There was the crack of leather in the air, followed by the sound of leather meeting flesh. The sound was muted somewhat by the fact that the whip’s target ran wet with blood. The skin was slick with it, the whip having laid it’s mark countless times before. Old scars had been torn open, new ones earning their place on his back. Shame would come with those scars. Forever would he carry the marks of his failures.
At one time, he could have told the story behind each scar. He could have explained the price he had paid in earning them, the failures attained. But it’s been years since the first whipping, and he’s failed so often he can no longer keep track. But one thing is consistent, he’s earned them all for failing his father. For failing to live up to the King’s expectations. For not being man enough, Drule enough to finish the Arus invasion.
He doesn’t think of the reason behind that failure. He doesn’t want to see her face in this moment, when all his senses are dulled by pain. Her face is reserved for quieter moments, moments where he is free to think of her and smile.
The whip lands on his back again, and he nearly screams. Only the biting down of his teeth on his lips keeps back that sound. He knows if he was to scream now, the torture would worsen. His father would see it as another weakness in him, and that weakness would earn him another fifty lashings. He wondered if he could even survive twenty more, on top of the one hundred he’s already received.
The taste of metal is in his mouth, the blood from his lip reminding him of copper. Even worse is the salt and rust scent of the blood, the air around him thick with it. It’s making him sick, and he wonders if he’ll die before he’s let down from the chains. The chains are there to hold him up, and they groan in protest as he sags downward. There’s not enough length in them to let his knees touch the floor. At best he can only manage an awkward bending.
There is a voice speaking to him, though talking is too mild a description for what it is doing. There is anger in that voice’s snarl, the man struggling to keep from giving in to it as he shouts. But the words might as well be in an alien tongue. They’ve blurred together, indecipherable to him though he can gather the meaning behind them. Anger that he’s failed, that he’s disappointed his father, his empire’s expectations once more.
Sweat drips into his eyes, and even down his torn open back. His hair is in clumps, bloodied and sticking to whatever skin it presses against. His own breath is ragged, the sound harsh and loud to his own ears. How much longer can he endure this? But he must, it’s not his time to die. No matter what he’s done, no matter the disappointments, it’s never his time.
At last the voice gives a disgusted snort. That appears to be the signal for the torture to stop. But there is no mercy in the ceasing of the whip’s crack, the damage already done to his back.
“Lotor…” He recognizes his name, as well as the disgust evident in the saying of it. “You are a disgrace. A disappointment, to me and to the people of this Empire!”
He knows the ritual that is to follow, Lotor nodding his head in agreement. He’s trying to appease the voice, to keep it from angering further. Anything to keep it from ordering more pain and punishment upon him.
“How could you mess up such a simple plan?” The voice continued. “Everything was laid out for you…it should have been easy to execute…it all would have fallen into place if you had just stayed away from the princess!”
He doesn’t bother answering that he couldn’t. That it would have been easier to cut out his own heart than to stay away from Allura. She is everything to him, the one bright light that shines in the darkness that surrounds him. He would do anything for just a few moments more in her presence, allowing the warmth of her into him, in an attempt to seal back the cold he almost always feels.
Of course a few moments is all he ever has. She flees from him, and even if she had not, there were others to run interference. On both sides of the war, people determined to keep them apart. They don’t understand his need for her. They don’t see it is more than obsession. He sees salvation when he looks at her, for his soul, his peace of mind. He sees the future he might never have, bright and happy with her by his side.
When he thinks of her, he imagines the things he could have. A wife, children, a family that loves and accepts him. A family to give him the things his father denies him.
“Are you even listening to me?!” The voice roars in anger, a hard slap landing on his cheek. He blinks, and his vision seems to clear long enough for him to focus on the man before him. It is his father, King Zarkon sneering at him, his eyes glittering with anger. His hand is raised, poised to land another slap on his son’s face. Lotor nods, the movement slow, exaggerated.
“Yes, father…” He whispers around cracked lips.
It doesn’t seem to appease him, the second slap lands. Lotor thinks he sees stars, so forceful was his father’s blow. “No more of this, Lotor!” Zarkon growled. “You hear me? I’m sick of this obsession you have with the princess of Arus! She is NOTHING to you. She always will be nothing to you, and it’s time you realize that!”
If he wasn’t in so much pain, he’d have laughed. Allura of Arus was essential to him, he needed her to breathe, to feel, to live. If he gave up on her, it would be as though he was giving up on life itself.
He doesn’t know what has shown on his face in that moment, but whatever it is, it angers his father. Zarkon gestures impatiently, and the soiled whip is placed in his out stretched hand. Lotor fights not to stiffen in fear, seeing the absolutely furious expression on his father’s face.
“Worthless!” Zarkon rages, slashing the whip down his son’s front. “You are absolutely worthless to me so long as you remain besotted with that human!” There is no art or expertise in the King’s attack, he is no practiced hand at using the whip. Lotor fights not to wince, though he can’t help but flinch back from the whip’s strikes.
