The sound of explosions and the volley of laser fire being exchanged was all around him, as was the roar of overhead engines, and the cries soldiers let out as they died. Lotor prowled the space outside of his tent, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword as he stared out past his army, and the remains of Zarkon’s soldiers. Castle Doom was within reach, the rocky plains that surrounded it in all directions covered with soldiers. Lotor felt pleasure to see the black clad Drules were vastly overwhelmed by his own men, the gray and navy blue uniforms everywhere.
And still the army did not surrender, Zarkon content to fight until every last Drule under his command was dead. It surely was terrible to be under the command of such a merciless ruler, the King clinging desperately to his throne. Lotor snorted at that last thought, knowing Zarkon could hold onto his throne and crown for only a little while longer, the prince would soon be there to pry the empire from his father’s dead fingers.
Overhead, ships filled the sky, predominately star cutters that flew about, lobbing lasers at the castle’s shielding. A mix of humans and Drules piloted those vessels, the humans missing out on the chance to do hand to hand combat with the superior in strength Drules. Lotor had done his best to keep them out of the fight on the ground, knowing the humans would most likely be slaughtered by Zarkon’s men.
The humans though, excelled at flying ships, displaying astonishing skill at flight maneuvers and battle tactics. Under their aggressive assault, the castle’s shielding was flickering, and it wouldn’t be long before that barrier fell. Lotor wondered if his impatience could last the remainder of an hour, the prince growling as he stalked a circle around the lavish tent that was his headquarters on the field.
It was twenty-one days since they had landed on this planet, twenty-one days of living in the trenches, trekking across the inhospitable terrain of Doom. They came at the castle from all sides, intent on surrounding it so no avenue of escape was afforded to Zarkon and his men. The soldiers of the King had come with their weapons blazing, quick in their attempts to shoot down any moving thing.
Such had been the size of Zarkon’s army, that Lotor’s forces had been unable to get any closer to the castle than a good fifteen miles. Each mile was hard won, Lotor’s soldiers forcing Zarkon’s army to do a slow retreat back towards the castle. That slowness infuriated him, Lotor growling at every delay that kept him from his prize, and the chance to reunite with his mate.
A cheer went up through the soldiers nearest to him, Lotor whipping around to stare at the castle. The shield had weakened noticeably, giving one last flicker before it shorted out completely. The laser assault of the star cutters now openly shot up the castle’s walls, glass windows shattering under the beams’ pressure, stone chipping off in large fragments. One of the highest turrets of the castle towers was being targeted, a guard who had been manning a window mounted cannon, falling to his death.
“It’s time!” Lotor roared out loud, pulling on his silver colored helmet. His words brought on new cheering, and several soldiers raised their swords, saluting him with their blades. Lotor didn’t stop to acknowledge them, already rushing to the nearest skull tank, and spying General Pardust hurrying towards him.
“Don’t try to stop me!” He warned the general with a growl, hands already gripping the high ledge of the skull tank. He began to heave himself up towards the roof of the vehicle, waiting for Pardust’s protests.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Pardust said. “Just…just be safe, and allow the bomb detection squad to do their job before you rush in blindly.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t stumble into a trap of my father’s.” Lotor told him, now on the roof of the skull tank. “I will not let him keep Doom through a default win.” He walked towards the vehicle’s hatch, and as he moved he could see other soldiers climbing onto their skull tanks, faces looking excited. They were all eager for this war to be over with, the men and women sick of fighting, sick of killing and seeing their comrades killed. They too realize that with the collapse of the castle’s shielding, this war was as good as won, and they were eager to reap the benefits.
Lotor squeezed through the tank’s hatch, finding the insides cramped, and crowded with machines. There was only two other soldiers inside the tank with him, one a petite sized female who sat in the driver’s seat, her hands busy working the console. The other was a man who was brawny even for a Drule, and he let out a deep grunt of acknowledgment at the sight of his prince.
“Move out now.” He told the female soldier, her head nodding, hands already triggering the vehicle’s movement. Lotor shut the hatch of the tank, and leaned against a wall, feeling how the rocky and uneven land jarred the vehicle, making the ride bumpy and with a lot of shaking going on.
