Allura woke up only to find herself staring into the face of a handsome stranger. “Oh my”, he exclaimed, taking her form in carefully. “We'd better get you back to your world before they start missing you.”
The next time she woke up, Allura's head was fuzzy. Something reared in the back of her head, the fragment of a memory. What happened? She remembered saving the Earth, setting out to battle against the remaining enemy soldiers... What was missing?
“Oh, you are finally awake. Good. Will you stay with me for a bit longer this time?”
Her eyes shot open. Faster than the eyes of any species could follow she was up on her feat and jumped the unsuspecting speaker.
She managed to take him in with a quick glance. He was a tall, muscular human somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. His bright green eyes were obscured by unnatural blond bangs falling over most of his face, yet she could still see the surprise in them clear as day.
Before her brain could come to any conclusion besides there being a stranger next to her, the Altean princess' knees buckled under her. She wasn't coherent enough to stop the fall.
Mere inches before her face would have met the floor her fall was abruptly stopped. Strong arms wrapped around her, keeping her steady for a moment. “Oh dear. Please do hold still.”
She wanted to bite a comment about not needing help at him, but her voice failed her the same way her legs had. The arms shifted around her, carefully raising her body and laying it down on a bed again.
“Careful now”, the deep voice chided her, “I barely managed to heal your wounds. Healing spells have never been my forte to be honest.”
The white haired girl felt herself stiffen. Had he just said... spells? He couldn't be human, could he? He must have been from another civilization, one that was similarly advanced as the Alteans. She checked his face, looking for the faint marks that never left an Altean no matter how much they chose to change their form. It didn't really surprise her to find his cheeks bare, almost too much so. There were no scars, no marks, nothing to indicate the man had ever been in any kind of trouble. Had he steered clear of the war that held most of the known universe in it's grip for so long somehow? If so, why was he here? Why was she here?”
A soft sigh escaped the man. “What a fool I am. You probably don't even understand me, do you? I fear I don't have a translation spell with me right now. I could whip one up... but I don't have all the ingredients. And leaving you here alone when you don't even know who I am or where you are, that just spells disaster, doesn't it?” He raised his hand and tapped his chest slowly, indicating he wished to tell her who he was. “My name's Howl. Howl Pendragon. Can you tell me yours?”
Allura stared at the strange man – Howl. He shook his head slowly. Again he pointed at his chest. “Howl”, he introduced himself again before pointing at the princess.
She opened her mouth to answer and was hit with a spout of dizziness again. “That doesn't look too good. You are still weak. I guess you did wake up much sooner than I expected, so maybe your body has yet to recover the strength it lost. I might just-” His brows shot up. Clearly something in Allura's appearance had baffled him just now. “Calcifer, would you mind coming over here for a second?” When nothing happened, the man raised his voice. “How about now?”
“You always boss me around”, another voice chimed in. Allura turned her head to look at the newcomer. Had she stood, her mouth would have hit the floor immediately. Lying on her back she could only stare at the floating ball of blue fire moving towards her. It's flames were greenish were the hair of a person would be. Orange slits of flame painted the illusion of eyes. Further down were purple flames that almost seemed like fangs. “What is it you need now?”
Howl gestured towards Allura's body. “I fear she is recovering even slower than I had anticipated. Think you can do something for her? Oh,” he caught Allura's gaze and pointed to the flame. “Calcifer. This is Calcifer.”
“What, did she hit her head too hard or what?” The fire hovered over the man's shoulder now. The ghostly face looked almost curious.
“Wouldn't surprise me, old ball of gas. She was frightened by me at first and hasn't responded to anything I said, so I believe she doesn't understand a word I'm saying. Not surprising, considering she is neither human nor from this world.”
Finally Allura's mouth could move. “I can understand you.” The words almost took all her strength.
A wide smile appeared on Howl's face. “Oh! That's a relief. Mind telling us your name, fair lady?”
The fire – Calcifer – scoffed. “What do you need me for, Howl?”
The blond ignored his companion in favor of taking Allura's hand carefully into his own. “You feel as if you are about to break. Perhaps it is for the best if you rest for a while longer, alright? I will send you home as soon as you have recovered. Would you, Calcifer?”
She couldn't see the fire anymore. A warm sensation filled her whole body, making her even more tired. She could feel threads of magic wavering through the air, surrounding her entirely. Was this Calcifer's doing? Allura's body felt heavier by the second. She could barely keep her eyes open.
Staring up, she met the calm green eyes. Her mouth didn't want to move. Yet somehow she felt she had to talk.With the last ounce of her strength she parted her lips.
“I am Allura, princess of Altea. I owe you my gratitude.”
When Allura woke for the third time, her body felt rested. Her limbs felt lighter than ever. She slowly sat up and looked around the room.
It was a sparsely decorated bedroom, small enough that it may as well have been a broom closet. The only furniture was the bed itself, a small drawer by the bedside and a desk under the small window.
The window had been the cause for her waking, there was no doubt. Rays of sunshine filled the room, tickling her senses and tempting her to get up.
A set of clothes laid on the drawer. She carefully pushed herself to her feet, glad to stay standing this time around.
She changed from the sleeping garments into the underclothes of her paladin armor, leaving the heavier parts on the drawer. Her eyes wandered to the window. She could see nothing but blue sky. The window didn't open, so she couldn't guess what the house looked like from the outside, nor could she see the terrain. Only the sky.
What had she forgotten? Her mind still felt sluggish. There was no trace of the blue lion in her consciousness. Where had it gone?
Her hands balled into fists by her side. Only one way to find out. The princess whirled around on the ball of her foot and stalked over to the door, half expecting it to be locked.
The doorknob turned easily beneath her hand. Behind the door laid a strange hallway. It looked like the interior of a small house, cluttered with bookshelves lining each wall in her vicinity. Some equally strange items laid between the books, on top of them or stuck to the shelves, even to the ceiling itself. She could feel traces of magic coming from the whole house. The sheer amount of it made her skin crawl.
Passing down the narrow corridor Allura found herself staring at the books lining the walls in awe. Most were written in a strange script she couldn't recognize. Some seemed to be plain old English. They were lined up neatly, stacked on top of each other and set on the floor where there was no place left on the shelves. They were clean, not even a spec of dust marring the covers despite their incredible numbers. She shook her head at herself. What a strange place, indeed.
The corridor ended at a single plain door at the end of a staircase leading to the lower floor. Opening it, Allura stepped into a rectangular room filled with magic items of all sorts.
Another door was next to the one she had just stepped through. Opposite from a fireplace a bigger and less plain looking door was located. Across from her was yet another small door. This one looked as if it hadn't been touched in years.
The fireplace, practically buzzing with magic, decorated most of the room. It had burned low, leaving only ashes behind. A small table stood in front of it. The chairs around it were cluttered with books, scrolls and herbs she had never seen before. Only one chair seemed to be occupied frequently. Indeed, it was even occupied at the moment. Her newest acquaintance half sat, half laid across the table. She took a hesitant step towards the sleeping man.
Howl looked dead on his feet. While his bangs still hid most of his face, she could see the dark rings beneath his eyes. A fond smile sneaked onto her face. How often had she found one of the overworked Paladins or scientists sprawled across their work since they had set off to-
It all came rushing back. Memories of fighting her fellow Alteans, fighting to protect all the worlds, failing... Her body started shaking. They had tried undoing the damage. Had they succeeded?
She felt herself stumble into the fireplace. Something went crashing down. The sound brought her back to her senses.
It also woke Howl.
The young man shot up from his seat, tangling his long legs in the chair. He overbalanced and crashed down onto the table, letting out a muffled yell. Still trying hastily to get up he pushed away, yet he hadn't untangled himself. The blond went crashing to the floor where he simply laid for a few seconds. Only then he let out a strangled “Oow.”
The Altean found herself staring and quickly reigned herself in. “Are you alright?”
Howl groaned and pulled himself up, dusting his clothes off and running a hand through his hair. “Good morning, princess. I am unharmed. What a shameful excuse for a wizard would I be if I went down that easily.” He shot her a tired look. “You seem better. That's a relief.”
Allura didn't know how to respond properly. She settled for a slight bow of the head. “I have to thank you for your care, Howl.”
He winked it off. “Don't worry. It was nice having another living and breathing being around here for a while, even if weren't that good company.” His voice took a slightly playful tone.
“I apologize.” Allura let herself sink against the fireplace and sighed. “How long was I out?”
“A couple months, I guess.”
Allura froze head to toe. “A couple... months?”
Howl shot her an apologizing look. “I lose track of time fairly easy... It was more than a few weeks, but not quite a year? I will ask Calcifer, he has a better grasp of time than me.”
“Why's that?” Allura desperately needed to take her mind off of the news. She couldn't have been gone for months.
“Long story. But I kind of don't age, so time is not really that much of a deal for me anymore. Everyone I knew is long dead. I guess there are some descendants of mine still living in good old Wales... if they haven't died out by now. What a mess this is.”
“Would you share this story?”
Howl mustered her calmly. His wrist gave a slight flick, causing an armchair to appear beside her. She thankfully let herself sink into it. “Why don't you share your story first? I have to say, I was more than confused when I noticed someone toying around with the fabric of space and time. Just a bit more and all of reality would have torn itself apart.” His eyes grew haunted. “I tried countering as much as I could. I managed to slow it down at least.”
“You noticed the attack?”
“Was hard not to.” Howl lazed back into his chair, looking her dead into the eye. “After all, I had to flee a whole world to keep from getting crushed.”
It took at least three hours for Allura to explain the war the Paladins had fought. Howl was a good listener, never once interrupting. Only when Allura had finished her tale did he sigh. “I've lived a long time now, maybe too long. I've come to regret a lot of things. But never have I regretted anything as much as not being there for my homeworld when it needed me the most. And I will do whatever I can to fix it.”
“How do you know it was your Earth? There are countless parallel dimensions. We have no idea how to differentiate between them for now.”
Howl gave her a bewildered look. “Parallel...?” Suddenly his eyes brightened up. “Ah, I understand! No, this is... oh, how do I explain. I am not talking about parallel dimensions. In fact, I am pretty sure they don't really exist. I am talking about whole different worlds with different kinds of laws of nature. That is where I have been traveling.”
“The possibilities of such worlds existing never occurred to me”, Allura confessed. “However I have been to parallel worlds before. They do exist.”
“Not for long.” Howl had closed his eyes and crossed his arms. “From what I've gathered, a parallel dimension only appears when certain conditions are met. If the theories are to be believed, there are countless dimensions existing, one for each choice anyone ever made in life. That's rather improbable. According to my research, a parallel dimension can be entered, but it only shapes once you do enter it, you know? And it collapses as soon as it is left again.”
“I'm not sure about that” The princess recalled a rebel group and a man called Sven vividly. And could Honerva really have been that wrong about everything? Could her quest of finding a world where her family was whole have been doomed from the beginning? “We were able to bring something from one parallel world into ours.”
“Yes, one of my fellow magicians managed something similar once. While you are in that world, it exists, so you can bring anything you want with you. The rest will collapse into chaos again. After all, why should the very fabric of the universe care for something as simple as a few humans' decisions?”
“I don't understand.”
“Not really important right now.” Howl run a hand over his face. “I am originally of Earth, and it is the same Earth from your tale. That's why I was getting into this. It seems I missed a lot over there.”
Allura dropped the matter. She wasn't too sure about the wizard's claims, but it would be a waste of time and energy to argue with him. “So you can bring me back to Earth?”
The blond pondered the question for a moment. “Usually without a problem. Sadly there's quite a lot of interference right now. While your actions might have given the worlds – reality itself - another chance, the bridges between the worlds are in shambles.” He pointed to a door on the other side of the room. “Usually, all you'd have to do to get to Earth is to pass through that door. It leads to four directions. One of them is my old house in Wales.” He got up and passed the room. His hand reached for the doorknob, turning it around. A small colored patch on the lock disappeared and turned to black. “Give me a second, maybe this will work.”