“How much longer?!” Zarkon demands, the whip a frenzy of movement. He doesn’t remain in front of Lotor, moving to his son’s back to add to the marks there. “How much longer until you wake up and see, she is no good for you? She never was, your track records can attest to that! Your military career all but ruined by your obsession with this girl! We could have had that planet years ago, if not for your bumbling and insensible infatuation with it’s princess!”
Defiance flares within him, Lotor fighting not to betray it’s presence. He’s determined to never give up on Allura, on the love he has for her, on the future he sees when he looks at her. To deny Allura, is to deny a part of himself. And that is something he will not do, no matter what his father does to him.
“What will it take, Lotor?!” Zarkon asked. “What will it take for you to forget about her and restore to me the son I can be proud of?!” Lotor had no answers to that, hissing when clawed fingers grabbed a handful of his hair. The hair is jerked, Lotor’s head bowing back. “Do I have to beat this obsession out of you?!” Zarkon demanded with a growl. “Do I have to leave you broken and battered before you will get over her?! Do I have to KILL you to free our Empire from such a disgrace?!”
He has to live. If only to get away. “Don’t kill me father…” Lotor whispers, and Zarkon yanks harder on his hair. “Not yet…not until…”
“Until what?” Zarkon asks, tone suspicious.
Lotor has to concentrate, to focus on what he is saying. “Just give me one more chance…”
“I’ve given you a million chances!” Zarkon snapped in reminder. “You’ve failed each and every time where Arus and Allura is concerned.”
“I won’t fail. Not this time.” Lotor whispered. “It will be different, I promise you.” It had to be. Lotor felt certain he would not survive another one of Zarkon’s whippings. His body was so weak, rendered that way from months of repeated abuse. Like clock work, every failed mission earning another beating, another whipping. His fathers hands on him, the Drule growing more violent with each passing week.
“I’ve heard you make similar claims a thousand times. Your promises mean nothing to me.” Zarkon informed him coldly. Claws touch his bare throat, Lotor knowing it would be all too simple for his father to tear it open now. Even simpler would be to give in to the beckoning of death, but Lotor inwardly struggles, wanting to live to see, to meet with his love once more.
“I won’t fail this time.” Lotor speaks quickly, aware of the caressing of his father’s claws on his skin. “Haggar and I have come up with a plan…”
“You can come up with a thousand of plans, and they still won’t work so long as you chase after Allura!” growled Zarkon, the claws pressing harder against him. He then sighed, seeming pensive in the moment. “Lotor, where have we gone wrong?” It was a surprising question, as close to an admission of fault as the King would give. “I thought I’d raised you well…thought I taught you how to be a man, a Drule that anyone would be proud to call son.”
He fought not to snort, bitter amusement filling him as he struggled against the memories of his childhood. Lotor would hate to see what Zarkon considered neglect, the prince carrying many emotional scars from the abuse done to him as a child. The claws touching his throat he was intimately familiar with, they had personally tore into him whenever he had displeased his father. His young age hadn’t been a deterrent, Zarkon reasoning he was toughening up the boy.
“It was that girl…” Zarkon hissed, having tired of waiting for Lotor’s answer. “She’s what ruined you. She’s turned you inside out, made you weak and incompetent…She is poison…and we need to flush the poison out of your system…”
The King would step back from his son, the claws leaving Lotor’s throat. But the whip would resume it’s frenzied actions, searing deep welts into his skin. The blood seemed to splatter everywhere, and his shirt hung in tatters on his frame. It wouldn’t stop until the King was panting from exertion, his own breaths as heavy as his son’s pained ones.
The chains rattled, someone was cutting him down from them. The manacles remained bound about his wrists, Lotor falling to the floor. He hit it first with his knees, and was unable to stay upright. Not without the chains support. He fell forward, and barely had the strength to roll onto his side. His back screamed in agony, Lotor laying in puddles of his own blood.
“Don’t fail me again.” Zarkon lashed out with his foot, boot kicking into Lotor’s chest, forcing him onto his back. Lotor nearly screamed in response, his back flaring up in pain from the full weight of him. The dirt of the floor rubbed into his open wounds, Lotor’s fingers curling into claws as he scrabbled to roll over once more. His father’s footsteps echoed around him, the man leaving. But Lotor knew he wasn’t through with him. Not by a long shot. As long as one of them still lived, this kind of treatment would continue.
His fingers flexed into fists, Lotor hating how helpless he felt. And not just in this moment. The past two years had been full of moments like this, Lotor feeling very much like he had reverted back to his childhood and the fears and torments that had colored it. He wanted to strike his father down dead, and even that he failed at. Zarkon always surrounded by guards, or Lotor restrained, the chains keeping him from attacking his own father. Beaten until he was in no condition to fight back, and left to nurse his wounds until the cycle repeated itself.
“I hate him.” Lotor muttered under his breath. He didn’t care who heard him speak, it should be obvious to anyone who looked at the prince that there was no love lost between father and son.
“One day…” He continued, staying huddled on his side with his eyes close. “One day it will be different…” He lay there, and began to dream. Of things he had never experienced first hand. Of fathers who loved their sons, who didn’t beat their sons in response to disappointments. Of mothers who had lived, of a mother’s love and protection. Of family, together and loving, not the broken fractures that remained after one’s parent died.
