Mogor had wisely left Merla alone after the incident inside the storage room, the two barely even exchanging looks as the man vanished down an opposite corridor. It still left Merla seething, and even now that a new day had dawned, her anger was still palpable. She kept bringing her fingers up to her throat, stroking across once flawless skin, skin that now bore a sliver thin cut from her own sword.
It angered her that Lotor had been able to use her own weapon, the very thing Merla had sought to use for her protection, against her. But more than that, she was angry that she had been so careless as to enter the room alone with them. She had assumed the human brat would be harmless and meek, never dreaming the little bitch would bite her like a wild animal. She learned from these experiences, Merla determined not to repeat her mistakes, the Drule prowling about the ship’s strategy room.
Yurak had summoned her to this place, insisting on their need to talk. No doubt Mogor had filled him in on what had happened with Lotor. She didn’t know what Yurak would say, and Merla was certainly not interested in being chastised for her recklessness. Nor for her failure in gaining Lotor’s agreement to marry her, that part of their plan still far from completion.
Every second he refused her was a delay they could not afford, Lotor’s inner circle could only be kept busy for so long. Eventually they would notice that they had had no direct contact with Lotor, his so called orders being relayed to them by other means. They weren’t close to running out of time, not yet at least, but she felt the walls beginning to close in on her.
She continued her agitated pacing, occasionally glancing at the large hologram of Arus that floated over the table. The three kingdoms had been marked, Altrexia and Ranseya’s military positioned near to each other. They hadn’t begun to draw back their forces to concentrate on Alfor’s lands, not even after she had met with the rulers of Altrexia.
She didn’t like to give credit to the humans, but she felt they earned their due when it came to choosing their leaders. Alfor, Lezard and Lenneth, even the Queen of Altrexia, all were wiser than most, shrewd and calculating and so damn cautious. They were sending scouts to determine the size of Alfor’s army, and to learn what they could about his supposed plans for world conquest.
Fortunately for her, the humans were limited in speed and modes of travel. It would take time for them to travel to a new Kingdom, and by that time, she’d have Alfor looking like the threat she claimed him to be. Already the ship ravager was back at Pelphine Temple, Alfor scheduled to meet with Merla before this hour was through. She had her story well in place, the perfect lie to get him to send soldiers into Ranseyan territory.
Still fingering the thin wound on her neck, Merla smiled, and retained that expression until the door to the strategy room opened. Her expression soured, Merla spying not just Yurak, but Mogor and Carp flanking him, the three Drules males staring at her with displeased expressions.
“It’s about time you showed up!” She snapped, annoyed at being kept waiting. “My time is valuable, we really can’t afford these needless meetings of yours.”
“This won’t take long.” Yurak said, the other two men moving to spread out through the room. No one made a move towards the available seating, all four Drules tense and wary of each other.
“It better not.” Warned Merla, glaring.
“Relax Merla.” Carp’s overly familiar tone irked her, Merla narrowing her eyes in his direction. “You’ll get out of here with plenty of time for your meeting with Alfor.”
“I better.” Merla hissed, a threat in her voice. She normally didn’t care about keeping the humans waiting, but this time, time was of the essence if Alfor’s soldiers were going to be in place.
“I understand you met with Lotor.” Yurak tone stated he knew this as fact, Merla resisting the urge to glare in Mogor’s direction. “And that not only did he reject your bid for marriage, he nearly succeeded in getting free of his prison.” Yurak’s reptilian eyes flashed, his anger blazing to life in them. “Just what were you thinking, giving him an opportunity like that?!”
Her mouth fell open in shock, Merla gasping. “You talk as if I wanted him to put my sword to my throat!”
“You may not have wanted that, but the fact is it did happen.” Pointed out Yurak. “You were careless, allowing yourself to fall into such a compromising position.”
“There shouldn’t have been any danger!” snapped Merla in protest. “Lotor’s hands were to be shackled behind his back. He was supposed to be helpless!”
“Supposed to be doesn’t mean he is.” Carp pointed out with a laugh. “You were careless Merla. You should have had someone check his wrists before agreeing to be alone with him.” They didn’t make mention of Allura, thinking the girl an insignificant being. Certainly they didn’t think the girl could be a threat, and underneath her gloves, her palm hurt where Allura had torn open the flesh with her teeth. Merla hadn’t bother to inform them of Allura’s attack, not wanting the shame associated with letting a human get the better of her.
Merla refused to admit Carp was right, slight though it was. She should have had some guards present to check on Lotor’s bindings, perhaps than last night’s unpleasantness could have been avoided.
“We can’t change the past…” Merla began, inwardly seething. “So I suggest we work on our future.”
“And how do you propose we move forward when he’s so adamant against marrying you?” demanded Yurak. “Mogor, you saw and heard his reactions, how steadfast he was in refusing to marry Merla. He’d almost rather die than leave his people in our hands.”
“He just needs time to get used to the idea of marrying me…” Merla began, and Carp’s laughter cut her off.
“Merla, he’s spent years trying to resign himself to the idea. And that was before he knew what an evil minded bitch you are.”
