The meeting place was on the very edge of the castle’s property, Lotor and his accompaniment of soldiers having to hike down a hill to reach the forest that bordered the land. The trees that made up the start of the forest started out thin, with huge spaces between them that narrowed into small clusters the closer they got to the woods. Lotor had kept his eyes on those trees, studying not just for sights but also sounds that would betray anyone who was lurking behind them.
There had been no sign of the Drules, the men either not expecting Lotor to come early, or being unable to sneak away from their posts any sooner. Whatever the reason, he felt reassured that he was first to the meeting site, Lotor having the soldiers Allura had lent him spread out to disappear among the trees. They had been hesitant to take orders from him, and it took a harsh admonishment from Captain Darius before the men moved into action.
Now it was just Lotor and Darius out in the open, the prince aware of the humans and knowing the other Drule would notice them as well. No matter how well the humans tried to hide, they wouldn’t be able to avoid detection completely. The Drules would be able to SMELL them, and if that one soldier did not stop fidgeting with his weapon, they’d hear them as well.
Lotor did not entirely trust the humans to effectively guard him. He stood with his back against a large tree, hand resting on the hilt of his sword. He seemed relaxed, though inside he was tense, ready to draw his blade at the first sign of trouble. Captain Darius was rigid as he stood a few feet away from Lotor, his hand by his side for easy drawing of his laser blaster.
Darius kept scanning the woods, looking anxious and ill tempered. Lotor hid a smile, startling the man with the sound of his voice. “You won’t see them.” Captain Darius started to turn to look at Lotor, the amused prince continuing. “Not until it’s too late.”
“How can you be so sure?” Darius demanded, and Lotor gave a shrug of his shoulders.
“They’re Drule, and they’ve been trained by the best.”
“Hmph.” Darius gave a haughty toss of his head. “So have my men…”
“That one who keeps playing with his rifle needs to be reminded of that.” Lotor said. “He makes enough noise to rouse the whole forest. The Drule will know we’re here long before you see a sign of them.”
Darius colored, and with a loud shout, ordered his men to go still and stop fidgeting. A sheepish voice called out, “Sorry captain.” And Lotor nodded in approval.
“That’s better.” He said. “Though there’s little you can do to keep them from smelling you.”
“Is he saying we stink?” A soldier hissed loudly, the voice affronted by Lotor’s words.
“Not at all. We Drule just have sensitive noses.” Lotor explained.
“You make it sound like there’s nothing we can do to get a drop on them in this situation.” Darius complained, and Lotor nodded.
“There’s not…not on the ground. You’d have better chances for sneak attacks when fighting in ships, at least then their senses would be limited.” Lotor told them, and Darius sighed.
“So no matter what we do, we’re screwed here.”
“If they’re coming to attack us, then yes.” Agreed Lotor. Darius spat in response, turning to resume studying the trees. “You’re a very brave man captain.”
“To face the Drule again so soon.” Clarified Lotor. “After what you’ve been through, seeing your men die…nearly becoming a victim yourself…”
“It takes a lot more than a brush with death to frighten me.” Darius answered. “And I intend to live to pay back that commander of yours for killing the men in my search party.”
“You’ll have to get in line then.” Lotor told him. “Because Morduck first reckoning will be with ME.” Darius looked ready to argue, mouth opening as his eyes narrowed. “Wait!” Lotor hissed, holding up his hand for silence. “They come!”
“Shit.” Darius muttered, whirling around to anxiously scan the forest’s entrance. Lotor knew he would not see anything, but the prince could smell the men, hear their footsteps as they took careful steps across the forest floor.
“Come out.” Lotor called, fingers tense on his sword’s hilt. There was a moment’s pause, and then one by one, the Drule appeared. There was five in all, of all shapes and sizes, with many different colored skins, ranging from a blue a bit darker than Lotor, to greens and purples. They were armed, but had their weapons strapped to their sides, their hands held up to show they were harmless.
Lotor knew they were anything but, the prince well aware that a Drule’s whole body could be a weapon. They could easily crush the humans, and it was only the fact that the soldiers had their laser weapons trained on the Drule that Lotor felt even a little safe.
“Throw down your weapons!” Captain Darius ordered, already having drawn his blaster. To his credit his hands did not shake, Darius looking more angry than frightened.
The Drules ignored Darius, looking to Lotor for what to do. “You heard the man.” Lotor said, and gestured for them to do as the captain said. They hesitated, and Lotor lifted an eyebrow. “Throw down your weapons as a gesture of good faith.”
The Drules seemed to sigh, but one by one the weapons were flung down, thrown some distance away so that they could not reach them easily. Lotor nodded in approval, and the Drules stepped closer, Lotor reacting with a start of recognition. One was the soldier who had been guarding his room the day Morduck took command. Lotor instantly knew this was Sabbath, and he wondered how such a nervous soldier could be considering what would amount to mutiny against his crew.
