The castle was crowded with people, several rooms being devoted towards housing them all. Currently the majority of the crowd was inside the castle ball room, the room still decorated from Allura’s birthday celebration. It seemed with her disappearance, no one had had the heart to take down the decorations, busying themselves elsewhere. The banquet tables were still laid out, and currently castle servants were laboring to cover their surface with all manners of food.
Lotor marveled at how fast the cooks of the castle had managed to put together a small feast, Alfor not allowing them to skimp on any step of the meal. It was a lot of food, and it was being appreciated by both humans and Drules. The Drules especially enjoyed the meal, some of them getting their first taste of Arusian hospitality. Lotor would have asked some of them to prepare Drule delicacies, but he hadn’t the heart to order anyone back onto the ships to prepare food.
Not when they were enjoying themselves so much, the tension leaving their bodies when most of the humans proved friendly. There had been a few hostilities at the start of the Drules’ arrival, but Alfor had quickly had his men usher those sharp tongued people off his property. Some had left willingly, not even deigning to put in an appearance at the dinner. They were simply too close minded or afraid of what they saw as monsters to try and make friends with them. Not even the need to cater to their King had allowed them to push their prejudices aside, but Lotor was left feeling hope that more people had stayed than left.
There was a mingling of the people, small groups standing together comprising of the two Drules and the humans. He didn’t know what they all talked about, but conversation was plentiful, the voices mixing together to form a continuos rumble of sound. Amidst the groups, children played, the boys and girls running wild around the adults, laughing and giggling. They were chased after by Allura’s governess, the woman seeming harried in her need to maintain some kind of control over the children.
Even among the loud sound of people talking, her voice could be heard, the woman not quite shrieking as she ordered the children to behave. The children ignored her, seeming to make a game out of how angry they could make the governess.
The children had been the first to accept the Drules, being at that age where prejudices had yet to form. Both sides had been fascinated by the differences of each other, curiosity leading to talking, and then playing. The Drule children had long since grown bored with most of their toys, and seemed eager to play with the more simple like objects the Arusian kids carried. But mostly both groups wanted to run wild, playing some kind of tag game that had them running from room to room.
Lotor himself couldn’t stand still, moving from room to room in a need to make sure everyone was getting along. He kept fearing that the instant his back was turned, hostilities would erupt, regardless of King Alfor’s decree that no one fight or hate on each other. Allura traveled with him, the girl his constant companion. She was less anxious, grinning from ear to ear at the sight of their people getting along.
Currently they were out in the hall between rooms, and even the corridor contained small groups of people. Lotor noted with some amusement that Ryder had cornered several human women, each one lovely in their own right. He was shamelessly flirting with them, and it was no surprise they were blushing in response. But they didn’t move away form him, and one was even boldly touching his arm, cooing sweet nothings about the muscles that bulged there.
There was also a presence of guards, both human and Drules, the men and women keeping careful watch on the proceedings. Lotor did not worry that his soldiers weren’t getting a chance to mingle, this group had had plenty of chances in the past, being allowed off the ships at Pelphine temple. No, this event was more about allowing the people Lotor had forced to stay hidden get their chance to meet and be welcomed by the humans.
He realized it was only one step towards making up to them his mistakes, Lotor realizing just how badly he had hurt them with his decree. He even thought that perhaps Merla wasn’t completely to blame, Lotor realizing he was at fault too for trying to hide away one half of his people. He didn’t know how to make it up to them, but he vowed to never make such a mistake again, no matter what happened between the Drules and the Arusians.
Drifting over to the ball room’s door, Lotor stood there, watching the crowd. There was smiles all around, though some seemed nervous. Others seemed awed, listening to what the Drules told them about their life on the ships. Even more seemed very interested, wanting a chance to experience the technological marvels of the Drules. And then there was the humans, explaining day to day life on Arus, the Drules listening intently. The two cultures were learning about each other, might even collide to make improvements on both their worlds.
He wouldn’t say it was all working out, but he did realize it was the start of something. Something that might allow both humans and Drules to live together in peace. He still didn’t know what Alfor was thinking, the King too busy talking with Astatavina and three other Drules to approach Lotor. But he felt hope, thinking there was a chance that Alfor would not ask the Drules to leave his kingdom after all.
“It’s all working out.” Allura said from besides him, the princess sounding satisfied.
“So it seems…” Lotor murmured, and she looked surprised.
“You still worry.” She noted, and he shrugged.
