Two Shadows Went, Ch. 25
Atticus approached the Throne with hat in hand.
Thace slid a data pad before Shiro, no doubt with all of the nobleman's information, lineage, wealth, title. Shiro’s eyes lingered on it for just a moment before he shifted in his seat.
"My Darling, are you doing alright?" He murmured back to Lance still standing at the throne. “Do you need a break?”
The question caught Lance off guard. Through he guessed Shiro had just been waiting for a pause in noblemen before he asked.
Blinking, Lance tried to assess before answering honestly. "No." He smiled. "I’m not."
"Are you sure you wouldn’t like to rest?" Shiro’s head tipped, and his hand fell away to the edge of the throne, the quick gesture he made with his hand wasn’t unnoticed.
Lance side-eyed his personal guard stepping closer to the throne.
What was this?
Lance looked back to the nobleman that approached. Atticus, of them all, was no threat. He was a slight man, and leaned more towards the tea times at the palace than the sparring. He’d never even been considered a candidate for the councils.
Did Shiro expect a fuss from him?
Lance folded his arms over the back of the throne, fixing his Kon with a smile. "I’m fine." His voice lifted, his smile turning softer as he went on quieter. "I’d like to stay up here with you." If for no other reason he needed to see why Shiro was uneasy.
The expression on Shiro’s face was unreadable. But his fingers flicked again. Lance’s guard took several more steps forward.
"State your name, and title." Thace’s voice rang out. He stood at the edge of the thrones platform, high enough to still tower over the approaching noble men, but not detracting from Shiro’s position.
Shiro lifted his hand to caress along Lance’s long hand. His eyes were on Lance for a moment longer and there was a hint--he almost looked mournful for a moment. He looked away before Lance could fully pinpoint the emotion.
"I am Atticus, nobleman of Birchfore."
"Birchfore?" It was Shiro that asked.
In a second his demeanor changed. His face was stone and his eyes steady, he grasped the throne like it would bend its will to him as well.
"Y-Yes." Atticus gave a nod.
Lance’s eyes narrowed. It was just an estate... an old one... but nothing that could harm Shiro at all.
"The former King awarded that estate to his brother, did he not?"
It seemed to trip Atticus up for a moment as well, and for a visible moment he stalled before he tried to explain. "Yes, His Majesty Aldrin gave the estate to his younger brother."
"Aldrin, former king of Altea, and father of Alfor, last King of Altea?"
Lance’s hand shot out, grasping at his Kon’s shoulder.
"Atticus has always shown tremendous loyalty." Lance spoke up before the nobleman could answer Thace’s loaded question. “To any ruler that sat on this throne.”
Shiro shifted, looking back at Lance.
Seizing the opportunity of holding his Kon’s attention, Lance stepped around the throne, to the side, smiling as he lingered closer.
"I’ve known him since I was a child." Lance went on. “He will hold to his words.”
"Because he is your cousin?" Thace suddenly cut in.
There were very few left in the royal family. Lance could count the number on his hand if he liked. The last few generations had been fraught with infertility and consumption with war seemed to appeal more than the prospect of posterity.
Lance’s feet shifted, and he glanced to his cousin.
Atticus, if Lance was correct in his thinking, would be the last of Althun’s line, the younger brother of the prior generation, and former Second Prince, apart from Lance and his sister, who were the last of the line of Aldrin, the elder brother and former King of Altea. Lance’s fingers grasped at his Kon’s arm, as he turned back, his eyes pleading.
Lance swallowed before he answered. "Distantly," he tried to smile. "The bloodline has never been strong through his line. Aldrin’s younger brother was not king for a reason."
He felt a twinge of guilt, it was a lingering thought, like a shot, only the needle was left in, aching. He hated belittling his cousin, but he didn’t have a choice, there was little else to do, but make him a flea to Shiro. Make him nothing, and Shiro would ignore him.
Shiro looked at Lance for a moment, just long enough Lance wasn’t sure what emotion he wore, before his head turned and his eyes narrowed as he spoke to Atticus.
