The green forests of Arus lay spread out before her, emerald canopies stretching as far as the eye could see. In the far distance, she could just make out the tops of mountains, snow capped rock in which the setting sun began to sink behind. The sunsets here on Arus were beautiful, the red hues the most predominate of all the colors, casting an orange glow on the trees below.
Arus was a marvel, beautiful in a way Doom had not been. It was so much untouched land, a veritable virgin world, practically pristine save for the blight of humans and their spread out territories. Fortunately for the Drule, the humans had not yet populated out of control, leaving much distance between their cities and villages. Merla hated to think what kind of damage the humans would have done to Arus if there had been more of them, the woman shuddering as she remembered how ruined Doom had been in those final days.
The land had been cold, inhospitable, winds constantly howling. The sky had been darkened from pollutants, the clouds and their acidic rains ash gray. There had just been rock and clay, and the remnants of once great cities. The cities on Arus couldn’t compare to the ones on Doom, even the capital Altea was small and pitiful looking when compared to the technological marvels of the Drules.
Everything about the humans seemed so worthless and insignificant, their only value being the world they lived on. A world that was too good for the likes of them, Merla thinking they didn’t even know enough to appreciate this treasure they had been given. Of course they couldn’t be allowed to keep it, that honor belong to a more superior race of beings, a race like the Drule who would be most appreciative and devoted to Arus’ care.
She didn’t quite smile as she stood before the windows of her cabin’s bedroom, Merla casting a covetous look on the surface of the planet. She was already taking steps to ensure the humans would not hold dominion over this world for much longer, the Drules would soon be the ones in command, and the humans numbers would dwindle until they were all but extinct.
Truth be known Merla would have liked to have gotten rid of all the humans, especially now that she had seen how they reacted to one half of her people. As enjoyable as it was to have the humans fawn over her, she knew that kind of behavior wouldn’t last. They would grow to resent their Drule superiors, hate them for taking over the planet. Every last bit of servitude would be forced on their part, and the humans would eventually turn on them in an attempt to overthrow their rulers.
Not that she thought the humans capable of overpowering the Drules. She outright laughed at the thought of that, knowing the humans didn’t stand a chance against the Drules even if they were limited in the weapons they could use. Of course it would be simpler if they could just detonate a few nuclear missiles in the midst of the human’s cities, but such tactics were extreme, and frowned upon for their land devastating effects.
No, it would take time and careful planning, strict manipulation of the humans’ fears and emotions before this part of her plan could bear fruit. She’d have to put on the performance of her life, though in truth she thought most of the humans stupid and feeble minded, easy to lie too. Especially when they were dazzled by the so called miracles the Drules were capable og, Merla letting out soft laughter as she thought of the stunned look of wonderment the humans of Altea had worn around her and her fellow Drules.
It should be easy to manipulate the humans, even if some proved as crafty of mind as King Alfor was. She had certainly been nervous about talking to him about the disappearance of his daughter. Alfor was the type of man who seemed able to see through her lies, and she was well aware he had never considered her people Gods, nor given them the respect she felt the Drule were due. Merla didn’t know how Lotor had tolerated such blatant disrespect, her fiancee going out of his way to cater to Alfor, all in the hopes of being awarded some paltry bit of land.
She couldn’t believe how weak minded Lotor was to even agree to consider some of the stipulations Alfor sought to force on the Drule, their people would never have approved. Better to take what they wanted, what they needed, then give up their very soul to the humans. Nor did she think to try and force an understanding on these vermin, they simply would have to accept that their Drule betters were here, ready to claim the planet for their own use, humans be damned.
With one last fond look at the forest below her, she turned from the window, Merla striding over to a round table that was bolted down to the floor. There was a half filled jug on it’s top, it’s liquid sloshing in reaction to the movement of the ship. She poured herself a drink, and savored the taste of fresh water, so different from that recycled dreck they had been forced to drink these last two years.
She knew the humans couldn’t possible appreciate how good they had it, but her people did, eagerly consuming the food and liquids of Arus. It had been one thing Lotor had been able to give them all, bringing on board the ships the products to be distributed to all his people, regardless of their race. He had failed to realize it just made those who had been barred from leaving the ships more angry and anxious, the people rebelling at the thought of remaining onboard while Lotor enjoyed direct contact with the worshipping humans.
His attempts at placating the Drules had all backfired, and she was surprised he hadn’t realized sooner when the infighting broke out. It hadn’t been difficult for Merla and Yurak to stage the riots that divided Lotor’s inner circle, Kratos and the others busy trying to keep the fights from growing any worse. In those early days, the lizard like Drules had been jealous of their more human in appearance brethren, hating that they were enjoying a warm welcome from the Arusians. When Merla and Yurak realized how violatile tensions were, they were quick to capitalize on it, hiring men to incite arguments between the two groups.