Howl raised his other hand and started chanting something under his breath. The words were strange to Allura's ears, foreign and rash. She could feel power radiating from the man as he wove his spell. A shiver ran down her spine. This was unlike Altean magic, but she could feel it seeping through her bones, weaving, changing, so very different and familiar at once. How could humanity have lost such a great power? One that could have saved them from the Galra?
Howl didn't take long. After a few sentences Howl took his hand down and opened the door.
On the other side was- nothing. A black void filled the doorframe. An uneasy feeling overcame the princess as Howl pushed his hand into the void. He felt around in the void for a few seconds before his whole posture stiffened at once. Just as Allura was about to ask what was wrong the man jumped back with a confused yell.
Using his foot the man slammed the door shut. He cradled his right hand to his chest, breathing heavily. Allura could see the singed ends of his sleeve. She wasn't sure if it was on purpose, but the wizard kept his hand out of her view.
“That didn't work. Would have been too easy, now wouldn't it?” He gave Allura an apologetic look. “We'll find a way to get you home, I promise. Even if it takes years.”
Allura shut the door behind her and looked around the room. Howl sat at the still overflowing desk with papers strewn all around him, cluttering the space he usually kept free for her to eat. Sometimes when he was deep in his work he forgot that he didn't live alone with a fire anymore. Which was a sad way to live in itself.
The Altean picked up a few papers and laid them to the side. “You know, it wouldn't hurt you to clean this place every once in a while.”
Howl looked up from his papers and the chicken scratch he called writing. “Yeah, I've... been meaning to do that for a while.”
“How long is a while?” She was sure she'd regret asking. Her gut didn't betray her, seeing as Howl merely shrugged.
“Couple decades or so.” He beamed at her with one of those infuriating smile she disliked so much. Howl presented himself with a careful facade wherever he went. It became clear whenever he had to deal with other people. At first glance, Howl seemed to be a capable and strong wizard. On second glance...
It wasn't as if Howl wasn't strong. If she had to be honest with herself, the sheer power the immortal wizard possessed still made a shiver run down her spine after the few months she had spent with him. But he had more issues than she could possibly count.
According to Calcifer, most of Howl's behavior was still the grief he felt for his dead wife. She hadn't been able to get anything out of the wizard about that matter. She knew that it had to do with Howl's own immortality, which Calcifer often described as Howl's worst curse. “It was meant to be a gift”, Calcifer had said. “And he loved her too much to even try and break the curse. That fool lives on and on because he is too afraid to let go.”
Howl was frightened by a lot of things, she had learned. Once he got his act together, he was a formidable fighter, but he spent almost all his effort trying to evade getting caught up in anything. Another thing she learned was how he presented himself as a dark and horrible wizard to thwart people from him. Loner much, she could almost hear Lance's voice teasing. (She pushed the thought away, trying hard not to think of Lance and the Paladins and Voltron and, oh, Coran...)
And he was plain childish.
Howl was incredibly vocal about what he disliked. Tantrums weren't unusual when things didn't go his way. Calcifer usually listened to their banter without interest. One time he had floated between them and snickered at Allura. “Be careful if you don't want the whole castle filled with green slime, I recognize this mood.” Howl had looked as if he didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. In the end, he looked at Calcifer with a strange, sad smile on his lips and dropped the matter.
And there was of course the other matter...
Putting a firm hand on the wizard's scroll Allura forced him to look at her. “Listen, are you trying to get me back or not?”
“Huh?” There was genuine confusion on his face. “I told you there was something I had to take care of before. I will do it on Thursday.”
“That's what you said on Sunday too. Two weeks ago.”
Howl at least had the decency to look guilty. “Oh. I guess time just... flew by? Sorry. Will start immediately.” To Allura's utter surprise the man actually gathered his scrolls and pushed them to the side. Instead, he reached for a few battered old books waiting on the edge of the table.
“It is incomprehensible to me how someone your age can be so fickle”, Allura told the wizard. He was already too engrossed in his new work to respond. She shook her head and headed over to the herd. “Calcifer, may I cook something on you?”
The fire demon cracked a tired eye open. “Howl had me work spells the whole night. It's gotten so complex even I don't know what he's trying to do anymore. I'm spent. Can't you eat cold for once?”
“We always do, Calcifer.”
The demon grumbled under his breath. “Make it quick”, he hissed before raising his flames to better accommodate to the new task.
“I did it!”
Howl's shout made Allura jump. Calcifer flared up surprisedly before he rolled his eyes at his partner. “What did you do now, you useless excuse for a wizard?”
The man only pouted a second before the gleam returned into his eyes. “We simply can't get back to Earth! That's the solution!”
Allura felt her heart drop. It wasn't possible?
“You sound awfully happy for someone who can never go home”, remarked Calcifer dryly. “So what else did you discover?”
“In easy words, the path is blocked from our homeworld – or homeuniverse – itself. Since the disruption came from there, the path can only be opened from their side!”
“Please, within a decade alone have two wizards from Wales crossed over to Ingary. So all we have to do is wait?”
“Well, yes, but no.” Howl grinned at Allura like a child waiting to be praised for a job well done. She bit her lip, trying not to let her anxiety show. If praise was due, she'd give it. That remained to be seen. Clearly disappointed but not one to be deterred so easily, the wizard continued, his arms swooping in wide motions as his excitement nearly bubbled over. “The stuff I researched earlier was about bonds between souls. Bonds such as between you and your lion or your fellow Paladins! I believe if we can go back to Ingary, where a strong connection to our Earth has always existed, we might be able to get a signal through. If they respond in any kind, I can use that to reopen the path. It's so easy! I can't believe it took me so long to get that right!”
“Because you are a moron”, supplied Calcifer.
This time Howl openly pouted.
Before the wizard and demon could get into another pointless fight Allura stepped in. “What exactly do we have to do in Ingary?”
“Oh, nothing at all. We simply wait there. It might take up to a few weeks, but the path between our world and the one I spent most of my life has always been strong. Even after this disruption your lion will be able to sense you almost immediately. It's only a matter of time until his signals get strong enough so I can work with them.” A feral grin appeared on Howl's face. “Let's see if anyone remembers us over there, Cal.”
Allura still had trouble wrapping her head around the space warping magic Howl had mastered . From what she had gathered the castle had been put together with parts of the houses its' doors once led to. She knew the window in Howl's bedroom (the one he refused to touch, the one he had covered more than two centuries ago because it hurt him to watch far descendants of his family still playing in the same yard) had the same window as his childhood room in Wales. She had used the chance when Howl was away scaring some locals to sneak a peak and discovered only the black void.
A few windows were just as pitch black, these belonged to a previous part of the house, a small store in Ingary which had belonged to Howl's late wife. He hadn't dared erasing these parts of his home, even when he cut the ties to the place and removing the door he had changed his home to still look the same. The windows had been black ever since. “Would be strange if someone saw me looking out of his own house's windows, right?”
Most of the windows were the actual castle windows and showed the strange world Howl had resided in the last few decades. It was indeed a strange world – one where the world really was flat. (Lance had once told her about a group of conspiracy theorists who refused to believe the Earth had been a round planet even after Humanity had long traveled to their moon. They would have liked that world.)
It also didn't possess any kind of stars or other celestial objects. The sun's rays would touch most of the world all the time, only a few areas were cut off. It was another world's star.
Ingary, Howl told her, was more similar to Earth. “It's round and all,” he'd said, “but the stars are different. The people there can only see the stars from other worlds, and once a star in any other world dies, it's soul falls onto this world. Calcifer could tell you a story about that.”
“Calcifer is a star.” She wasn't even surprised anymore. She had seen too many bizarre things lately.
The task before them was difficult, Howl had explained. Before he had moved the whole castle, it had had four different entries, three of them in Ingary. The actual castle entry as well as two entries he placed for convenience. However, when he had moved, Howl had simply disbanded the two additional entries. A move which he had come to regret deeply. “We could simply move there without the castle, but I'm not about to leave it behind after all this time.”
So they had moved the whole castle through the worlds. It had been a long and tiring process. Filled with smoke as well. Calcifer had smoldered down into a tiny flame as soon as the castle landed on a lush, green field. Howl had slumped down fast asleep where he stood. Not even crashing to the floor had managed to wake him up.
Now, Calcifer let the castle float comfortably over the landscape. Apparently they had landed in the wrong part of the world. Howl had insisted on heading to Ingary. “I got to know how much it all changed in the past years.” Ever so often the man would call out to her and point at some random mountain or castle and tell her stories of his adventures in those parts.
“You did get around very much”, she remarked one time he was particularily enthusiastic about some demonic creature he had slain for the rulers of another country.
“Once we are back, you'll have to trade me”, Howl had smirked, “and show me what I missed from my own homeworld, alright? When I discovered all this” he spread his arms and motioned to the world around them “my world expanded so much. But even my own is so... grand. I can't wait to see how much more there is.”
Allura had smiled at him. She had smiled at Calcifer regarding his friend with wonder, happy to see him getting back on his feet after 300 years of lazing around. She had smiled at the childlike curiosity the wizard possessed. And she had promised him to show him the most beautiful planets she could remember.
People did remember Howl.
That much was clear from the beginning. People stood and gaped at the castle floating a few meters over the ground. That much was understandable. However, it became clear that they remembered it when one day a young boy ran after the floating castle, begging for them to open up. Once he had been let in, he had been awed. He had asked if the castle's owner really was the legendary Howl Pendragon. Which was also when Allura found out her new companion had been a royal magician before he had fled this world.
She also learned he really was as gentle a soul as she imagined when he happily agreed to help the boy and his family for only a few fruits in exchange. He had been gone for two days while the castle steadily floated ahead. When he caught up he had been covered in scratches head to toe and mumbling about carnivorous monsters.
The nearer they got to Ingary, the more people seemed to want to talk to Howl. He took some time to speak with the townspeople whenever they passed a village.
“They sure like him”, Allura had remarked to Calcifer one day.
“Legends are made by the winners”, the demon had answered, “And Howl won a lot. If he wasn't so pitiful he could have been a great hero. He still was sometimes. A wizard in a moving castle, people don't forget something so strange that easily. They will remember for a while.”
They also remembered that Howl apparently ate hearts.
Allura had flipped completely when they had parked the castle outside a small village one day and entered the village to get something to eat. The head of the town had readily offered his daughter's life and appealed to Howl not to eat any more of their hearts. (Howl had nursed his almost-but-not-quite-broken ribs for days after. “I see why you are a defender of the universe”)
The misunderstanding had been cleared up, but there were lots of strange rumors going around involving Howl.
Some of the stranger ones made the wizard laugh until he couldn't breathe anymore. “I can't believe how that one evolved!”
Calcifer found the rumors less hilarious. “You set those rumors into the world yourself, you twit!”, he had complained. “And now we all have the problems!”
Some mages were hellbent on fighting Howl for the matter of Hearts or to gain immortality by defeating them or... the list went on.
It took almost three weeks until they arrived at Ingary at last. (“This is not a magic spaceship, my dear Allura. It's a hunk of rocks, held together by good will and Calcifer. It can't move that fast.”)
Their greeting had been... interesting. Apparently there had been a formal error with the way Howl had worded his letter to the once king of Ingary when he had left the world behind and thus was technically still appointed as royal mage. He had agreed to do a few small spells for His Majesty in exchange for food, a few new sets of clothes (which he could just as easily have created out of thin air) and other little niceties. Allura pretended not to notice that he tripled his usual prices whenever a noble was concerned.
People quickly grew used to the wizard. By the time their first week in Ingary was over, the man had already sold some spell or another to half of the country.
One day Howl was gone.
Except he wasn't really gone. According to Calcifer his presence had been adamantly required by a coalition of various kingdoms (and how proud Howl had been about that fact, looking just about ready to start singing. She sensed there was a story there).
Of course Howl had tried to decline, but by the time their third week in Ingary neared its end the king's messenger had bothered him a dozen times already.
Of course he'd agree to help only to make them stop pushing , Allura thought at herself, noting to her great surprise that a not too small amount of fondness had snuck into her.
And of course there was a customer standing in front of her, desperately pleading for the wizard's help.
