This chapter is actually longer than the other two combined.
Keith sighed as Iverson blathered on and on about pixies and fairy rings. Honestly, as if pixies and fairies were related. Sure, they're both small and winged, but that hardly makes them the same. Fairies were bigger for one, and-
"Now those of you who are taking the bus, you have fifteen minutes to take pictures and collect samples for your project then return to the bus or you'll be left behind. The rest of you are no longer my responsibility. Try not to get eaten by a bear or windigo, don't touch anything if you aren't sure it won't kill you, and for the love of God, do not eat anything." With that, the professor got back into the bus.
Keith snorted. A windigo, really? This far west? He shook his head and walked off into the trees. He followed the river down away from his classmates until it fell down a cliff. He made sure his backpack was secure and took a few steps back before running and jumping off the cliff. He landed on the middle of a thick branch, which gave under his weight enough for him to spring off it and hit the ground in a roll.
Dusting himself off, he readjusted his bag and headed along the cliffside. He slipped behind the waterfall, only to pause when his phone started ringing.
He pulled it out, rolling his eyes at the familiar tone. "Hello," he answered.
"Where are you?"
"I told you my class was coming to the forest today to gather supplies for a project."
"Right. How long will you be?"
"I don't know. However long it takes to get it all."
There was a sigh, then, "Don't take too long. I don't have anything to do, so I thought we could spend the afternoon together."
"Yeah, alright." Keith groaned internally. Of course he didn't have anything to do on the one day Keith had an excuse to be in the woods. "Give me… an hour or so and I'll be home."
"Alright. I'll see you then."
"See you." He hung up the phone and shoved it in his pocket. Growling, he kicked a rock into the cave he was heading for. He stomped inside as he yanked out his journal. He couldn't waste his now shortened time getting upset. Slipping on his visor, he got to work.
"I'm telling you, I think someone's in there."
Keith froze as a voice drifted towards him from the cave's entrance. He turned, but he was far enough into the cave that he couldn't see the waterfall. Wow, when did he get to the cavern? How long had he been working?
"In where? It's a waterfall, Pidge," a different voice pointed out.
"I don't know, maybe there's a cave or something!" the first (Pidge?) huffed.
"A cave behind a waterfall? Seriously Pidge?"
"So you can make fun of me for falling for your joke, I don't think so."
"Would you just-"
"Hey guys, there is a cave back here!" a third voice exclaimed, sounding louder than the others.
"Seriously?" the second said.
"Ha, told you!" Pidge cheered.
"Great," Keith growled quietly. He stuffed his supplies into his bag before climbing onto a stalagmite and jumping up to a stalactite that he had carved hand and footholds in two weeks earlier to reach the top of the cave.
"Do one of you have a flashlight?" Pidge asked.
"Pidge, you carry a laptop, three tablets, five phones, two ipods, and a speaker setup. If anyone had a flashlight, it would be you," the second snickered.
"Before you guys start fighting, our phones do have flashlights, remember?" The third's statement was followed by a light. Keith flinched and turned off his visor. He pushed it up and peered around the stalactite to see three teens walking into the cavern. Keith squinted his eyes against the light and realized he vaguely recognized them as being in some of his classes.
"I don't see anyone," the large one in the middle said, waving around his phone-light. Keith ducked back behind the stalactite as the light passed him. "Hello! Anyone here?"
"I'm telling you, someone was in here," the small one, Pidge, said as Keith peeked back out.
"Maybe they left." The lanky one shrugged.
"How? This is a dead end and we would have seen if someone passed us," Pidge barked.
"I don't know, maybe it was a ghost! Why does it matter? Let's go. My mom said she was making flan for afterschool."
"Flan is gross."
"How dare you!" the lanky one hissed before shifting into rapid spanish that Keith couldn't keep up with. He was pretty sure he picked up something about Cuba, white people, and chairs though.
"We have to make sure no one from our class got lost in here," the big one said, still looking around.