He stared out the windows, watching as his soldiers fought with their swords or their fists, and in one case a huge stone axe. The fighting was brutal, dirty and underhanded, the Drules not against using tricks to gain an advantage. Dirt was thrown in their opponents’ eyes, blinding them for the killing blow. Neither side was trying to take any prisoners, fighting to kill rather than waste time and resources on disabling their enemies.
The skull tanks drove forward, Lotor’s army quick to get out of the way. Most of Zarkon’s men were smart enough to give a wide berth to the tanks, not wanting to be crushed under their wheels. It left an almost clear path to the castle, soldiers diving out of the way, forgetting the fight for the moment in a bid to remain safe and whole.
The skull tanks didn’t just rely on their armored hides to get them through the battle field, many had cannons mounted on the right side, shooting off large disrupting beams that would disintegrate anything it touched. More and more of Lotor’s men were standing back, content to let the skull tanks pick off the remainders of Zarkon’s army.
In fact, some of the soldiers were already celebrating Lotor’s win, slapping each other on the back, and looking around for something to drink. Lotor could understand their mood, the prince finding it impossible not to be smug and be certain about what he perceived as his victory.
At last the skull tanks rolled to a stop, that black tarmac being ground up underneath their wheels as they parked on what was the front lawn of Castle Doom. Lotor moved to pop the hatch, but the large Drule soldier stopped him, the man insisting on going out first. Lotor fought back his annoyance to nod, watching the Drule climb up out of the skull tank.
A grunt followed, the soldier speaking a gruff word that signaled it was okay for the prince to emerge. Lotor quickly climbed out of the tank, and drew his sword as he scouted the terrain. There was about eight other skull tanks parked around his, each one capable of holding at most four soldiers. They all looked to Lotor for guidance, and he gestured for them to follow him.
He began the march up the stairs to the castle’s front door, wondering what kind of chaos he would find inside. The bomb detection squad was already at the doors, computer tech devices in hand, a woman studying the readings intently.
“What’s the word?” Lotor demanded, and she did not startle at his voice.
“I’m detecting a large amount of explosives located just under the throne room.” Her findings earned a snort from Lotor, the prince not needing to feign his disgust.
“Really father, bombs?! I always knew you were a sore loser, but to deprive the kingdom of your replacement…”
“How much longer will it take to disable the explosives?” asked the female who had driven him over to the castle.
“We’ll have to get inside, access the explosives directly in order to defuse them.” Explained the bomb expert.
“Then do it.” Lotor ordered, receiving nods in return.
“The doors have been barricaded from inside!” exclaimed one of the men, looking annoyed at his findings. “We’ll have to use a contained blast to force them open.” He looked at Lotor, who nodded, the man giving a signal that had another Drule opening a large case. A square object that looked no bigger than a view screen’s remote was brought out, the Drule slapping it into place on the door with adhesive.
He began fiddling with the buttons, setting a time limit for it’s charge. “We’ve got five minutes to clear out to a safer spot.” He announced, and the members of the bomb detection squad was already hurrying away. Lotor turned, and ran down the stairs, hearing the other soldiers following him, the Drules all moving at top speed. They ended up hiding behind their tanks, waiting with their hands over their ears to block out the all too loud sound of the explosion.
“Done!” cried out a Drule when their ears had stopped ringing from the noise of the bomb. Lotor gave out a signal with his hand, surging forward with his sword out in the open. The bomb detection squad was the first to go up the stairs, entering the castle. Lotor had to force himself to stop, looking impatiently at his subordinates.
“Is there anyone else in the castle?” He demanded, and someone checked the readings they had gotten earlier.
“We have several heat signatures in addition to that of the bomb detection squad.” A man was saying. “They’ve been moving about in an odd pattern, as though running from room to room panicked.”
“Could it be the nobles?” Another Drule wondered, and Lotor shrugged.
“It could be, though I doubt it. If they’re smart, they would have left the castle before the fighting began on the surface of the planet. Those heat signatures are probably my father’s servants and slaves….”
“Servants and slaves? Heh….not much a challenge then.” A woman said, expression disdainful.
“Normally no, but if Zarkon were to give them weapons, even an untrained shot might prove deadly if landed.” Lotor replied with a sigh. “Can we get energy readings to see if the people inside are armed?”
“Already on it.” The Drule busied himself with his computer device, brow furrowed as he looked over the data. “It’s about half and half….some are equipped, some are not.”