He was a young, ragged looking man, clearly of low status and wealth. The way he pushed what had to be all of his earnings and then some into her direction, begging to please help made her recoil. How desperate the man was chafed at her.
She was a Paladin of Voltron, a defender of the universe. If someone asked for her help she'd give it to him.
She had the man wait outside, rushing up into the guestroom (the one that had once belonged to Howl's apprentice, Michael. How fitting was it that now she took over his duties during his absence?) and gathering her armor.
More out of curiosity than necessity Howl had once asked her for permission of playing around with her suit for a bit, weaving his magic into the seems of Altean alchemy and technology. The idea behind it was to have the armor change form with her. It would forever be more limited than the shapeshifting ability her body posessed, but she could at least hide the fact that she wore armor at all. It did sort of hinder access to the bayard, but if need arose she'd find a way to gain that extra second needed to drop the disguise until she could summon her weapon again.
She took a spare knife with her, just in case. Dashing down the stairs she rushed past a very confused firedemon.
“Wait, Allura! Where are you going?”
“Helping”, she shot back over her shoulder, almost at the door already. “Tell Howl he can go and do what he want, but I won't look away from someone who's suffering right before my eyes!”
Had she looked back she might have noticed Calcifer's eyes widening in alarm. “Allura! Just- just wait, dammit! This is dangerous!”
Putting her hand on the doorknob she refused to look back. “Dangerous? We'll see about that.”
The man looked like he'd seen a ghost when she shut the door behind her, ignoring the inhumane wail calling after her. She shot him an encouraging smile. “Don't worry”, she assured him, “I might not be the royal wizard, but I am more than capable in various fields of magic myself. We'll get your problem sorted out in no time at all.”
She did not sort it out in no time at all.
The problem turned out to be a chimera-like creature terrorizing a village near the ocean. It looked a bit like the sea serpents Keith had doodled during one of their meetings with the Galaxy Garrison after the initial attack was over. (He'd hated those with a passion, even more so since he couldn't get out of them. Whenever he could, he'd send in Allura as his substitute, claiming she was better versed in diplomacy anyway.)
Only this creature was... bigger. By lots. One head alone could fit a whole house in it. Or ship, according to the tales of a sole survivor.
The beast had appeared without warning and promptly went on a killing spree across the coasts of Ingary. How such a matter hadn't been heeded by the country's leaders was above her.
What made the issue even more strange was the way the creature turned tail the second it came to the border of a neighboring country. In the five days she'd chased and observed the beast she'd seen it happen twice. The border on the landside seemed to repel the serpent. The last time she'd attacked it, trying to see if it would attempt to flee over the border or rather go through her.
She'd been glad for her armor that day.
The villagers regarded her with deep respect after that. She'd jumped into the water, using magic flames to move herself, attacking the beast with nothing but an enchanted sword, they told their friends and families.
It helped her get back into the right mindset, she decided. Being praised as a hero was nothing new. It brought back many memories of their fights against the Galra Empire, reminding her sharply that innocent peoples' lives were at stake here.
Ingary's magic, Allura mentally cursed, was really a horrible thing.
She'd seen Howl fighting before, all illusions and precise strikes, meant to confuse and incapacitate the enemy without causing damage. On more than one occasion he'd gone out of his way, made himself a clear target, simply to keep his foe's attention focused solely on him.
She'd tried. Over the last days the serpent's attack patterns had shifted completely. It now attacked the coasts violently, up to four times a day, all over the countryside. There'd even been a handful of reports about attacks on settlements by the great rivers flowing into the country. The creature appeared almost desperate.
She'd faced it three more times. Each time Allura ended up bruised, missing the blue lion more each day.
The serpent was almost invulnerable. She knew of a few spots where its scales were lighter, parts where she could easily put a weapon through, but it guarded them fiercely.
Which was the other concern. The way the beast acted was just a bit too human-like. The way it attacked just a bit too strategic. This was no longer the feat of a mere animal, but one of a highly intelligent lifeform.
Oh, she'd tried communicating with it.
That left her with singed hair and dented armor, because of course the beast could breathe flames now.
It also changed quite a lot. It had seemed like a serpent chimera at first, but by now it looked more like a dragon with some insect bodyparts strewn into the mix. The three tiny sets of wings had grown from small fins to full blown wings, the scrawny stick-legs had grown into limbs that could crush her body easily.
And now apparently it felt safe enough to leave the ocean.
She chased after it with her jetpack, desperately trying to stear it away from a village. Where the seaside villages were long since prepared to pull back and evacuate at the mere sign of their predator those people had no way of knowing it would come, neither did they have any way to flee quickly. The terrain was uneven, barely manageable with carts. She knew from the map she'd been shown as well as from the tales of the young man who'd enlisted her help that it was a village mostly elder people lived in. Most younger set out into the cities, trying to raise some money for their families and sending it back. During this time of the year there would only be the elderly and the children.
A hand rose to point at her, eyes dark and accusing. “You'll ruin all of us! Can't you see all you're doing is angering the beast even further? I say, let it feast! Let it devour a few to still its hunger! It will disappear after that!”
She stared at the old man, trying to understand what had just been said. “Surely this cannot be what you want!”
He came closer, the cheering of his followers getting louder. “Perhaps if you weren't this week you could drive it off. Perhaps that horrible wizard could do it. But you?”, he scoffed, looking her up and down. “You're but a tiny girl. You are no witch. You are no sorceress. Perhaps you are a decent fighter with some nice tools. But you want to know what I think?” He got in her face right then, almost pushing her off her feet. “You're just a little girl, an apprentice of that horrendous excuse for a human, trying to prove herself. Cut it out before even more people die!”
A flare of anger rose within her chest. “I'm no apprentice of wizard Pendragon. I'm a warrior, a Paladin, and I swore to protect these people. Perhaps you are alright with your neighbors and friends dying, but I surely am not!” She shoved him back then, with just enough force to get some breathing space again. The mob would not appreciate her hurting their leader out of frustration.
“Good grief”, the man hissed. “So tell me, witch girl, do you even have a master? Or are you just trying to play heroine?”
She felt her eyes narrow. “I am affiliated with the royal wizard Howl Pendragon, but I am in no way his subordinate. I have been tasked with protecting the humans living here. If that doesn't sit right with you, feel free to leave.”
Why did that come back to her so vividly now?
Deep down she knew the answer. Because the danger had just grown exponentially. The beast was no longer bound by the sea, it was stronger than ever. She still couldn't do any significant damage.
She didn't get any more time to mull the thought over. Above her the beast dropped from the sky, its wings folded neatly against the scaled body, heat simmering before its open maw.
For humans, Allura had once learned, time seemed to slow down in crucial moments, allowing the human to take the right action more easily due to heightened focus and a better chance to grasp the whole situations. It had always been intriguing to her. Such an ability surely was useful in battle.
This time she could only thank the spirits of her ancestors for not possessing that ability.
A burst of fire shot forward, passing over her head.
Fire engulfed the village. Within seconds what had been a idyllic landscape mere seconds before turned into a raging inferno right before her eyes.
She was distantly aware she was screaming.
The beast set down in the middle of a ruined field right in front of the burning village. Hearing her it turned its head, roaring a challenge.
Had she been in her right mind she'd have hesitated, would have thought about her chances of success.
In front of her eyes, the village burned. Galra warships hung over it. Fire fell from the sky.
With a shout like no other she charged straight at the serpent.
Green slitted eyes settled on the raging form. “She's going to die.”
A smile tore at Howl's lips. “I believe you are gravely underestimating our guest. Watch closely, Calcifer. Even two old geezers like us can still learn a lot from her.” Leaning closer, the wizard put his chin on his hand, a radiant grin spread across his whole features as he stared across the burning fields. It reflected off his eyes, making them seem almost inhumane. Blue flames, too hot to even smoke shone in them like a mirror, orange tongues of fire giving them a glint of a devil.
He threw his old friend an enthusiastic glance, one that would have sent most humans scrambling back in fear for their lives. “I, for one, am quite interested in how this will end.”
Her body hit the ground hard.
She'd lost the helmet somewhere in the beginning of the fight. The disguise on her armor had long since stopped working, her bayard changing form with almost each new attack.
Her vision was blurry, barely good enough to make out the long wounds she'd managed to deal the beast.
A sharp pounding in her right side told her she'd been hit worse.
The serpent wasn't used to fighting while on land. Its movements were clumsy, slow in a way that made her struggle seem almost laughable.
She was distantly aware of an aura of alchemy surrounding her whole body. It coursed through her, catching blows and strenghtening her strikes.
She was winning, she suddenly realized.
The beast pulled back ever so slightly from time to time, trying to flee, only to jerk back into the fight the same way it had recoiled fro Ingary's border.
Using her jetback to maneuver to the back of its nape she focused all of her power into her bayard, willing it to change form yet again, pushing all her anger, her heart's cries for the innocent lives lost into her weapon, tearing at the whole world around her.
All fatigue was gone immediately. The bayard changed, glowing brightly in her hand.
The jetpack went in a hard reverse. Flinging herself at the beast she let out a war cry.
In the sword went.
It slipped under the scales, tearing through flesh and muscles, shattering bones.
The serpent threw back its head, yowling in sheer agony as its spine broke into tiny fragments. Front legs kicked helplessly as its heart gave out, the body too damaged to continue functioning any longer.
For a long time Allura could only stare at the downed creature, sorrow heavy on her heart as it took its last breath.
She'd been too late.
If only she could have killed it sooner.
Her mind flitted to the countless wounded along the shore. How many people had died today? How many had died in the initial attacks that she simply didn't know of?
The glow around her subsided, leaving her staring at her bayard. Her heart skipped a beat.
It was an Altean broadsword.
It looked lighter than the one Lance had once managed to create, yet more intricate and also longer. So very close to the one her father had wielded.
Taking a deep breath she tried finding her balance again. The world was spinning dangerously all around her.
Sinking down to her knees she stared at the remains of the village. “I'm sorry”, she heard herself whisper.
Turning around she found herself face to face with Howl. He looked dazzling; pure and unspoiled amidst the destruction. His suit looked freshly washed, even his silly earrings seemed to glint in the red sunset.
“What are you...” She barely felt herself rise to her feet, the sword still clutched in her hand. Taking a step towards the wizard she staggered but continued on.
“Was cheering you on. You're terrifying.”
She was on him before she could react. Her knee slammed into his chest. It could not have been more than half of a second until his back hit the ground. He let out a strained huff, shock clear in his eyes.
The latter might have come from the tip of the blade pressing into his neck just under his chin.
“How long?”, she demanded, her voice devoid of any emotion. “How long have you stood by and watched?”
Howl eyed the blade with a hint of concern. “From the very beginning.” His voice was strained from trying to angle his neck away from the weapon. She pushed further, keeping him firmly under her control.
“Then why?” She pressed her knee into his ribs harder, barely noticing the audible crack when she kept pushing.
Howl hissed in protest, pain racing across his features for a moment. “Why what?”, he quipped back after his face had smoothed again.
“Why wouldn't you help!” Before she new it Allura had started shouting. Her free hand grabbed at Howl's shirt, shaking him. He gave a startled cry of protest as the blade cut into his neck at the motion.
A invisible force slammed into her, sending her flying back. Something twisted in her leg upon landing. Yet fury drove her up to her feet again.
“Why would someone with your power simply watch on? You could have saved those people!”
Howl backed away slowly, his hands raised. “You sure are fierce, anyone ever told you that?”
She bared her teeth, feeling her alchemy gather around her, ready to be unleashed. By the way his eyes widened he must have felt it too.
“I didn't mean it that way!”, he hurried to add. “I meant... ah, I'm bad at such things. Especially when someone, oh, I don't know, has a sword to my throat!”
“I should have pushed down!”
That made him pause. “That hurts”, he stated quietly. “I understand where you are coming from, but still... that really hurts. Even more so when I think about how I did save them.”
Now it was her turn to pause. What was he saying?
Howl let out a shaky breath, nursing his ribs. “Fierce and strong as a lioness. How fitting for a Voltron Paladin.” Raising his hand he motioned at her to follow him. Wearily she came closer, not quite ready to trust he wasn't simply trying to save his hide.