"What was your order to inheritance?" Shiro asked. "I mean in relationship to the throne."
The room dropped into a dark and deathly still silence. Lance’s mouth fell open. He—he needed to say something. He needed to beg, but all he could do was look to Atticus. He knew he’d lost control as his eyes locked with his cousin. Lance’s eyes widened, his mouth open in a silent plea, his muscles shook as he tried to pull in breath.
Atticus own eyes widened.
"Answer your Kon," Thrace’s voice was laced with contempt.
Scared eyes turned to Shiro, as Atticus finally seemed to find his voice. "I was sixth in line for the throne."
"He was never a threat," Lance hissed in as quiet a voice as he could at Shiro’s ear. "Even when you and my sister were vying for the throne, he had claim and never chose to use it. Atticus has never shown ambition, his family has barely ever left his estate—"
Lance stalled as the hair at the back of his neck stood on end. Antok’s looming shadow over him was—it was close enough to take hold of Lance at any moment. Lance’s eyes widened. He could imagine it with one outreach of Antok’s massive hand he could have Lance by the throat, and hauled away. He’d always been walking a tightrope with this, would this be what finally got Lance locked away?
"I have a family!" Atticus suddenly let out his own plea. "Please, I have a family that depends on me."
Shiro’s head tipped, he had yet to spare a glance to Lance. "Really?"
Atticus gestured, and Corena and Alena both emerged to the open space before the king. They both gave a bow, though Lance could see—Corena was shaking. Her younger sister just seemed confused.
"More heirs to Alfor?" Shiro spoke. “Seventh and eighth,” He mused the girls position in the line of succession.
"They will not know Alfor," Atticus desperately tried. "I will raise them to be loyal to the Kon."
Lance gave the slightest of nods to his cousin. Yes. Yes, tell Shiro they would wipe the memory of Alfor away. They’d lose their entire history--but they’d still be alive, and at a certain point that’s all that mattered.
"Memories have a way of lingering." Shiro spoke. "I would know."
The rise of Shiro’s hand seemed to stop the entire room, and the gesture of his hand laid it in a dead diligence.
Until the sound of guards pouring over Atticus and his two small girls was thundering.
"Unfortunately, I can not let any heir to Alfor remain." Shiro’s voice was calm, his tone collected. It’s like he was stating he’d be unable to make it to a lunch appointment. He’d always been like that, casual and flippant even with the lives of others.
"Please," Atticus screamed. "Please I beg you! I will give it all up, you can have the estate, any wealth just—plea—"
Lance’s breath caught as one guard had Atticus kicked to his knees and the other with a gloved dark Galra hand clamped over his mouth and wretched his head back.
Lance felt his breath leave him in a gasp—as a long black blade was sliced across the once nobleman's throat.
Shiro just sighed.
There were screams then, as two small girls watched their father die. Alena seemed to burst into horrible tears as she tried to lurch out of the arms of the guard holding her. Corena’s eyes were wide, tears streamed down her face, but her mouth remained open though Lance didn’t think she was making a sound. She looked to him then, eyes wide. She understood what would come next.
The body lifeless, and dead dropped as the Galra guard released Atticus’ body, and blood pooled over the marble floors.
Lance’s eyes shot to his Kon, as Shiro’s hand raised again, gesturing to the two girls.
"They will only seek revenge in the future," Shiro said it as a matter of fact, like it was the only possible outcome, and he needed it culled before it could ever begin.
And the same black armored guards stepped up to the two screaming girls.
"No," Lance let out as he stepped around the throne again, at his Kon’s feet, he dropped to his own knees. "Please, we can banish them." He spoke hastily. "Please, my darling, my love, I will do anything." He gasped for air. “Send them to the colonies, send them to live in space. I will personally make sure they are never seen or heard from again, no one will know of their birthright, I swear it!”
The girls screamed further and Lance glanced back, both were forced to their knees, their pastel courtly little dresses rumbled and wrinkled as they were forced to kneel over them.