“Prince Lotor…” Sabbath spoke, he and the other Drules going down to one knee. They made a fist over their heart, heads bowed low in respect. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with us.”
He was speaking in Drule, and Captain Darius made a protesting sound. “Now, now. I want none of these grunts and growls you boys call a language.”
“Captain Darius is right. We need to speak basic so we can all understand one another.” Lotor said.
“‘Very well.” Sabbath glanced up, and gestured to the men besides him. “I am Sabbath. This is Ryder, our communications expert.” Ryder was an unfamiliar face, just another Drule lost to the many that had been aboard the warship.
“Tell me Sabbath. You don’t hold much power aboard the ship. How did you come to be the…ring leader of this group?” Lotor asked.
“I am just a representative of the group’s desire to help you.” Sabbath answered. That told Lotor there was someone else, possibly in a higher up position that was in charge of this potential uprising.
“And your boss couldn’t bother to come here himself?” Darius had figured out the same thing Lotor had, Sabbath looking annoyed to be spoken to by a human.
“It is too risky for him.” Sabbath said at last. “His position is such he cannot just leave the ship without drawing suspicion to himself.”
“How did you get off the ships?” Lotor asked.
“We’re a simple hunting party to get more food to feed the troops.” Smirked Sabbath. “We won’t be missed for hours yet.”
“I see. Well, Sabbath…just what is your…leader proposing exactly?” Lotor wanted to know. “An alliance?”
“Yes.” Sabbath nodded. “He’s seen what Morduck has done, what the King gave permission to do. Such a situation should have never happened, a man’s mate being threatened with torture and death. And by another Drule no less!”
“I’m thrilled at the concern you’re all showing…” Lotor began, tone dry. “But why be willing to go against your own King? Especially for a disowned prince that has been branded a traitor of the Doom Empire.”
“We know and understand you were driven to do what you did.” Explained Sabbath. “You were left with no other choice but to defend your mate.”
“The King is being more than foolish.” Interrupted the one known as Ryder. “Your mate is the princess of this planet. There would be no need for a war, since your union would bring Arus as her dowry.”
“Hold on a minute!” Captain Darius was interrupting. “Mate, Princess Allura’s dowry? Just what the hell are you boys talking about?”
“He doesn’t know?” Sabbath and the other Drule looked shocked.
“We haven’t gotten around to announcing it yet.” Lotor said, a tad defensive.
“Announce what?” Darius wanted to know.
Lotor sighed. “Captain this will come as quite a shock to you. But your princess is my….my bride.” Darius’ eyes went wide, he looked like he didn’t want to believe what Lotor was saying. “It’s true. We Drules each have only one person that is meant for us. I knew from the moment I first saw Allura, that she was my mate…”
“So Princess Romelle wasn’t lying when she said she heard you say you love Princess Allura?” Darius demanded. Lotor nodded, and for a second it looked like Darius was considering turning his weapon on the prince. “This is getting way to complicated.” The captain muttered.
“Indeed.” Lotor agreed with a sigh. “Sabbath, I believe you mentioned last night, you have close to a thousand men ready to lend me their support? Is that true?”
“Yes, your highness. Nearly a thousand, spread out, both on the ground and in the ships orbiting Planet Arus.”
“And they’re all willing to fight for Arus?” Darius asked, unable to completely hide his disbelieving tone.
Sabbath seemed to hesitate. “If that is what our prince wishes…”
“It is.” Lotor said. “I will not let Morduck and Zarkon invade Arus. If you men truly wish to support me in a bid to take Zarkon’s crown from him, then you have to be prepared to help me defend Arus first. Only after can I be free to consider doing what is needed on Doom.”
“You need only command us, and we will do as you say.” Answered Sabbath.
“I’d still like to speak to your leader…” continued Lotor.
“Of course. Ryder?”
Ryder made a slow movement towards his belt, plucking a communicator off of it’s leather loop. Darius watched him suspiciously, as though fearing it was some kind of weapon. “This is a special communicator.” explained Ryder. “One that is on a secure channel, aligned to only one other communicator.”
“This is how you intend to stay in contact with me?” Lotor asked, and Sabbath nodded.
“We already have a time schedule for when our leader can talk to you.” Lotor nodded in understanding, knowing it would be risky for him to contact the other man without getting him in trouble. They would have to arrange times, moments when this mysterious Drule could be alone to converse with Lotor.
