He stood with Allura within the circle of a cluster of guards, men and women armed for their protection but holding a relaxed stance as they waited for the ships’ ramp to lower. After all, they did not come to fight with King Alfor and his people, Lotor insisting they only bring weapons that were capable of stunning, not killing the humans. Not that he wanted any fighting to break out, but Lotor was prepared for hostilities, unsure of the kind of welcome the Drules would receive after Merla had been free to run rampant on their kingdoms.
He was of mixed feelings, both eager and not to learn just what the woman had been up to during his imprisonment. Cossack’s interrogation of those men captured on the ravager had yet to divulge much information, the group seeming divided on just who they were more scared of. Lotor privately thought them foolish, after all it wasn’t as though Merla would regain the upper hand and be able to punish them for speaking! And Cossack was all too willing to put the screws to them NOW in his attempts to learn the whole of Merla’s schemes.
All that may have just been a waste of time on their parts, and a delaying tactic on Merla’s. He didn’t know if he should hope Alfor could fill him in on the details, Lotor fearing the damage Merla had done to an already tenuous relationship between them. A damage that was worsened by the fact that his daughter had been taken, imprisoned for days, and suffering needlessly. And though her spirit had not diminished, Allura still bore the marks of her ordeal most prominently on her face.
The bruises were an ugly reminder, one he winced over when he imagined Alfor’s reaction to them. He could have tried to lessen their impact with concealer, but Lotor was through with partial truths and withholding information from Alfor. It was time to tell him everything, lay all his cards on the line, and hope the King would be merciful.
Allura tried to project an endless amount of confidence, telling him often that her father would be understanding. But even she had doubts, her worry showing when she thought no one was looking. She kept clasping her hands together, fidgeting and biting at her lip. He didn’t know what she thought would happen, and it only notched up his own worry to see her in this state.
As did her choice in clothing, Allura wearing form fitting leather that seemed to have been molded to her body. It was as though she had lain there while they poured the leather on her, letting it learn the contours of her body. He actually thought he might sweat at the sight of her, so provocative an image she made after weeks of seeing her in her prim and proper dresses.
It had not failed to make an impression on Lotor that none of the women he had see on Arus, had been wearing pants. It was simply not a part of their culture, the women all wearing dresses with skirts that at the very least fell way past their knees. Allura herself had always worn gowns that flowed down to her feet, leaving them hidden in the folds of her skirt. How alien it was to see her dressed this way now, foreign but exciting.
He wished he had been able to get her to agree to change into the more suitable dress, but short of stripping her and forcibly putting the dress on, Lotor’s hands had been tied. He would not lay hands on her, would not compound the problems his love stricken heart was giving him even as Lotor realized that a part of Allura probably would have thrilled at his handling.
She kept trying to tempt him into more, though not all of it was conscious on her part. But she was quick to cleave to him, hugging him at every available opportunity, leaving Lotor to wonder just how distressed she was. She had truly been upset at the thought of Merla creating a hostage situation among the humans, but after the initial fears had faded, she had kept on clinging to him. It had been all he could do to untangle himself from her grip, and Allura seemed to be looking for more opportunities to touch him.
What a tigress she’d be if she’d have any experience under her belt towards seducing a man! Even with her clumsy attempts, she endeared herself to him, Lotor finding he was falling more and more for her. Which only upset him, the King knowing they would not be allowed to be together. He felt certain Alfor was on the verge of banishing him and his people, if not from the planet than from the kingdom. A fact that saddened and frustrated him.
“Lotor?” Beautiful blue eyes were staring up at him, Allura concerned and begging for his attention. He blinked, realizing the ramp had lowered, at least a full minute passing with his inaction.
“I’m fine.” He told her, unable to so much as smile with that statement. “Let’s go.”
The Drules nodded, Allura taking hold of his arm. His body betrayed him, heart singing over what might be the last time she was allowed to touch him. The group of Drules moved, the cluster moving slowly down the ramp, Lotor and Allura in the middle, hidden from sight. He saw that there was humans in the castle courtyard, though nowhere near the amount there had been that first day of contact with the Arusians.
In fact, nearly all the humans gathered around the Drule ship Epiphany were soldiers, the men armed to the teeth. They were tense, though their hands were empty, showing they meant no threat. But that could change in an instant, weapons could be drawn easily enough.