"Anything," Lance pleaded again, his hand reached desperately for Shiro’s knee. His fingers curled into the fabric of Shiro’s pants and he knew—tears streaked his own face. "Please," His lips shook and his body leaned forward. "I will do anything you ask. I will see to it they are banished to such obscurity, you will never even hear whispers of them again."
When Shiro leaned forward, Lance felt his heart tighten. His big hands, were so soft, so delicate as he brushed the tears from Lance’s face. Hunched over his knees, he held Lance’s face with a soft sort of reverence Lance was familiar with—he only ever held this for Lance, only ever gave it to Lance. He was so callus with everyone else--
"You promised me mercy." Lance whispered as he tried to lean closer.
Shiro pulled in a long breath, his eyes on Lance, soft and admiring.
Then he breathed out, and he spoke. "I can only bargain for one."
Taking his hand away from Lance he gestured to the guards, a swift and clear move of his fingers.
Lance’s head turned just as a black hand was placed over Corena’s mouth and her head pulled back.
"No!" Lance let out as he tried to shoot forward, but Shiro was faster at snatching Lance’s shoulders. Twisting around, Lance tried desperately to pull away, to crawl across the floor, to take their place, to pull them away, to do anything—but Shiro’s Galra metal arm constricted around Lance, and without contest pulled Lance in. Back flat against the foundation of the throne, Lance was trapped between Shiro’s legs.
"No!" Lance screamed this time.
Shiro only cooed at his ear, bent forward to put his lips to Lance’s ear, to press his cheek to Lance’s soft hair. "Shhhh my love. It will be fast."
Corena’s eyes were so wide, and she watched Lance, the entire time she watched Lance. Her vivid teal markings, just under her eyes looked so bright, so luminous for just a moment—and then the jagged Galra blade was pulled across her throat.
Corena’s eyes widened even further for just a second—and bright red blood bloomed over the thrash, it poured down her front, and stained the pretty little pastel yellow dress.
Lance heaved through the tears and he tried to pull Shiro’s hold on him free. "Please," he cried, his voice hoarse and hollow.
Alena next to her sister let out a horrible cry, she thrashed in the hold of the guard and tried to yank away, reaching for her sister and pushing at the guards.
Lance gulped down air and gave his own effort, pushing away from the throne, his legs kicking over the floor to try and find purchase and give him leverage.
Shiro’s hand fisted in Lance’s clothes and he was hauled back, that metal arm hot across his chest. "It’s less than a moment," he murmured. "It will be over soon."
The small thrashing girl was pinned down, and she was forced to bend her entire body back, keeping her stable, even as her small legs kicked.
Her sisters body slumped forward, her eyes had closed though, her fingers lay still at her sides as blood pooled around her as well.
Alena never stopped screaming, and as the blade sliced across her throat, it must have caught over her vocal cords—and the screams turned to a gargling, horrible sound. Her body arched and through her open mouth she spat out vivid red blood. The blood spurted out of her and her dress was covered in seconds.
Then she was released, and she fell back. Beautiful Altean eyes, with teal markings at her cheeks staring wide up to the black ceilings of the new palace’s throne room.
Lance let out his own cry then, doubling over his legs.
Shiro pet through his hair, his hold loosened as he leaned over Lance, whispering in his ear. "I’m sorry, my love." He pressed a kiss to Lance’s pearly life-bond mark, just under his ear. "But your dynasty is at an end."
"You," Keith’s voice was laced with malice as he deposited Lance into the parlor. "Need to get your shit together."
He executed them.
It wasn’t like Lance was naive. He knew there were executions taking place. But none—none he thought were like that. Not a single nobleman had denied—out of fear for what Lance had just witnessed. They all sang praises for the Kon or they’d end up dead.
Unless they were Atticus... unless they were two perfect, innocent little girls—cursed with a bloodline, forced into a conflict that was never their fight—then they just died. No matter what Lance had screamed, no matter what he had promised, no matter what betrayals he had paved the way for, they had just died.