“Could it be soldiers in there, in addition to the others?” wondered another Drule.
“Can we lock on to an individual’s whereabouts?” Lotor asked.
“I can try, though if they have a jamming device intact, it will skew the readings even further.” Explained the Drule with the computer device.
“Try it anyway.” Lotor ordered, then gave another command. “And someone establish contact with the bomb detection squad. I want up to the minute reports on the status of their attempts to disarm my father’s explosives.”
“Yes, sire!” The previously disdainful female soldier got out her communicator, and began a hurried conversation with another Drule. Lotor and the other soldiers grew quiet, listening to the exchange, learning that it was indeed pandemonium inside the castle.
“There are slaves everywhere!” The voice was saying, excited to the point of nervousness. “It’s like they’ve all been turned loose, and they are frantic to get out of the castle. Can’t say I blame them, with the amount of explosives we’re reading on our detection units.”
“How close are you to the explosives?” Lotor asked, and a conversation erupted in the background.
“Still several rooms away. It seems the closer we get, the more computer security we have to bypass to get the doors open.” Someone swore at that, and Lotor’s eyes widened.
“It’s a trap!” he shouted, snatching the communicator from the female’s hand. “Those doors must be linked to the bombs, the closer you get, the closer you are to triggering their count down.”
“What do you want us to do?” asked the bomb expert.
“Leave!” Lotor decided. “The castle’s not worth losing your lives over. We’ll find a different way to defuse those bombs…”
“I don’t think we can…” Came the answer. “They’re the type that need a manual override, not one done from a distance.” Suddenly sharp gasps, and cursing was heard, Lotor growling.
“What’s going on?!”
“The doors just sealed themselves behind us!”
“We’re locked in!” A voice in the background cried, sounding panicked.
“Sorry your highness, it looks like we don’t have any choice but to move on. We’ll either defuse those bombs, or die trying.”
Grim faced, Lotor nodded then realized there was no way they could have seen that movement of his. “Good luck.” He told them, and the communicator clicked off with a hiss. He turned to look his small group of soldiers in the eyes, seeing how solemn they all looked in the moment. “We’ll return to the tanks.” He was saying, his words earning nods. “We need to put some distance between us and the castle…just in case our group on the inside fails in their mission.”
“Yes, sire.” Came the agreement, and the soldiers began to hurry back down the stairs. Lotor paused to stare inside the castle, and a shiver went through him. Once the explosives had been noticed, he had known without a doubt that his father was no longer inside the castle. He might not even be on Doom, and Lotor wondered how far Zarkon would run to evade him.
He shook his head, growling, and ran down the stair case. The skull tanks’ engines were already roaring to life, waiting for Lotor to climb aboard one of them. He did so, but his thoughts were distracted, Lotor wondering just when and where Zarkon would be found. Even if the King wasn’t located, Lotor could still take the throne, could still rule. There would be little opposition with his father in exile, his military supporters dead.
But he was worried, wondering if his father would someday rear his ugly head. Lotor would have to be quick, to empty out his father’s bank accounts, and freeze all his assets. Zarkon could not be allowed to retain the money he had, money he could use to wage another war. If he couldn’t find him, Lotor would cripple Zarkon financially, shut him off from all holdings and the support system he had going with the nobles.
The nobles who had helped Zarkon would be imprisoned, they simply couldn’t be trusted to roam free. And even with all these measures taken against his father, Lotor was considering sending out assassins to track Zarkon down. A sizable bounty, funded by Zarkon’s own money, would be the incentive for others to betray his father.
There was other concerns to be had, things that had to do with the ruling of Doom. They’d have to establish a new way of life, one that would coincide with their new peaceful ideal. Lotor no longer had the desire or time to bother with conquering other worlds, he would be busy ruling over the worlds already firmly entrenched as part of the Doom Empire. He felt it was more than enough, his people spread out through the galaxy, relaying on other worlds’ for the goods and services they needed to go on living.
His marriage to Allura tied Doom and Arus together, and she would help him to improve the galaxy’s overall image of the Drules. With time and effort they might not be seen as the ruthless, bloodthirsty savages their conquering ways had painted them. They might even one day give up the idea of keeping slaves, though he had a feeling that would not be accomplished in his lifetime. But perhaps his children with Allura would be the ones to succeed in abolishing the slave system, the Drules learning to care for their everyday tasks on their own. Or at the very least, pay someone a fair wage to serve them! The Drules would grumble at the thought, far too reliant on the free labor they had enjoyed these past few decades.