“I don’t like this.” Grumbled one of his own soldiers, and his escort echoed the sentiment. Lotor held in his sighs, trying to appear unaffected by the amount of soldiers that were around them, the group coming to a stop just a few feet away from the ramp. A man was pushing his way to the front of the human soldiers, his mustache twitching as he was filled with an air of self importance.
“Just what is the meaning of this unexpected arrival?!” The man asked, Lotor realizing with a start he was Coran, the King’s advisor.
“Unexpected?” One of the Drule nearly laughed, words coming out in his native language. “They certainly rallied enough men to deal with us for an unexpected visit.”
Lotor nodded to himself, though he knew they couldn’t have known they were coming. It was like they had been preparing for something else, more than the usual amount of soldiers armed and ready on the castle premises.
“Our King wishes a word with your King.” Announced one of Lotor’s entourage, and Coran’s response was immediate.
“My King is busy.” He said, not even trying to appear apologetic. “You’ll have to return at some other time.”
“Oh, I think he’ll want to talk to me.” At the sound of Lotor’s voice, the front most Drules reluctantly parted, allowing Coran a glimpse inside the crowd. Gasps were heard, some of the soldiers spying Allura on his arm, and then the worry was renewed when they realized she was both bruised and battered, and wearing a strange outfit. Lotor felt something like possessive instinct take over, the King feeling annoyed to have all these men looking at Allura.
Thankfully Allura had agreed to put a shirt on with little protest on her part, the effect of her new outfit lessened by the fact that his blouse bagged almost comically on her. They couldn’t even see the vest she wore, the skin tight leather pushing her breasts together and up so that they threatened to spill out at any moment. The vest had left her arms bare, and was short enough to show off her midriff. The pants hung low on her, allowing the band of the panties she had been given to be visible. It was why Lotor knew for a fact she was wearing sapphire blue under the brown leather, and he nearly groaned as the memory of her without the shirt entered his mind unbidden.
“The princess!” The human soldiers were speaking, sounding overjoyed and awed to see her. “She has returned to us.”
“Look at her face!” Someone else exclaimed in a stage whisper, Allura flushing in her upset. “See how they mistreated her?!”
“No one mistreated me!” Allura was quick to say, clinging to Lotor’s arm for support. “Least no, no one who allied with King Lotor.”
“Princess Allura….it is good to have you back.” Coran had recovered from his shock, but the man wasn’t brave enough to step into the crowd of Drules to retrieve her. “Your father will be overjoyed, as will the entire kingdom.”
“Please…..take us to him.” Begged Allura, and Coran blinked.
“I would be happy to return you to your father.” A pointed look then, Coran’s words dismissive. “But he doesn’t have time to meet with King Lotor at the moment.”
“Then he will make time.” Lotor said, well prepared to force a meeting between them. Coran began to sputter a few protests, but Allura cut him off.
“Please take us to my father.” She colored her request with politeness, making it seem like she wasn’t ordering Coran around. “It is of the utmost importance that he and his highness, King Lotor speak. The future of Arus is at stake!”
It was more the future of the Drules, Lotor blanking his expression to hide the urgency he felt. Coran stared at her, than shifted his gaze to Lotor, seeming to notice his bruised state for the first time. “All right…” He said, appearing shaken. “You will come with me….” He turned then, weaving his way through the human guards. Lotor’s entourage closed the circle around him, keeping him and Allura separate from the soldiers.
Following Coran into the castle, they passed by servants who stopped to gawk. It seemed these humans still held a reverence for the Drules, a reverence Lotor was quick to note had been missing in the soldiers’ eyes. He wondered what it meant that the civilians of the castle could still react in that manner, never dreaming of the answer he would soon get.
Coran stopped outside a door, a tightlipped smile on his face. “Allow me to speak with his highness.” He said, hand poised to knock. “I’m sure it will lessen the shock of seeing you that way.”
“Of course.” Lotor answered from within the cluster, and Coran soon disappeared inside the room. The door closed behind him, and even with the Drules sharpen hearing, all they could make out was muted whisper.
“It’s going well.” Allura said, and at Lotor’s raised eyebrow, she flushed. “Well, better than I expected things to be.” He agreed with her, wondering if it was cause for hope that Merla had not done irreparable damage.
