do so. “Indeed, we’re always ready to better ourselves, you're only too right.”

    Lotor flashed her a rueful look, and her fingers tightened about his own. It was that easy, natural affection that pulsed between them that finally allowed her to gain a foothill in the non-reality surrounding her and heave. She could stand no more.

    (Oddly, her companion was of some help in that regard – even as she recoiled, she had a quick, heartbeat’s flash of a woman with blue tinted skin and a grudging smile. This reality struck him too as wrong, even as she thought: Shiro! Nothing about this was natural, and she had to wake up. She had to return to her time and place. No matter . . . no matter all that she hadn’t lost here.)

    Allura turned a last, longing look towards her father – her father, as he granted, “I suppose you’re right, Zarkon. I’m only too proud for my daughter to surpass me in every way. I can offer our universe no greater gift than that.”

    When he looked at her, she thought he saw her, and not her other self.

    (So run now, Allura, and don’t look back, she thought to hear her father’s voice - her true father's voice, speak from deep within her mind, urging her not to sink further into the void. Drawing on his strength, she struggled and fought and refused, until -

    - the thread tethering them to that particular veil snapped, and they went hurtling in the opposite direction again.)


    TBC





    End Notes: Whew! Sorry about the cliffie . . . again. [face_mischief] But the good news is that we only have one more chapter to go in the Erissalyn plot-arc! Silly me thought I could even wrap it all up here, but my wordy muse had other ideas - as per usual. :rolleyes: 8-} I'm just bummed that most of this update was already written over the last few weeks - this nice 7k chunk of words would have been a wonderful start to November. But, I have more than enough material to keep on writing. So I'll see you all again soon. :D [:D]


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2018
  12. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh that gorgeous memory and description of the Festival =D= Encountering Shiro's image in the fountain :cool:

    Wow, I can JUST IMAGINE tearing herself from the variant of Altea where her father was never lost was the HARDEST thing! [face_thinking]