“I don’t see you putting out any ideas!” She snapped, glaring in Carp’s direction.
“I’m sure I could think of a few.” He said, and grinned broadly. “Allow me just five minutes alone with that human of his, and I guarantee he’d do anything to stop her screams.”
“He does seem to favor the girl…” mused Mogor out loud. “But he might allow her to die rather than give up his crown.”
“Oh I wouldn’t kill her.” Carp’s eyes glittered with malice. “There’s no fun in that.”
“It’s better to keep her alive.” Agreed Yurak. “She’s one of the few holds we have over him. Her continued well being will keep Lotor in line…”
“But only to a point.” Mogor insisted. “I doubt he will allow us to make a puppet out of him for her sake.”
“Then you don’t know Lotor very well.” Merla retorted, giving a toss of her hair. “He feels for her. I could see it in his eyes, that moment of vulnerability and pure born rage when I put the hurt on the brat. He may not like this weakness of his, but I believe we can exploit it. We just have to do it carefully…”
“Carefully? I can do careful…” Carp was still grinning, his face looking perverse as he thought of whatever dark deeds he was planning. Merla was very glad in the moment that she wasn’t Allura, neither liking, nor trusting the look on Carp’s face.
“You’ll just bungle things.” Sneered Merla, and Carp growled out a protest.
“I will not!”
“Maybe a man’s touch is needed where a woman failed….” mused Yurak, and Mogor made an agreeing sound.
“You can’t possible be thinking of letting Carp have his way?!” protested Merla, and Carp goaded her with his response.
“Are you afraid I’ll show you up with my performance?! Heh…” He chuckled then, tone disdainful. “It won’t be that difficult, not after the mess you made!”
“Hmph!” She crossed her arms over her chest, nose up in the air. “I look forward to you crawling back with apologies and feeble excuses for your failure. Now!” She turned to face Yurak, eyebrow raised in question. “If you will excuse me…I can”t keep Alfor waiting any longer.”
“Fine, you’re dismissed.” Yurak barely gave her a second glance, Merla pursing her lips together as though she had tasted something sour. She hated having to wait for his permission to leave this meeting, Merla stalking from the room as fast as she dared, not wanting to appear as if she was running away from them. The three Drules continued to talk, and she heard Carp sounding almost gleeful as he began detailing some of his plans for Lotor and Allura.
Then the door clicked close behind her, drowning out their voices, and leaving Merla shuddering with distaste. More and more she wanted to kill, and not just Yurak, but Carp too. Even Mogor was beginning to seem intolerable to her, Merla stalking through the ship. As she moved, other Drules joined her, Tarack and Latrang taking it upon themselves to be her honor guard.
By the time they exited the ship, her entourage had gained an additional five men, the Drules following her down the ramp and into Pelphine temple. The humans that lived and worked in the temple barely looked their way, too frightened to acknowledge the Drules. It was as though they hoped they could be spared any further incidents by pretending not to notice their captors.
Deeper on the temple’s main floor, she began to spy Alfor’s men, the human soldiers clad in blue and white armor, and bearing shields with the castle’s crest on them. Except for a brief flicker of her eyes, she barely acknowledge them, not even when they bowed to her.
Merla was more concerned with the voices she could hear, Alfor and high priest Fordham holding a hushed conversation. She tried not to tense noticeably, Merla scowling inside as she wondered if Fordham would betray her and what had happened, either on purpose or through a nervous slip of the tongue.
She and her entourage noisily burst into the chamber, Fordham letting out a high pitched squeak of surprise. “King Alfor..” She fixed him with a slight smile, giving a gracious bow of her head. “And high priest Fordham…” Her gaze flickered over the priest’s form, the man seeming to shrink back. Fortunately for all, Alfor’s back was to the priest, the King not spying the way he shied away.
“Merla.” acknowledged Alfor. “I was just discussing the situation with Fordham.”
“The situation?” She inquired, tone mild.
“The fact that the prayer room sits empty, my people turned away from receiving service.” Alfor explained, and she relaxed just one bit. “It’s troubling times we have, especially with my daughter, their princess gone.”
“Many of the kingdom would like to offer up a prayer for the safe return of our missing princess.” Fordham had found his voice, words laced with nervousness.
“Then they should.” Merla said, and let her expression turn grave. “I have news for you, regarding your daughter.”
Whatever concern Alfor had about an empty temple faded, the King seizing on Merla’s words. “You found them?” He sounded so hopeful, even as he braced for the worst.
“Not quite.” Merla said, feigning regret. “We found the missing transport…there was no sign of the king or your daughter. No sign at all, save for a few strands of blonde hair.” She thought that pretty damning, Alfor frowning.
“And where was this transport found?”
“On the outskirts of Ranseya. Your highness, I’m afraid it doesn’t look good.” She sighed, hesitating as though she was fearful of telling him anymore. “The transport had to make a forced landing, it’s badly in need of repair. ”
“What does that mean?” demanded Alfor, and Merla was hesitating again.
“It appears as though they were attacked.”