A few moments later, Coran appeared, expression bland as he spoke. “His highness has agreed to meet with you.” The group moved towards the door, the advisor bravely blocking their way. “But it is to be a private audience, you must leave your guards outside.”
Protesting grumbles from his soldiers, they wanted to be present for the meeting, though Lotor felt such desire was born more of curiosity than anything else. It wasn’t like one human could overpower their King, and Lotor didn’t really expect Alfor to try and engage him in a duel. At least not a physical one, though there would be a tongue lashing, of that he had no doubt.
“Very well.” Lotor said, and led Allura past the Drules. Coran already moved to open the door, and together the two royals entered what appeared to be a study of some kind. Lotor’s eyes immediately sought out Alfor’s form, the man standing by a desk that was in a messy state of disarray. His face was stern, but some of that lightened when he laid eyes on Allura.
“Allura!” Alfor cried, and moved around the desk. She had let go of Lotor’s arm, hurrying towards her father to hug him fiercely.
“Father!” Allrua was exclaiming. “Oh how I missed you!” She hadn’t give into tears yet, composed rather than hysterical at their reunion. But then Lotor hadn’t expected anything less from her, Allura proving how well she could keep things together.
“Oh it’s so good to have you back!” Alfor was saying, but he appeared distracted, keeping one eye on Lotor, even as he fawned attention on his daughter. “I didn’t know what to think when you disappeared.”
“I’m sorry for that. I never meant to cause you worry!”
“It’s father’s job to worry.” He told her, then pulled back from the hug to give her a critical once over with his eyes. “Just what are you wearing?” His eyes touched on her outfit, and then on her face, Alfor not quite gasping at the bruises. “What happened to you?” An angry look towards Lotor, Alfor without comment on Lotor’s own appearance.
“It’s a long story…” Allura said with a sigh. “One you might be better off sitting for.” But he remained standing, keeping an arm around his daughter, as he gazed at Lotor.
“Something’s happened.” Alfor said at last, gaze lingering on Lotor’s face. “Your faces tell a story all their own, your expressions grave.”
“It is not good news we bring you.” Lotor told him. He missed the feel of Allura clinging to his arm, but he tried not to let the longing distract him from Alfor. “It is as your daughter said, a long story full of deceptions and betrayals.”
“Tell me everything.” Aflor ordered, and Lotor did not bristle at his command.
“First I must apologize to you. Both for dragging your daughter and kingdom into this mess…and for…for deceiving you.”
“You didn’t drag me into anything!” Allura was protesting. “I chose to go to the temple that night….”
“Deceiving me?” Alfor lifted a brow, seeming to ignore Allura’s protests. “How?”
Lotor tried not to hesitate. “This business of being your Gods. We are not. We are as mortal as you are, full of wants and desires, capable of mistakes. It was wrong of me to allow your people to continue to believe we were Gods…but, and I know this doesn’t excuse what we’ve done, but we wanted to be accepted by you humans.”
“It was a label we gave you!” Allura quickly said. “I remember the first day I met you, insisting you had to be Gods since you came from the sky and could shoot such deadly fire….”
“But I did not try to disabuse you of that notion.” Lotor said. “I continued to allow you and your people to believe we were your Gods come to life, allowed them to worship of us, rather than try to explain the truth.”
“And what is the truth?” demanded Alfor, and Lotor sighed.
“We are just a race of foolish people. We ruined our own world through wars and pollution, rendering us homeless for years. We’ve spent a small eternity traveling from world after barren world, trying to find one that would be suitable for our needs.”
“And you thought it Arus?” Alfor asked, and Lotor nodded.
“Yes. You can’t begin to imagine the loneliness of space, the sheer and utter desperation we felt as world after world proved unsuitable. Arus is a miracle, our only hope left to us. I pray that we haven’t ruined our chances completely with you.”
“Tell me about where you have been these past few days.” Alfor ordered, and Lotor was quick to note he had avoided consoling Lotor on his fear. “Merla has been insistent that you ran away with my daughter…”
“Ran away?!” Allura exclaimed shocked. “Oh, Lotor wouldn’t do a thing like that!”
“Lotor?” Alfor questioned sharply, having noting her lack of titles when speaking the King’s name. She flushed further, and cast her gaze downwards, surely embarrassed at that spoken intimacy before her father.