Even now tensions were still high, fighting happening on all ships but the Ravager. Merla herself was supposedly keeping the fighting from getting out of control, though in truth she hadn’t had to lift a finger. Yurak and Mogor kept a tight rein on the Drules on this ship, nearly all the men and women aboard it allies of theirs, or staunch worth supporters of Merla.
Of course she had a few supporters spread out on the other four ships, she wasn’t fool enough to leave herself isolated on just the ravager. These men and women would work to further isolate Lotor’s inner circle, keep them so busy and confused they never learned of Lotor’s awol status. And by the time they did notice anything, she would at last be Queen, Lotor her husband for however short a time it took to make her a widow.
She often thought how best to kill him, Merla thinking she wanted to watch him suffer. Perhaps poison was the way to go, some drug that would steal all his senses, and leave him helpless, and unable to tell anyone what she was doing to him. She’d take great pleasure on watching that pillar of strength be crippled, Merla harboring years of animosity for Lotor’s continual ignoring of her. He had never made her feel like a woman desired, had never treated her as more than one last duty given to him by their parents. And frankly, she was beyond incensed that he had put off marrying her for so long!
She was frowning down at her half empty cup when a knock sounded on her door. She didn’t turn towards it, not until it opened without her permission. She whirled around then to glare, Merla all but snarling as Yurak walked into her private chambers. “You have no right to enter here as you please! No right at all!”
“You’re not yet Queen, Merla.” He retorted, walking towards her. “And until you are, some allowances can be made.”
“Queen I may not be, but I am first and foremost a lady!” She was annoyed by his laughter, Yurak pouring some of her water for himself. “What business do you have with me?”
“I just thought we should be prepared.” He said after downing nearly a third of his drink. “The kingdom of Ranseya is just beyond those mountains.”
“I’m well aware of that.” Merla retorted. Ranseya was the second largest kingdom on Arus, and shared it’s border with both Alfor, and the third kingdom. Ranseya was currently at war with the third kingdom, though it was a slow moving one, and occasionally it’s people enjoyed border skirmishes with Alfor’s. The Drules were hoping to further stir up trouble between the kingdoms, Merla prepared to meet with it’s leaders, and spin tales about Alfor.
“And you have your story straight for them?” Yurak inquired, plucking a fresh strawberry off the platter of fruit on her table.
“We’ve been over it a millions times.” Grumbled Merla. She stared disdainfully at the messy way he ate, strawberry juices dribbling down the corners of his mouth. She was already making a note to have the fruit platter replaced, not wanting to touch food that Yurak had laid his dirty hands on. “I could recite the lies in my sleep if need be, they’ll come natural enough to me.”
“Natural is good.” Yurak sounded approving then. “It will make the lies all the more convincing to these humans.”
“I doubt very much they will be hard to fool.” Merla managed a smirk then. “They’ll be so awestruck by first contact with their Gods, they’ll believe anything I tell them.” Lotor had insisted on focusing all his attention on Alfor, his kingdom being the largest of the three that were spread across Arus. He hadn’t wanted to divide time and energy to the other two kingdoms, choosing to try and sway Alfor towards granting them land.
Mogor’s intelligence networks had learned that the other two kingdoms were envious of Alfor’s good fortune, the people longing to be blessed with the presence of their Gods. They were ripe for manipulations, word carrying back of the Drules miracles, and more than a handful of Ranseyans had gone to the city capital Altea, in hopes of being blessed.
“Just don’t let your overconfidence cause you to make any mistakes.” Yurak told her. “I hear tales from Mogor, that the King and Queen of Ranseya are of shrewd intellect. They may be as difficult to fool as King Alfor has proven to be.”
“King Alfor may be smarter than most of the humans, but even he believes my lies. Especially where his daughter is concerned.” Merla remembered how he had had his soldiers check every available room in the temple, hoping for some sign of Allura. They hadn’t even found one strand of her hair, and the blood stains of the previous night’s carnage had been cleaned away, fresh bleach poured on the stones.
“He’ll be too sick with worry to even think of suspecting we had a hand in the war that is about to start!” continued Merla, tittering with laughter. “He’ll most likely die on the battlefield, never discovering what happened to Lotor, or that brat daughter of his!”
“Overconfidence will prove our downfall…” muttered Yurak, crunching down on a pear this time.
“So will not enough confidence!” She shot back, then stalked away from the table. At the speed they were traveling, they were almost past the mountain range, and Merla could make out the very top towers of what had to be Ranseya’s castle. It would take only minutes to reach it, and Merla knew she had to get ready.
