Chapter 4: Welcome to the Team?
Morning had arrived in the Castle of Lions, but the silence that filled the dining hall was still not entirely a peaceful one; there were still a lot of questions and uncertainty after last night, after all. Nico was still soundly asleep in his newly appointed room, and so the residents of the castle were left alone together with their thoughts as the soft sound of cutlery against plates filled the room; the amount of sleep each person had managed to get varied, evident by the size of the bags under each of their eyes.
Hunk was the first to break the silence that had fallen over them all after their initial morning greetings to one another; he spoke hesitantly:
"So… you really think Nico's going to join the team?"
It was a while before Shiro answered with a sigh, "It's not like he has any other options right now… But he could be a valuable asset to the team. I'd appreciate it if we could all try to get along with him and welcome him here from now on."
Keith's brows couldn't help but furrow as he murmured, "I don't know… I still don't trust him." He crossed his arms as he stared at his breakfast with narrowed eyes.
"That's just because he looks like you." Lance said dismissively with a slight roll of his eyes, pointing his fork lazily in Keith's direction from his seat across the table.
Lance found himself the subject of Keith's stare as he quickly interjected, saying defensively, "It's not that. We don't know anything about the guy or why he's even here, except that he's half god or whatever. We hardly know anything about his personality or intentions here. It's too early to trust him."
"But he didn't even know this place existed, remember?" Pidge spoke up, her brow slanted down slightly and eyes softened in thought and concern, "It seems unreasonable to assume he had hostile intentions when he didn't even know anything about us or the Galra. And besides, from what we heard last night, it sounds as though it isn't uncommon for him to just…" She seemed to search for the word for a moment, "…shadow travel, to random places by accident."
"But we don't know his intentions now that he does know about us and the Galra," Keith countered, "I'm just saying we need to be cautious, that's all."
It was hard for anyone to argue against that; none could deny Nico had been through much since his unintended arrival here, his reactions to it all had been drastic but understandable. But it was because of this that no one could predict just how he would react next, or if his mood would suddenly shift again; and so, no one did argue back against Keith in that moment. Yet it wasn't long before Coran spoke up, a hand to his chin in thought:
"That strange girl in the last message, she said the… Fates, brought him here… to use 'the', as though fate were physical… and plural at that…" He hummed for a moment, "I think we can be sure that he did not intend to come here, seeing how much his friends were worried and how he's from the past. But those messages did raise more questions…"
"They said they searched the underworld for him, right…?" Hunk said, slight fear on his face as he visibly shuddered, "Do-do you think it really exists then? They must have thought he'd died, if-if they went there… I don't even want to imagine going there."
"That'd… be awful." Lance said, expression becoming downcast at Hunks statement, though it became more hopeful as he continued, "But… that last girl said he was a hero, right? Maybe him coming here… maybe he's supposed to help us! Like how we were all drawn to the Lions!"
"That would work with the idea of Fates…" Pidge muttered, almost to herself.
There was another beat of silence before Shiro spoke, "We can't be certain, but the fact is he's here to stay either way. The questions can wait. For now, we'll see if he's truly willing to join our cause. And if he is, it means we'll need to do some more team training; that's the most important thing right now."
"Once we explain to him what the Galra Empire is doing, I'm sure he'll agree to help us in the fight." Allura said confidently.
The paladins nodded in agreement, determined to understand Nico's allegiances and rid themselves of any lingering doubt about what he would do next; if he was truly this 'hero' the strange girl had described him as.
Nico blinked heavily as he awoke from the inky blackness of sleep; his breath suddenly became short for a moment as he took in unfamiliar surroundings, but the events of the previous day soon came back to him in a rush and he relaxed once more, closing his eyes with a sigh and crashing into the pillow beneath him. At least he was in a bed this time.
He focused on his breathing as the image of glowing eyes from within the darkness faded from his mind as quickly as dreams often do once you wake; he thanked Clovis once more for teaching him how to better control his dreams, and more importantly, his nightmares. Without the help of the Hypnos cabins leader, the nightmares caused by his time in Tartarus would be… unbearable.
Nico didn't want to open his eyes to the cold, sparse modernity of the space ship, and so he placed an arm over his eyes for good measure; when he did open his eyes again, he'd have to face this new reality he was living in, and accept it once more. His teeth ground together as he struggled to control the wave of emotion that was threatening to spill over the edges as the images of his friends and family flashed in his mind again. He reluctantly opened his eyes, sitting up and taking a deep breath; he'd get through this, for them. He just had to take it one day at a time.