"Why would anyone have come here? How could anyone have come here?" the lanky one scoffed. "They would have had to fall down the cliff. It was probably just a pixie or something playing around with us. The village isn't far from here."
Keith's eyes widened. Pixies? He cursed internally and slowly reached for his backpack.
"Do you hear that?" Pidge said, and all four froze.
Keith frowned when he didn't hear anything, but the other three turned. A moment later he heard quiet footsteps enter the cave.
"Hello?" the large one said, and Pidge elbowed him.
The footsteps stopped for a second, then continued. Keith sucked in a breath and slipped back behind the stalactite. What is he doing here?
"What are you three doing here?" Shiro asked.
"Do we know you?" the lanky one asked before he groaned. "What the heck, Pidge?"
"We thought someone came in here and we were worried someone from our class got lost, Shiro," Pidge replied, putting emphasis on the name.
"Woah, that's what he looks like," the big one said in a voice that wasn't nearly as quiet as he thought it was.
Keith felt his throat close up. They knew? Did that mean they were…
"So what are doing here? Are you looking for hu-"
Shiro cleared his throat. "Keith, I know you're there. Get out here."
"Keith?" the lanky one muttered.
Keith sighed and tucked his visor into his backpack before dropping down.
"How'd you know I was here?"
"What the- Where did you come from?" the lanky one shouted.
Keith pointed up.
He crossed his arms and glared at Keith. "What were you doing up there? Were you spying on us?"
"I was here before you. And why would I want to spy on you? I don't even know you."
"You- we have five classes together."
Keith blinked. "Really?" He knew he had some classes with him, but that many? Keith should probably start paying more attention to his fellow students.
Yeah, not likely.
The lanky one opened his mouth to shout, but paused when Shiro set his hand on Keith's shoulder.
Keith crossed his arms and turned to the young man. "So, how do you know… them?"
"The name's Lance. Again, five classes."
"And what are you doing here?" Keith continued, ignoring the other boy.
"We were supposed to spend some time together."
"I told you I'd be home once I was finished."
"That was two hours ago."
"Oh. I guess I lost track of time." Keith shrugged. "That still doesn't explain how you found me." Keith saw guilt flash through Shiro's eyes and his own narrowed. "You tracked my phone again."
"I wanted to know what part of the forest you were in so I could pick you up. I didn't realize you'd be this deep. What are you doing out here?"
"I told you, getting stuff for class. Why do you always have to-"
"Uh, should we leave?" Pidge asked.
"Yeah, I think we should go," the lanky one agreed, backing away. He yelped when his foot caught a rock and he fell backwards.
"Lance, are you okay?" the large one asked, coming over to help.
"Fine, Hunk," he groaned, sitting up. He went to stand and Keith's eyes widened.
"No, don't touch the-"
Lance set his hand against the wall of the cavern to help him up and carvings all around the cave lit up a brilliant white-blue. The cave shook and the five ducked, raising their arms to protect themselves as dust and small rocks rained down from the ceiling. The lights slowly faded away and once they had, the shaking stopped.
"Walls," Keith muttered.
"What the heck was that?" Lance coughed, standing up.
"Is everyone alright?" Shiro asked, dusting himself off. "Keith?"
"Uh, guys," Hunk said and the group looked up him to see him pointing his phone-light at a wall.
A wall that should have been the entrance to the cavern.
"Cave in! We're trapped!" Lance shouted.
"I don't know." Pidge walked up to the wall and ran her hands over it. "If it caved in, there'd be rocks covering the entrance, but the wall's smooth. And look, there are even carvings on it. It's like the walls just… closed."
"How is that possible?"
Keith snorted and Lance turned to glare at him.
"Nothing," Keith said, pulling his backpack off and checking his gear.
"No, this is all your fault. You don't get to act all… all uppity!"
"My fault? You're the one who came bumbling in here and didn't watch your footing!"