Thankfully she was already dressed, the dark brown leather fitting her like a glove. All she needed was to strap on her sword and cloak, and she would be ready to present her self to these Ransenyans. Yurak was continuing to make a pig out of himself with the fruit platter, teeth gnashing and chomping loudly on the apple he now ate. She was glad he wasn’t able to come with her, he was too ugly and to take a word from the humans, too demonic looking to be presented to them.
Instead, she would be accompanied by four of her prettier brethren, the Drules who shared many a feature with these humans, although with a more exotic slant. “Come Yurak.” Merla said, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him away from the table. “I’m sure you’ll want to grab a seat in the control room where you can monitor the situation to your heart’s content.”
She didn’t give a damn where he stayed, Merla just didn’t want him snooping about her things, or making himself comfortable in her room. Yurak made her skin crawl, and it was not the first time she thought how pleasurable it would be to kill him once his service was at an end.
Once out in the hall, and her door closed behind them, Merla abandoned her hold on Yurak. She didn’t deign to walk him to the control room, instead she stalked through the corridors, heading towards the docking bay, where her entourage waited. She had chosen all men to accompany her, each one tall and strapping, muscles bulging, and weapons secured to their hips and back. They were all handsome, and Merla knew they would fit the image of the humans ideal of beauty.
“Be ready for anything.” She told them in Drule, well aware that this might not go over well. These Ranseyans might choose to attack them, though Merla laughed at the thought. She knew her entourage alone would be able to beat down these humans, and with ravager primed and ready to shoot, the Ranseyans would be a fool to try anything.
Any worries she might have entertained was all for not, Merla spying her first true glimpse of the Ranseyans as the ramp lowered to the cobblestones of the courtyard. Like Alfor’s people, most were on their knees, faces practically touching the stones as they prostrated themselves to the ship. They were praying, and their tone was worshipful, there was no fear like there had been with Alfor’s lot.
Two of the Drules walked in front of her, the men cautious for any signs of sudden movement. Merla walked at a more sedate place behind them, the other two men guarding her rear. The humans continued to pray, voices rising in excitement, and Merla had to fight to keep her eyes from rolling in annoyance. Being worshipped was all well and good, but right now she had no time for it, she had a mission to accomplish.
“Please!” Merla called out in Arusian, her one hand lifted to gesture in a calming motion. “There is no need. We come on an urgent mission….we come to speak with your King and Queen.”
The praying continued without stop, Merla holding back her sighs. “Is there no one I can speak to?” She looked around, trying to see if there was a priest like Fordham, some holy person who would be delighted to speak with their Gods.
Finally a man straightened up, approaching her. He offered a very low bow of respect, speaking in a nervous, halting manner. “King Lezard and his Queen await you in the throne room.”
Merla arched an eyebrow at that, surprised that this king and his queen had not come out to greet her in the courtyard. “Show us to them.” She ordered, and the man bowed again. He turned, and led her past the praying throng, and one elderly woman reached out, seeming overcome in the moment and wanting to touch Merla. Tarack quickly moved, and only a sharp warning from Merla kept the man from kicking the woman in the face.
“Remember.” She hissed in Drule. “We have to keep up our appearances as benevolent Gods!”
“It is difficult to know who to protect you from, if these…vermin keep insisting on touching you.” Tarack grumbled back.
“They only want to pay respects to their Goddess…” Smirked Latrang. “To steal a blessing from her through touch.”
“Filthy thieves!” muttered Tarack, the Drule on guard, repositioning himself every time someone tried to touch Merla. Soon the humans got the message, the Goddess was not to be touched unless she so desired it.
They passed through the courtyard, and entered the castle, her entourage silent for the most part. These halls seemed empty, leaving Merla to assume that most of the humans were outside with the ship. She felt better to be free of their suffocating presence, Merla urging the human servant to walk faster to the throne room.
The throne room itself was neither empty, nor overfilled, a small crowd of humans dressed in what passed for their finest clothing. And at the rear of the room, sitting on matching thrones, was the King and the Queen, Lezard a brown haired human, with the most startling of eyes. They were colored amethyst, and even the gold glasses he wore could not detract from their beauty.
To his right was his Queen, and even for a human, she was beautiful. Merla’s discerning eyes noticed her near ankle length hair, platinum in color, and braided back. They were dressed nearly identical, velvet outfits of dark blue with gold trimming. Both were far younger than King Alfor, looking closer in age to his daughter, and it left Merla wondering how recent it had been since they first ascended to the throne.
If she thought their youth would make them easier to manipulate, she inwardly frowned when she noted the keen intelligence shining in Lezard’s eyes. He smiled in her direction, bidding the Drules come closer, and though he and his Queen were welcoming, they were guarded, wondering why the Gods had at last chosen to visit them.
Merla steeled herself for her performance, her male companions arranging themselves so that there was two at her back, and one at each side of her. She allowed the
slightest of bows, just a steep incline of her head as she acknowledge the rulers.