There was nothing in the room except the bed that was set within an alcove in the wall; there was quite a bit of empty space, though Nico wasn't sure what he'd fill it with. It's not like he had any belongings with him except his sword, after all. Still, compared to the darkness of the Hades cabin, this room didn't exactly feel… homely, to Nico.
With no clothes to change into, Nico simply brushed his hand through his tangled hair and straightened out his clothes that had twisted in his sleep. His stomach growled grumpily; what he wouldn't give for a McDonalds right now… instead of whatever that goo he'd been presented with at dinner last night was. Still, it seemed the other humans had gotten used to eating that stuff, unless the food standard on Earth had drastically declined over the last century… Nico frowned at the idle thought.
He left his room, the door hissing closed behind him; that was something he was going to have to get used to too, and he sighed at the thought. He looked up and down the hallway he was presented with. It looked just like the rest of them, though there were quite a few doors along this one. Personal quarters, maybe? Nico found himself sighing a lot these days.
He picked a direction and walked; he'd either find the food, or someone to lead him to the food, he decided. He found the latter, though it was more than he had anticipated as he found all seven residents of the castle in front of him after a few minutes of wandering, standing in a group before him in another identical corridor.
"Good morning, Nico." Shiro said with a friendly smile, one that Nico thought was perhaps a little too friendly.
He raised an eyebrow slightly, "Good morning…" He wasn't sure how you told the time in space, but brushed that thought aside to focus on the group before him; their gazes were all rather expectant.
Shiro continued, unfazed, "A lot happened yesterday, so we just wanted to make sure you really are going to help us like you agreed too last night. If you want to back out now, we completely understand, and of course you'll be free to stay on the ship as long as you need, even if you don't wish to take part in the war." He glanced at Allura at this, who nodded in agreement.
Nico took in their expressions as he thought over the proposal; there was a lot of hopeful expressions, Keith was of course sceptical, and Nico could see Hunk was still a little afraid of him. Nico didn't blame him, of course; the guy didn't seem to have a very brave disposition.
"I'm here…" Nico said, "So I might as well help you in your fight." It's not like the Fates had really given him any choice in the matter; there was only one reason for a demigod to be sent somewhere after all… He was bound to do some fighting eventually, might as well start now. The group smiled in relief, though Keith's expression remained displeased. Nico continued, arms crossing, "But I want to know everything about the Galra and what it is we're up against. I want details on your allies, enemies, weaponry; I want to know just what it is I'm getting into here."
Allura nodded, and was only too happy to supply him with all the information he'd asked for, right then and there. Nico's biggest take away was the fact they had no allies; it was concerning, but it's not as though Nico hadn't faced worse odds before. The group waited in silence as Nico processed the information, and came to his decision.
Nico held out his hand, and spoke with a steady affirmation, "I will fight alongside you and Voltron. And not because I just happened to come here against my will, but because it's the right thing to do. I will help you to defeat the Galra Empire." He had only their word on what the Galra had done, yes, but no-one would destroy countless races with good intentions, and the people before him seemed to be the opposite of liars. He still didn't understand why the Fates had decided to send him here, but now, he had the motivation to fight this unknown force, at least.
It was Shiro who took his offered hand, giving it a firm shake; his smiled seemed more genuine now. "Thank you, Nico. We must first look into Sendak, an enemy commanders', memories, but after, we would all like to take part in some group training with you, now that we will be fighting together on the battlefield. Do you feel up to it?"
Nico opened his mouth to reply, but his stomach seemed to have other ideas as it grumbled loudly in protest; he put a hand over it as he looked down, embarrassment flooding through him as the paladins smiled in surprised amusement.
"Ah," Shiro said, a warm kindness in his tone, "Perhaps we should get you some breakfast first."
Nico cleared his throat, refusing to make eye contact as he mumbled "Yes please… all the corridors look the same here…"
"Ah, you'll get used to them soon enough my boy!" Coran exclaimed, placing an arm around Nico's shoulders, leading him off with the group closely following behind. Nico's shoulders had tensed for a moment, but he allowed the eccentric man to lead him to the kitchen as he pointed out minuscule differences along each corridor, trying to help Nico remember his way through the halls; they still looked all the same to him.