"We came in here to make sure you were okay!"
"I didn't ask you to. Nor did I want you to."
"You shouldn't have been out here in the first place!"
"Says who? You don't own this forest and you're certainly not the boss of me!"
"Keith," Shiro said, pushing between the two and sending the boy a look. "Lance's right."
"Of course you'd take his side," Keith muttered, pulling away.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Lance huffed pushing closer to Keith. "What have you got ag-" He cut off with a shriek as Keith grabbed his left ear, digging his nail in right behind it.
Keith rolled his eyes and let go. He watched the taller boy scramble away, rubbing at his ear, then turned to Shiro. "Why didn't you tell me there were other dragons here?"
"Wait, you're a dragon!" Lance asked, his hand still cupped over his ear.
Keith ignored him and stared at Shiro, who sighed. "How'd you find out?"
"They were talking about Pixies." Shiro glared at the three and Pidge and Hunk pointed at Lance.
"Hey, I thought the cave was empty!"
"Besides, why else would you know them? So why didn't you tell me?"
"Hey, so, um, sorry to interrupt, but maybe we can focus on, you know, getting out of here first?" Hunk said from off to the side.
Shiro sent Keith a look then turned to look at the wall. "Right. Hunk, do you think you can dig through this?"
Keith rolled his eyes and turned back to his bag.
"I don't know. Maybe, just depending on how deep it is," Hunk said, handing Pidge his phone.
Keith tucked his journal under his arm and stood up as the larger boy transformed into an orange, armored dragon. He watched the dragon uselessly drag his shovel-like foreclaws across the wall until he finally said, "Are you done?"
Lance glared at him and said, "At least he's doing something! What are you doing?"
"Not needlessly wasting energy by clawing at a wall. The walls were closed up by magic, do you really think it would be that easy to get out?"
"Well what do you suggest?"
Keith opened up his journal. "Pidge, come here."
"Oh, so you know her name?"
"You've said it enough," Keith huffed, flicking through pages as Pidge brought the light closer.
"Woah," Pidge gasped, looking at the symbols and drawings covering the pages. "What is all that?"
"Copied it all off the walls."
"What's it say?"
"Haven't been able to translate most of it - I haven't been able to find a match for the runes - but I have managed some of the pictograms. For instance those," he grabbed Pidge's hand and pointed the light to a group of designs carved directly opposite the missing entrance, "are a warning to trespassers and basically say not to touch anything. Including the walls." He ignored the glare Lance sent him and focused back on his journal.
"So what are you looking for?"
"Anything that could help us get out of here, if there is anything? All things considered, there might not be a way. The warning makes it pretty clear it's a death threat."
Hunk whimpered and Shiro set his hand on the larger boy's shoulder. "Exactly how long have you been sneaking out here?" he asked Keith.
Keith glared down at his notebook and shrugged. "I got bored one day so I came out here for a hike and found the cave by accident. I thought it was interesting so I come out sometimes when I'm free. I had just stopped by to check something since I was out here, but I guess I got distracted."
"Why didn't you tell me? It could have been dangerous." Shiro waved his arm out. "It is dangerous."
"I didn't know for sure magic was even involved until Lance touched the walls. Besides, you have you're own stuff going on, doing whatever it is we came here for."
"You didn't tell him?" Pidge asked.
"He doesn't need to know."
"Of course he doesn't," Keith snorted.
"We've discussed this. You're better off staying out of the magical community."
"Wait," Lance said, leaning over pidge. "If he's not part of the magical community, how does he know about… the magical community?"
Keith ducked his head closer to the journal so Shiro answered for him. "Keith's dad was a dragon."
"Doesn't that mean he's a dragon?" Hunk asked.
"Technically yes, though the magic can occasionally skip a generation," Pidge explained.
Lance nodded and added, "My aunt thought it had skipped my cousin, but it turned out she was just a late bloomer."