When she came to stand next to him he raised his arms and started shouting. The words were garbled, strange sounds. His voice carried across the burnt fields like a storm.
Before her eyes the fields started changing. Burnt crops became alive again, waving in the breeze wafting around Howl's form. The collapsed bridge shimmered in the heat before shattered stones moved back together again.
Loud cheers greeted her from behind.
She almost didn't turn around.
When she did she came face to face with a village unhurt by the flames. People were standing between the houses, screaming her name. A handful of children stared up at her, clearly in awe.
Howl laid a hand on her shoulder, waking her from her stupor. “How's that for a surprise?”
She punched him.
The punch had been light (even an Eart child shouldn't have been bothered by it), yet Howl still swayed a bit. Coming to stand next to her he raised his voice. “May I have your attention?”
It was amazing how fast the people quieted for the man in front of them. His hand still firmly on Allura's shoulder he announced “This person is Allura, a princess from a faraway kingdom. You all saw her incredible feat today. Make sure to include her name when you tell your families of this day. Now then, the king has been so generous to offer compensation for any material means you lost...”
Upon hearing this Allura glanced around again. Now that she wasn't shell shocked by the devastation being undone she realized enough had been damaged at least.
The fields further away from the village were burnt partially and the area where she had thought the serpent was littered with specks of burns . “How did you...”
Howl had finished his announcement and turned to her, making a short, questioning sound before following her eyes. “Oh, that. Simple shield magic. Far from impenetrable, but it's easy to cast. Had I known clearly where he'd go I could have raised a complete barrier. I had to retract it from some parts to keep it from collapsing completely, thus the patches.”
Allura stared at him, not really comprehending what was going on. “So you had my back?”
“Pretty much?” Howl looked way too sheepish for someone who just told her he'd saved hundreds of lives. “I wish I could have done more, but I'm drained beyond belief. I'm not even sure how I am still standing if I have to be honest.”
Indeed he was swaying quite dangerously now. Allura carefully took his arm, steadying him. He let out a soft gasp at the touch. Letting his head roll back he groaned softly. “Can't believe I almost was too late.” Glancing at her he brought a tired smile to his face. “I see how you are a defender of our universe. If this is what you can do with one person helping I'm actually kind of afraid what your whole team is capable of.”
“We're less versatile than the magic here is.”
“That I don't doubt. Which reminds me.” He pulled loose, dragging his feet over to the downed serpent. “We're not quite done yet.”
“How so?” She followed just slightly behind him, ready to catch him should his strength fail. (She decided to ignore the fact that her own body was barely able to move on its own either. There were more pressing matters.)
Howl kneeled down next to the serpents head, laying a hand over the unmoving eye. “Don't you want to come out? Both of your partners have been hanged just short of half an hour ago. If you cooperate I might be able to convince the king to let you live.”
The eye moved.
Allura jumped back. “How- I killed it!”
“Not quite”, Howl sighed. “Such transformations are tricky. He, uh... intergrated part of himself into the bodies of these poor animals, allowing him to have control. My best guess is his main body is somewhere nearby, trying to save his soul and reconnect with it. We'd better get him out before it does.”
“Too late”, a voice whispered in the air.
Countless hours of battle proved themselves.
Just as a knife came rushing at the back of Howl's head Allura tackled him to the ground, earning a pained cry in the process. When she jumped up to her feet she saw the body of a man standing next to the beast's body. Before her horrified eyes a hand ripped the eye straight out of its body.
And ate it.
“No!” Howl shot to his feet, his hand clawing at the air.
Allura never knew if he'd tried casting a spell or if it was a simple act of a human trying desperately to change something they had no control over. His eyes jerked to Allura. “Kill him!”, he shouted desperately, “Kill him before he can-”
He never finished. A gust of icy wind swept across them, causing her limbs to clam up. Try as she might she could barely move.
The man turned to them, looking at the wizard and the Paladin with strange, almost unliving eyes. “The great wizard Pendragon? I have to say I'm disappointed. I expected more of you. This little girl is way stronger than you are.”
She expected Howl to make excuses, to defend himself. To her great surprise he snickered against the cold wind. “She's pretty amazing, isn't she? Not that you could ever understand just how much.”
His expression grew somber yet hopeful. “I plan on seeing every part of that myself. So please forgive me, but I cannot allow you to do any further harm.”
She knew now there had to be a spell involved since her body still refused any movement. Howl stepped towards the man slowly, nothing in his body language suggesting any confrontation.
The wind changed then, growing less cold but more frigid. Voices seemed to whisper in it.
The wind smelt like death.
Dust rose from the ground. It whirled up in heavy strands, biting through the air.
The man's body crumbled. While he stood, his arms outstretched as to stop Howl, his body slowly dissipated, his whole form worn away by the wind until nothing but bones remained. The wind died down.
The bones clattered to the ground.
Howl stood in front of her, his body slaunched, his breathing heavy. He turned his head slightly back, not enough to look at her. “That took a lot more effort than last time”, he mumbled.
Not even five seconds later his body crumbled.
Caring for an injured Howl was quite something.
Luckily the villagers were thankful enough to offer them a place to stay. A messenger was sent to the king, telling him of the man's death and the royal wizard's state.
A state Allura became increasingly concerned with.
On first glance Howl seemed to be nothing but exhausted, but even after almost 40 hours of rest he still didn't show any signs of waking up. Allura feared he ight have slipped off into a coma already.
“You'd better not go back on that promise of yours”, she told his too pale form one afternoon.
Except he probably would. She had the sinking feeling Calcifer could have helped, but she didn't know how to reach him. In fact, she didn't even know where the entrances to the castle lay. There was a small chance she'd find the main body of the castle still floating somewhere around the waste, but she couldn't bet on it. If she managed to bring Howl there in all his glory as sleeping beauty and Calcifer had moved the castle she'd be utterly lost.
Luckily the solution found her itself.
The confused screams ushered her away from Howl's bedside despite the fact that he hadn't moved for days. What she saw made her heart leap into her throat.
The castle was floating in the middle of the village.
How it fit she had no idea. It seemed to warp around the edge, adjusting to the narrow streets before coming to a halt in front of the church.
Running to the castle (making sure to go anti clockwise) she practically barged through the door.
Calcifer was already floating in front of the door, rushing out as soon as she opened it. “Where is he?”, the demon demanded to know.
“That way”, Allura pointed over at the inn where they were staying.
A few people gave her curious looks. Most seemed content to ignore the floating ball of fire for the time being.
Only the inn's owner looked at Calcifer before bowing down. “I heard wizard Howl was affiliated with a powerful fire demon. I am humbled to have had the chance to meet both of you. Your deeds have gone down deep in our history.”
Calcifer blushed bright red at that, assuring the man he was perfectly fine and he was honored to meet someone who took the time to include him in Howl's tales anytime.
Standing over Howl's still body felt strange this time.
Calcifer floated close, his flame smaller than usual. “You really did it this time, moron”, he softly chided the sleeping wizard.
Something happened between them.
The air seemed to get lighter for a moment before reality snapped back. Traces of magic stayed behind. Calcifer lowerd himself onto Howl's arm laying on the blanket, seeming to burn it like a normal fire would burn firewood, yet his skin remained unmarred. “Don't worry about this sorry excuse for a human”, the demon told her, “He'll be fine in a couple of hours. He burnt through enough magic to level a couple of worlds.”
“He really has that kind of power?”
Calcifer dodged her eyes. “He has”, the demon confessed, “But he would never do something so horrendous. But why does that surprise you? In terms of raw power you are almost nothing behind him. And physically speaking you could crush him easily.”
Remembering hos easily Howl's ribs had cracked underneath her Allura found her eyes being drawn to the floor. “I-”
“Did what you thought was right. I talked it over with him, you know. When the fight started I asked him to help. If I hadn't known he took the full brunt of every stray attack on himself I'd have killed him without hesitation. I don't know what this guy is thinking sometimes.” There was a hint of frustration in his voice.
But there was one thing she couldn't understand. “If you were here with him during the fight, why did it take so long until you arrived here with the castle?”
“I went back to the king. Your messenger was received as well, but someone who had all the details had to tell him the third wizard was dead as well.”
“The serpent was a transformed wizard?”
“More of a patchwork creature? That's what Howl calls them at least. Says their official name is dumb. Take all the parts that you want and mix them together. Howl's head almost ended up in one of those things once. Now that's something you can't ever forget.”
“Long story. He told you about the witch of the waste?”
“A bit.” And hadn't that been a curious story.
“She took her interest in Howl just a bit too far. Two others weren't as lucky as him, but the damage could be reversed.” Calcifer mustered her closely. “You don't look happy.”
“It reminds me a bit too much of the experiments Haggar would do.” The demon shrunk back, remembering her story about the witch.
“That's one person I never want to meet.”
They took Howl back to the moving castle as soon as he'd woken up for the first time. He'd still been weak and couldn't stay awake for more than a handful of hours.
The exhaustion had worn off, as had the backlash of his spell. One thing hadn't healed quite as quickly: His body.
Next to the cracked ribs Allura had given him he was covered in cuts and burns. The bruises kept him nice and quiet for a few days.
It might have been heaven – had Allura not been in the same state.
They spent a few days healing before they returned the castle to its position at the edge of the waste. Howl even thanked her profoundly for taking tare of the thirs wizard. Any objection that he'd done most of the work were quickly shot down. “I dealt the killing blow, that's all. Believe me, exhausted as I was that guy would have toasted me. Now that would have been a sad way to go.”
It was almost scary how quickly they fell back into their rhythm again. Howl was just a slight bit more open and she a slight bit more patient.
The lions had appeared without warning.
Luckily, they had appeared over the moving part of the castle, not above the capital where Howl had placed his most used entry, nor above the little port town he had settled the other one in.
Howl had stared up at the gigantic lions and let out a low, appreciating whistle. “So these are the lions?”
Allura scoffed, hiding her joy at seeing the mechanical creatures, at hearing them roar in her mind. “Yes, they are. And they shouldn't be here. At all!”
“Ya, ya. Neither should you. I'm working on it already! Geez.”
Allura ran across the field to where the blue lion sat. It had it's head down, waiting for her to come. The purring in her head sent shivers own her spine even as she ran. A giant head was lowered and a ramp extended. She barely noticed it as she flew into the lion and dropped down into the pilot's chair.
Allura closed her eyes and allowed the mystic bond between her and her lion to enclose her completely. She reveled in the feeling, cherished it. Finally she felt whole again.
Howl stared up at the five robotic lions in wonder. He could feel the strength and power radiating from them in waves. The biggest lion, a black creature with winglike fins at the back, lowered his head to him.
“Nice kitty”, he muttered under his breath. The snout came to hover directly above his head. Howl carefully raised his hands beside his head, showing he meant no harm. The bigger part of him was utterly overwhelmed. Never had he dreamed something like this could have existed in his own world all along. He wasn't particularly fond of electronics usually and thus failed to keep up to date with recent developments even when he had been in touch with his homeworld, but he could easily see these lions were a masterpiece, a perfect blend between magic and technology. The other part of him was just as awed, but as giddy as a small child on Christmas. Because there were five robotic/magic lions the size of his castle standing around him and one was trying to talk to him! His heart hammered against his ribs as if it wanted to flee his body again.
The lion pulled it's head back slightly. Howl hoped he hadn't misunderstood the gesture and put his hands down as well. “You five are the Voltron lions? I am honored to make your acquaintance. I am Howl Pendragon.”
The strangest sensation appeared in his head. Something seemed to doubt him, inquire about why he felt it was necessary to lie about his own name. He chuckled lightly and explained “It's not the name I was born with, but Howl Pendragon is the name I used for most of my life. It is the name I feel fits me and my life. The other one is such a dull name.”
The lion frowned at him mentally (and what a strange sensation that was) before accepting the answer. Howl threw a glance over at the blue lion in which Allura had disappeared to. “So, your pilot has to enter you through your mouth? Seems as if your father had a strange sense of humor.” The word father didn't feel quite right in this instance, but creator seemed much too impersonal for beings as advanced as these.