Despite the strangeness of the green goo, Nico's stomach was apparently satisfied with the offering as they made their way towards the bridge, Pidge's laptop under her arm. However, what was unmistakably the sound of an alarm and the flashing of red lights suddenly filled the hallway, and Nico tensed along with the paladins.
"Coran, what's happening?" Shiro demanded with a calm urgency.
Coran rushed towards a nearby control panel on the wall, tapping with fast fingers as a language Nico didn't recognise flashed across the screen; Nico hadn't even known there was a control panel there, it had appeared invisible before the Altean had approached it. "We're receiving a distress signal from a nearby planet!" Coran explained. The alarm came to an abrupt end as a holographic message, again written in a strange script, appeared before the terminal; Nico wasn't sure if this is just what alien languages looked like, or if his dyslexia was making it worse.
Allura read the message quickly before speaking, "This planet is small, but it appears the Galra use it for mining… it seems the people who have been forced to work there have been staging a rebellion, but the Galra are sending reinforcements… they've sent a distress signal to all non-Galra ships in the area with a request for aid."
"That seems awfully convenient whilst Voltron is in the area." Keith stated.
"This planet's ore isn't exactly rare," Coran explained, "And the natives are not the battle inclined types. It is likely the Galra presence there was small to begin with, so it does seem possible a rebellion could be at least partly successful…" He brought his hand to his moustache in thought.
"Do you think it could be a trap?" Pidge asked, uncertain.
"I think it's worth taking a look," Allura said, her eyes set, "Once we get closer, we can see for ourselves what's going on. We can't leave these people without aid just because it might be a trap."
"I agree." Shiro said, "Even if what the Galra are mining there isn't a precious resource to them, it's still worth taking it. If we can gradually deplete their resources, it'll be better than doing nothing at all." There was a general consensus as everyone nodded in agreement, and Shiro sighed before continuing, "It looks like we'll have to put looking into Sendak's memories on hold again. Coran, how long will it take us to reach the planet?"
"Hmm…" Coran checked his screen once more, "Around 30 dobash."
"Alright." Shiro said, turning towards Nico who stood behind him, "Nico, can we expect your assistance on this mission?"
Shiro's face and tone were friendly, but Nico could still feel his evaluating gaze hiding beneath. Nico gave him a firm nod, "Of course."
Shiro smiled happily, "Great, then we'd best get some quick team training in now, wouldn't you agree?"
Nico nodded and grunted in agreement; he wasn't exactly sure what this mission would entail (or how those giant robotic lions came into play), but there was only one way to learn, and experience was the best teacher.
"I'll come with you and find a spare suit for you to use, I'm sure we've got one somewhere…" Coran said, trailing off in thought, "Princess, will you be alright flying the ship?"
"Of course," Allura said with a determined smile, "Now let's get moving! I'll let you know when we're close so you can get to your Lions, Paladins."
More nods, and then Nico found himself hurrying to catch up with the group as they ran towards the training deck, their strides confident.
Nico fiddled with the strange, futuristic gauntlet he'd been given by Coran, twisting it this way and that on his forearm as he stared at its roughed-up surface with narrowed eyes; would using the tech here attract monsters to him like back on Earth? Wait, were there even monsters – in the Greek sense anyway – in space? His shook his head clear of those thoughts; he'd find out sooner or later.
"Now the shield should appear when you clench your fist my boy," Coran explained, forming a fist with his own, gauntlet-less hand, "I'll go dig out back and find you a full suit so your lil head doesn't go pop out there!" He'd said it so jovially Nico nearly missed it, but Coran was already walking out the training rooms door.
Nico's expression couldn't remain slack for long as Shiro approached him; they were notably already in full… armour, Nico supposed he could call it. Shiro spoke to him:
"Now the idea behind this training exercise is to watch each other's backs. Blasts will fire at us from multiple directions and the aim is not to get hit, okay?" He then addressed the paladins too, "Remember everyone, teamwork!"
A chorus of "Right!" came in answer from the paladins as they formed a loose circle, all facing outwards. Nico joined them silently, his muscles tensing slightly as he prepared himself for these 'blasts'.
Nico jumped slightly, eyes wide as something bright and blue flew towards him through the air, bringing his shield arm up out of reflex; something equally as blue yet translucent appeared before him and he saw the blast slam into the surface before dissipating against it. Nico stared at the 'shield' with wide eyes; it was a far cry from the bronze he was used to, but at least it seemed to be working.
