He kept a firm grip on Allura’s hand, leading her towards doors that were constantly on the move, soldiers coming and going from the room. Lotor kept glancing back at his mate’s face, noting how nervous she looked to be around so many people. He didn’t know if it was because they were strangers to her, or the fact that they were Drule that had her on edge, Lotor giving her a reassuring smile.
“This is the commissary.” He told her, a random solider holding the doors open for them to pass through. “The food here is nowhere as good as the food back on Doom, but it is passable.”
Eyes were on them, the soldiers unsure of what to do now that their prince was walking amongst them. He gave a gesture of his arm, pardoning them from the need to act subservient to him in the moment. It didn’t stop everyone from leaving their meals to bow or salute him, but at least he and Allura weren’t swarmed with Drules wanting to be of service to their prince.
Allura seemed to inch closer to him, her fingers actually squeezing his hand. In response Lotor pulled her closer to his side, causally looping an arm around her waist, hugging her to him. She didn’t protest, though she hardly looked at ease at the position he put them in. But then she hadn’t been able to relax since they had left the holding cells, the girl clearly worried about her cousin and her friends.
He tried to reassure her that nothing bad would happen to those women, but Allura remained uncertain. Not even his promised threats to harm his General should the man go against his orders, seemed to calm her. Lotor knew that before long they would be back in the ship’s dungeon, visiting Romelle and the other women if only to prove to Allura that nothing untoward had been done to them.
But for now he was trying to distract her by taking her on a tour of the warship. Of course certain areas were restricted to her, Lotor not wanting to put his mate in danger, or allow her to see the seedier aspects of a Drule military ship. But there was a few spots they could visit, and Lotor felt sure Allura appreciated the break from the cabin.
Lotor knew he certainly did, finding the cabin was almost oppressive in the moment, what with the tension in the air. It was both nerves and sexual, and it colored their every thought, every action. It still lingered even here in the commissary, but with so many people around them, the tension was less noticeable.
He led Allura over to the cabinets that separated the chefs from the eating tables, many foods already cooked and on display on the shelves. Allura studied the food, a hungry look in her eyes though she did not ask for anything. It did not matter, Lotor was already selecting something for them, the chefs hurrying to make it fresh for their prince.
Piping hot meat wound tight in a bread wrapper was given to them, Lotor watching as Allura pursed her lips and blew on the steaming bun. He felt a little flicker of
interest at her actions, Lotor inwardly shaking and telling his body to behave.
“The viewing deck is just above the commissary.” Lotor said, leading her towards the last spot of their tour. She continued to blow on her meat bun, fingers delicately breaking off a piece for her to chew on. He didn’t bother with his fingers, biting directly into the bun, getting an explosion of gravy and seasoning along with the taste of the beef.
They still had plenty left to eat by the time they walked up the commissary’s stair case, coming out into the viewing deck. The floor was composed of several exits, staircases leading to different parts of the ships. The commissary’s was just the most popular, many soldiers coming to this floor on their off hours.
Allura paused in her eating, turning to look around the viewing deck with wonder in her eyes. He tried to view it from a newcomer’s point of view, and had to admit it was impressive with it’s reflective metal floors, and three quarter viewing screen that wrapped around the walls. To the East there was a railing, separating the people from a long drop. That drop led to the command deck below, soldiers able to watch their comrades at work, making it a popular spot during battle.
Benches were placed in several locations, and there was even a small fountain in the center of the deck. There was clusters of off duty soldiers gathered together, mostly men though there were a few women too. Regardless of sex they all wore the same uniform, the belted tunics looking like mini dresses on the females.
Currently the view screens were showing a picture of the Drule’s ultimate target, the castle of lions. It was peaceful, a picturesque view, the castle on a steep hill that overlooked a lake. Allura looked longingly at the view screen, leaving Lotor to wonder at her thoughts.
“The castle of lions is beautiful is it not?” Lotor asked, leading her over to a bench near the fountain. They were fortunate to get a seat, this was a time when the viewing deck was not that crowded.
“Yes…” Allura said, not taking her eyes off the screen. “It is.” She followed up those words by breaking off another piece of the meat bun, chewing it slowly.
“It’s nothing like my castle.” Lotor told her, more interested in looking at his mate than some building. “It’s dark, and it’s dreary but I’ve no doubt it couldn’t be improved with a woman’s touch.” She said nothing to that, pretending to be occupied with eating. “My treasure vaults are vast, they’ll be no limit to the money you can spend. Nothing will be denied to you, you’ll be able to buy and decorate our home to your heart’s content.”
“I already have a home.” Allura at last looked away from the castle, her tone soft but firm. “One I love too much to leave.”
Now it was his turn to pause, Lotor taking another bite of the meat. “Allura…”
“Lotor no.” A shake of her head, the girl looking pained. “No matter what you say, what you try to do….you can never replace my home. I don’t want to leave it…I don’t want to…to make a start of it somewhere else.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but his mate just sighed and looked down at her lap.
