AWARE ONLY of the darkness and the impossible weight of the chains that bound him, Sven tossed in a sea of despair, buffeted violently and smashed against the unforgiving rocks of shame and regret. He knew now how completely he had failed his friends through his rash and egotistic actions. They were all walking straight into a trap, were all going to die, and there was nothing he go do to save them, or even warn them! Somewhere across that teeming, troubled sea was Romelle, and he called out to her, begging her to absolve him of his hideous sin, but she never heard and he knew with unimaginable self-loathing how utterly he had failed her, too. Once he had been so proud, so sure of himself, but now…
For all this tossing and thrashing the cell was steeped in utter silence. Even so, it was some time before Sven became aware that someone was saying his name in a low, insistent voice, over and over.
And the voice was neither the high-pitched cackle of the witch’s, nor the arrogant tones of Prince Lotor, whose arrival would mean his death at last.
Still the voice was familiar, but he could not place it.
“Who calls?” he cried out.
Slowly the turbulent sea in his mind sank and parted and he could no longer feel the fetters at his wrists and ankles. He was standing upright in another dark world, but one calm and gentling, one that did not teem with hidden horrors. Across the darkness was a blur of light, and the voice seemed to be coming from there. He stepped forward and stumbled, as though his legs had forgotten how to support the weight of his body. He struggled to maintain his balance, and walked onward, narrowing his eyes as the figure ahead came into focus.
It was the image of a man, a middle-aged man dressed in royal robes of white and purple. He had a handsome, noble face, but one etched with concern and purpose. All around him a strange white light hummed and shimmered.
Sven dropped automatically to one knee. “Good King Alfor,” he said reverently, and knew he was truly dead.
“Not dead, Sven,” the King’s spirit said gently. “Not yet. This galaxy still has need of you.”
“But I’ve failed, my Lord,” he said in a hard, despairing voice. “I have failed so completely. My friends, your daughter, Princess Romelle, all of them, they are all walking into a fatal trap that never would have happened if I hadn’t been so arrogant and foolhardy. It is my fault and I…I want to die. I no longer care at whose hand. I don’t want to live to see them die and if my last act must be one of cowardice, well, it doesn’t matter about me anymore.”
King Alfor’s eyes, as blue as his daughter Allura’s, but an ocean deeper in understanding of the world, took on a look of infinite sorrow. “Oh, no Sven, no, you are wrong. You are so very wrong. You have not been beaten yet, and neither have they. This overwhelming despair, this desire to die, this loss of direction and purpose, they are what the witch wants you to feel. Things are bad, but not as hopeless as she’d have you believe. These feelings are what keep you prisoner here, and nothing else! There is still a chance for you to save your friends! Only you can do it.”
“But the chains-”
“In destroying the witch’s laboratory you dealt her power a severe blow. She has been greatly weakened thanks to your efforts, and can make little true magic. The chains that bind you are illusions only, made solid and real by your own imagining. Nothing truly keeps you here.”
There was a long silence while the import of Alfor’s words sank in. Hope sprang unbidden to his heart, but-
“My lord, where am I then? And what would you have me do?”
If possible, the King’s face grew even more serious. “The trap the witch told you about is very real, and very deadly. You probably don’t need this now, but the fate of the Denubian Galaxy hangs upon your actions, for you are the only one who can help. Even now, two of your friends are journeying to a planet that lodges a secret not yet meant to be discovered. The witch seeks to claim this secret for herself, for it will bring her much power. It must never fall into her hands! You must escape this prison, journey to the planet, and stop the witch from carrying out her diabolical scheme!”
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“But you will,” King Alfor said gently. “You must trust me. You must journey to the planet Altea. You already know where it lies.”
“I don’t,” Sven said in despair. “I’ve never heard of Altea in my life.”
“But you have,” the King insisted. “Think, Sven. No, don’t think. Open your mind to me. Forget the darkness, forget this dungeon, these chains, your friends, me, the world, everything. Hear my voice only, and…remember…”
A cool, soothing breeze like the ghost of a touch brushed over his eyelids, and it suddenly seemed to him as if he were standing on a very high cliff looking down into the sea of his years and memories which surged and crashed against the jagged rock face he stood on. Gradually the waves fell away and suddenly he was no longer standing on the ledge but amid the churning waves themselves, face upturned to watch…the stars? He no longer stood in roiling surf but on a blue-white plain of virgin snow that glimmered faintly in the pale moonlight from above. Someone stood beside him, and though he could make out no familiar features or put a name to it, he knew it to be a safe and comforting presence. Also, for some reason, he was suddenly very short.
A small white hand pointed up to the stars. “Do you see, my Sven-san, do you see the stars?”
“Yes,” he answered in a small and reverent voice, and clung to her hand-who’s?
