They all but burst into the room, Allura accompanied by her cousin and their two Drules, doors smacking into the wall with a metallic thud. Except for a brief glance their way by those nearest to the door, few if anyone paid any attention to their arrival. Not when they were fixated on the screen before them, watching as the ground forces of the Doom military cut a swath through the woods and town that bordered the castle’s property.
Allura couldn’t quite keep from gasping, staring as she watched large tanks with giant skulls decorating the front of the vehicles, wheel their thick tread over any humans that were too slow to get out of the way. She was fortunate the cameras couldn’t pick up on the sounds, Allura sure it would be sickening noise to hear bones being crunched and the pained cries of her dying people.
Even without the noise, the visual was more than enough to turn her stomach, Allura turning from the view screen. She caught sight of her cousin’s face, Romelle looking as pale as Allura surely had turned. Romelle seemed to stagger back, and without realizing it had backed into Sabbath, who immediately put a steadying hand on her waist. She did not rebuke him for the touch, merely standing there shuddering in horror at the scene.
It wasn’t the only thing being aired on the monitors, but nothing seemed to compare to that sight of that wanton murder. Houses were being set on fire, and crops were being destroyed, soldiers marching behind the tanks, armed with laser rifles and quick to use them on the fleeing Arusians.
The monitors of the view screen was filled with the sights of the advancing army, and only one panel still showed the battle in space. Adjacent to it, was the commander of the Arusian fleet, the man doing a bad job at hiding how worried he was by the news of the castle’s sudden plight. Coran was in the midst of a conversation, and did not turn to acknowledge Allura and her companions’ arrival.
She drifted nearer to him, trying to hear his voice over the constant noise of the command center. The men and women who made up the technical crew of the command center were all talking, relaying orders to the soldiers present in the castle. Constantly, alarms blared, and she could hear all kinds of beeps and whistles being given off from the computer programs.
“Coran…” Her voice broke, her fear almost made her sob. Lotor’s hands on her shoulders lent her support, giving her the strength to speak more confidently. “Coran, what’s our status? Will we be able to muster up enough forces to hold back the Drules until help can arrive?!”
“I’m afraid help isn’t arriving anytime soon princess.” Coran’s voice was apologetic, but his words were no less distressing.
“What? Why not?” She gasped out, looking at the Commander on the view screen. He looked just as apologetic as her advisor sounded, sadly shaking his head.
“We can’t afford to split our forces just now.” Explained the Commander. “Any divide would mean the difference between winning this war and losing it. I..I am sorry princess.”
“Are we doing that badly?” She asked, feeling Lotor giving her a comforting squeeze.
“We’re managing.” Came the Commander’s answer. “The help from the Drules that defected to our side is just what we needed. But I fear if we pull back even a quarter of our forces at the stage of fighting, it would spell disaster for Arus.”
“So we’re on our own then.” Lotor spoke, and Allura envied the confidence in his tone.
“At least for now.” Agreed the Commander. “If the castle’s forces can hold back the Drule long enough for a clear victory to become apparent in the battle over the planet, then we would be able to send reinforcements to you.”
“Understood.” Lotor said, and turned to Coran. “Just what is our situation? How big is the castle’s remaining military in comparison to the Drule?”
“We’re only a quarter of it’s size.” Coran replied, and Allura heard her cousin let out a fitful moan. Sabbath murmured something in her ear, the words too low for Allura to make them out. She hoped whatever he had said, gave Romelle comfort, a comfort Allura did not have the luxury of in the moment.
“Not good odds.” Grumbled Lotor, and Coran nodded.
“It will be practically suicide to send them out.” He sighed then, the advisor gesturing towards the view screen. “They’re not just limited to ground attacks. There’s a few ships hovering on the cliffside of the castle. They’ve already shot down any ships we tried to launch. It seems we will neither escape, nor fight that way.”
“Damn!” exclaimed Lotor, and she turned in time to see his grimace. “They’re boxing us in.”