“Merla and Yurak are still out there, along with Mogor. Who knows what they plot…”
“They won’t ruin this.” She was confidant where he was not. “No matter what they try to do.”
“I’m not so sure about that…” Lotor admitted with a sigh. “There’s much they can attempt, people to kill, kingdoms to upset. As long as those three remain free, there is still danger, to both our people.”
Allura looked upset a the thought of people being killed, the girl shuddering. It made him want to pull her into his arms in an attempt to comfort her, though he didn’t move so much as one finger towards her. He was conscious that there was too many people around, people who were all to quick to gossip and report back his actions to Allura’s father.
“I’ve sent men to Pelphine temple…” continued Lotor, Allura looking surprised. “They’ve had to go by horses as the ships’ engines would alert Merla to their presence. They’re supposed to report back on their findings and soon.”
“You really think Merla and the others will make their final stand at Pelphine?” asked Allura, and he nodded.
“I do. It’s a logical choice, it’s been our base of operations since coming to Arus. And it’s the soul of the people, their religious leaders living there.”
“It will be quite a blow to the people if she kills Fordham and the other workers there.” Allura was troubled then, Lotor fighting the impulse to touch her arm.
“I hope to prevent that from happening…It will be tricky though….hostage situations never end well…”
“I cannot believe how stupid Merla is.” Allura was fierce when she said that, eyes looking angry. “Doesn’t she care about her own people? Doesn’t she realize her every action has jeopardized the Drule’s chances at living on Arus?!”
“She may not care. Not at this point.” Lotor thought of his former fiancee, knowing she was a vain and selfish woman. “Desperation makes people do terrible things Allura. And Merla must know the punishment for her crimes will be harsh.”
“Why, will you kill her?” Allura asked, and Lotor hesitated.
“It depends really. Her crimes are pretty offensive, imprisoning and torturing us, trying to take the crown from me, plotting to kill me, trying to incite a planet spanning war between the humans so that they wiped each other out. The very least she will spend the remainder of her days imprisoned. If she goes that final step and allows her allies to kill…they would all most likely earn death sentences.”
“Yes…it would be the same for us humans. We don’t take killing lightly, and murderers must be punished.” Allura sighed. “Merla and the others have committed many crimes, both against the Drule and the humans. But I pray her desperation doesn’t lead her to do anything worse…”
“Same here.” Lotor said, then gestured for Allura to follow him into the ball room. “Let us try not to worry about Merla, Mogor and Yurak for now…this is meant to be a festive occasion, a happy moment where our people get to know one another…”
A small group of children ran past them, Atrios in the lead. Allura giggled as she side stepped the group, the five running out into the corridor. “Maybe soon you can invite my people on board your ships. I’m sure many would enjoy that…”
“You’re not afraid it might not be too shocking for them?” Lotor asked, and she shook her head no.
“I think most would like seeing the many things you Drules have made. I know I wish I had had a chance to see more than I did…” He took the hint, smiling at her.
“You’ll get another chance. I’ll see to it personally. That is…if your father will allow you to come aboard the Epiphany once more.”
“I’m sure he could be persuaded!” exclaimed Allura, eyes twinkling. “In fact, I think he might be willing to visit your ships himself. There are things I want him to experience for himself…”
“Like showers?” He teased her, remembering how long it had taken her to bathe.
“Oh yes, especially showers!” Allura grinned. “I’ve not yet given up the thought of having showers for the castle and the kingdom. And it would be easier for him to agree to, if he knew just what I was talking about!”
“I don’t see the harm in that…”
“There’s so much more!” Allura exclaimed. “Lights without fire, rooms that turn hot and cold at the push of a button.”
Lotor was silent then, thinking there was a danger in developing too much for Arus. The more advancements they made, the more power was needed. That meant they needed factories and power plants, all to supply the energy needed to make things work. Lotor didn’t want them to go down the route Doom had, the factories polluting the very air they had breathed.
“We shall see Allura.” He said out loud. “I think Arus is charming the way it is…I don’t want to make too many changes too soon.” Her face fell in disappointment, Lotor hastening to add the following. “Of course some things my people will insist on. Modern plumbing being one of them.”
“Modern plumbing is a must!” A new voice had joined their conversation, Lotor and Allura turning to spy Cossack standing behind them. The commander smiled, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry, didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“It’s fine.” Lotor told him. “It wasn’t exactly a private conversation.”
“What else would your people want in their cities?” Allura asked the commander, and Cossack paused to think about it.
“Well, electricity to run appliances and the lights. I can’t imagine we’d be happy without our computers and electronics! Right your highness?”