"You didn't know that?" Keith asked.
"Hunk was raised by non-magical humans," Pidge said.
"Oh." Keith blinked.
Hunk gave a what can you do? shrug.
Keith hummed and turned back to his journal.
"So… find anything useful?"
The shorter boy chose to ignore Lance's question in favor of continuing to search.
As time passed, the group settled down around the cave. Pidge and Keith focused on the journal, muttering to each other and occasionally looking around the cavern to double check the carvings or look over the new ones on the wall covering the entrance. Hunk sat off to the side fiddling with one of Pidge's spare phones, a tablet, and some spare parts the girl had been carrying to try and get a signal out of the cave. Lance was at his side, listening to music and holding his phone up with the light on so Hunk could see. Shiro was lying in the center, staring up at the mural that covered the ceiling.
It featured a dark blue leokampoi curling through a seascape, with fish peeking out of it's mane and a small locked chest in it's paws. Unlike the carvings on the walls, the mural was made through a combination of paint and inlaid stones. Even faded by time, it looked realistic. The seaweed and mane almost seemed to be moving in the light from Hunk and Lance's phones and Lance had even complained that he could feel the leokampoi watching him after Shiro had pointed it out.
"It's nothing. A lot younger than the carvings. Probably put up by someone who came across the cave," Keith had said, not looking up.
"I think this will work!"
The other three looked up at Pidge as she hopped to her feet, Keith's journal in her hands.
"You guys find something?" Shiro asked.
"Maybe," Keith said, standing up as well.
"Hey," Lance yelped as Pidge walked over and yanked him to his feet. She dragged him to the wall directly under the warning and set his hand on a pictogram there. Instantly the room lit up as the runes around his hand glowed a bright, warm blue.
"Oh no," Hunk gasped, ducking. When nothing happened, he looked up. "Is that it?"
"No, but that proves we're on the right path," Pidge said. She walked counter-clockwise around the room and called Hunk to her. "That one was water - which matches Lance being a sea serpent - so this one should be land. Hunk, you're our resident terraformer."
Hunk carefully set the stuff back in Pidge's bag and came over. He placed his hand on the pictogram Pidge pointed at and the runes around it lit up a sunny yellow color. "Woah."
Pidge continued clockwise pausing momentarily before continuing around until she was across from halfway between Hunk and Lance. "This should be sky. Shiro, you're a cloud ryū, right?"
Without waiting for his response, she grabbed his arm and tugged him over, placing his hand on the pictogram, which lit up a soft violet color.
Pidge continued on until she was halfway between Lance and Shiro. "This one's fire. Keith?"
Keith blinked. "Me?"
"I'm a grassland amphiptere. I've gotta be forest. Besides, I've noticed you're a hothead. No offense."
"You do realize both ryū and yong are usually connected to rainfall and clouds right?"
"Good thing you don't have magic then," Pidge huffed, giving up and shoving him to the wall.
"Just do it already, mullet," Lance said.
Keith growled, but looked down at the pictogram. Slowly he set his hand on it. The runes lit up red.
Pidge smirked and walked over to halfway between Hunk and Shiro. She set her hand against a pictogram on the wall and the runes around it glowed bright green.
With that, all five lights grew brighter. The rest of the carvings around the cavern lit up the same blue-white as earlier. The group tried to cover their ears when a loud roar echoed through the cave, only to realize their hands were stuck to the wall.
"What the crow?" Lance yelled, grabbing his wrist and trying to yank his hand off the wall. He set his leg against the wall, trying to push away, but it didn't help.
The ground shook and the five looked over to see the wall between Lance and Hunk raising up to reveal the entrance to the cave. The lights faded away and Lance fell to the ground as the force holding the group's hands disappeared.
"We're free!" Hunk cheered.
"Hold up," Pidge said, looking back at the spot between herself and Shiro. "Wasn't that the exit?"