“What do we do?” Allura asked out loud. “Do we leave the castle? Do we stay to fight?”
“Yes.” Both Coran and Lotor spoke at once, and then looked at each other.
“I think we should begin evacuating the castle.” The Drule prince said, while Coran shook his head no.
“We might have a chance, slim as it is, to hold this ground until our forces can spare to send ships to our aid.”
“That’s an awfully big risk you’re willing to take.” Lotor pointed out, frowning at Coran.
“There’s no guarantee that the princess and her cousin will be safe anywhere else on Arus.” retorted Coran. “They might tear the planet up, searching for them. Do you want that?”
“No…” admitted Lotor. “But I’d feel better being on the move, than remaining here like a sitting target!”
“But at least here we are prepared for a long term siege. We have plenty of provisions to last us out several weeks should it come to that!” Coran exclaimed.
“I doubt the castle will remain intact long enough for us to go even one week, let alone several.” Lotor snapped.
“Princess Allura, what do you think we should do?” Coran asked, and suddenly Allura found herself being stared at by both men. It made her nervous, and with that came feelings of uncertainty, Allura not knowing what to do.
“Is it really safer to remain here, than to flee?” Allura asked, looking urgently between both men. “Lotor, do you think they would extend their attacks to the rest of the planet, to find me?”
She could see he didn’t want to answer, but when he did, there was no hesitation in his voice. “They won’t stop once they take the castle and find it’s rulers gone. They’ll turn their attention to other places, to the cities and towns, and anywhere you could foreseeable hide. They’ll be brutal as they try to hunt you down.”
“And with that brutality will come the deaths of even more of my people.” Allura realized with a sad sigh. “If by staying here, I can spare my people that….”
“I promised I would get you to safety when trouble came!” Lotor argued.
“But I can’t put even more of my people at risk!” protested Allura, and Lotor seemed to twitch with annoyance.
“They’re in danger regardless of what you do!” He pointed at the section of view screen that showed a devastated town, there seeming to be no life left among the people and animals.
She flinched, speaking slowly and softly. “And this is what they did knowing where I am…..” Lotor made an angry sound, seeming to glower at her. “I think we should stay. Try to hold our position here in the castle.”
“If it’s what the princess wishes…” Coran began, and Allura nodded, trying to hide her uncertainty. Lotor began to scowl, and she reached out to touch him.
“It will just be for a few days. We can last that long…”
She was hurt when he shrugged off her touch, Lotor angry and glaring with real menace. “This is a foolish path you’d set us on! Allura, we are leaving.” He said it with such certainty, with such a finality that had her taken aback. She opened and closed her mouth, silent for a second, then frowned.
“What do you mean?” She asked. “Did you not hear me? I gave my command…”
“No, you, gave an uncertain thought towards what we should do. It makes little sense to stay and risk your death at the hands of the Drule.”
“It’s my right to take that risk!” Allura pointed out, and Lotor practically growled at her.
“You want to talk rights? Fine. I’m exercising my right as your mate to get you to safety. To take you out of a bad situation.” He stepped into her, hands reaching for her arms, and her jaw practically dropped open at his next words. “If I have to carry you, kicking and screaming all the way, then I will do it. But we are going to leave now.”
“We….we can’t!” Allura protested, trying to evade his grab. The people in the command center seemed uncertain as how to react, some of the technicians turning away from their consoles to watch in stunned dismay. “My people…”
“Will suffer regardless of what you do!” Lotor snapped back, succeeding in snagging hold of her right arm. He held her with a forceful grip, hauling her towards him so that he could secure her with both hands. Coran besides him began to anxiously wring his hands together, the man not sure what to do about this scene. “Allura, do you really think if you fall into the Drules’ hands, that the rest of the planet won’t suffer?”
“I….” He looked like he wanted to shake her, and she fell silent, just staring wide eyed at him.