He didn’t get angry, though he felt keenly disappointed that she was so attached to her current home. What’s more, he didn’t know how to reassure his mate that she could adapt to a new one, adapt and do more than survive, but be happy there. With him.
Lotor finished off his meat bun with two more bites, nothing Allura had stopped eating the remainder of hers. Instead she just picked at it, fidgeting in place as she gave off a glum air about her. His mate’s mood was depressive, and he began to react to it, Lotor feeling bad and wanting to do something to make it better for her.
“So tell me…” He began, wiping his hands on his tunic’s bottom. “What is it about your home that ties you to it?”
“Everything?” He echoed with a laugh. “Come now Allura, surely you can narrow it down more than that.”
“I can try….” She said, but sounded doubtful.
“Please do.” He urged her, smiling.
“I’ve lived there all my life…” Allura began, still playing with her half finished meal. “What makes a home a home?” Lotor couldn’t answer that, merely shrugging in response. “I was born and raised there….it’s where my parents lived, the place where I have happy memories with them. And not just them!” Her voice rose, a pitch of excitement to it. “I have friends, people I care about, memories both good and bad there.”
“So it’s people who tie you there…” Lotor mused, thinking it would be easy enough to remedy. And all it required was capturing his mate’s precious people and bringing them to Doom!
“It’s not just the people!” Allura retorted. “It’s the memories and feelings tied to this place, to Arus. My home is where so many firsts happened…my first friend, my first crush…” A slight growl from him, Lotor not liking the thought of Allura having any kind of strong feelings for another male. “It’s not just good things, there are bad stuff that happened too. Sad memories that helped to shape who I am today…”
“What bad things Allura?” Lotor asked, honestly wanting to know.
“It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past now…” Allura replied, but she wasn’t looking at him.
“Tell me.” Lotor insisted, reaching out to touch her face. “Please?”
“My parents….they…” She shook her head, frowning. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. But they died when I was young…”
“I’m sorry…” Lotor said, thinking it said that she was orphaned at a young age.
“It’s not your fault…” Allura said quickly. “It’s no one’s…” She sighed then, looking downwards once more. But not before he saw the sad look in his mate’s eyes, Lotor’s protective side rising up, wanting to chase that emotion from her.
“Allura…” He placed his hands on her shoulders, the girl glancing up at his touch. She still looked sad, but now she gasped, Lotor leaning in to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. “It’s time…”
“Time?” She blinked in confusion, clearly having no idea what he meant by that.
“Yes…” Lotor said, and moved his hands, hugging her to him. The half eaten meat bun fell to the floor, the meat mixture spilling out sloppily on the ground. She actually struggled in his embrace, Lotor bringing his lips to her ear. “It’s time Allura…time for us to get to know one another better.”
He didn’t know if it was deliberate or not, but she misunderstood him, panicked and paling as white as a sheet. “What? Here?!” She squeaked out, and gave a shake of her head. “We can’t! There are people watching!”
He chuckled then, slow to pull back from her. “I merely want to talk with you….To find out more about you. Although…” And now he thumbed her lip, letting his desire flare into his eyes. “I am not at all adverse to the idea of going back to the cabin, and learning you in another way.”
“No…no! Talking is fine!” Allura quickly retorted, and now she had gone from pale to pink, blushing in that charming way of hers.
He knew better than to be disappointed, Lotor trying to decide on what to ask her first. He decided on her age, knowing he had been curious about that for quite some time. “How old are you Allura?”
“My age? I’m nearly nineteen…” She answered, and he was surprised, not expecting her to be that young.
“Nearly nineteen?” Allura nodded, and he asked his next question. “So that means a birthday won’t be far off from now. When is it?”
“Two months to the day.” Allura said, Lotor quick to make note of it. “How old are you?”
He smiled, appreciating her interest. “Twenty-four. It’ll be a few months more before my birthday. What village do you come from Allura?” She hesitated then, looking like she would not answer. “Come now…you’re so attached to your home….I’d like to visit it before we leave for Doom.”
It was an angry flush he got this time, Allura’s eyes sparking with anger. “I am not going with you to Doom! How many times must I tell you that!”
“Love, you can tell me that till you run out of breath, and it still would not change anything.” Lotor told her. “Now please…your village’s name?”
“I won’t tell you.” She snapped, her refusal making him frown.
“That leaves me to guess…Hmm…” A musing sound, Lotor stroking his chin, thinking back on what little she had said. “We found you and the other women in the forest. That must mean your village is near to here…”
“That or we were visiting.” Allura quickly replied. “It is berry picking season after all.”
“You’d come all this way for berries?” He chuckled, shaking his head. “No…I don’t believe you. What’s more, I don’t think you are a typical berry picker.” She looked at him, brow furrowed, eyes confused. “Your hands give you away Allura.” He picked up her right hand, turning it over to run his fingers over the palm and fingers. “You have no callouses. No cuts and abrasions. It’s clear you are not used to hard, manual labor. Your skin is simply too smooth.”