A strange vision filled his mind for a second. He saw through the eyes of a lion, saw a figure clad in red being blown out into open space. The lion leapt and clamped it's teeth around the falling figure.
He looked over to the red lion, having no doubt the vision came from it. Not only because of the pilot's uniform, but because the presence brushing his mind felt different from the black lion. More vicious and wild compared to the almost majestic and wise feeling the black lion ave him. “Must be quite the experience if one doesn't know what to expect.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the green lion stalking over to the castle. His mind produced the horrible image of a cat throwing a glass down from a table. He doubted his castle could hold too much of the lion's power.
A warning purr to be careful went from the black to the green lion. It agreed happily. Howl stared at it for a second. “So, are you guys all the same age?” A short confirmation came from one of the two other lions, but he couldn't quite recognize who it was. Probably the yellow one, since the blue lion was still talking with Allura? It was followed by an inquiring feeling from the black one. “It's just that you guys feel so different. You” he pointed at the black lion “feel older and more experienced in a way, whereas red over there feels untamed and wild. Green feels like a curious child wanting to see everything and learn as much as they can.”
“You can actually feel them?” He definitely did not jump when Allura spoke up behind him.
“It's more like a vague feeling of what they want, not really put into words.”
“Still, it is strange for people to be able to feel them.”
Howl mustered the lions again. “Perhaps because I had a similar bond once? Or our magic could just be similar.”
The question about the similar bond was to be expected. He thought about how to answer for a second before he focused on an image and tried sending it to the lions. For a moment, it felt as if he was thrown back in time. He was a young man, barely scraping on adulthood, standing in the fields with the dying soul of a star in his hands. Pity welled up in him as the star asked him not to let it die. A contract was formed and the shooting star plucked his heart right out of his chest. Power flooded him as their very souls became intertwined. A blueish fire with the hints of a face in it appeared next to him and settled into his hands. It was alive. It hadn't died.
Allura stared at him, clearly shocked. “Calcifer has your heart?”
“Had.” He rubbed his neck nervously. The nature of his history with Calcifer was something he didn't like to discuss very much. “My wife broke the contract shortly after we met. I got my heart back and she talked another thousand years of life into Calcifer. That was her magic, she could talk life into everything. Command things to happen. Pain to counter that kind of magic too.”
The green lion turned away from the castle and lowered it's head to the two organic lifeforms. Was that also how Howl himself was still alive? He startled visibly. “It is”, he ground out between clenched teeth. He couldn't help himself. The image flashed before his eyes almost immediately. Sophie, beautiful and courageous Sophie lying in his arms, taking her last breaths, whispering at him to just keep living, no matter how much it hurts, just live on, don't try to follow me, LIVE!
Howl felt the grief as raw as on the first day. The lion pulled back with an apology. In return, it showed him the death of it's former Paladin by the hands of the traitor Zarkon.
“We all lost people dear to us, haven't we?” Howl accepted the apology with a nod. “I heard about the war you have fought for so long. I can't believe how much you have lost.”
They shared a moment in companionable silence. Howl broke it by taking a step back. “I believe it is best if you return to your own world now. I hope you know the way back, because I have no idea how to fit five giant lions through my front door.”
It turned out the lions didn't.
They were able to move through rifts in space when one was nearby, but the rift they had used was a one-way-drive to Ingary. Allura had felt like screaming.
Luckily Howl had assured her it was no problem, that the lions had undone enough damage to the pathways so he could force them open by magic. It would take a few weeks at most.
Thus Allura became part of the strangest procession she could ever have imagined. A black castle floating across a wasteland (which Howl had quite the interesting story to share about. It involved not one, but two heartless wizards, a whole lot of curses and the curious case of a walking stick. She'd never be able to look the same way at scarecrows again. What Lance had told her about them had been strange enough already, she hadn't needed this additional imae in her head. Howl didn't even try to look sorry.) followed by a small herd of mechanical lions. The black lion stood roughly at the same size as the castle's four towers, giving the assembly an even stranger appearance.
What had Howl cracking up was the interior space of the lions. Like the castle, the space a human could occupy within the lions was drastically smaller than what it looked like. The lions interior was basically a corridor, the pilot's chamber and a storage room, whereas the castle had a bathroom, the common room, a broom closet and three bedrooms. “More than meets the eye!”, Howl had laughed. When Allura had only looked at him in obvious confusion he had dropped the matter quickly. “Ask your fellow Paladins if anyone still remembers the Transformers. Big hit in my time.”
Of course things had to get even more bizarre. Howl had been able to stabilize the path between his castle door and the house he spent his childhood in, but hadn't managed to create a rift big enough for the lions to fit through.
In the end, he had come up with a crazy idea.
Which was how Allura found herself sitting in an armchair with a miniature blue lion curled up in her lap, a yellow lion lazing stretched out over her feet as well as a black lion prancing on top of the backrest and falling on top of her head since it was not used to weighing so little.
Howl and Calcifer fared worse. The red lion had apparently decided Calcifer looked like he wanted to play with it and chased the demon through the room. The latter screamed out curses at the lions and at Howl for making him swear not to try and hurt any lions while they were small. The black lion chided it's right hand companion at first but left the other it's fun. (If Howl grumbled for hours after having to undo a baffling number of 48 curses nobody commented on it.)
The green lion's situation was the exact opposite. It had been way too engrossed in everything Howl put together on a daily basis and decided it wanted to play with some spell or another. At first it had been harmless. The lion had sat across from Howl and watched him work his magic for a few hours. The only disturbance were his occasional comments “Don't touch that”, “That's highly explosive, please don't” and “No wait-! Come back here, little beast!” After which the green lion had picked a rather harmless looking spell up and tried escaping to a secure location to examine it's price. Howl chased after it, growing frustrated whenever the lion escaped into a space too small for him to follow. He'd try to bewitch the lion, forcing it out of it's hiding spots, but the lions' own magic was keeping the “insolent green cub” safe from the usual effective (as well as housefriendly) spells. In the end Howl had jumped forward, his body shrinking into itself and warping until an equally small black dog appeared in his stead and chased after the lion.
Allura laid a hand to her forehead. “Give the spell three days to stabilize. We don't want them to accidentally grow to their usual size the second they pass through the door.” That's what he said.
She sent a pang of irritation through the bond with the lions. But she couldn't quite find it in her to suppress her amusement. The black lion echoed the sentiment. Howl the Dog gave her the evil eye before finally jumping the fleeing green lion successfully. The sound of claws scraping against metal, the snarling and barking from the dog and Calcifer's angry yowls filled the Castle.
Followed by an explosion.
Howl jumped back and turned into his human form, clutching the remains of the spell to his chest. The green lion was covered in soot and looked quite miserable. “Told you it's flammable”, snapped the wizard.
Three days passed in relative peace. Only six more explosions, eleven death threats and one spell that rid the green lion of its claws for three hours later, Howl turned the doorknob to black again. “It won't burn you this time?” Because no matter how much Howl had tried to hide the injury, Allura had seen the singed hand. Howl had been able to heal it fairly quickly with his magic, but he had favored his left hand for two weeks after the incident. (Not that it mattered much, he was able to move things with his mind after all. And the chicken scratch he called writing was illegible whichever hand he used.)
Howl had assured her it was perfectly safe, only to scratch the back of his head and confess that maybe the house on the other side didn't exist anymore. In which case they'd still land in the general vicinity, but he couldn't guarantee they wouldn't end up inside a rock or at the bottom of a lake. “Otherwise, it's perfectly safe”, he hurried to add. The Altean needed all her composure and diplomatic training to keep from slapping him.
They did not end up in a lake, nor in a rock.
To Howl's great surprise (and joy, because no matter how much he denied it, he still loved this place, it was plain obvious) the house was still standing.
It clearly had been renovated regularly over the last 500 years. The general shape of the house was different from what Howl had shown the Voltron team in his memories, but the main building was definitely the same he grew up in. The small town itself showed almost no signs of destruction by the Galra, which Allura was thankful for. She had only experienced Howl when he was mad once before and had no desire to repeat that.
The house had been painted in a different color as well, it's walls now shining a deep, vibrant red. Howl's expression told her he approved. He made a vague gesture to a window in the upper floor. “That's the window I can look out of in my bedroom. Not sure if anyone else lives in there right now.”
Allura noticed a strange message on the wall of the house. “What does Rivendell mean?”
Howl looked at the letters and let out a whoop of joy. “Didn't think anyone would keep those for so long! One day these letters will confuse the hell out of some archaeologists. You see, Rivendell is a location from a book! It's called Lord of the Rings. I hope it didn't get lost to time, it's an awesome book! I think it even got some movies, but I've never gotten around to see them.”
“I think Lance talked about the movies once. He got in a fight with Keith about it, now that I think about it.”
“A fight? What, if it's good or not?”
“Keith was annoyed because they kept introducing female characters just as love interests that weren't even in the books. And that the main love interest of some ranger got more screen time than the Ringbearer.”
Howl pouted openly. “Well, that's sad I guess. Just gotta skip the scenes. Maybe hex someone into doing a remake closer to the original.”
“So it was a book you liked a lot?”
“Lived for it when I was a kid. It was what got me interested in magic.”
Howl took the house in with a smile before turning to the garage. “I have to confess, I hid something here. I gathered most of my stuff when my sister died, but one thing has always been here, in a pocket dimension. It will make traveling far easier.” With a wink of his hand the garage opened to reveal an old car. “Kept it from decaying with a spell. Now, ready?”
The princess stared at him for a second before shaking her head at herself. “Or we just enlarge the lions and arrive at the base in a few minutes.”
“You are no fun.”
Lance closed the garden closet behind him and sighed in relief. It had gotten warm, way too warm for him to work out into the sun. He wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but since Allura had bestowed the marks of an Altean on him, he felt as if he was much more sensitive to temperature.
This made his trips with Keith even more fun, since the latter seemed almost impervious by even the most extreme environment. Damn Galra heir natural strength. What annoyed Lance even more was that his rival slowly started growing to the expected height for his mother's species. While Krolia herself was small for a Galra, Keith apparently had lost interest in staying a Smallra his whole life.
Lance allowed himself a chuckle. Keith was the one he tried to stay in contact with the most. Their relationship had changed from a bitter rivalry (okay. He knew Keith didn't actually notice him as a rival at all until they were both on Team Voltron. Still, for him the rivalry had been real.) to being brothers in arms to being close friends. While they didn't see each other that often after the war with Keith turning the Blade of Mamora into a humanitarian relief organization, they attempted to stay in contact as much as possible.
It was the same with Hunk. He traveled the universe almost as frequently as Keith did, but his job was safer in a way. Also, Hunk had a habit of smothering all his friends with his calls each evening. Sadly, he often forgot to check the time difference. Lance couldn't even count the times he had been awoken in the middle of the night by Hunk wanting to check in. After all, Lance was his best friend, Hunk would say, it was only natural that he wanted to call him first. So he only ever realized it was the middle of the night when Lance either accepted the call in his sleep and snored at his friend for a few hours while the other would call his name every few minutes just for fun or the sharp-shooter shouted at him because he had been trying to sleep.
Lance was thankful for Hunk's enthusiasm, even if he felt it was a bit much at times.
Pidge was in heaven with her work on Earth, the technological research had her completely shut away. Shiro often had to pull her (together with her father and brother) away from her work. Most of the time, he made Pidge call them during that time too.
Shiro himself had started as a teacher at the Galaxy Garrison where he taught additional courses whenever his status as captain of the Atlas allowed it. After the sudden disappearance of Voltron those missions had become much more frequent, meaning he was also off planet most of the time.
Lance heard the people whisper behind his back a lot. Why was he, a former Paladin of Voltron, the right hand of the universe's most powerful weapon, contend with living on a farm?
The answer would have been difficult. Lance loved the peace and quiet the farm had to offer. He loved spending time with his family, seeing the sun set over a flowery garden. It was much better than fighting on and on, never once getting a reprieve.
“Didn't think they'd throw you away like that”, a shopkeeper had told Lance shortly after the lions disappeared. “After all you did for the planet. You deserved better.”