“Once you are taken care of, the planet will be considered successfully conquered. The Drules won’t hesitate to run wild on it’s land, unleashing vicious cruelties to the people. It would be worse than death for some.”
She couldn’t help it, her eyes were starting to well up with tears, and his painful grip wasn’t helping her to keep from crying.
“Allura, you must escape…..you have to survive, because as long as you are free, the people still have a chance.” Lotor continued. “Yes, there will be deaths, and yes there will be suffering, but we can buy time for the Arusian fleet to send the reinforcements needed to take care of the Drule ground forces. The people will still have hope of freedom, so long as their ruler remains free.”
He was swaying her, bit by bit with his words, though she was still so uncertain. He looked frustrated that she didn’t readily agree, Lotor bending to touch foreheads with her. An earnest look was in his eyes, the prince speaking so softly she was sure his words carried to her ears alone. “I can’t bear the thought of something happening to you. Especially if I can prevent it…”
She remembered then something he had told her, words about how a male Drule would override a female’s decisions, if the woman was set on doing something that would put her in danger. She realized then she was fighting against Lotor’s instincts to protect her, and Allura didn’t think she could persuade him to do anything other than the course he saw as best for them.
“Coran…” Her voice came out soft, she had to clear her throat before she could speak louder. “Give the orders. We will be evacuating the castle.”
“Yes, princess…” Coran didn’t sound like he was happy with her decision, but he moved to relay it.
“Get Captain Darius on a line…” added Allura. “He needs to pick men that will guard us as we flee the castle.”
“Of course.” Coran nodded.
“It will take time…” Allura began, looking at a relieved Lotor. “I won’t leave anyone behind. You understand that?” He nodded, and she nearly wilted with her own relief. She hadn’t looked forward to remaining in the castle, waiting for the Drule to come in and take her life. Yes, she had been prepared to do it, and to do it with dignity, but the thought of living through this nightmare was a great relief.
“How are the castle’s shield holding up?” Lotor asked Coran, and it was technician who answered.
“We are at maximum output at 97 percent and holding.”
“I see.” Lotor was frowning, sounding displeased at the information relayed to him. “We’ll have to send out the army to engage the Drules. We need the time they will buy us to get everyone out of the castle.”
She frowned then, not liking the thought that the soldiers would most likely be going out to their deaths, all in order to buy her the time needed to escape safely. Lotor noticed her displeasure, and he reached up to smooth back her unruly curls. “It’s the only way.” He explained. “Their sacrifice will allow us to live and remain free all the longer.”
“It’s still so sad…” She whispered, feeling the first of her tears slip down her cheeks. “And frustrating!” He just tried to wipe away her tears, hugging her with one arm to him. She didn’t break down into sobbing, Allura trying to be strong, to be a pillar of strength for her people. The time to cry would come later, but for now she must be brave.
She glanced over at Romelle, who still looked so pale. Her eyes were fear stricken, and she had clasped her hands together as though praying. Sabbath hovered protectively besides her, the Drule watching her intently as though he feared she would collapse at any moment. “I’m sorry cousin.” Allura called out to Romelle. “This is not the kind of vacation I’d wish on anyone.”
Romelle blinked slowly, then cracked a weak smile that trembled at the corners of her mouth. “Are you kidding? It’s been nothing but non stop excitement since I arrived. A kidnapping, a rescue, and now an evacuation!”
Allura let out a twisted laugh, finding the humor in Romelle’s words. “We have to get the people ready for that last one.” Allura realized out loud. She went to step away from Lotor, but he held onto her, and she didn’t try to fight her way free of his embrace. “They need to know what’s going on. To prepare…things for our escape.”
“Let me do that.” Romelle offered. “I can oversee the preparations.” Her smile was stronger then. “It will be one less thing for you to worry about.”
Allura hesitated, but only long enough to realize her cousin wanted something to distract her from what was going on. If she kept busy, she wouldn’t have time to give in to the fears gnawing away at her, and Allura couldn’t begrudge her cousin that desire. “All right…Have them gather up as much supplies as they can carry. I’ll not have us starving and scrounging for food during our escape.”