Lance’s vision blurred as his head spun. What—What was stopping that from happening to him? His eyes flicked to Keith still less than a foot from him. Lance couldn’t be caught like Atticus—he couldn’t lower his defense. He was the last of the line of Alfor. He was still a part of the dynasty these fiends intended to wipe off the planet--and there was nothing Lance could do about it.
Shiro had commanded Lance to be taken away by Keith. And Lance’s eyes scanned over him. Was it because he trusted Keith?
The man had a sword at one side and a dagger sheathed over it. Lance’s eyes narrowed on that. It was small enough.
"I need to speak with him," Lance let out as he surged up. “Let me speak with Shiro.” He surged forward and pushed into Keith.
Like Lance expected, Keith snarled and losing all sense pushed Lance right back.
It was enough for Lance to curl his fingers around the dagger’s hilt and Keith’s own push back ripped it free and Keith gave a snarl. Snapping his hand up into his cloak, Lance hoped he’d hid his new weapon well.
"You’re not going anywhere!" Keith snarled at him. His eyes didn’t move over Lance though. He didn’t watch him, like he was expecting anything.
Lance gasped for air as he slumped to the couch, sliding the dagger along hsi forearm and up into his sleeve, where it would be safely tucked away. He wouldn't be caught like Atticus, unaware, unarmed. His hands shook and his eyes felt like they couldn’t focus. Under the cloak he took no comfort in the weapon as he tried to get his nerves under control.
What had just happened? What had he just done? If they didn’t slit Lance’s throat for his outburst, would they for stealing a weapon? At what point was Lance whisked away to live in a cage? At what point did Shiro’s caged little bird’s song no longer please him?
It was just—Lance felt like the floor had been ripped from under him. Before, Shiro’s strong arms were always holding him, but they had just...
Shiro had quickly had Lance taken away when it became clear no matter how much cooing, how much he scent marked and ran his hands down Lance’s spine trying to calm him, nothing was stopping him. Lance had tried to crawl across the floor, he’d begged, he’d cried, and he’d tried with all his might to crawl across the marble to the bloody bodies before him.
Antok, secured the door to the parlor quickly after entering. His chest was puffed in a way Lance knew. it was to make an already mountainous man seem larger. Lance could only imagine the sneers happening outside of that room...
Lance looked around, he wasn’t even sure he recognized this room. It wasn’t in the King’s chambers, or possibly in the King’s wing.
It made sense. If Lance kept screaming they needed him away from any prying eyes or ears.
"Goddamn it, Lance!” Keith hissed as his hands went to his hips, glaring as he paced.
Lance hiccuped, and tried to regain a normal breath.
They were dead.
Lance couldn’t do anything.
"Keith," Antok turned to scold the Red Paladin.
"He’s made a fucking mess of himself— of all of this!" Keith hissed back. "You think Kollivan will be fine with it now?" He kept going. "A screaming prince is exactly what Kolivan wanted to avoid!"
Antok shook his head, like he was trying to disagree with Keith.
Lance looked up.
So Keith knew as well... Lance was supposed to die. He was always supposed to die.
Lance’s eyes shifted up to Antok. "Will you have to slit my throat like that?" Lance knew he was breaking again, his mind felt like it was a mess, and it only got worse every second as the horror kept slipping into him. "If I scream too much, will you cut through my vocal cords like that? Till I gargle on blood and my eyes stare at nothing?"
Antok took a step closer to Lance. "Your Highness." His tone was deep. But he didn’t deny it.
"That’s not his job," Keith crossed his arms as he shook his head.
"Is it yours?" Lance asked as his head turned.
Keith looked back at him. His brow low, he wore quite possibly one of the meanest looks Lance had ever seen. He was still angry at Lance clearly, still riled up so much it was a marvel his mane of hair didn’t stand on end.
"This war, isn’t over," Keith hissed. "And there are men out there that would like to see you on your knees like that."