To which Lance had found himself nearly boiling in rage. “Then what did I deserve? Did I deserve to fight for the rest of my life? Did I deserve to be shot and cut down until I die? I've seen enough fighting for now. I just wanted to go home. I went home to where I could be happy after everything I went through the last years. I went home to my family. I believe that is exactly what I deserve, not more pain and death. But hey, who are you to judge anyway.” He hadn't visited that store again.
He understood where the people came from, that he looked like a war hero thrown aside after he wasn't needed anymore.
They all dealt differently. Keith, Coran and Shiro had stood up to their responsibilities and continued their lives into the direction the war had thrust them into. They made it their goal to fix the damage done to the universe.
Pidge, Hunk and Lance had turned back to the things they loved.
Lance had dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot most of his life. He had worked harder than any of his peers to reach their level. But after fighting so long – after loosing the woman he loved to the war – he simply wanted to sit back and watch.
All the Paladins had been offered a place as fighter pilots at the Galaxy Garrison. Not one of them had accepted. Surprised but also understanding the Paladins' reasoning, the Garrison had extended their offer to the future. If they ever wanted to come back, they'd be welcome with open arms.
He shook his head to clear away unnecessary thoughts. Today was a day where all the Paladins would be on Earth. It hadn't been planned, not even in the slightest. Keith had run himself ragged and had been sent back to Earth by his mother, claiming he needed to let himself recover. Hunk had come home for the birthday of his cousin. (He claimed the only thing he was sorry about was not being able to fly there in Yellow. That would have surprised the kids.) Shiro was supposed to be getting back from his mission every minute now. And Pidge-
Was currently jumping on his back with a loud yell. Lance let out a (very manly, thank you very much) shriek and went crashing down onto the floor.
Pidge laughed loudly behind him, getting off and extending a helping hand to her downed friend. “How about we get going, space cowboy?” Lance dusted himself off and looked down at his sweaty work clothes. “Sure, just let me change first.”
“Nonsense!” Pidge punched him into the ribs playfully. “We are all friends, nobody cares if you are a bit sweaty.” She pulled him out of the garden over his protests. What looked like a floating sports car waited outside. “Present from my dad. He said if I can drive a giant flying space cat then I can also drive a flying sports car. Neat, huh?”
It was neat. It was totally awesome! Lance let out a loud whoop of joy and jumped into the driver's seat. Pidge rolled her eyes at him but took the passenger seat nonetheless. “Just so you know, the way you flew before this thing started I'd never have let you drive anything. Not even a bicycle.” Lance stuck out his tongue and floored the gas pedal.
In the end, they had met up at Keith's old shed. It marked the beginning of their journey after all. This was where they had first gotten together, the five Paladins. This was where Keith had told them about the strange energy coming from the caves, where they had started their search for a super weapon against Alien invaders, where Lance had bonded with the blue lion and the group had been thrown into a space adventure that went beyond imagination. It had marked the start of a bond that surpassed scientific limitations.
A bond that had became increasingly annoying.
Shortly after the lions had disappeared, their bond had changed somehow. It became more raw, more open to emotions. It had become quite common for them to accidentally influence each other when they were in close vicinity.
After discovering the source, they hadn't failed to exploit the bond at every turn. Lance had a bad habit of answering the questions on his tests only after a short peek into Pidge's mind, to which she retaliated by spamming images of advanced technological and mathematical problems directly into his consciousness. Those, in turn, landed in Shiro's mind while he was trying to give a briefing to the Atlas crew. He had been absent from the mission, seeing as the doctor declared him as unfit for duty because of the strange episode. Shiro had been raging mad. Since he was the one whose bond with the lions had been weakened the most – because of his death and later replacement – he tended to be unable to block anything the others projected at him. His control over what he sent was equally bad. His anger flowed directly to the deeply sleeping Keith, who dropped out of his bed and surprised himself so much he threw his dagger at the nearest object, battle instinct ready. (Luckily his hosts were willing to cut the Black Paladin some slack, or he would have never gotten out of his debt for breaking an antique vase.) In turn, the expectancy of a battle swapped to Hunk, who snapped at his uncooperative computer and destroyed it by accident.
They had spent a lot of time learning how to shut the Voltron bond down completely after that.
Now, the bond was blown wide open as they shared their joy at seeing each other again.
Something felt different, Pidge decided. The bond felt calmer, as if it was more balanced again. Were the lions coming back?
She pushed the thought away. It only hurt more when she thought about the loss of her partner. They knew – hoped – that the lions were alive and well. They were sure they'd know if something happened to them.
The abrupt departure of the lions still confused her. The lions wouldn't have left that suddenly without a reason, right?
It had been four months since their partners left in the middle of the night, since they all settled down. While she hoped the lions would come back, she knew the chances were slim. Also, if the lions indeed were back, wouldn't they make themselves noticeable?
It was no day to reminisce about the past, she decided. It was a day to be happy about the present, about all the changes, about their friends and family being alive.
Seeing everyone together always made her giddy like a teenage schoolgirl. She might only be a teenager, but she was far from that stereotypical hysteric and make-up obsessed girlies, thank you very much. No matter how often she told herself that, she still always felt that way when she saw her fellow Paladins. Was it wrong to say they were her pack?
It felt good being together again.
They were about 2 hours into their reunion when Keith suddenly perked at a sound only he could hear. Damn Galra hearing.
She wasn't the only one who noticed. “Keith, everything all right?” Shiro looked at his younger friend with concern written all over his face. With Keith's strange sensitivity to quintessence came lots of downsides. The advanced hearing posed the same problem.
The new Black Paladin nodded slowly. “There's a car coming towards us. At least it sounds like a car. Like one from those old movies.”
“You mean, all vroooom! Vroooom!, right?” asked Lance, trying to swallow the rest of the food Hunk had made.
“Your soundeffects still suck”, Keith told his Right Hand. “But, pretty much.”
“I thought all of those were in museums by now. I mean, those cars haven't been produced in what, 400 years?” The mechanic in Hunk was clearly excited about seeing one of those cars still driving. The old cars, he frequently sighed, had personality, they had spirit. Unlike the newer models. Sure, they had been really hard on nature, but couldn't the appearance of the cars be kept?
They started hearing the motor of the car shortly after. It didn't take long for a sleek car to get in their line of sight. Hunk's chin dropped to the floor. “No way! That thing must be from the 20 th century! How is that even still driving? There are only replicas of those ones! I didn't think there were any left!”
“How is it driving on sand is more like it”, remarked Shiro. His brows furrowed at the nearing car.
It only took a few more seconds for the car to come to a halt in front of the shed. A young man got out of the driver's seat, popped his elbows up on the car and grinned at them. “Are you by any chance the Voltron Paladins?”
Something in Pidge screamed Danger . If she had to describe the man himself, her choice of words would be flamboyant and eccentric. But the way he carried himself while confronting the Paladins was unusual. He didn't seem cocky or self-assured, but there was a certain calmness in his gaze that made her uneasy.
What set her off more was the way he seemed to emit a strange power, almost like the one the robeasts gave off. Maybe even Voltron itself.
A glance to the side told her Keith distrusted the man just as much. Lance, however, seemed oblivious and greeted the man happily. “Indeed we are! That's a nice ride you got there, pal.”
The blond mustered him for a second before declaring “You must be Lance, right? The red Paladin. Heard a lot about you.”
“And may I inquire where from?” Shiro had apparently picked up on the mood of the red and green clad Paladins. He was approaching the man carefully, not quite ready to fight but cautious at any rate.
“I am a master at divination”, the man told them. “I know everything.”
“Divination, huh?” Hunk tore his eyes away from the car. “I guess we have seen stranger things, but you look completely human to me. Would be new that we have any kind of supernatural abilities.”
“Alright, he's just a nutjob”, whispered Lance. Pidge kept herself from snapping at him, still unsure about their surprise guest. Who turned his attention to her as if feeling her anxiety.
“I might have scratched something of yours. Sorry about that.”
That made no sense at all. “What do you mean?”
Keith apparently had enough. He stepped forward, forcing their guest to lock eyes with him. Interestingly enough, the blond shied away ever so slightly. “Oh my. You really aren't fully human, are you.”
The black haired leader narrowed his eyes at the other. “I am not. Who are you and what do you want from us?”
“So hostile!” The man threw his hands up in a dramatic gesture. “There I finally return home after such a long time and this is the greeting I get?”
“Listen, I don't know what you want from us, but you'd better get straight to the point.”
The blond offered a charming smile that would have most women drop down on the spot. (It definitely did not affect Pidge. Not the tiniest bit.) “I apologize. I come bearing gifts.”
During the talk, Pidge had sent a picture of the man through the databases of each country's registry. Something told her there was a lot more to the man than meets the eye. (Good that Matt couldn't hear her words. He would have dropped at that. He used that old slogan all the time since his sister flew around in a gigantic, sentient alien robot.)
The search took longer than she'd expected. Only now did she get a result. Only one across the whole world which fit. One from the 20 th century. Of a very missing and very supposed-to-be-dead person. She startled at the file, quickly hiding the phone as to not alarm their guest. 20 th century car and 20 th century personal file, both from Wales. Only one way to find out. “And what kind of gift would that be, Mr. Jenkins?”
It was almost funny how much this surprised the man. He stared at her open mouthed before he burst into laughter. “I expected as much from the green Paladin!”
Keith looked about ready to strangle the man. “What kind of gifts?”, he repeated.
“I'll get them, I'll get them. You are horribly impatient, you know that?”
“I think they spoke a bit different in the 20th century. You sound more like you come from the middle age.”
Howell Jenkins grinned at her proudly. “Time is an illusion, don't you know?”
“20th century?”, Hunk inquired.
Pidge pulled her phone out and showed her friends the display. “He felt strange so I wanted to know who he is. The only one to look even remotely like him is Mister Howell Jenkins, born 1962 in Wales. Coincidentally in the same village that car was registered in. Went missing in 1998 and was presumed dead in 2008.”
“Wait, wait, wait. They took ten years to decide whether I'm dead or not? That feels like an insult.” Howell crossed his arms and frowned at her. “I just know I have my sister to thank for that. I can practically hear her. Oh, my brother is always running off somewhere or another. He probably found himself another girl and took off with her. He is incorrigible. Ugh. And it took them three years to realize I went missing at all? That's just mean.”
What? By now, Pidge was completely confused. What was with this man?
Apparently satisfied after ranting for a bit, Howell took a box out of the car trunk. “Again, sorry for scratching yours. Won't happen again.”
When the blond opened the box, Pidge could almost feel her chin hitting the floor. Next to her, Lance ground out “Is this some sort of sick joke?”
Because there, in the box, sat the five Voltron lions. They looked only slightly put off by their imprisonment.
“Are those lion minifigures?”, asked Shiro. He could still access the Voltron bond if needed, but he was too far out of it to feel instantly that these tiny little creatures were the normally twenty meters huge lions.
The green lion was the first to jump out of the box and into Pidge's arms. Indeed, it was scratched up a lot. “Green, what happened to you?” She couldn't keep the shock out of her voice. Immediately a scene filled her head. Howell Jenkins – Green insisted on calling Howl for some reason – sat at a table, scribbling something down. A tiny Green snatched a strange lump from his side, earning a startled yelp. The scene changed to Howl chasing Green through a messy room, finally morphing into a pitch black dog and jumping Green, scratching her up and loosing lots of his own fur in the process before the lump started shooting flames. It exploded soon after.
Pidge blinked at the tiny lion in her arms. Blinked at the man – shapeshifter? - in front of her. Blinked at the lion. “I actually meant how you got so small.”
“They didn't fit through my front door.”
The other lions had jumped out now too. Blue had jumped into Howl's arms, making themselves comfortable. A cold feeling of dread washed over Pidge. Did Blue chose this lunatic as their new Paladin?
Keith visibly held himself back now. He had grown considerably less prone to violence since they had met, but right now, murder stood written in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak just as Howl continued on. “Oh, I almost forgot the best present.” He gave Blue a pat and sat her down onto the sand. Stalking over to the car, he tapped the roof two times before grinning at the Paladins. “I think you'll like this one just as much.”