"Good work Nico!" Shiro encouraged from beside him, "Let's keep this up!"
Nico shook himself out of his daze; he could take in the details of the technology later, right now he needed to focus.
The blasts started off slow, but they gradually came faster and from more and more directions; it was plain to see the paladins had done this drill multiple times, knowing when to protect themselves, or when an ally needing aid instead. As Nico worked alongside them, it was clear to him Shiro and Keith had more experience; very little movement was wasted, their instincts and observation skills sharp. Whereas the other three, whilst working well as a team, hadn't been training like this for as long. It made Nico wonder what each of their backgrounds were; Shiro's scar across his nose was easy to see, as well as the fact he was a few years ahead of the others in age. Nico knew, better than most, that both age and appearance were no indicators of experience, but he couldn't help but wonder what had caused these humans to come all the way out here.
Were the Galra attacking Earth, too? But if that were the case, why would they be here, so far away from their homes?
These thoughts ran through the back of Nico's mind as he blocked blast after blast. Perhaps it was because this was mere training, or perhaps it was just because he so easily fell into the flow of battle now, whether he personally knew his allies or not, but he allowed the paladins to watch over him as well, trusted them to block a blast when two were coming at him at once. He tried to match their flow as best he could; it would be no good to throw a spanner into a well-oiled machine, and so Nico tried to become another cog in it.
His eyes caught sight of a blast heading towards Pidges side; she was focused on a different blast and was a little way away from Nico, just out of arms reach. Nico dashed over, his arm coming up, fist clenched as he positioned himself directly in front of the blast. But the gauntlet on his arm sparked. Nico looked down with panicked eyes to see the shield struggling to sputter into existence before disappearing completely. Pidge turned her head towards him, noticing his presence, her eyes widening at his lack of shield also. Nico only had time to look up as the blast hit him directly on the chest, knocking him back a few steps as he gasped from the impact. Before he knew it, a hole had opened up in the floor beneath him and he was consumed by the darkness as he fell in freefall with a cry of surprise.
The hole he had fallen from closed, but he soon landed in what felt like a net. Nico laid there a moment, computing what had just happened. Dim lights slowly began to turn on, illuminating this room he had fallen into, but he just raised his arm to glare at the still sputtering gauntlet. With a sigh and a grunt, Nico sat up, moving his way off of the net; of course, the tech would break on him. He spotted what looked to be a round tube in a corner, like a spiral staircase except without the stairs. He stepped into it cautiously, and was only slightly surprised when it lit up and started moving upwards, bringing him back to the training room, his arms crossed.
It appeared the training session had ended, as the others were waiting nearby.
"Sorry about that." Nico grumbled, head down.
"Don't be silly, it was just because your gauntlet broke!" Pidge said, "Besides, who knows how old that thing is, I doubt its been used for millennia."
"Aside from that," Shiro said, drawing Nico's attention, "You succeeded. You protected Pidge. I know its not much, and that these things take time, but we can rely on you on the battlefield, Nico. And we hope you can rely on us also." From his smile, Nico knew he'd taken notice of the trust he had put on the paladins during the exercise.
Nico sighed and gave a small nod, uncrossing his arms, "Right."
Just then, Coran returned, awkwardly carrying a suit of armour in his arms and trying not to drop any of the pieces. "Here you go little earthling! One space suit. Hopefully this will fit you." He placed the suit into Nico's arms without warning and it was now his turn to struggle to hold all the pieces in his arms.
Pidge pushed her glasses up and picked up one of the gauntlets in Nico's arms, "Hey Coran, this suit wont malfunction, will it? It's just the gauntlet you gave him malfunctioned during training."
"Malfunctioned?" Coran said, a little taken aback.
Before anyone could say anything more, Nico interjected, "It might not be the gauntlet." At everyone's confused looks he explained, "Demigods and tech don't always get along… so it may just be me. Then again, we usually just avoid tech because it acts as a beacon to any monsters nearby, so." He shrugged.
"Monsters?" Keith asked, raising his brow.
Nico nodded, "I don't think there'll be any all the way out here in space, seeing as there's no Tartarus in space…" He mumbled. At everyone's bewildered and slightly panicked looks he continued, "Monsters like the taste of demigod. You guys should be fine even if there are monsters out here. Besides, not all monsters are bad." A sadness coloured his eyes, "I have a pet hellhound… had, I guess."
