Other screams joined hers, the women screaming themselves hoarse in horror. The whip’s end found it’s mark, the raggedy cloth gag tied around Jacquelyn’s head, snapping off. The screams continued, the shock not yet settling in to silence them. Allura herself cried out in broken relief, sagging in place. She would have dropped right to the floor, if not for the strong grip of the pirate Cossack’s arms.
The cloth gag seemed to flutter, floating almost serenely to the floor. Allura’s eyes tracked it’s movements, watching it settle before risking a glance at Jacquelyn’s face. Her legs already boneless, tried to collapse once again, Allura wilting in relief to see no marks, no blood, no new bruises on the red haired woman’s face. Somehow, the whip had avoided touching her, cleanly snapping the gag free. It was amazing, and yet terrifying, Allura hardly calmed by the sound of Jacquelyn’s furious cursing.
As fiery as her hair color, Jacquelyn did not allow her fright to silence her tongue. She spewed venom and threats, insulting all the men in the room, her chains rattling with her struggles. But her skin had paled, her eyes were too wide, showing it was false the bravado she displayed.
Patreesia, with the dyed blonde hair was crying softly, an occasional loud hiccup escaping her. Poor Marie looked closed to fainting, an ugly bruise already forming on her cheek from where the pirate captain had slapped her. Allura could still hear someone screaming, and with a start, realized it was her voice that she heard.
It was easier said then done, to gain control of herself. To stop the screaming, to stand upright with firm legs. But she steeled herself together, reluctantly aided by the pirate Cossack’s grip, trusting him to not let her collapse anytime soon. And as she built herself up to be strong, to be bold, to not break or falter, she met the waiting captain’s gaze. He seemed to nod in approval, as if liking how quickly Allura had pulled herself together. It only made her glare harder at him, Allura wishing for the power to do more than that. To hurt him, to control him, to make him pay for his sins.
Lotor still held the whip in one hand, the other fingering it’s leather coils. Allura didn’t allow so much as a shudder to go through her, though privately she was terrified. More frightened than awed by his skill, by the realization that he was so expert at this, that he could control the whip down to the finest of movements. It was no accident that only the gag had been whipped off, the captain’s precision and finesse such that he hadn’t even come close to breaking her friend’s skin. He had been showing off, showing them all just what he was capable of, and Allura had no doubt his next snap of the whip, would do much more than rip off some piece of flimsy cloth.
“I was right about you.” Allura was amazed her voice didn’t break, that it didn’t hold any of her fright in it’s tone. “You are nothing more than a bully.”
“Oh I am plenty of things.” Lotor said, holding a hand up to stave off angry comments from his pirates. “Determined and curious most of all.”
“I don’t see why.” Allura sniffed. “It’s not as if we matter. And it’s not as if you won’t make enough money off selling us into slavery. And not just us. You have a whole dungeon’s worth of people in your ship’s hold. You’ll make a small fortune just from the sale of them alone, never mind what you’ll get from the ransoms of the others.”
“She’s got a point…” muttered the pirate that stood behind her.
“I did not ask for your opinion, Cossack.” Lotor retorted. “And it’s true…” He smiled then. “We will make quite the fortune from this latest haul. But it’s not enough.”
“So you are greedy in addition to being needlessly cruel?” Allura demanded.
“I have aspirations that require money to fund them. ”
“I can understand needing money, but not this much.” Allura shook her head no. “Nor can I imagine you living long enough to SPEND it all.”
“My pirates don’t work for free.” Was Lotor’s answer. “But I didn’t gather you here to discuss what I intend to do with the money…”
She tried not to, but Allura was sure her skin had paled once again. The pirate captain grinned, but made no move towards her. Instead he looked towards Jacquelyn, raising his whip wielding hand once more.
“Wait!” Allura cried out, her mind frantic to come up with something, anything to get him to stop. But she couldn’t tell him the truth, couldn’t give him her true identity. Arus would suffer in the place of the three women here, and Allura understood it was an unacceptable trade. She couldn’t sacrifice her planet and people, for only three people. Even if the three were close to her, friends as well as attendants.
She was facing one of those unappealing choices, one of those ruthless decisions she had to make as heir to Arus’ throne. Her stomach rolled with the knowledge, cramping in response to the idea that she would not only have to watch her friends be hurt, but have to stand by and allow it by remaining quiet.