“His highness and I were imprisoned. Captured by Merla and her allies.” Allura was all but muttering now, still so mortified by her slip in tongue.
“Imprisoned?” inquired Alfor, tone so mild it didn’t betray what he was thinking. “Just what has gone on?”
“Your daughter speaks truthful.” Lotor said. “My former fiancee sought to betray me, and take my crown. That night Princess Allura came to the temple, it all came to a head, your daughter witnessing a meeting between Merla and her allies. It wouldn’t have been a problem, they had spoken in their native tongue, leaving her with no way to understand what was going on.”
“But something had to have happened if Merla took you prisoner.” Noted Alfor shrewdly.
“Indeed. This ties in to another deception of mine….though it was more a lie of omission than anything else.” Lotor saw Alfor frown at that, the King wondering what the man thought of all this deceiving. “You have not met all my people…I purposefully kept one half of our race hidden from you.”
“Why would you do such a thing? Alfor demanded, and now Lotor sighed.
“Truthfully I was worried how you’d react to them. My people are not all pretty, some of us…could be considered monstrous looking in your eyes. You see, your highness, we are really a race of two beings, a people that united when our world was destroyed. There of those of my blood, the ones who resemble humans except for our height and colorings. And then…” he hesitated, bracing himself for Alfor’s reaction. “There are others who are more reptilian in looks. I feared to you humans you would see them as abominations, and the reactions in Pelphine temple seemed to echo that fear.”
“You see father…” spoke up Allura, drawing Alfor’s gaze to her. “The men Merla was meeting with, were like no Drule I had ever seen before. I must admit to being frightened, thinking them monsters, or demons escaped from hell. When I saw them, when I was grabbed by one, I was unable to keep from screaming….I was…judging them based on their looks, although this men proved to be as horrific as their appearances are.” She surely shivered then, Alfor patting her hand comfortingly.
“My screams brought several priests running.” Allura continued. “One man was brave enough to attack the Drule that had grabbed me. He..” A single tear slipped down her cheek at the memory. “He died for his efforts.”
“I am ashamed to admit my people, Merla’s associates, killed that night.” Lotor watched Alfor’s face, but the man was carefully schooling his expression, allowing no emotions to betray him. “I and Traad arrived, drawn to the back of the temple by Princess Allura’s scream. Others from the temple also came, and we were quickly surrounded by Merla’s allies.”
“The people were so afraid of the Drules.” added Allura. “It was as King Lotor feared. They thought them demons!”
“It was more than just their appearance that made them think that!” Lotor reminded her. “They saw the dead priest, they watched as Merla snapped the neck of another. They even saw her men kill Traad….it was a lot of shocks to take in that night.”
“Why are you alive?” Alfor asked, and Lotor was taken aback. “I mean, why did not Merla kill you then and there?!”
“Oh father, the King was wonderful!” Alfor clearly didn’t like the admiration that shown in Allura’s eyes. “He manipulated Merla into agreeing to spare everyone’s lives. But at a cost to us.”
“I had to do something.” Added Lotor, and Alfor nodded. “Merla still had need of me, and I knew she would want me obedient. I told her to use Princess Allura as hostage to the humans in the temple’s good behavior. To mine as well…it was the only way to stop her from killing all the witnesses.” He sighed. “I don’t even know if she kept her promise….”
“I have been to the temple.” Aflor said. “The atmosphere was tense there, but high priest Fordham was still alive. As were many of his subordinates. Although I can’t vouch for all of them…”
“That’s a relief then.” Lotor words had Allura nodding, the girl exhaling a breath.
“You mentioned something about Merla wanting your crown. Why not just kill you already?” asked Alfor.
“Ah, fortunately for us, it’s not that simple.” Lotor risked a humorless smile at the King. “With no children sired as my heirs, and no legal wife to my name, the crown would not automatically fall into Merla’s hands. The nobles would fight amongst themselves, and Merla would have no guarantee of winning. She needed to marry me, and THEN kill me.”
“And she thought to use me to do it!” Allura exclaimed. “Oh father! It was horrible, the things Merla did, to me and to King Lotor. We were kept imprisoned in a storage room for days on end, they starved us, and they mistreated us, King Lotor earning a vicious beating trying to defend me.” She lowered her eyes then. “I…I had to kill a man to save King Lotor from being beaten to death.”