With these words, he opened the passenger door. Another person rose up and came to stand beside him.
Nothing moved. Even a lonely corn of sand could have been heard crunching in the absolute silence that followed. Pidge didn't dare trust her eyes. Could it really be...?
The silence was broken by Lance hitting the ground. Red gave an indignant squaw and jumped over to Keith's shoulder, not happy to have almost been crushed under their Paladin.
Allura looked completely lost, as if she didn't know if she should start laughing or crying. In the end, she simply stepped forward and threw her arms around the standing Paladins. “I missed you guys. I missed you so much.”
Howl, as he obviously preferred, scooped Lance up from the ground with a smirk and laid him down on the sofa in the shed.
Shiro still felt uneasy around the man, but the lions and Allura seemed to trust him. He cleared his throat and took a step towards the blond. “So, who are you really? We owe you a lot for bringing Allura and the lions back. I prefer knowing who I'm indebted to.”
Howl winked it off. “All cleared with Allura. I'm just curious to see more of the universe, explore some here and there. Oh, I know something! You could take me to a ruby match if you are so set on thanking me.”
Shiro felt his ears growing hot. Was this man asking him out? Not that he didn't look good, but he had someone in his sight already he was quite interested in.
Allura frowned at Howl. “Stop messing with him, you are not interested anyway.”
The blond looked genuinely confused. “I'm not! But I haven't seen a rugby match in 400 years – maybe even longer! Honestly I'd give about anything to see a good match right now. Even more to play again.”
Keith stared him down a while before shaking his head. “So you are a 500 year old welsh rugby player who just happened to be able to find our missing Paladin, shrink our lions and turn into a dog?”
Howl answered by turning into a dog.
Allura threw him an almost murderous glance before focusing her attention on the other Paladins again. “Honestly, much more time with this Drama Queen and I would have lost it.”
Howl growled at her before stating “You do know I saved you, right? And helped you get back home. But now all I am is a drama queen?”
“No, you are a Drama Queen. With capital letters. Now be quiet.”
“I know why you like this one, Howl”, a voice chimed out of nowhere. “She is just as fiery as Sophie.”
Shiro tried following the voice and felt the need to imitate Lance's reaction. Because there was a talking fire and it was talking to him !
“Hush now, Calcifer.” Howl's face had gone eerily blank. It switched back to his usual playful expression almost immediately, leaving Shiro wondering. He forgot about it quickly as the talking fire zipped through the air, coming to a halt next to Howl's shoulder.
“And now there is a talking fire. Just great. Wake me when this day is over”, murmured Lance's voice.
Calcifer pulsed a strong, almost white blue, clearly upset. “I am a fire demon, insolent brat. I am thousands of years old, extremely powerful and have seen more than you could ever comprehend.”
“This is all nice, but could we maybe turn the lions back into their usual selves again?” Hunk chimed in. Howl looked at the tiny green lion sitting on his shoulder, doing their best to snatch his earring the second he wasn't looking. Was something special about that piece of jewelry? The blond nodded his head, firmly removing the protesting lion from his person.
“Green really likes you”, Pidge commented. Was that envy in her voice?
Howl waved it off. “Little Green is just way too curious about my magic. Hence the scratches.”
“Magic.” Shiro couldn't keep the skepticism out of his voice. He took a step forward, turning all his focus to the man. “I don't know what exactly you are, but you can't be human. I've only ever seen Alteans and Galra use magic. I think someone would have noticed if Earth had magicians.”
“Oh, but they did!”, Howl exclaimed. “We just hid better than most. Truth to be told, I only met a handful of mages here on Earth, enough to hone my powers a bit. Then I went to another world and started learning for real.”
“If you really want us to believe you can use magic, you'll have to prove it.” Lance crossed his arms, still suspicious.
The wizard laid a hand to his chin, pondering the challenge. “I see. The small lions are not enough? Or my ability to shapeshift? What do you want me to do, then?”
Lance threw up his hands. “Well I don't know! Go wild, I guess.”
Calcifer started cackling madly. “Oh, you didn't.”
“Why? What did I do?”
The fire demon let out a groan. “Wait and see.”
Howl shook his head slowly. “Don't worry, I don't plan on doing anything reckless.” After a short consideration he added “Or anything that might attract too much attention.”
The fire demon let out a barking laugh (How could it bark? It was a lump of floating fire! He hadn't been the best in biology, but he was pretty sure there were actually voice cords needed to speak) before it seemed to settle down in the wizard's raised hand. “Now that would be a new one. Howl Pendragon being unobtrusive? A true miracle!”
“Wait.” Pidge shook her head quickly. “You. Are a wizard. And you call yourself Pendragon? Merlin sounding too pretentious for you?”
Howl blinked at her before erupting into full blown laughter. “I feared someone would sue me for copyright”, he grinned.
The green Paladin snorted. “Yeah, sure. But seriously? Pendragon?”
“If you were born as Howell Jenkins you'd change your name too.”
Shiro looked between the two, fighting down his amusement. Pide took the existence of human wizards better than he'd have expected. He'd seen Keith strugling to wrap his head around it at first, but by the time Calcifer had arrived he'd obviously decided he'd seen stranger things. Hunk hesitating before accepting the strangeness came as a bit of a surprise considering he was usually the one to point out how unexpected and unbelievable their situation was. It spoke volumes about how much he'd grown as a person since they'd first met.
Lance (who was finally rising from the sofa, clearly not quite trusting his legs again) was obviously shaken by the whole situation. He forced himself to keep up his usual banter, but the underlying tension was obvious. As were the helpless looks he kept shooting Allura.
Shiro wished he could have just left the two of them their privacy to sort things out, but there were more pressing matters. Namely, Howell Jenkins.
“I think that can wait”, he stepped in. “I have to ask you to come with us to the Galaxy Garrison. The higher ups will want to question you.”
“Joy”, Howl murmured. “I have a feeling that's going to involve a lot of paper work.”
“Probably”, Shiro confessed. The wizard's face morphed into a scowl.
“Fine. In that case, can I at least see some aliens? And I absolutely have to see Voltron transform!”
It was remarkable. How quick Howl flitted between that strange, intimidating person Shiro definitely would not want to face without a weapon close by (He decided not to think about how his magic might be useful in a fight. He'd seen the druids and Haggar fight, that had been enough for a few lifetimes.) and the little child chasing and grasping at his dreams. Aliens for him probably were akin to the thought of wizards to Shiro. And even if he had to fight back harsh memories of Haggar's twisted magic, who was he to judge a man for his abilities?
Curtis usually saw himself as an open-minded person.
He had to be. Contrary to popular belief the Garrison was not all about strict rules. In fact, ever since the whole Galra mess had begun the Garrison actively encouraged their members to be as flexible as possible.
Which was why when Shiro and the rest of the Paladins arrived with a suddenly alive again Princess Allura and a stranger in tow demanding for a meeting with all the Garrison higher ups he'd left the lesson he'd given the new recruits for another teacher and hurried over to one of the conference rooms.
Which was precisely where he was reminded that even after he'd been forced to aknowledge the existence of aliens, learned to pilot a space ship powered by a chrystal that had once been a different space ship which also coincidentally transformed into a giant alien robot as well as being married to a man with a floating arm prothese he wasn't quite immune to surprises as much as he thought.
It had started out harmlessly. Princess Allura had been welcomed warmly and formally before the stranger (Who looked just a little too awestruck with the Garrison) had been addressed. The princess introduced him as Howl Pendragon, but Pidge had used the much more realistic sounding name Howell Jenkins as well.
He hadn't been the only one thinking along those lines, seeing as how each of the Garrison officers addressed him as Mr. Jenkins after that.
Which was when he first noticed something was off.
Because Jenkins pursued his lips slightly, raising to his full height, seemingly towering above them all (Which was strange, because Curtis was big , he could even look down on Shiro, and Howl definitely hadn't looked that big before and he was sure he hadn't actually grown but his presence was suddenly overwhelming) and informed them in a strict, almost regal tone that he wouldn't answer to that name.
It had taken a quick intervention of Keith to keep their higher ups from throwing the man out right then and there. “Howl is the reason Allura could be returned to us safely. Respecting his choice is the least we can do.”
After that things had only become weirder. Pendragon regarded them with eerily calm eyes as the military officers tore into him, demanding why he hadn't contacted them earlier about having found the Altean princess. Only when one of the men – he went by Afzal if Curtis remembered correctly – got into his face did he finally react. Oh, and how he reacted.
Howl's green eyes bore into the man, seemingly fixating him to his spot before pushing him back. “Hasn't anyone ever told you it is not polite to invade another person's space like this?”, he'd asked, his tone as neutral as if he'd asked about the weather.
The flick of his hand seemed innocent enough.
Almost as innocent as the tiny chicken sitting on the table would have looked if it hadn't sat exactly where Afzal had leaned before.
Curtis' ears were filled with white noise. He could only blink and stare at the bright yellow chicken. It seemed very frightened indeed, backing away slowly from the suddenly imposing man.
Said man looked much more relaxed after the noise died down. “There you go. Be nice, little one, and I might just turn you back later.”
Curtis found himself staring helplessly at the chicken, then at Shiro. Blinked and looked again. Because Shiro didn't look all that surprised, just... dejected.
“Howl, you promised.”, the princess chided.
“He was being annoying!”, the man whined.
Hunk looked around, his face horrified. “You can't leave him like this!”
Which was exactly where Curtis' brain threw up its proverbial hands and announced a spontaneous vacation. There were things he could accept. Healing pods? Sign him up! Gigantic sentient alien robots and teleporting space animals? A bit strange, but he'd gotten used to it.
One of the highest ranking Garrison officers being turned into a chicken in the middle of a briefing? Now that was a new one.
There was no saying how everything might have ended had Princess Allura not stepped up and punched Howl in the arm. “Behave!”
Nursing what was likely already on its way to becoming a spectacular bruise Howl gave an open pout. “Fine, I'll turn him back. Spoilsport.” A dark glare made him move.
It was the same harmless gesture, just a flick of their visitor's wrist and Afzal was back, his face white as a sheet.
Howl stared directly at the man, the hints of smugness tugging at his face. “You believing me yet, Lance?”
What in the world did he mean? Turning to the blue Paladin Curtis found him staring, just as stunned as the rest. Luckily he got his act together quickly.
“Wha- of course! It's kinda hard not to, after, oh, you know, the lions!”
“The lions?”, Doctor Holt jumped in. “They're back?”
Shiro let out the heaviest sigh Curtis had ever heard. “Yes, Howl brouht them here. They'rewaiting outside. Can we please skip this and get to the important part?”
The blond threw him an annoyed glance. “This is the first time in, oh, probably your whole lifetime that I've had the hint of fun and here you reign me in? Oh, what a cruel world this has become indeed.”
There were... several problems he had with that statement. Not counting the one the Princess added. “You looked like you had plenty of fun with that poor farmer. And with the noble. And did you forget about the king's servant already?”
“But this is so much better!” Despite protesting the man leaned back in his chair, relaxing somewhat. The cold air seemed to disappear.
There would be no announcement about wizards for the time being – Howl had been very adamant about that.
Sometime during the trip from Wales he must have contacted a bunch of other wizards. How he'd know any was so far beyond Keith that it wasn't even funny anymore.
At least that was one Garrison meeting where he didn't have to fight not to fall asleep. While a lot of important stuff was said during those, a lot of other stuff could have been shortened by 90 percent and he'd still have all the necessary information. That was simply what life as the Black Paladin was like, he guessed.
And if he bribed the security officer for the footage of (Azl- Alfa- oh, he wouldn't ever be good at names) that guy, nobody called him out on it.
Howl had disappeared quickly after the meeting, saying he needed to contact the other wizards directly. From what he'd said so far most magicians had tried sheltering people during the Galra invasion. Apparently there'd even been a group that tried getting everyone with magical abilities to defend the planet on the frontlines. That had been a ounch to the gut. “Why didn't they?”, Keith remembered himself asking.