He was just about to ask when the first communication would be schedule for when his nose twitched. There was a faint scent being carried past him on the breeze, the wind having changed from the direction it was blowing from. He could smell a lot of fresh flowers, dread forming in the pit of his stomach as he realized the scent was familiar. More than familiar, it was refreshing and lovely, and would have normally made him giddy to know the one who’s skin smelled that way was drawing
“What’s wrong?” Captain Darius had noticed Lotor’s upset, his hand drawing his blaster.
“We have some new company…” Lotor growled, and then he heard the sound of hooves beating a furious pace on the grass. The riders were still some distance away, but Lotor was already turning to glare, trusting Darius and the hidden soldiers to guard his back from the kneeling Drules.
“Who is it?” Dairus wanted to know, having grown even more tense than he had been previously. “More Drule? Is it an ambush?” The last was hissed out, the captain feeling betrayed.
Lotor almost wished it was an ambush, spying the horses in the distance now. They were magnificent beasts, a white stallion with coal black hair, a dappled gray and brown mare with fierce looking eyes, along with an off color white horse that was almost gray in looks. Lotor continued to growl under his breath, even as Darius swore in recognition.
“Princess Allura and Princess Romelle!” Captain Darius cried out, staring wide eyed as the two drew near, a sheepish looking guard seated on the white horse behind them. “What are you doing here?!”
Allura looked guilty, she could barely stand to make eye contact with Lotor. Romelle however was confidant, drawing her mare to a halt just a scant foot away from where Lotor and Darius stood. Dirt was kicked up by her ride’s hooves, Romelle struggling to get her horse under control. “We were just out for a ride. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Just out for ride?” Lotor demanded with a scowl. “And you just happened to choose this spot to ride your horses too?!”
“Just coincidence, I assure you.” Answered Romelle breezily.
“Quite a coincidence.” Darius muttered.
“You need to go back.” Lotor locked eyes with Allura. “It’s not safe for you here.”
“Oh is her safety what you’re concerned about?” demanded Romelle, her horse snorting in defiance. “Or is it something more?”
“What else could there be?” Lotor demanded.
“Romelle, let’s go back.” Allura was now speaking. “This was a bad idea…”
“We’re here now.” Romelle said, seeming to ignore what Allura had said. “So you might as well continue your business.”
“Your highnesses, I really don’t think you need to be exposed to this.” Darius told them.
“Allura is the ruler of Arus is she not?” Romelle demanded. “She deserves to know what is going on!”
“And I will tell her everything once we are back at the castle!” Lotor all but snarled at Romelle. Allura seemed to flinch at the way he shouted, but Lotor didn’t soften his voice or his expression.
“I don’t see what the problem is!” Romelle snapped back. Her horse was picking up on her agitation, tossing her head about, and pawing at the ground.
“Allura no!” Romelle started to say, and then the mare was rearing back, front legs leaving the ground. Allura let out a gasp, and Darius was already stepping forward, a hand extended towards Romelle and her horse. The horse merely went more wild at the captain’s approach, and Romelle struggled to get the beast under control.
With a panicked scream from Romelle, the horse was bucking out with all four legs, and Lotor watched in dull horror as Allura’s cousin was flung from the hose’s back. Before he could even think to move, a blur of blue ran past him, voices shouting in alarm from their hiding spots behind the trees. Lotor expected to see Romelle’s crumpled form on the grass, but instead saw Sabbath standing there, the princess in his arms.
Romelle was dazed, mouth parted in shock as she stared frightened up at the Drule. Sabbath wore a similar look of confusion, his own mouth hanging open as he stared down at the princess in his arms.
“Thank you!” Allura had hastily dismounted from her horse, the stallion behaved enough to not wander off. “Thank you so much for saving my cousin!” Lotor was already rushing to Allura’s side, intent on taking her into the safety of his arms. She didn’t protest, though she did not look at him, Allura more intent on staring at her shaken cousin.
Romelle just laid there for a long instant, Darius moving forward to catch the reins of the mare. And then it happened, Romelle giving in to the panicked and disgusted cry within her. “Put me down, you filthy Drule!”
Sabbath blinked, and closed his mouth, but could not disguise the shock her words had rendered in him. Romelle was already flailing about with her arms and legs, shouting angrily about not wanting to be touched by a Drule savage. Lotor wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn Sabbath tightened his hold on the princess, just before she slapped him.
Shocked, Sabbath dropped her to the grass, but Romelle seemed not to care about her ungraceful landing. She half crawled, half lunged away from the Drule, stumbling upright to rush towards Captain Darius.
“Romelle, are you okay?” Allura managed, twisting in Lotor’s arms to stare after her cousin.
“I’m fine!” Romelle said, seeking shelter by Darius and the horse that was now under his control. “I’m just a little shaken by Stardust throwing me.”