"A… Hellhound?" Hunk said, his voice a little higher than usual.
"Mhm, like a dog but big. Really, big." Nico said.
"Hm," Coran hummed, "Well this suit should be tickity boo! As far as I can see it should all be working, whether your heritage affected that gauntlet or not. I did find that old thing under quite a few boxes." He twiddled his moustache. "If you need any help putting it on lad just give me a call! We'll be arriving near the planets orbit shortly."
Nico nodded, and the group headed out, splitting off a little way down the corridor; Shiro led Nico back to his room unprompted, and gave him some tips on how to put the armour on as they walked.
It was actually much simpler than Nico had perhaps first expected. The fastenings were a little different, as of course was the material, but aside from that it was fairly similar to donning the armour back home. The thought created a sinking feeling deep within his stomach, but he pushed it aside, choosing to focus on testing out this new gauntlet shield and trying to find the spot on the helmet Shiro had pointed out to him to put the visor down. He found it eventually; he couldn't help but pull a face at the slight tinge of blue to his vision, but it was something he'd have to get used too. His suit was a very basic, standard white, not colour coded like the paladins; a training suit, if he had to guess. It was a little big in places, but nothing that would hinder his movements. The suit didn't exactly fit his aesthetic, though what with Shiro's already black suit, Nico doubted he could have his with that scheme as well.
With a sigh he pulled the helmet off, stepping out of his room where Shiro had been waiting for him and they headed to the bridge together.
"Perfect timing you two," Allura said as the bridge doors hissed to a close, "We have arrived at our destination."
Looking out into the inky blackness of space, Nico saw a green planet a little way off still; it was the kind of thing he'd only thought he'd ever see in photographs, and even now, with it right in front of him, it was hard for it to sink in that this wasn't still just an image on some ginormous screen.
"Scan complete Princess," Coran reported, several holographic screens floating in front of him at some kind of control panel, "There seems to be only one Galra ship that's arrived to supply extra troops. Though, it seems to be enough to have the upper hand against the natives again."
"Thank you, Coran." Allura said, turning to the gathered paladins. "Paladins, you take out the small Galra ships; it seems like they've chosen to take advantage of their ships instead of attacking on foot. Whilst saving the natives is our primary objective, our secondary one will be to destroy the Galra mining structures." Coran pulled up a hologram of one of the strange structures; it seemed purple was the Galra's go to colour.
Handy. Nico thought.
Allura turned to him, "Nico, you'll be riding with Shiro in the black lion. For now, I think it'd be best for you to observe and get an understanding of both the lions, and what the Galra forces look like."
"Right," Nico nodded.
Allura returned his nod, "Paladins, to your lions!"
With that, the paladins departed in different directions, disappearing into elevators.
"Follow me." Shiro said, smiling.
Nico wasn't really sure what he'd just experienced. Racing through tunnels in a Star Wars-esque speeder, flying down some kind of zipline, then ending up inside that gigantic robot who had saved his bacon before soaring out into the endless expanse of space.
If the events leading up till now had been unbelievable, then this was a whole new level of inconceivable.
The energy, that strange life-force like essence that Nico had felt before from this great beast, was only stronger from within. If he reached out to it, he could feel similar traces coming off of Shiro, the two energies mingling together into one. This must be the connection Allura had told him about; it certainly was strong, to say the least.
There was a seat only for one in the lion, and so Nico stood behind Shiro, holding onto the headrest for support. He could hear the other paladins, as well as Allura and Coran, through the intercoms in his helmet and he did as told; observing, to the best of his ability, this strange new world he had been thrust into.
Of course, the giant space robots could fly. Of course, they shot laser beams out of their mouths. Of course, their claws could rip through ships and metal like paper. As Nico watched Shiro pilot the beast, he quickly realised he had no clue how he'd even begin to pilot one of these things - if he ever had too.
Not that I'm ever likely too, he thought, there are already enough paladins for each lion, as far as I'm aware. And I can't sense any traces of death on any of them… Becoming a paladin isn't why I'm here…
He was still lost as to what his purpose in this war was; there didn't seem to be any gaps in this rag-tag group that he needed to fill. It frustrated him, but he was used to the Fates being sparse with their information. Perhaps he'd find his answer once he faced these Galra himself…
"Shiro," He said, "Put me down on the ground."