The skull tanks continued to drive back towards the camp, the fighting around them having trickled almost to a stop. There was only a few of Zarkon’s men still alive, and they were surrounded by Lotor’s people. The Drules were making sport out of the survivors, cruel and merciless as they taunted them, giving them the illusion that they might escape with their lives.
Lotor was considering putting an end to their games, when the castle suddenly exploded, debris flying through the sky. It rained down a shower of plaster on the tarmac, large uneven rocks rolling once they hit the ground. The tank he was riding in, drew to a halt, and the hatch was opened so Lotor could climb out and stare at the ruined remains of the castle.
He felt mixed feelings looking at the destroyed building, knowing it had been his home for almost his entire life. He had both good and bad memories here, and at one point he had hoped to make this his home with Allura. He knew now that would never have worked, she would have withered away if exposed to the harsh terrain, and sunless atmosphere of Doom. But more than that, he found he liked Arus a whole lot more than he had ever liked his home world. Arus suited him, it was a place of peace and joy, a lush paradise with Allura at the center of it.
No, he would not miss the castle after all, Lotor having determined long before this to make his seat of power on Arus. He’d rule over the Doom Empire from the castle of lions, trusted men and women appointed to over see things on each world. He was already thinking on just which of his allies would be best suited for such positions, Lotor knowing that before he could leave for Arus, he would have to establish a new council here on Doom.
“Did anyone survive?” It was a foolish question, Lotor not deigning to dignify the driver with an answer. An explosion like that, one who so thoroughly destroyed a building as massive as Castle Doom, would allow no room for survivors. He only felt regret that the members of his bomb detection squad had perished in the attempt to defuse Zarkon’s final trap. Those men and women would be honored as brave souls who had died doing their duty.
His communicator beeped, Lotor reaching for it. The instant he pressed down on it’s buttons, General Pardust’s worried voice could be heard. “Your highness, are you all right?!”
“I’m fine General.” Lotor answered, still staring at the smoking ruins of the castle. “We were well away from the castle when the explosions went off.”
“Thank the Gods!” exclaimed Pardust, his voice conveying his immense relief. “What about the King? Does he still live?”
“The FORMER King seems to have vacated the premises long before we even thought to set foot on the castle’s ground. He’s out there, somewhere, waiting for his chance. A chance we won’t give him.”
“Yes, sire.” Agreed Pardust, and now Lotor smirked.
“Gather up your best computer crew. I want every available man and woman working to access Zarkon’s accounts. They’ll not leave a penny to his name. In the mean time, I want you to send out some men to scout the area. See if they can’t pick up his trail.” It was a long shot, but Lotor was hoping there would be some kind of clue to lead them to Zarkon.
“Yes, Pr—King Lotor…” Pardust was quick to correct himself, bestowing on Lotor the title so many had fought and died over. “I’ll have the men get on it right away.”
“You do that.” Lotor retorted, already thinking of Zarkon’s fortune, and the way it could be used against him. “Let the soldiers know they can take a break. But don’t have them get too involved in celebrating. I don’t want anyone too drunk to function should Zarkon launch one final, surprise attack.”
“Understood. Pardust out.” Except for a crackle of noise, the communicator went silent, leaving Lotor to his thoughts. He was quiet so long, the two Drules inside his tank grew restless, one speaking up at long last.
“Sire? What are your orders?”
“Return to camp.” He replied after a thoughtful pause. “I suspect we could all use a good stiff drink after today’s close calls.” He knew what he really needed, Lotor longing to see Allura’s beautiful face once more. He would take special pleasure in telling her the war was over, and revel in her joy that he was safe, and coming home. Those last words had him close his eyes, Lotor breathing in the smoke of the wreckage. Home! How he relished the very thought of it, and the welcome that would be waiting for him when he got to Arus.
He didn’t care about the parades and the medals, the people’s cheers and adulation. He just wanted his mate, and to enjoy a private celebration with her. He’d be counting down the minutes, no the very seconds until he was reunited with his beloved once more.