“See the pattern they make? It looks almost like a lion, does it not?”
“I don’t see a lion…” (a name. The word jangled in his memory but he could not recall it.)
“Look carefully, my Sven-san. Do you see that red star framed by five white ones? They make a perfect pentagon, do you see? That is the lion’s heart. Remember that pattern, my Sven-san. Remember those stars!”
To navigate, to find one planet in all the galaxy, using only the alignment of six stars as reference? How absurdly, wildly-possible! It was possible! His eyes went wide and a deep and amazed laughter rose in his throat.
Past and present, memory and reality split asunder and with a jolt he was back in his cell, lying supine on a rough slab of stone, and the chains that held him there felt very much like real chains.
He almost cried out in despair, but-
King Alfor’s voice rang in his ears: Who you were, who you are, it doesn’t change! All you had, everything is with you still! Remember, Sven! You once had the power to see through illusion. That power is still yours!
But when he struggled against his fetters they held firm. His mind reeled. Could Alfor have been wrong? No, no-
What you were!
Who you are!
Closing his eyes, Sven banished the cell, the chains, the cold, the world, turning inward. As he did once, long ago, in another battle with the witch’s illusory magic, Sven disregarded whatever his senses told him, looking only with his heart and he saw, he knew-
He lifted his arms, not even bothering to notice that nothing held them. He stood, albeit shakily, and opened his eyes.
It was no hellish abyss he stood in, but an ordinary room-probably a decrepit storeroom from the looks of it. It was poorly lit, but he could make out cracks in the ceiling and the floor was littered with empty, broken boxes and crates.
The witch never held me prisoner, he realized with sudden clarity and amazement. The chains were of my own making!
Yes, but you’re still stuck here, he thought wryly, and cast about for a means of escape.
The door was thick and locked, but of low quality. With a wistful grin he said a little prayer to his sensei who had taught him the martial arts years ago when he studied in Japan, then crouched low, sprang, and with a furious kick all but knocked the door off its hinges!
The breaking door made a hideous loud noise and Sven had little time to act before two solidly built but shabbily attired armed guards burst into the storeroom. Charging from the shadows Sven dealt the first a smashing blow across the side of his head, and he crumpled to the floor. The next had time to raise his handgun, but none to aim and shoot before he too was knocked flat by a sharp kick from behind. Sven pinned the second guard to the floor with his knee and extricated the gun from his grasp.
“The witch must truly have little power left if she relies on clowns such as you. Now,” he said pleasantly but insistently, “tell me where I am and where I can find a ship.”
The guard shook his head vehemently, but Sven cocked the handgun and pointed it at the man’s head, still smiling, though his grin was no longer pleasant.
“Fine!” the guard spat. “I won’t die for a crazy old hag who pays lousy, anyways. You’re on Tau Pei IV, an abandoned waystation.” He hastily gabbled the coordinates. “There’s a bloody ship in landing bay two!”
“Thank you,” Sven said, his expression once again agreeable as he jammed the handgun in the empty holster at his belt, and leaped to his feet. There was no chance of closing the door again, but he had left the two guards in no state to pursue him.
Moving silently but swiftly down the decrepit corridors, scanning signs for Landing Bay Two, Sven wondered just how long this station had been abandoned and how Haggar had come across such a worthless pack of pirates.
When at last he came to Landing Bay Two, he almost gave a cry of dismay at what a pile of junk the ship was, but there was no time, for behind him down the corridor he heard the trampling of heavy feet. So those two idiots had given an alarm after all! He ran for the ship, forced open the door, and all but hurtled into the cockpit. Shots rang out behind him, but he fired up the engines, opened the Bay Doors, and lifted off. In his mind he heard Haggar shrieking, shrieking, hurling curses and promises of vengeance after him, but he all but forgot her as the little ship cleared the station and blasted off for deep space. He was free!
“Altea, here I come!” he all but sang. “Hang on, guys. I’m on my way!”
It was some time before the Voltron Force realized anything was wrong. True, Keith was up at the crack of dawn as usual, but it was rare Lance saw this side of the clock at all, unless he had actual orders, so his absence was not noted until lunchtime. Sven, on the other hand, was usually an early-riser. Still, Keith did not become alarmed until noon had come and went and Lance had still not stumbled from his room and Sven was nowhere to be found.
Angry, for there was work to be done, Keith stormed down the corridor to Lance quarters, overrode the locking mechanism, and shoved open the door. Lance’s bed was immaculate as if it had just been made, and his jacket was gone. His fury was beginning to be replaced with an encroaching sense of dread as he dialed up the Red Lion on his wrist com and received no answer. Now truly alarmed he tried to raise the Blue Lion, but was met with equal and ominous silence.
He strode to the window, fist clenching at his side, and glared up at the sky. “Lance, where the hell did you go?”