"What?" Shiro said, a little taken aback as he swooped to avoid a Galra ship. The ships were small and easy to get rid of, but many; the lions were busy protecting the fleeing citizens from the Galra ships fire, and so were unable to focus on destroying the Galra structures quite as much as they had planned.
Nico took a deep breath, focusing his energy, "There are machines inside those buildings, right? Machines that'll blow up if they're hit hard enough?"
"Well yes," Coran's voice rang in his ears, "But-"
"I've recovered enough of my strength, and besides, I have my sword too." Nico explained, gripping onto Shiro's chair as the lion shook slightly, "I'll have a better chance to destroy more buildings from the ground, where the Galra are less likely to notice me. They're focused on the lions and the natives. Let me do this. I want to help."
There was a beat of silence, before Allura spoke, "Alright Nico. But if you need help down there, you call for backup immediately, do you understand?"
"Shiro, let Nico out at the next available opportunity."
It wasn't long before Shiro swooped into the cover of some nearby trees, the lion landing with a heavy thud.
"Be careful out there, Nico. Good luck." Shiro said, giving him an earnest look as the door inside the lion's mouth opened, letting the light from outside flood in.
With a nod, Nico ran out of the lion jumping to the ground and towards the nearest Galra building, its purple glow easy to spot amongst the rich green foliage surrounding it. He felt the rush of air against his back as the black lion took off once more, but he spared it no glance, summoning his sword to his hand. He felt a rush of adrenaline pound through his veins as he ran, the weight of his sword in his hand so familiar; it was time to get to work.
Destroying the machines inside was simple enough; a few slashes with the sword, maybe a few with some sharpened shadows, and the things erupted into explosions that made the whole building unusable and no more. Nico was grateful Shiro had explained the jetpack function on the suit for him, as it had definitely come in handy in increasing his speed to escape the blast radius of the machines he was destroying. He'd stumbled a few times whilst landing again, but all in all he was very successful in his attempts.
The aliens on this planet were a little odd and rather squishy looking, but due to the rebellion none of them were in the Galra work buildings, and the only things Nico had come across in terms of defence were a few drones; easily defeated in a few swipes. He heard a few blasts overhead and felt the building shake around him as he prepared to destroy a third machine; he was getting further into the complex and therefore closer to where the paladins were focusing their fire. He'd have to be careful on his way over to the next set of buildings; the quickest way across was through a wide clearing, and so he'd have to time this one well to stay out of sight. He couldn't risk shadow travelling right now; he simply didn't have that kind of energy back yet.
The metal screeched and groaned as Nico pierced the surface with his sword; it seemed not even alien metal was a match for stygian iron. The machine smoked and rumbled, shaking more and more as Nico pierced its surface a few more times. A high-pitched whistle started to emit from the machine; it was time to get out of here.
Nico stumbled a few steps as he landed in the shadow of a nearby tree, quickly bracing himself in a crouched position as the ground beneath him shook and he felt the heat of the explosion at his back, debris landing nearby. Once the shaking ceased, he looked to the clearing ahead.
"I'm heading across the clearing." He spoke into the intercom, the muscles of his legs tensing like a sprinter before the gun.
"We'll keep them distracted," Shiro replied, his commanding voice ringing through, "Good work, Nico."
"Just a few more buildings and that should send the Galra packing in no time!" Coran said.
Nico couldn't help the small smile that appeared at that confidence and jovial nature; it was so like many of his friends back home. The shadow of a lion passed overhead, and they began to create covering fire, distracting and luring away any Galra fighters that had been nearby. And so Nico ran, his eyes set on the factory across the clearing.
On the deck of the main Galra ship that was docked on this planet, a video feed of that same clearing was playing, and one of Haggar's druids watched it with gleaming yellow eyes before it turned its head towards the commander.
"Ri-right!" The commander said, perhaps at a little to high a pitch, "Bring up the troops from below, now!" He shouted to his crew over comms.
The druid looked back at the screen, its mask revealing nothing as it stared at the small figure that had just entered the clearing.
Nico had barely made it to the centre of the clearing, where what looked like a broken statue stood, when he sensed a small presence from his left; he turned his head only to see a group of three young (?) aliens rushing into the clearing, panicked looks on their faces. Nico skidded to a halt; those weren't just drones behind them, but who he could only assume were actual, breathing Galra. And they were catching up fast.