Lance could believe that. He’d just watched the kindest, most gentle souls pass on—for the crime of existing.
Lance felt like he’d been thrown from one group of monsters to another. He wanted to laugh. At least the Altean sins were kept behind closed doors.
He felt numb, even as Antok approached. His massive hands at Lance’s shoulders felt so heavy.
"No harm will befall you, Your Highness." Antok’s deep voice rumbled from his helm.
Lance’s eyes closed as his head bowed.
Could he believe that? Could he really believe that?
"You’re costing Shiro," Keith growled. "Every outburst, every moment, you just bleed him further. You’ve cost all of us!" His jaw was tight.
"Keith," Antok’s voice was thunderous as he turned.
Lance opened his eyes and looked up, just as Keith gave a huff, turning his back to storm out the parlor doors, slamming them shut on his departure.
"He’s angry," Antok grumbled. "He’ll get over it."
Lance looked back to his loyal guard. "I wonder if he may hate me."
"Keith doesn’t like anybody." Antok corrected.
Lance found his own laugh at that moment. It was breathy, and sad and so terribly pathetic. He let his eyes drop back to his trembling hands again.
"No," Antok suddenly said.
Lance tipped his head. "What?"
"No. I won’t slit your throat like that." Antok’s gaze was level. "And I won’t let any other man do it either."
Such valiant, honorable loyalty. Such a quality was one Lance felt like he had so rarely witnessed.
"Till the very end?" Lance questioned. "Even if they stuck the hounds on me? Even if my Kon could no longer protect me?"
Antok gave a mirthless snort. "It’s unlikely our Kon will ever let that happen."
"But if it did?" Lances head tipped. "If I turned them all against me, would you keep them from eating me alive?"
Antok seemed to grow a bit as he straightened. Pulling up to his full height, his chest filled. "I am your personal guard." His voice was a growl. "I was hand selected by the Champion—the first Kon raised in a generation. I will keep you alive, Altean Prince."
Lance had—finally stopped crying.
It was a declaration he’d never expected. He’d heard flattery all his life, he’d spent the past weeks listening to nobleman beg his mate to keep their lives, and yet—he’d never expected such sincere convictions.
"Very well," Lance said, trying to remember the prince he’d once aspired to be.
He stood. "I wish to retire for the evening."
Antok gave no contest as he lead Lance out to and back through the halls.
He knew none of them would leave him alone anywhere but the bathroom. So as he filled the bathtub, he shooed his guards away.
"Thank you, Antok." Lance said with a gracious bow.
"Your Highness," Antok turned his head tipped.
"You’ve done your job perfectly," Lance said. "And you’re dismissed for the night. Go have some drinks with your comrades."
Antok tipped his head. Lance’s more somber demeanor was a new change.
“I wanna be alone,” Lance was honest. “A lot happened…” He didn’t need to feel in.
Antok let his hand rest on Lance’s shoulder. It stayed there for just a few moments before he gave no contest as he turned to leave.
Once they were gone, Lance stripped everything from the waist up.
His line was dead.
It had taken hours to sink into his bones, but as the bloodstained fog had cleared from Lance’s vision he could finally realize—if he didn’t do something. His line would end with him.
Shiro had said it himself, he could only bargain for one.
Any hope, Lance would have to produce himself.
Lance carefully removed his deep black attire. The fabric was stiff and fell over him in clean pressed lines. It would be perfect. Lance removed the stolen trinket from under his sash. Keith had been so angry—he’d barely noticed.
He caught a glimpse of his arm then. The white ring of the implant still was visible. Unbidden, the question came to mind—would Shiro have done that to his own offspring? Would he see Alfor in them, is that all he would see?
Lance looked away from his arms. Shiro had ensured Lance would not bear children. And Lance had no doubt in the future, willing or not this time, Shiro would keep forbidding him to carry.
Using the dagger, Lance carefully pried the threading loose at the hem of the wide sleeve.
He didn’t need a wide hole. Just one big enough for him to slip a dagger out.