Howl had looked sad then. “They're afraid”, he'd explained. “Most of us only ever meet two or three more mages in their lifetime. That's the prime reason I preferred life in Ingary. Sure, there were some places where magic was frowned upon, but nobody ever though of fighting it.”
He'd learned the wizards around the world had taken a vote on whether or not they should work with the Garrison. In the end just a single percent more had been for staying hidden.
“I don't think they knew they could help”, Howl added, shaking his head. “Blasting a spaceship out of the sky? Not a chance for most.”
“Could you do it?”
Howl pondered the question before shrugging. “Perhaps not one of your lions. But a regular, run of the mil spaceship? If I get close enough.”
“I'll keep that in mind”, Keith stated dryly.
Howl stared off into the sunset. It was clear he wanted to ask a question but wasn't quite sure if he could. Keith watched hom struggle for a moment before he gave a short half laugh. “Ask away.”
“You didn't tell the other Paladins you are a mage?”
Back off. Had he just heard that correctly...? “Mage?”, he repeated, dumbfonded.
Howl stared at him puzzledly. “Yes? I mean, you are masking your appearance after all. Except for that mark on your cheek.”
The mark... Keith raised a hand to the mark, touching it. The mark had disturbed him for a long time. It looked like a mixture between a Galra mark and a burn wound from that fight against Shiro. Except Shiro's hand hadn't actually come that near to his face and the mark had simply appeared.
With a jolt he remembered his hand submerged in refined quintessence, turning purple.
Holw jerked him out of his thoughts. “You're half alien, right? My best guess is... you were born with some magic abilities and managed to hide yourself. Perhaps out of genetic memory? Who knows. It's not exactly uncommon.”
“Wait.” That was too much for his brain to handle. “So you say I've been shapeshifted my whole life?”
“Sure looks like it.” Howl shook his head, clearly amazed. “I think being half alien made your magic stronger. The last time I felt someone else with so much raw potential was a long time ago.”
“Can you teach me?” The question was out before he could stop it.
The wizard looked surprised for a second before he nodded. “Why not? That should be interesting. I think I can show your whole team a thing or two.” A wry smile appeared on his face. “But in that case I really want to fly in Voltron once. In fully transformed Voltron.”
Keith felt his mouth rise into a feral grin. “We have a deal.”
“Where do we go from here?”
It was the question Lance had dreaded ever since they'd been reunited. Stepping outside onto the Garrison's roof he stared up at the sky. He was standing directly next to Allura, but it felt like there was a whole galaxy between them. Never before had he been at a loss when it came to talking with her. Of course, he often behaved like a klutz around her or goofed off to overplay his insecurities. However now he stood next to her, next to the woman he loved, and didn't know what to say. “I missed you”, he finally settled for.
Turning around Allura carefully took his hand. He couldn't see her face clearly in the dark and clouded night, but he could have sworn there was a blush spread across her cheeks. “I missed you too.” Staring out into the distance – the direction where Keith's shack was located, Lance noted dryly, the direction where their whole adventure had begun – she looked much older and yet more childlike at the same time. Lost , it suddenly occured to him. When she spoke up, he almost jumped up in surprise. “It was hard, being with Howl.”
That was... unexpected. “I thought you said he treated you well!” He was distantly aware his grip was getting tighter around her hand. “Say the word and I'll kill him”, he promised.
His girlfriend – were they still together? He was so horribly afraid of the answer – turned to look at him with an unreadable expression. “I didn't mean it like that.” She pulled her hand away and stepped nearer to the edge of the roof, looking down to the bustling Garrison. Even in the deepest of night it was still lively. Allura looked down for a while before she spoke up again. “You must have noticed he's fairly good looking.”
A punch connected with his gut. His heart must have skipped a beat. There it was, the thing he feared more than everything. She'd gotten tired of him. How couldn't she? She'd spent a year with a handsome and powerful immortal mage. Alone. It was only natural for her to... He couldn't put the thought in words.
Something must have shown on his face because Allura sighed deeply, pushing her hands across her face. “There were many women interested in him. A handful of men too. He's charming that way, you know?” She lowered her hands, grippin the railing on the edge of the roof instead. “ You deserve a happy ending , he told me. And I couldn't... I couldn't believe him.”
“It's alright”, Lance found himself saying. She was a princess, a warrior goddess, how could he have believed she'd wait for him?
“No, it isn't. It wasn't.” He flinched away from the sound of the railing creaking. “Living with him... it gave me hope, but it also made everything seem so pointless. I kept hopin you would come. Day by day I waited in front of the door, hoping someone would magically appear and help me get home.” She closed her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. “He held me those days. Didn't say anything, just held me close and told me everything would be alright, that I deserved to be happy, that he'd make me happy. And I believed him then.”
Lance gulped down. That was it, wasn't it? He'd lost her for good now. “You deserve the best. Only the best”, he breathed out softly.
A sad smile tugged at her lips. “He was married once, hundreds of years ago. Before he became immortal. She meant so much to him.” She opened her eyes to lance over at him before looking up to the scars. “I hoped we could become like that too.”
He was trembling now. “I get it”, he forced his voice not to shiver. “I wish I could have changed everything.”
“Me too.” She rubbed at her cheek. “When I saw him – him, not that facade he keepsup all the time – I was so envious. Of her. She's been gone for hundreds of years and yet he still loves her so dearly.” Turning around to face him she took his hands and raised them up. “And I prayed. I wished that you would still love me the same way. I know I did. I do.”
Had Lance been a computer there would have been smoke rising from his head as his brain short-circuited. She did still...?
“But at the same time I knew it wasn't fair. Because you deserve only the best as well. You didn't deserve mourning me and chasing after soemone dead. You deserve someone to love you. But still, the mere thought of comin back and seeing you moved on, seeing you with someone else... I couldn't bear it.”
There he stood, mouth agape. “Wait”, he whispered softly.
She leaned in, closing the distance. “As long as I have to.”
“No, I don't... I didn't...” He shook his head. “Everythin you just said. You. You still love me? You didn't... fall for Howl?”
The look of pure bewilderment crossing her face would have been funny in any different situation. “I appreciated him. I think he's attractive, physically speaking. But I never started loving him. For that at least I'm grateful.”
Lertting out a shaky breath Lance leaned down and pulled her into a kiss. There were no fireworks, no butterflies in his stomach, nothing. But there was a warm feeling in his chest. Suddenly he was home again. Home. Where the heart was. It had always seemed like a silly saying to him, but in this moment he was well and truly home.
I thought I'd lost you , he screamed in his head. I missed you. I love you.
When she pulled back and looked into his eyes he knew without a doubt she'd heard.
And she felt the same way.
Not even Hunk snickering through the bond could ruin the moment.
It was so... anticlimatic.
When Matt had gotten the message he could have whooped in joy.
Allura being alive and well plus the lions coming back... the message was all over the universe.
As were all the other news that directly connected to the return of the Altean princess.
He didn't even know what to wear for a coronation!
Jumping aboard the green lion the second it set down and opened its maw felt right in a way he couldn't pinpoint.
Still it was strange. They'd fought for so long. He'd dreamed of the perfect ending a lot during his time with the rebels, even more so after the actual end. Not that he necessarily thought what they got had been bad, just... not ideal.
He'd dreamed a lot about Voltron's and Allura's return. In all his dreams it had been... more dramatic.
He hadn't been invited for the initial meeting (which might have had just a tiny bit to do with him being on Yaxus 4 until a few hours ago), but he'd heard quite a bit.
So apparently there were wizards on Earth.
The information had been classified as per the wizard's request, but that would surely change soon. According to Pidge there was more than a slight chance thex'd even be able to persuade the guy to teach all of them magic! How cool was that?
He lazed against Green's command console, beaming at his sister. “Tell me everything!”
She nodded, guiding the lion up into the air, straight to their wormhole. “Okay, so I only have the story secondhand, but man, I never thought we had, you know, magic on Earth.”
“Think we might have mastered space travel earlier if everyone had known about it?”
“Think so. I mean, the Alteans always used alchemy and technology together, didn't they?”
“Sure did.” He closed his eyes for a second, imagining every possibility. “Think I can get that Jenkins guy to help me with a prototype?”
“You might just. He seems pretty dead set on going to space. If you let him help you build a spaceship you'll make his day.”
“Then I guess I have a plan for after the coronation. The first Earthern magic/mechanic ship! no one will beat me to that one!”
Pidge snickered at him. “You do realize I'm included in these plans, right?”
He huffed in feigned annoyance. “You are flying in your own magic spaceship right now. Let a guy have his fun!”
The mock-hurt glare sent him in a fit of laughter. Looking forward he could see the black lion diving into the wormhole, shortly followed by Red.
“We're up”, Pidge announced, beaming from ear to ear.
Matt nodded. “Pidge?”, he asked. “Of course I want your help building our own magical spaceship.”
“Can't you decide on a name already?”
“Well I don't know. But let's not make it sentient, alright? Don't want it scratched up by a rabid dog.”
Pidge burst out laughing. Accelerating the lion she prepared to dive into the portal. “You know”, she told him, “if he ever fins out you called him a rabid dog he won't help anymore. Then you can kiss your Magiship goodbye.”
“Yeah, no, we're not calling it that.”
When Allura stood hundreds of faces turned to look at her. Countless others watched across the whole universe.
The crown sat heavy on her head, yet it also made her feel stronger, so much stronger than she'd felt before.
One face in particular caught her attention.
Howl had hidden himself, but after so long he was easy to recognize. Expecially considering the fact nobody had told him there were no parrots residing on Altea.
Words fell from her mouth, forming a well versed and intricate speech about the hardships the universe – their universe – had dealt with. Her thoughts barely registered the words.
So much had happened, so much had changed.
Before she knew it she'd arrived at the end of her speech.
She appointed Coran as her right hand man under the loudest applause she'd ever heard. When he looked at her pride was etched into her face.
All the Paladins were granted a position on the Altean court as well. Blushing faintly she considered the option of Lance rising even further in position sometime in the near future. It would be something she'd have to talk over with him.
It was strange, going to sleep that day.
The banquet had gone on for hours after her coronation. Oh, how dearly she had missed Altean cuisine. Hunk had an incredible talent for cooking, but there was something different about eating the very same meals she'd enjoyed 10.000 years ago.
Voltron could be reunited now. The last remains of the Galra Empire would be discouraged by the very thought. She realized an ending without bloodshed was highly unlikely, but... she could hope.
Especially since... “I hereby apoint you as royal magician of Altea”, she told the parrot sitting by her window.
It gave her a long, hard glare.
Her only response was a beaming smile.
“You know I'm not really one of your people, so you can't really appoint me anything without my consent, do you?”, the parrot asked.
“I know”, Allura told him, her smile softening. “Just give it a thought, will you? I think you sat around lazing around for long enough.”
The parrot gave a low hum in response. “I might just take you up on that offer”, it confessed. “Although that has less to do with status and more with cleaning up your mess.”
The parrot shrugged, hopping off the windowsill onto her arm, gazing at her with its head laid to the side. “Of course, your mess. The dimensions are still in shambles, remember? I swear I saw three of them blinking though the borderline just within the last hour. It will take a lifetime to restore everything.”
She resisted the urge to pet the parrot, knowing it would annoy Howl to no end. He bristled his feathers, clearly unhappy with his situation.
“You have a few lifetimes ahead of you”, she reminded him.
“And I had better plans than playing fix-it for the rest of eternity.”
“Eternity can get pretty long if you're lonely.”
“So I'd better become royal mage for aliens?” He laughed out loud at that. “With the way my life has been going I really should have considered that's a possibility!”
“It's an offer.” She met his eyes, willing him to understand she meant her next words seriously. “I still owe you a lot.”
“You owe me zilch.” Howl let go of her arm, melting back into his human form. “I chose to help. You took me to see space. As far as I'm concerned we're pretty even now.”
“Give it a thought”, she asked. He nodded, his face unreadable.
“That much”, Howl stated, looking out into the unfamiliar sky, searching for familiar stars, his eyes brightening when he discovered Calcifer zipping across the yard followed by a horde of playing Altean children “I can do.”