The trio spotted him, seemed panicked for a moment, but they must have recognised his armour as they picked up their pace towards him soon enough; one of the aliens held the smallest of the group in its arms, and was holding the thirds hand, dragging them along as fast as they could go. Nico started toward them, grip on his sword tightening. The factory would have to wait.
Yet just as he was getting close a blast hit the ground by his feet, and it wasn't from the group behind the trio. Nico twisted his head in every which direction, only to see a large number of droids exiting the factory he'd been headed towards, and more were appearing from the forest behind him; they were getting surrounded, and fast. The lions were out of sight, having drawn the small fighter ships away. He had to protect these kids.
He didn't know if they'd understand him, whether this helmet had a translator built in, but he pointed towards the statue saying with urgency:
"Go! Take shelter there!"
More blasts started hitting the ground around them, and Nico brought up his shield, protecting himself and the trio as the onslaught began to get heavier; he was thankful this gauntlet didn't start to spark. The eldest seemed to understand him as they continued to run towards the centre, Nico keeping pace, trying to protect them from all angles; he could hear the Galra behind them laughing with a sick satisfaction.
"Nico?" A voice ran out in his ears in urgency, but Nico was too focused on the task at hand to really hear it, "Nico! What's happening?!" But Nico was searching the ground beneath him, searching desperately for anything because there was no telling how far he'd have to shadow travel, or if he could even manage to take all four of them-
He stopped, helping the three up into a little divot in the stone; at least that was one less direction he had to be worried about. He tried to give them a reassuring smile, but that had never been his strong suit, and turned to face the incoming forces, his stance strong and grounded. For a brief moment he allowed his eyes to close as he took in a deep, slow breath, reaching out to those he felt deep in the ground. His eyes opened and with gritted teeth he grabbed hold of his sword with both hands, slamming it down into the earth beneath him. The earth rumbled and shook as fissures split open all across the clearing, the tremors causing drones to fall to the floor and the enemy to pause in their advances. Unfamiliar skeletons pulled themselves out of the fissures, waiting idol for their master's command; as long as they listened, it didn't matter what kind of skeletons they were. Nico stopped thinking, and gave a cry of attack.
The lions flew back over the clearing, having dealt with the last of the Galra ships. Their concern over Nico soon turned to confusion and panic as they spotted him down in the clearing below, surrounded and far outnumbered by drones and a few Galra too.
"Nico! Nico hold on!" Shiro tried again thought the intercom, but was again met with no response.
That was when they saw the earth shake; almost unnoticeable from so high up at first, but the fissures forming were hard to miss. A feeling of awe began to mix in with the already high emotions the paladins felt.
"Wait… Coran, are you seeing this?" Pidge asked, "What's that coming out of the ground?"
The lions hovered in the air, and a zoomed in view allowed them all the see the clearing better.
"They… well they appear to be skeletons." Coran said, a little more muted than usual.
"Sk-sk…skeletons?" Hunk squeaked.
They heard what could only be described as a battle cry from Nico, and watched as the skeletons surged forward in response, fighting the droids and Galra before them. The shadows seemed to curl and whip around Nico, almost as though they were excited as he charged forward, killing anything that came close to that broken structure in the centre, where three small aliens were huddled. They had seen him fight before yes… but this time, there was a more primal air to it; this time, he had the intent to kill, to destroy a threat completely. It was as equally captivating as it was haunting to witness.
"Just… who exactly was this guy's parent, again?" Hunk asked, followed by an audible gulp. But no-one could answer him. It felt like hours before someone spoke, though they had only been watching Nico dance around the battle field for mere moments in reality, the shadows and dead his to command.
"Heh…" Lance laughed, "He's way better with a sword than you are, Keith."
"Grg-" Keith growled, "Let's just get down there and help him already!" With that, the red lion descended down into the clearing.
"Ohhh now you want to help the guy?" Lance teased, even as he followed alongside the others, "And here I thought you didn't like him." His smug grin could be heard through the intercom.
His only response was another growl as the red lion crushed a few of the remaining droids under its claws; with the rest of the lion's present, the clean-up was over in matter of seconds. Nico and his skeletons had already dealt with this majority of them.
Nico slashed through one last remaining droid, his breathing laboured as his chest heaved up and down.