“No…” breathed out Alfor, looking shocked.
“I’d do it again too!” Allura was passionate then. “Carp was an evil man, getting off on the mistreatment of others. He didn’t even give King Lotor a chance to defend himself…what kind of monster beats up a man whose hands are tied behind his back?!”
Lotor was thankful Allura hadn’t mentioned what Carp had been trying to do to her, thinking Alfor had enough shocks to process this day. “I don’t know what would
have happened if we hadn’t been rescued…”
“How did you get free?” inquired Alfor, and Allura smiled.
“There was a box! A computer! Lotor fixed it so that it could send messages to other boxes. Oh father, you would not believe the things the Drules are capable of! They can talk to each other without being in the same room, they converse easily between ships. And the inside of the ships are a marvel. There are things, so many that
would benefit our kingdom if you just gave them a chance…”
“Allura…” Both Alfor and Lotor spoke her name at the same time, trying to end her babbling. She fell silent with a heated flush, surely realizing now was not the time to try and make a sales pitch for Drule advancements.
“If you can talk to each other, why did no one notice their own King was missing?” Alfor demanded, and now Lotor wished he could blush.
“Merla had arranged for my inner circle to be busy, each man separated on a different ship. She had capitalized on the few fights that had broken out, having her allies instigate further brawls and riots. Lord Kratos and the others were far too busy trying to maintain peace to realize I was missing. They didn’t even know Traad had been killed…”
He sighed then. “We’ve all suffered losses. I don’t know what exactly Merla intended to do to your people, her captured allies are refusing to talk. But I fear for you, I honestly do. I fear for this planet too, and what Merla would do to take it for herself.”
“She’s met with the other kingdoms.” Added Allura, and then looked shocked at her father’s response.
“I know.” A humorless smile, Alfor all but smirking then. “My spies at the other kingdom’s courts contacted me with word of Merla and her plans.” The smile was lost, Alfor turning grim. “She meant to incite us all to war with each other. Even now, a contingent of my soldiers are supposed to be in Ranseya territory, searching for you. She said you had taken a small ship, and that the transport had been found on Ranseya land. She told the rulers of the other kingdoms that I meant to invade, causing them enough fear and worry to want to attack any troops that stepped into their kingdoms’ borders.”
“Father no!” Allura protested, looking horrified at the thought.
“Fortunately disaster was diverted. I got the message from my spy and was able to stop the troops before they left. I’ve since sent them away, to make it appear to Merla that they are journeying to Ranseya. I made her think I believed her lies, when really I was preparing the remainder of my army to war with you Drule.”
“You wouldn’t have an easy time fighting us….” Lotor said, but was impressed at the thought of Alfor’s determination to fight with Merla.
“We wouldn’t just hand over the planet without a fight.” Alfor pointed out, and Lotor nodded. “I’ve been in contact with the other kingdoms. They are properly outraged at what Merla tried to do…and have agreed to ally with me.”
“But there’s no need to fight the Drule anymore.” Allura was quick to say. “Lotor is in command once more, and as soon as we capture Merla, there can be peace.” Lotor and Alfor looked at her, and she fidgeted nervously. “Can’t there?”
“I do not know.” Alfor admitted. “Merla may have done something unforgivable.”
“Please father, do not condemn the Drules for something Merla and her allies did!” Allura begged, expression pleading. “It’s not fair to them, and its not fair to us! We can help each other, I know…and the Drules NEED a home. You cannot consign them to live endlessly on their ships…and you cannot deny our people the chance to know them, and to improve our civilization!”
But Alfor would make no promises. “I would like to meet some of these other Drules.” He said to Lotor, and Allura reacted in surprise. “I want to see if they are really as monstrous as you say they are.”
“All right.” Agreed Lotor. “We can do that right now if you like.”
“Yes, I would like that.” Alfor said, and Lotor nodded his understanding. Allura looked like she still wanted to say something, but the girl simply bit her lip in an attempt to be quiet. Lotor turned to the door, feeling nervous at the thought of introducing the other half of his people to Alfor and his men. But he knew it had to be done, wondering if the fate of the Drules rested on whether or not Alfor would grow frightened of them.