“Indeed.” Lotor agreed, just as Atrios and his unruly group ran by. Allura’s governess had chosen to focus on that group of children, making a lunging motion for the back of Atrios’ shirt.
“Come here, you naughty little boy!” She was saying, Atrios easily evading her, and moving to hide behind Cossack’s legs. It was the commander who reached down and lifted the boy up, chiding him gently.
“Are you misbehaving for the lady?” He asked in Drule for the boy had not yet managed to learn more than a handful of words in Arusian. Not that it mattered to the children he played with, the five finding a way past the communication gap.
“I’m having fun!” Atrios announced, and grinned. “I don’t know why that human keeps chasing us!”
“She’s probably worried you lot will cause an accident.” Cossack explained. “Someone might trip on you and fall…”
“They won’t!” protested Atrios with a pout. “We’re being careful.”
“Well, maybe you can sit still for a few minutes….give the nice lady a break from all this running.” Cossack said, having noted how red faced and panting Nanny was.
“But that’s boring!” protested Atrios.
“Here..” Cossack shifted the boy to one hip, and used his now free hand to dig into his pocket. He came away with a round device, Lotor realizing it was an image recorder with playback features. “Why don’t you show this off to your new friends…they have after all shared some of their toys with you…”
“Ooooh!” Atrios eyes had lit up, the boy eagerly reaching for the device.
“Now you have to promise you won’t run around while having this in your possession.” Cossack said, handing it over to the boy.
“I promise!” Atrios said, quick enough. He handled the object carefully in his hands, claws already fiddling with the buttons. Cossack deposited the boy on the floor, and nodded at the governess.
“They shouldn’t give you any more trouble.” He said. “At least for a few minutes.”
“Thank you!” She said gratefully, and was more than a little curious about the object Atrios held. “What is that? Some kind of ball?”
“Hardly.” Cossack nudged Atrios, and resumed speaking in Drule. “Why don’t you show the nice lady what it can do?”
“Okay…” The young boy pushed a button, then aimed the device at the governess. She stood there frowning, waiting to see what would happen. A few fidgets with the device’s controls, and then a hologram was projected next to her. The humans all gasped, the woman paling in fright as she realized a mirror image of her had appeared next to her. That image was still frowning, looking suspiciously at something.
“What is this?!” Nanny cried out, and Cossack laughed.
“Calm down. It’s just a hologram. With that he can record and show images….it’s harmless.”
Atrios had grown bored with Nanny’s image, the hologram fading as he began searching the device’s memory banks. Images came up, of both the ship and planet Doom, the boy chirping excitedly as he began explaining in a mix of human and Drule what they were seeing. The human children were fascinated, and even a few adults were looking this way.
“Commander….” Lotor whispered in Drule. “There’s nothing classified or inappropriate on that device is there?”
“Don’t worry your highness!” answered Cossack with a grin. “I have a separate device for the naughty things!”
Lotor blinked slowly, unable to tell if the commander was joking or serious. Atrios was slowly flipping through the various images, taking the time to try and explain what each one was. Allura was standing there fascinated for this was her first actual experience with one of those devices. And then Alfor approached, gazing curiously at the barren landscape of Doom.
“Is that your home world?” He asked, and Lotor nodded.
“Yes…that was all that was left to us after the wars and pollution devastated the lands…”
“I can see now why you had to leave…” Alfor murmured. “But…will you be able to keep the same thing from happening wherever you make your new home?”
It was a valid worry the King had, Lotor grim faced and serious. “We are determined not to repeat the mistakes of our past. There will be a strict system of check and balances, an attempt to monitor how much we take from the land. My people are prepared to give up certain luxuries, all in order to minimize the damage we do the world. Most of us realize the cost is too great for certain things to continue the way they were on Doom.”
“Advancements come with a price your highness.” Cossack spoke up, drawing Alfor’s gaze to him. “We had to sacrifice the land and the animals for progress…and at the time our people did not realize we were killing off ourselves in the process. We’ve learned from our mistakes…we’re eager to do things in a more simple way.”
“It is our hope to learn from your people, King Alfor.” continued Lotor. “You’ve managed to not only live on this world, but do so in harmony with the land and the creatures of Arus. You prove that day to day tasks can be done without machines that guzzle up the world’s natural resources, and though you may not get things done as quickly as we could with those machines, you do manage to provide enough for each other.”