Damn it… Nico thought. That was too much at once. I didn't… control myself…
He glanced to his right; the three little aliens were unharmed, though shaken. His eyes sluggishly shifted to his left; the red lion was clearly visible against the green, even as Nico's vision began to blur. Upon seeing it, he allowed his limbs to relax and the shadows dissipated. He fell to the ground, succumbing to unconsciousness once more, and the skeletons fell with him.
Exiting their lions with confirmation from Coran that there were no more traces of Galra troops at this outpost, Shiro and Lance went to speak to the natives, who were beginning to gather; Lance briefly nudged a nearby skeleton with his foot, but whether it was slight fear, or seeing it was no longer 'alive', or the disapproving look from Shiro, he soon caught up with the older paladin, a sheepish expression on his face. Lance instead helped down the trio on the statue, pulling funny faces as Shiro addressed the group at large to try and make the little ones laugh, to some success. The others rushed over to Nico who was nearby, though Hunk ended up picking him up by himself; Nico was fairly small, after all. He made his way back to his lion at a half jog, Pidge carefully picking up Nico's sword. As they returned to their lions at the edge of the clearing, Keith shouted out to the others, who once more accepted the native's thanks before leaving the planet behind.
"Congratulations on a successful mission paladin's!" Coran exclaimed upon their return to the bridge.
Hunk was still carrying an unconscious Nico, though he'd only now just gotten a good look at him, "Huh, he's… asleep." Relief tinged his voice; he'd been worried it was something worse.
Allura approached them to get a closer look herself, "He must have over exhausted himself again with his powers." She said thoughtfully and with a deep kindness in her tone.
"Pidge," Shiro said, "Do you think you could look into Nico's heritage? You know the most about Greek mythology here, and I think we'd all like to know more about what we saw with those skeletons today."
Pidge blinked before replying, "Sure thing, I'll do some research." She pushed her glasses up, seeming excited by the prospect.
Shiro sighed, "I'll take him to his room this time. We'll debrief once he's awake again." He was met with several nods of affirmation, and Hunk passed the sleeping boy over to him.
Shiro set Nico down on his bed, slowly and carefully removing the bulky bits of armour so as not to disturb him and finally pulling the covers over him. Shiro sat on the edge of the bed in the cold, sparse room; Nico's clothes sat in a discarded pile against one of the walls, the only sign that he had been occupying this room for but one day.
Shiro smiled to himself, though it was tinged with a little sadness. He spoke softly to a sleeping Nico, his gaze on the wall opposite the bed: "You did good, Nico, but try not to exhaust yourself again like this, hm? You can rely on us to come help you. Rest up, bud." He glanced over. Nico's face was twitching in his sleep, his eyes moving behind his eyelids quickly. He must be dreaming, Shiro thought, thinking no more of it as he stood up and took a step towards the door.
But the rustle of bedsheets made him pause, and glance back.
Then Nico screamed. And Shiro froze.
A/N: *insert Mushu I LIIVEEE meme here* So, hey guys, I'm back. I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas and are having a nice end to this year. This is quite possibly the longest chapter I've ever written and I really hope you enjoyed it; a slight divergence from canon as there's a few things I wanted to get done before we get back to that. I initially started writing this in the summer, but for whatever reason, the writing juices were not flowing and then things seemed to get awfully busy till now. I've also been consuming more greek media lately, which has helped! The Hadestown musical, and the game Hades. I've always been more of a fantasy fan than sci-fi, so apologies if my sci-fi elements are a little... meh.
Firstly, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who left me such kind messages after my previous authors note. Your patience, understanding and enthusiasm really mean SO much to me I really can't thank you all enough; you helped remove the negative stigma that had begun to attach itself to this fic for me, to where I can say I truly am enjoying writing this again and am excited for what's to come. Thank you to each one of you, from the bottom of my heart.
Secondly, schedule. I've never really been one to make new years resolutions (and I suppose I'm still not seeing as I've already started) but I'm going to try and be more organised with my time from now on; start making todo lists again, better organising both my work and home life, finding some semblance of balance between it all. What that means for you guys, is I plan on updating at least ONE of my fics each month. So the likely hood is, there will roughly be a two-three month gap between updates here to keep things fair and even between each of my fics I am currently working on. I am hoping to stick to this, so wish me luck yall!
Some would say I use too many line breaks in my writing, but to that I say, I'm not a professional author. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, and I'm excited for the next. Tell me all your thoughts, theories and feelings, I want to hear them! Whether you liked what you read or not,
Many thanks once more,