She tried to pull her hand away, but Lotor held on tight to his mate. “I like that Allura. I enjoy stroking your smooth skin, touching it’s softness, kissing it…” Allura shivered at that, but at least she didn’t look away from him.
“I’m not doing anything.” Lotor said, amused.
“You’re talking, that’s enough!” She protested, and he laughed.
“I had no idea my words have such an effect on you.” His eyes sparkled, he was enjoying this. “I’ll have to try harder then.”
“You try too hard.” Allura muttered under her breath, even as he lifted her hand up to kiss the palm. She shuddered at that, her eyes closing as his lips neared her fingers.
“I think you must bear some status in your village to be able to live a work free life…” Lotor continued, kissing up to her fingertips. She seemed to jerk back, but he was unable to tell if it was from his words or what his mouth was doing. “Perhaps a mayor’s daughter? Or maybe something more…could you be of Arus’ nobility?”
“I…” She gasped when he grazed his fingers over her fingertips, Allura shaking her head.
“So that begs the question why.” Continued Lotor, Allura seeming unable to speak. “Why were you out picking berries in the first place?”
“It seemed like fun.” She finally admitted, stammering in a cute way all the while.
“Fun…” Lotor smiled, locking eyes with her. “I can think of even more fun things than berry picking…”
“I’ve no doubt you can…” She murmured, her blush reaching her ears.
“I think I’ve got it!” Lotor said, triumphant in his eyes. She blinked, looking confused, and he chuckled again. “Your home Allura. I believe you mentioned you had a lake side view from your bedroom window. That narrows down the villages you could be from considerably.”
“Why does it matter to you?” Allura wanted to know.
“I thought…I could at least spare your village from what is to come.” Lotor said at last. She looked uneasy at that, and he echoed the feeling. “Call it my….gift to you…”
“Your gift?!” She hardly seemed impressed, more distressed than anything. “If you really wanted to gift me with something, you’d leave all of Arus alone!”
“I can’t do that.” Lotor answered with a sigh. “My father is determined to add Arus to his empire….”
“Why can’t you Drule leave us alone?!” Allura demanded, seeming like she would start to cry. He didn’t want that, Lotor reaching to pull her into his embrace, when footsteps drew near to them. It was with an unhappy frown on his face that he glanced up, Lotor spying soldiers who looked nervous about intruding.
“Yes?” Lotor demanded with a growl, and the men were bowing to him.
“Prince Lotor, you’re highness…..word has come back from our reconnaissance parties…” said the apparent leader of the trio.
“And what have they discovered?” Lotor asked, trying to force himself to sound interested. It was difficult when all he wanted to do was hold his mate, pet her hair, and comfort her as best he could.
“They know about the missing women.” He glanced at Allura, the girl gasping. Was that excited hope that flashed in her eyes?
“And what of it?” Lotor asked in a bored tone.
“They’re looking for them. Organizing search parties….” said the soldier, seeming to grimace. “But there’s more…”
An uneasy look from the soldiers. “Yes…it’s no simple search party. They’ve gotten the castle involved.”
“The castle!” Lotor growled, even as he noticed the shifty look Allura wore.
“Soldiers from the castle are involved in the search. They are going from town to town, even beginning to search the woods…” The soldier was almost apologetic as he told Lotor this.
Lotor wanted to growl, thinking this just got worse and worse. “Thank you for telling me.” Lotor said, dismissing the guards. He barely noticed their leaving bows, he was staring at Allura. But for once he wasn’t thinking entirely about his mate, instead focusing on the disaster of having the castle know something was wrong. With the girls missing, they and the villages would be on high alert, what’s more they were searching the woods. They’d be bound to come across the Drule ships, cloaking devices be damned.
“Soldiers from the castle…” Lotor mused out loud, watching Allura carefully. “Why would the castle care enough to waste their guards on a search party?”
“Wouldn’t you do the same if Drule females were missing?” A question for a question, Allura giving him the feeling she was evading answering him.
“Not really. Not unless it was a woman who was of some importance. Like a noble…” He eyed her, but couldn’t muster up a smile. “You are a noble, aren’t you Allura? No, don’t try to hide it from me. I think I knew from early on that you were. Your very bearing is different from other women, you carry yourself almost regally.”
She didn’t look flattered by his words, no would she confirm to him the truth of them. “What are you going to do now?” Allura asked. “The soldiers are looking for us…I told you we would be missed.”
“They’ll have to find us first.” Lotor answered.
“And then what?” She sounded anxious, staring at him. “You’ll kill them?” His hesitation was enough for her, she grew upset enough to tear up. He reached to cup her face, brushing his thumbs under her eyes.
“This is war Allura.” He explained as gently as he could. “And with it, come risks and casualties.”
“It doesn’t need to be war!” She protested, letting him help her to stand. He had no response, Lotor leading her towards one of the floor’s exits that would put them closer to the cabin. He needed to talk to General Morduck, needed to find out what if anything he had learned from Romelle and the other women. And more than that, he needed to be able to concentrate long enough to do something to get this invasion underway!