“King Lezard, Queen Lenneth. I know we have been lax in coming to you, and for that we apologize.” Merla began, forcing an apologetic look on her face. “We have been to King Alfor’s lands, we have seen and tended to the people there. We have performed miracles, all in order to gain acceptance among Alfor and his people.”
“It’s an acceptance you would have easily found here.” One of the nobles of Lezard’s court cried out, and the King held up a hand for him to be silent.
“Why have you come here, Goddess?” The way Lezard pronounced the word Goddess, it gave her the feeling that he didn’t quite believe in the Drules claim of being Gods. “Why do you not remain with Alfor, and continue to give your blessings on his land?”
“We could not, would not continue to bless such an evil minded man!” Merla exclaimed, forcing her voice to be passionate in the moment. Lezard raised his eyebrows at that, looking surprised.
“King Alfor has always been thought to be a wise and kind ruler.” Queen Lenneth was speaking. “I have never once heard him called evil, even by his enemies.”
“They don’t know him the way we do.” Merla sighed. “They don’t know his true face, and the ambitions he holds.”
“Ambition?” inquired Lezard, and she nodded.
“Do you know what he prays for? What he has his people pray for daily?”
“Wealth” A noble hazard a guess, another one calling out a suggestion.
“The blessings of the Gods!” chimed in a woman, and Merla shook her head.
“In a way you are right. He asks for these things, but at the expense of the other kingdoms! Your highnesses, Alfor wishes for the destruction of his rivals.” A loud gasp issued out at Merla’s words, the nobles turning horrified, their voices ringing out in alarmed conversation. She didn’t try to speak, just waiting for Lezard to signal for silence. It was given to him reluctantly, the people still wanting to talk about what she had revealed.
“What does that mean, Goddess?” Lezard asked, and his wife laid her hand on his.
“He means to kill you. He means to take your lands for himself, and enslave your people. And not just Ranseya, but also Altrexia. He means to do away with both
kingdoms, claiming your riches and your people for himself.” Merla frowned then, placing a hand over her breasts though she left the other one in reach of her sword. “King Lezard, Queen Lenneth, he thought to have we Gods do his dirty work for him. To strike you down with divine retribution.”
More horrified screams from the nobles, Merla having to raise her voice to be heard over them. “But we know you Ranseyan’s hearts, we know you are a good people, led by kind and wise rulers. You don’t deserve to be enslaved or wiped off the face of this planet. We come to you today, not to smite you, but to warn you. To warn and rally your troops to fight against the army Alfor has amassed.”
“This is grave news.” Lezard said, expression troubled. “If it’s true…”
“If?” Questioned a noble, and let out a short bark of laughter. “I mean no disrespect….
“None taken Kristoff.” Lezard reassured him.
“But if we cannot trust the word of our Gods, who can we trust?” This Kristoff demanded, and the nobles let out their voices in agreement. “We have been blessed by their concern, they sent their own before us to warn us. We must begin to make preparations…”
“It will be difficult…” mused Lezard. “We are already in the midst of a war with Altrexia. I do not think we have the resources to split our forces between two opposing kingdoms.”
“We intend to go to Altrexia next.” Merla quickly spoke. “I think a temporary truce can be arranged between you two, to deal with the more immediate threat of King Alfor.” She stepped closer to the throne, solicitous in the moment. “Such a selfish and cruel man, does not deserve to sit on the throne. He must be stopped before his plans come to fruition.”
“Yes!” Kristoff called out, to the cheers around him. “Alfor must be stopped! I’ve no wish to die on his sword, or be made his slave!”
King Lezard and Queen Lenneth exchanged looks, surely weighing what Merla had told them. “We will consider a temporary alliance with Altrexia.” Lezard decided at last. “The least we can do is send out people to verify what you have told us.”
She almost scowled then, not liking that this Lezard wasn’t so quick to fall into line with her lies. But she gave him a gracious smile, bowing her head, even as she began wondering how to make it seem like Alfor was indeed preparing to invade. “Of course.” Merla said out loud, already wondering if she could somehow work Alfor’s search for Allura into inciting war between the three kingdoms. “If you will excuse us now….we really must press onward to Altrexia.”
“Yes. Go with our blessings.” Lezard said, bowing his head in the same gesture of respect Merla had given him and his queen.
“Godspeed to you.” Queen Lenneth added, and Merla acknowledged her with a slight bow as well. She and her entourage then turned, the men moving to surround her, the servant ready to lead them back to the courtyard. The nobles didn’t even wait for the Drules to leave, erupting into excited conversation. Many were pushing to attack Alfor before the King could lift a hand to them, and it made her want to laugh even as she knew Lezard and Lenneth would be more cautious towards starting another war.