"Maybe we just got turned around," Hunk offered, edging towards the opening. "The cave's pretty round."
"No, the spot Lance was in was definitely across from the entrance before," Keith disagreed.
Still on the ground, Lance held up his arms. "Magic!"
Keith rolled his eyes and grabbed his backpack.
"All things considered, that's probably as good an explanation as any," Shiro chuckled.
Pidge grabbed her bag and gave Keith his journal back. Hunk took that as his cue and left the cave, Shiro and Pidge following after. Keith looked around with a frown, holding back a sigh when he didn't see anything else out of the ordinary. He walked towards the exit and turned to Lance. "Need a hand."
Lance glared at him, a faint blush on his cheeks. "I'll get up when I want."
Keith shrugged and left.
Lance sighed and slowly sat up. "Way to look like a dork in front of mullet head and Shiro," he muttered moving to stand up. He froze when he spotted the light from his dropped phone reflecting off a small stone near him. "Where'd you come from?" Lance looked up at the ceiling and saw an empty spot amongst the gold spilling from the leokampoi's chest.
He grabbed the stone and his phone, holding both up so he could see the stone better. He gasped when an odd feeling over whelmed him. It was cold like chilled pool, yet warm like a hot spring. It felt like a calm lake and a raging sea all at once. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before, yet it was so familiar and comforting. Lance shivered and let out a long breath that steamed in front of his face.
He blinked and the feeling faded into the background. "What on earth?" he said. His eyes widened when he realized the stone had disappeared from his hand. He looked around the ground, but couldn't find it.
"Lance! What are you doing in there?" Pidge yelled into the cave. "Hurry up! Shiro and Keith already left, we missed dinner, and I don't want to deal with another lecture if Shiro finds out we left you here alone!"
Lance sighed and stood up. Whatever. Who needs a weird cave rock anyways?
"I'm coming. I'm coming. Keep your pants on, woman!"
Ring. Ring. Ring.
"Ha-neul. This isn't the best time."
"I'm sorry, but it's important. The cave's been unlocked."
"One of the dragons managed to figure it out."
"Did they get the gem?"
"No. It wasn't there."
"Then perhaps they didn't unlock it."
"Unless we were wrong."
"Perhaps. The Alteans were sneaky, but to create a fake gem location? Even if they had the forethought, they probably didn't have the time. Are you sure the runes were Altean?"
"They matched perfectly to the ones you showed me from the Red Gem's lava pools."
"Then either the stone's been taken already or the cave is still locked."
"If it's still there, then it's lost now. I went to check the cave after I was sure the dragons were gone and it's destroyed. Half the main cavern has caved in and all the carvings are unrecognizable. Even the mural has completely disappeared."
"Then there has to be something we missed. The same happened to the lava pools after the gem was taken. You mentioned dragons, I'm assuming you mean more than the Champion."
"I've discovered the identities of three other dragons in the area. Teenagers. Whatever he's here for, they seem to be involved. At the very least, they know the reason. It's not the cave though. They stumbled upon it by accident and despite how smart the little one is, I doubt any of them have realized just what it was they found considering how quickly they left."
"Keep an eye on them anyways. They may know more than they're letting on."
"Right. Any news on the other gems?"
"Not really. The team's still trying to pinpoint the Yellow Gem's precise location and there hasn't been any indication on where to start for the Green Gem."
"I'm guessing the Red Gem is being guarded as strong as ever then."
"Quite. Zharko isn't taking any chances when it comes to Voltron. Failure is not an option, understand?"
"Of course uncle. I'll keep an eye on the situation here."
"Good. And Ha-neul, be careful. I meant what I said before. Whatever you might think or however young they may be, you are not ready to face a dragon."
"That's an order."
"Good. Now I need to go. We'll talk again soon."
"Is that a threat?"
"Do you plan to do something stupid?"
"Do I ever plan anything?"
"That's exactly my point."
"Goodbye, Ha-neul. Take care."