“Attacked?!” He echoed with a loud exclamation. “By who?!”
“I do not know. I just know where the transport was found. There’s more.” Merla added, expression grave. “There were many footprints found around the ship, far too many to belong to just Lotor and your daughter. We’re actively searching the land, but we haven’t a clue as to where to begin looking for these people who may have seen them.”
“Do you think they’ve been captured?” Alfor asked, and she almost smiled, thinking it too easy.
“They may have. It would certainly explain the state of the ship. Do you have enemies in Ranseya?”
“We’re never been fond of each other, but our two kingdoms have maintained a somewhat peaceful relation.” Alfor answered, expression troubled.
“Then I’m sure the rulers of that kingdom will be glad to explain to you what has happened.” Merla said brightly. “Perhaps if you send a contingent of your soldiers to investigate the crash site….?”
‘They’ll do more than investigate.” Alfor grumbled. “I’ll send my best representatives to make contact with King Lezard and Queen Lenneth. Surely they’ll give me the answers I seek.”
“I’m sure they will.” Merla smiled then, but Alfor did not seem to notice, too lost in his thoughts. Inwards she was gloating, Merla thinking how the Ranseyans would misinterpret the sight of Alfor’s soldiers roaming their lands. They would surely assumed it was an advance guard of the invasion forces, and with what she had told them about Alfor’s intentions to conquer their kingdom, she had no doubt they would attack his soldiers. That mission of inquires would end in disaster, word getting back to Alfor that the Ranseyan’s had killed off his soldiers.
She was counting on Alfor reacting in anger to the slaughter, the King rallying his forces, and sending them off to do battle with Ranseya. It would only give girth to her lies, each side misunderstanding the other’s true intentions until it was too late. War would erupt, and the humans would kill each other off. Those few who survived the fighting would be enslaved, forced to work the land in preparation for the arrival of the rest of the Drule ships.
“Fordham.” Alfor had turned to the priest, the man standing straighter at his king’s attention. “Please…I want you to lead tonight’s congregation in a prayer for Allura’s continued safety. I have a feeling my daughter will need all the help she can get…”
~You have no idea how right you are.~ Merla thought, thinking then of Carp’s plans. But she didn’t so much as smile, just keeping her expression concerned, as she waited for Alfor to address her.
“Will you keep searching for them?” He asked, and Merla widened her eyes in surprise.
“Of course!” She said, nodding. “We will do everything to help you, as well as to locate our King.”
“Good. Then if you’ll excuse me?”
“Yes, your highness.” She inclined her head in a bow, all too quick to agree with anything he asked. “I do hope you find your daughter, and fast.”
“So do I, Merla, so do I.” Alfor told her, and then was striding out of the room. Fordham tried to follow him, but she stepped in his way, a none too pleasant smile on her face.
“Just what have you been telling him?!” She demanded harshly, once she was sure Alfor was out of hearing range.
“Nothing my lady, I swear it!”
“You shouldn’t have even been left alone with him.” She snarled, her venomous way of speaking making the priest panic.
“He would have been suspicious if I had refused to meet with him! I thought it best….”
“You don’t do anything without clearing it with me first, is that understood?” She reached out to grab his face, digging her sharp tipped nails into his cheek. He went even paler, Fordham beginning to sweat profusely.
“Good.” She purred, shoving him to his knees. “Go…prepare your temple for tonight’s service. Lead your flock into praying for your princess. But remember…if even one of you so much as whispers the truth of what has happened, and continues to happen here, Allura will pay the price.”
“The princess, she is fine, isn’t she?” Fordham begged an answer from her.
“She’s doing a lot better than the rest of you are.” Merla told him, then turned to leave. Before she could walk out the door, Fordham was calling out to her, voice anxious.
“And the demons? They will not be putting in an appearance at the temple this night?”
“Worry not Fordham.” Merla said without turning towards him. “I’ll keep the demons away long enough for you to do your services.”
“Thank you.” He breathed out in relief. “Thank you so much. The people are badly in need of prayer during this time, we could all use some comfort now. We…”
“I don’t care about your comfort.” Merla snapped. “I’m only allowing service to happen in order to keep Alfor from getting any more suspicious!”
“Just what do you plan?” Fordham asked, bolder than she thought he could be. “Why do you ally yourself with the demons?!” He wanted answers, ones she would not deign to give him, Merla walking out of the room. Her Drule entourage followed her, Tarack and Latrang keeping careful watch on the humans to make sure none tried to attack her. Not even a rock was thrown in her direction, the humans far too fearful of what the Drules would do to retaliate.
She headed back towards the ship, not looking forward to informing Yurak that the lizard like Drules would have to spend the night onboard. After the freedoms they had enjoyed in lounging about the temple, she knew the Drules would be angry and annoyed, chafing at being denied the change of surroundings. But Merla’s hands were tied, Alfor was expecting a service to be held. She made a scoffing sound, thinking Alfor was just causing more trouble, Merla trying to soothe herself with thoughts that soon he would be dead, killed in the war with Ranseya and Altrexia.