“Good to hear. Now…if we can all just calm down…” Lotor said, noticing that except for Sabbath, the rest of the Drule were still kneeling. “We have business to discuss…”
Sabbath was just standing there, staring in Romelle’s direction, and Lotor had a sinking suspicion he knew why. The look in his eyes was all too familiar, Lotor having seen it in himself when he looked in a mirror.
“Sabbath?” Lotor called out his name, trying to draw the Drule’s attention back to him. “A moment please?”
“Er…yes…” Sabbath blinked, but didn’t turn to look at Lotor. The Drule prince sighed, knowing then there was no mistaking it, Sabbath was love struck. And for Romelle of all people!
Lotor looked towards Ryder and the other Drule, seeing how they were frowning at Sabbath. They hadn’t realized what had happened, had yet to fathom why their comrade was acting so distracted. “Ryder….I want you to tell this leader of yours to start working on transferring all men devoted to my side, onto the same ships.”
“The same ships?” Ryder echoed, and Lotor nodded.
“Yes…Arus is going to fight. And I don’t want us to be hindered by thoughts of allies on board those ships. If you can move the men to be on the same ships, and have those ships join us in fighting Morduck’s crew, I have no doubt of Arus’ victory.”
“If the people on Lotor’s side are all on certain ships, we’d be able to avoiding attacking those.” Added Allura. “We could even work together to sandwich the enemy ships in between our forces to bring them down.”
Lotor liked the way Allura thought, and how she was quick to catch on to what he wanted to do. “It’ll take some coordinating, but we should be able to manage just that.”
“I’ll relay this order to him.” Ryder said, tossing the communicator to Lotor who caught it. “You two can hammer out the details tonight.”
Lotor nodded. “On that note, I think the meeting is at an end. You should go and finish your hunting before they send out a search party looking for you.”
“Right.” Ryder bowed his head, and then rose, gesturing for the other Drule to stand with him. “Until we meet again.” He said, and was turning to leave when he noticed Sabbath had not moved. “Sabbath? Are you coming?”
Sabbath slowly shook his head, as though coming out of a daze. “Right…” He went to follow the Drule, but his movements were jerky, reminding Lotor of a puppet on a string. Before he disappeared into the woods, he turned one last time, eyes seeking out Romelle. She was glaring at everyone in general, foul of mood and temper, and Lotor knew that would not make a damn difference to Sabbath and his desire for the princess.
“Things are about to get more interesting…” Lotor muttered, and Allura glanced up at him. “It’s nothing.” Lotor said, and tried to look stern. “What were you thinking, risking yourself this way?”
“I…I’m sorry!” Allura blurted out. “But I couldn’t let you take all the risk…”
“There was none to take..” Lotor told her. “I had my skills and your men to protect me…”
“Then you shouldn’t mind that I came.” Allura pointed out, and he sighed. He wasn’t sure he could make her understand how distracted with worry she would have made him. Especially when he wasn’t sure that the Drules he had met with could be trusted. He was unsure of all their motives, save for Sabbath now. That Drule he knew could be counted on to do one thing, and one thing only. And that was to stick close to Romelle and protect her. Sabbath was in effect owned by Romelle now, his heart and world revolving around her. Heaven help the poor bastard.
“I’ll feel better about discussing things once we are inside the castle.” Lotor told Allura, watching as the hidden soldiers came out from behind the trees. “Besides, we
have a meeting to attend to.”
“The meeting!” She breathed out, giving him the idea she had forgotten all about it. “We’ll have to ride to make it there in time!”
Lotor went silent at that, eyeing the stallion Allura had ridden on. The horse appeared docile, nuzzling it’s nose into the grass, lips pulling up clumpfuls to eat. Romelle’s horse was calm as Darius held the reigns, but Lotor didn’t trust either one to behave. Allura glanced at him, and sighed. “We have no choice…we have to be at that meeting.”
“Fine…” Lotor grumbled. “But I’ll be the one holding the reigns.” With a reluctant grimace, he led Allura over to the horse, lifting her up to seat the girl on it’s back. Lotor then gripped the saddle, and pulled himself on behind her, wrapping an arm around Allura. The other hand held the reign, and he glanced at Captain Darius. “Are you coming?”
“I think I’d rather walk.” Romelle said, still shaken by her fall from Stardust.
“Then if you don’t mind princess, I will go on ahead to the castle.” Darius was ready to pull himself onto the horse’s saddle. Romelle sighed, but nodded her agreement, and the captain pulled himself up in one smooth movement. “Guards, protect Romelle with your lives!”
“Yes, captain!” Came the answer, the men saluting Darius.
“Come on your highness!” Darius said, and gave out a shout, cracking the reigns so that Stardust moved into motion. Lotor gave a jerk of the reigns, making sure his arm was secured around Allura, the stallion taking off at a brisk pace.