“That isn’t to say we don’t have anything worth offering to your kingdom.” Cossack was quick to add. “It’s just a matter of deciding which advancements to allow, how much of Drule culture to mingle with Arusian.”
“It would be a worthwhile pursuit.” Allura said, voice a none too subtle nudge to her father. “We could go over together the things the Drules offer, and decide which we should allow into the kingdom.”
“Hmm…” A noncommittal noise from Alfor, the King looking thoughtful. Lotor exchanged a look with Allura, her blue eyes urging him to say something more.
“If you would like, I’d be delighted to take you onboard the Epiphany.” He suggested solicitously. “You could see for yourself, our way of life, and the way we do things.”
“Oh please say yes father!” urged Allura with a clasping of her hands. “I didn’t get to see even half the marvels onboard Lotor’s ship, but what I did see suitably impressed me.”
“I will…” Alfor hesitated, looking at something past Cossack’s shoulder. “Think about it. Who is this?”
Lotor turned, and spied a new Drule rushing into the room, his expression filled with urgency. Ryder was hurrying behind the Drule, having abandoned his flirtations in an attempt to find out what was going on.
“Voden!” Ryder was saying, a hand reaching for the Drule’s shoulder. “Calm down and talk to me.”
“There’s no time!” The one named Voden said, and hurried towards Lotor. Cossack was already moving to place himself between the King and the Drule, Voden dropping to one knee to do a hasty show of submission. “Your highness, you must come quickly!”
“Come where?” Lotor asked, noting Voden was speaking in the Arusians’ language. It had drawn the attention of many, conversations dying down as they all turned to spy on the new situation developing.
“To Pelphine temple!” Voden exclaimed, and Lotor took a step forward.
“What’s going on at Pelphine temple?” asked King Alfor, and Voden answered him.
“We have visual confirmation of the dissidents. Lady Merla’s lot is currently locked inside the temple.”
“Have you made contact with them?” demanded Cossack.
“No sir. Our spies made sure to keep from being noticed, getting close enough only to ascertain the situation inside.” Voden let out a worried moan. “It’s bad.”
“How bad?” Lotor questioned sharply, and nearly cursed at Voden’s answer.
“Real bad.” Voden moaned again. “There’s over three hundred humans inside the temple.”
“WHAT?!” Lotor shook his head, not understanding how that number could be. At most there was only maybe fifty humans who worked and lived at the temple. At any given time, there was an additional twenty-five in the sick rooms. That huge a number shouldn’t be possible unless they had been holding active worship in the temple.
“It’s a full house.” Voden was saying. “The entire evening’s congregation has been taken hostage. No one is being allowed to enter or leave the temple now…”
Lotor fought the urge to turn and look at Allura, his gaze horrified. It was worse than he had dared imagined, Merla’s lot taking more people hostage than had been expected. He felt sick at the thought of all those humans at their mercy, a mercy Merla did not have.
“We have to do something.” Alfor said, voice breaking into Lotor’s worried thoughts.
“Indeed.” Lotor agreed, meeting the eyes of the human King. “How many men can you spare to Pelphine temple?”
“As many as needed.” Alfor responded immediately.
“My men are yours to command, you know that your highness.” Commander Cossack spoke up. “Just give the word, and we will go with the human soldiers, and put that bitch to heel.”
“We’ll have to tread carefully.” Lotor said, and Alfor nodded. “How good are your men at stealth maneuvers?”
“They are…adequate.” Alfor answered after a moment’s hesitation.
“I think my men should go in first then.” Lotor replied. “If it’s one thing we Drules are good at, it’s sneaking around!”
“Then I will leave this in your hands.” Alfor conceded. “Your highness, please save my people.”
“We will do our best.” Promised Lotor. Cossack turned and stalked out the room, gathering up the soldiers that were out in the hall. Several of the untrained Drule males were calling out, offering their services to help in rescuing the humans at Pelphine temple. The humans seemed to approve of their willingness to help, the female Drules and humans going off in clusters in an effort to soothe and lend support to one another. Both sides were worried, the humans fearing for their people’s lives, and the Drules worrying what would happen to them if there was a slaughter at Pelphine Temple.
Talking with Alfor, Lotor was distracted, the Drule King hoping the situation wouldn’t turn into a blood bath. He kept damning fate, wondering why every time the Drules seemed to catch a break with the humans, something disastrous would happen. He wondered if it was a sign, someone trying to tell him that the Drules were not meant to live with the humans on Arus. He refused to believe that though, and knew he would not give up without a fight, not when the Drules were so close to having a permanent home.