The pirate captain had turned towards her, an eyebrow raised as he waited for Allura to say something. She felt very much like screaming, the room spinning, the very walls seeming to close in on her. Allura was sure she was about to faint, and struggled to retain her sanity and awareness. It must have shown on her face, an unexpected sympathy being expressed by the pirate.
“Poor pet…” Lotor was in front of her, caressing her cheek with his hand as Jacquelyn continued to snarl out insults. “This strain is really too much for you. Come…unburden yourself. Tell me what I require, and then you can go back to my cabin and rest.”
The thought of resting was lovely, Allura wanting to just close her eyes and sleep. But she couldn’t in good conscience do even that. Feeling sick, but determined, Allura raised her chin, looking the pirate square in the eye.
“If you’re going to torture anyone, it should be ME.”
Immediate gasps sounded from the other women, some of the pirates laughing at her sacrifice. The pirate Cossack who held her, tightened his grip on her arms, but Allura didn’t try to struggle. The captain Lotor stared at her, his eyes judging, taking the measure of her words and deeming her serious.
“An intriguing offer. And one I might yet take you up on.” He was back to touching her face, stroking fingers over her lips. His gold colored eyes seemed to gleam, a predatory excitement to them as though he liked the idea of torture.
“Don’t.” whispered Patreesia in between sobs. Marie and Jacquelyn echoed that word, almost begging Allura to reconsider. It only made the pirates more curious, their captain determined to figure out just what was going on.
“I must say, whatever is going on, it must be big.” Lotor was practically purring now. “Something that is so important, so valuable to you, that you all would rather be abused than give up your secret.”
“Makes me want to know about it all the more.” One of the pirates laughed.
“But what could that something be…” Lotor continued to muse out loud. “And how far must I go, before you break and tell me.”
“They’re no good to us dead.” Cossack said, his reproachful reminder making Allura shiver.
“I don’t intend to kill anyone.” Lotor insisted in response. His gaze remained on Allura, curious and intent, waiting for her to react.
“You are wasting your time…”
“We’re nobody of any importance.” added Marie.
“Maybe you’re not.” Lotor retorted, gripping Allura’s chin. “But this one? I have a hunch about her. And my hunches are seldom wrong.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” One of the pirates said.
“What…what does your hunch say about me?” Allura asked. She watched him smile, the pirate captain leaning in close so that his lips almost touched hers.
“Ah my pretty pet….you’re special. But how special remains to be seen.” Thankfully he didn’t actually kiss her, Allura knowing she wouldn’t have been able to tolerate such a thing at this time. “You’re obviously a woman of breeding. Someone rich enough to not have known work. But what are you….? Hmmm?”
“A duchess? A lady of some court? Some viscount’s daughter?” Lotor was watching her, studying her face for a betrayal. “I know…” his eyes had lit up, his smile wicked. “A princess.”
Allura fought her reactions, wanting to flinch at the word princess. She managed to keep still, her eyes staying narrowed in a glare when they wanted to widen in shock. “Don’t be absurd.” She managed to say, a breathy little, unconcerned laugh leaving her. “I am hardly princess material.”
“Yes, a princess.” Lotor spoke as though Allura had said nothing.
“But what would a princess be doing out here, traveling on such a pitiful ship?” Wondered Cossack out loud.
“Exactly.” Allura quickly said. “The very notion is absurd.”
“Absurd but not entirely unheard of.” countered Lotor. He continued to grip her chin, preventing her from turning away from his piercing gaze. “I can think of several reasons, and they all add up to profit for me.”
“Profit?” Allura didn’t have to fake her displeasure, downright sneering at him. “Is that all you think of?”
“No, not all.” Lotor retorted, his smile wicked as he looked her over. Allura was thankful she didn’t break out into a blush, though her skin did grow warmer in angry response. “But you’ll find how devoted I can be, when in the pursuit of it. So…” A brush of his thumb over her bottom lip, his grip on her chin relaxing. “Tell me, my pet…what were you escaping? An unwanted political marriage perhaps? Or an uprising that would leave the ruling class of your world in exile and dead? What duty were you trying to abandon by fleeing?”