“Just how we’ll we escape?” Sabbath asked with a frown on his face. “Those ships in the sky are shooting down any of ours we try to launch.”
“There are secret tunnels under the castle.” Allura explained. “They lead to caves at the bottom of the cliffside. We’ll be able to disappear into the woods, and travel that way while our enemies focus their attacks on the castle.”
“We’ll travel from village to village, trying to keep ahead of the Drule forces.” Added Romelle. “I just hope those reinforcements come sooner rather than later!”
“Indeed we all do.” agreed Lotor.
Romelle smiled one last time at Allura. “I better get to the supply room and see about keeping order down there.”
“All right…” Allura began to say, just as a tremor shook the castle’s floor. She and her cousin went wide eyed, Sabbath putting out a hand to steady Romelle. Her cousin did not jerk away from the unexpected touch, merely looking dismayed at the way the castle shook.
“What was that?” Romelle asked, and Allura could only shrug.
“They’ve begun bombarding the castle shields!” exclaimed a technician.
“That means we have to move fast.” Lotor said, and everyone was nodding. Romelle turned to leave, and Sabbath stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“I’m coming with you.” His tone was such that it implied he would allow no arguments, and Romelle turned to look at him. Allura expected to see defiance in her cousin’s eyes, but instead she gave the Drule a considering look. Her glance took in the whole of him, from his impressive muscled frame, to the determined look in his eyes. Allura wondered what Romelle thought in that moment, if she realized how handy it would be to have a Drule that was so devoted to her protection.
Whatever the case, Romelle gave a slight nod of her head, surprising everyone with her agreement. “Fine.” She said out loud. “But let us hurry.” Sabbath nodded, face serious as he followed close behind the princess. Allura turned to look at Lotor, who looked just as astonished as she felt.
“Trying times make for strange bedfellows.” Was what he said to her, and she nearly laughed at that.
“I guess it does.” She said, and felt the castle shake again. They hurried back to Coran’s side, seeing the advisor huddled over a computer console.
“The shields are still holding…” Coran grimaced. “But just barely. Whatever they’re using for bombs, it’s strong. And we can’t risk lowering the shields to let our castle’s tower mounted defense systems fire back.”
“The shields just have to hold for a few more hours.” Allura told him. “They’re still at 97 percent.”
“And if they fall too low, can you not divert power from other parts of the castle?” Lotor asked, and Coran nodded.
“The climate control and lights will be the first to go.”
Allura stared at the monitors, having realized the first of the Drule tanks were already on the castle’s property. They were beginning the ascent up the hill that led to the castle, their treads grinding up the dirt and grass in thick clumps. The castle had just began to send out it’s own men, their tanks looking far smaller in comparison to the skulled monstrosities the Drules drove.
On each side, behind the tanks were soldiers marching on foot. They all carried numerous weaponry, and were firing shots off into the opposing sides. Save for the tanks, there was little to no cover on the hill. The soldiers were falling under the assault of lasers, and it seemed for each Drule that was shot down, two more rose to take his place.
Allura shivered as she watched the brutal way lives were cut down, bodies littering the grass, stepped over or in some cases stepped on as the soldiers moved forward with their goals. The ships in the sky continued to drop bombs and missiles, causing the castle’s shield to flicker at times. Those flickers worried her, for she knew it meant the shielding was weakening.
She was too consumed with watching the battles, to pay mind when Captain Darius entered the room. He immediately walked over to Lotor and Coran, and began holding a hushed conversation. Words drifted over to her, Allura picking up stray sentences, the men discussing the best course of action in fleeing the castle. She couldn’t concentrate on that, not when a large Drule ship began accelerating it’s speed.
Allura barely had time to react, giving out one word of warning before the ship rammed into the side of the castle, the shielding flickering like crazy against the assault of the large behemoth sized vessel.