Invariably his thoughts turned to Allura. And of the kind of life he wanted with her. A full one, with love and happiness, and everyone safe and protected. He imagined hearing her laugh, of hearing their children’s’ happy giggles. Of playing with them, silly, harmless games. Of tucking them in bed, then turning his attentions to his wife. He felt it would be so perfect, the ideal family, the ideal love. Why did that continue to elude him so? It made him frown, Lotor sighing as his body protested even breathing. He knew his dreams would never come true if he didn’t work to achieve them. If he didn’t reach out and take what he wanted. If he didn’t steal Allura away, from everything she had ever known, and force an understanding upon her.
But to do that, he must first survive. Must first get off this dirty dungeon floor. He barely had the strength to roll from side to side, let alone sit up. His father might as well have left him to rot, for all the help he had offered his badly injured son.
Lotor let out a frustrated sound, staring at his hands. They were large and looked strong. And yet he was weak. Had been like this for months now, one beating after another coming so fast he never had time to heal properly. It was no wonder he was too weak to fight back against his father. When he had been a child, he had been too small to fight back. And now as a grown man, his father kept him weak in other ways.
A skitter of sound from behind him, Lotor groaning as he struggled to turn over in that direction. “No don’t….” Urged a familiar voice, rife with concern. But Lotor was already moving, catching sight of the emerging figure that was cloaked in both fabric and shadows. The cloaked figure tsked at him, and Lotor imagined the frown that was surely on her face.
“Haggar.” Lotor rasped, trying to shove up off the floor with his hands. The witch hurried to him, dropping a black satchel on the floor. She caught him in her arms, preventing him from flopping face down on the floor.
“Try to stay still while I see to the worse of it.” She advised. She left him leaning against her, her arms around him, fingers reaching to pull apart the shirt’s remains. A tsk followed the reveal of the red ruin of his back. “It’s not as bad as it looks…”
“Liar…” grumbled out Lotor. He was resting his head on her shoulder, wanting nothing more than to fall asleep. But Haggar was moving, jostling him about as she pulled the satchel to her. Clean cloths emerged, the witch using them to soak up the blood that covered his back. One wound in particular kept on bleeding, forcing Haggar to apply pressure to it.
“I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “The King…he forbids me to use my magic to heal you.”
That was nothing new to Lotor. His father had forbidden the use of healing magics roughly six months ago. All because he thought the lessons the whippings were meant to instill in Lotor, were failing. Zarkon said Lotor would remember better if he bore the scars, if the pain lingered long enough to somehow get through to him. Lotor remembered every lesson, every whipping, but they hadn’t been able to change his mind. Or his heart. He was determined to be with Allura, regardless of what the old man tried to do to dissuade him.
“Just do what you can…” Lotor said out loud. The witch finished trying to clean him of the blood, and set about to applying creams meant to stop infection from taking root.
“You may end up sick with fever anyway.” Haggar muttered. “You’ve gotten dirt into your wounds.”
“Not my fault…” Lotor told her, remembering how his father had pushed him down into the dirt. Haggar just tsked in response, the cream burning in a way that was different from his current pain. He hissed and dug his nails into her cloak, but this pain was easier to endure than that of the whip. “Are the preparations ready?”
Haggar took her time answering, fetching gauze and adhesive from her satchel. “Yes…” He almost relaxed then. Almost if not for his pain, and Haggar’s next words. “Sire, are you sure? There’s still time…time to change your mind about this…”
He managed a growl, which was impressive considering how bad he felt. “What are you saying?! We’ve been planning this for months….”
“Yes, but…if you’re father finds out…”
“He won’t find out.” Lotor interrupted. “Not until it’s too late.”
“Then what if you fail?” Haggar wanted to know. “You won’t be able to survive many more whippings…”
“I won’t fail…”
“How can you be sure?” Haggar asked.
He had no answer for her. Everything was riding on this next plan, and if even one thing went wrong, he’d meet with failure once again. Worse than that, he’d surely be back in this place, hanging from chains as the dungeon master had at his body with whips and knives.
“What about you?” Lotor asked instead. “Are you sure you still want to be a part of this?”
“I can’t say I feel easy about what you’re going to attempt to do.” Haggar admitted. “Nor can I stand to stay back, helpless and watch you treated this way.”
“Is that a yes then?” Lotor asked. She nodded, and he almost smiled. “You risk a lot for me, Haggar…”
“I know that. But I can’t stand back and let your one chance at a life of happiness pass you by.” She hesitated then, hands pressing the gauze into place on one of the slashes on his back. “This will make you happy?” He nodded. “Even with all that you will be giving up?”
“I will be gaining so much more than I will be losing.” He was confidant then. What did a crown and an Empire mean to a life that knew nothing but pain and misery that came from associating with the throne? He’d gladly throw his birth right away, if it meant he could have the family he dreamt of so often. Dreams could become reality, Lotor was sure of it. Just as he was positive if you wanted something badly enough, you could take it and make it yours. He wanted the dream, he wanted Allura, more than he had ever wanted anything else in his life. And somehow, someway, by this time next week, he’d be well on his way to making the dream a reality.