She felt a cold rage flow through her, Allura indignant and sneering. “I would NEVER, ever abandon my duty.” She was hissing, almost unable to stop the words from coming out. “Not to my world, nor to my…” She abruptly snapped her lips shut, Allura stifling the word people from coming out. But it was too late, the pirate captain smiling in victory.
“Your honor and loyalty betray you, my lady.” Lotor laughed. “As does your sense of duty.”
If looks could cause a man to drop down dead, this pirate would have collapsed on the spot by the hostility of Allura’s glare.
“Duty bound to your world, what great urgency could have caused you to leave it? And in such a manner?”
“I keep telling you, I am no one of any importance.” The words came out cold, no betraying waver to her voice.
“You may tell me that a thousand times, and I still would not believe you.” Lotor retorted.
“Be reasonable.” Allura let out a humorless snort. “I know it is much to ask, for one such as you…”
“One such as me?”
“Spoiled bully that you are.” Allura continued. “But THINK about this. If I truly mattered…would I not have had a larger group traveling with me? Soldiers, and personal guards, in addition to servants and an advisor?”
“Perhaps.” He acknowledged. “But perhaps those others were killed during the chaos of the raid.”
She was frustrated, though Allura hid it well. “Bloodthirsty beast!” He didn’t even try to deny it, Lotor simply smiling at her. “Why would I travel without papers of some kind? Surely we wouldn’t be so stupid as to go out without something, even if it was a false identity in which we could hide behind.”
The slightest chink in his armor, the pirate captain allowing a light of uncertainty in his eyes. Allura would continue to play on it, to feed his uncertainty to the point he accepted her words as truth.
“If I could…if I HAD a false name, I would give it to you, just to be done with this nonsense. But I am no one. My family is poor, hardly capable of paying any such ransom you would demand. I don’t wish to burden them with the grief of knowing I am in the hands of pirates, and about to be sold into slavery. None of us do.”
The other three women began echoing their agreements, the pirates frowning in response. That included their captain, Lotor giving Allura a hard look. She didn’t so much as fidget under his scrutiny, Allura staring back, steeled eyed and sincere.
“I suppose there is some…merit in considering this angle you present.” Lotor finally allowed. She couldn’t so much as sigh in relief, just watching him, waiting. “After all, what royal would be STUPID enough to travel with out some sort of papers, some sort of identification, even a false one?”
She had just barely kept from flinching at the word stupid, Allura knowing they really had been that to leave Arus without false identities in place. But there had been next to no time, the situation on Arus that urgent, the risk of discovery too great. They had all but left like thieves, sneaking off the planet with little besides the clothes on their backs and some spares.
“What royal indeed.” Allura said softly, as if she didn’t care either way. But she didn’t relax, unable to tell if the pirate was truly believing her, or about to crush her in a brutal dismissal of what she claimed.
“Fine…you and your…friends, are spared the whip for now.”
Allura couldn’t stop the shiver that went through her at that.
“But I want your name.” Lotor continued. “You can at least tell me that much.” She hesitated, and the pirate nearly rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Come now. What harm do you think a name will do? The universe is too vast, the worlds too many, for me to be able to match a face to a planet just on a name alone.”
It made sense to Allura, the woman slowly nodding her head in acceptance. But it wasn’t her name she would give him, nor would it be that of her mother’s. In fact she wouldn’t give him a name of anyone in her family, fearing it would somehow lead him to the truth of who she really was, and where she came from.
“I…my name is…” One more hesitation, Allura sighing with her whole body. “Alicia.”
“Alicia.” His hand was touching her cheek, a light, airy caress as he smiled at her. He seemed far too pleased with the name, a fact that instantly set Allura on alert. “Take her back to my cabin.”
“Right.” Cossack changed his grip, going from holding her in a tight embrace, to merely holding onto one of her arms.
“And someone wake up Ryder.” Lotor continued, already heading towards the room’s sole exit. “I have a job for him.”
“Wait, what about my friends?!” Allura cried out, trying to jerk free of Cossack’s hand.
“Someone will get around to cutting them down eventually.” His words left her sputtering, angry protests and half formed pleas following his retreating back. By the time the pirate Cossack began dragging her out of the room, Allura’s vision was colored red, the woman angry but also wondering if she hadn’t just somehow made a big mistake where the pirates were concerned.