Better Worse 02

The invitation had arrived bearing the princess’ own seal. The paper was scented with what might very well be a brand of perfume she favored. The words written there had been in neat, precise cursive, Allura of Arus inviting me to attend her eighteenth birthday celebration. I remember groaning upon reading it, but that had been purely for show. I wanted no one to know that I was pleased by the invite. Pleased by the opportunity it and the so called friendship I had cultivated with the princess, now gave me.

I had been looking for an excuse to visit Arus. But it was not out of any desire to see Allura or her parents. It was purely from a strategic point that I wanted to set foot on that world’s lands. It had been three years since I last visited that world, and much had changed since then.

Certainly I was different. I was no longer the brooding young teen, angry at being forced to play spy for my father and his cronies. What had once been a chore, now looked to be the perfect opportunity for some career advancement. A prime chance to prove how invaluable I could be to my planet and my people. I was chafing at the bit, impatient for my chance to shine.

Arus would be that chance, my one perfect moment to surprise my father and the cronies that obeyed him. I had long since tired of the waiting games they played, the careful maneuvering they were engaged in. They could jostle for prime position all they want, and still never accomplish a total capture of that world. And all because my father kept them frozen through inaction.

I don’t know what my father’s reasons for the delays were, but I knew enough to be tired of it. Arus seemed such a pure, unspoiled world. Perfect for the Drules. Ripe with land and resources, there was even enough people to make slaves out of. I wanted that world, as much if not more than my father had ever wanted it. What’s more, I was determined to gain it, to deliver Arus and it’s bounty to my people.

What a victory Arus would be. The first world to fall in a career that would prove illustrious for me. Perhaps it was delusions of grandeur that fueled me. I may even have had my eye on my father’s throne though I knew it would take more than one victory to gain it. It mattered not. I had decided on Arus, decided that world would be the beginnings of my glorious campaigns of conquest.

I had of course begun making plans for Arus even before Allura’s party invitation had arrived. I had spent the last six months of my final year at the Drule Academy plotting. Waiting for the ideal moment to strike. I thought it perfect that my moment of triumph would come on the heels of my graduation from the academy. I delighted in the thought of shocking everyone, including my father, with my ambitions. My success.

My father did not suspect a thing. He had not one inkling of what I was planning. He’d send me off to Arus with a smirk and orders of his own. Ones that would have me play spy and snoop around the Arusians. I would fulfill those orders, but not for him. And all because I knew knowledge was a valuable commodity, especially when invading a world.

I didn’t go into Arus blind. I would read up on the situation there. My eyes would scour every document, every report the Drule had received about Arus and it’s people. That included the royal family, the very world leaders I hoped to overthrow. They seemed a politically boring group, always making the safe, popular decisions. There was no hint of unrest among the people of Arus. They were happy with their rulers.

From what I had learned at the academy, it is always infinitely more difficult to displace a ruler that meets with the favor of the people. But it can be done, by force and cruelty if need be. Of course it doesn’t hurt to sabotage one’s reputation. But Alfor and his Queen were veritably squeaky clean, not a scandal to their names or that of their daughter’s. Yet.

I think of Allura and I cannot help but smile. I remember the flighty, fanciful child she once was. The overly playful tom boy princess who worked my last nerves. But I’ve seen pictures of her, seen how she’s developed. No longer flat as a board, her curves are all pleasing. Her figure womanly. Her face is lovely, she’ll be a real beauty in a few years time. Even in pictures, her blue eyes are dazzling, her golden hair seeming to gleam.

She pleases me on looks alone. I cannot say much for her personality. I don’t know if she’s matured in that area as well as Allura has her figure. I suppose it matters not. Pretty or not, I can and will use her. She will be the downfall of the house of Alfor, the first true scandal to their name.

Do I feel any remorse or regret at what I will do? Not really. My way will be infinitely better than that of my father’s, if he ever gets around to unleashing his vast military might on that world. I will do what he can’t, might not even have to lift a hand in violence to do it.

Of course I am prepared to fight for the right to control Arus. I may not have an army even half as large as my father’s, but I do have enough men loyal to me. Friends and acquaintances I have made at the Drule Military Academy. If push comes to shove, we will take Arus by force. But I hope for the less messy alternative, almost as though I am honoring the time I spent with Alfor and his family during my youth.

But sentimentality is for the weak, and what little I have won’t save them from my plans. I will let nothing stand in my way. Nothing and no one. And so I continue to maneuver everything and everyone into position. Right up to my arrival on Arus. My private entourage is larger than the ones my father had employed for me when I was nothing but a child. It is a sign of how I’ve grown, that so many flock to my side. The Arusians do not even suspect that many of the men and women all come fresh from the academy. All are ready to fight, to die if need be in order to claim this planet in my name.

Alfor and his wife, Diana come to greet me. Allura does not put in an appearance. Feeble excuses are offered about the girl suffering from a mild migraine, one she hoped to vanquish before tonight’s ball. I of course, smile and nod, playing accepting of the excuse. Migraine or no, Allura will have to put in an appearance or risk insulting all her guests. She will not escape my trap.

It is no coincidence that my entourage and I arrived so early on Arus. We’ll use this time to scout out the palace, get a feel of the building’s layout. I’ll even play the snoop, trying to ferret out secrets from the servants who work inside the castle. The maids are especially easy to charm, the women flirty and full of laughter around me. I don’t always learn what I want, but I do learn things that I can make use of.

Such as the fact Princess Allura has been looking forward to seeing me again. The maids had been full of giggles as they told me that, revealing the extent of how far Allura’s anticipation drew. It appears she has some sort of crush on me. I think that good. Think that I can use that to make my mission easier. Allura herself might even enjoy what I intend to do. I know I most certainly will.

But I do not let lusts consume me. Do not let my eagerness make me rush. Instead I am prepared to bait my trap, to lure the princess closer to me. To that end, I will bring a date to the party. Not just one, but two attractive women. They double as my personal body guards, as deadly in skill as they are beautiful in looks. I will play the devoted paramour, dote on these women rather than the princess. It is my indifference that will make Allura yearn for any morsel of attention I would give her.

It has always been my experience that women want what they can’t have. It makes them desperate, makes them go to nearly any length to gain the interest of that who they desire. It’s always amusing, the antics my disinterest generates. I’ve even had women fight over me, and make scenes. Had them collapse in fits of tears, only to fall over in gratitude when I deign to notice them.

Allura will be no different. Of that I am sure. I will stir her upset, and when she is at her most distraught, that is when I will make my move. She’ll enter into scandal with me, and never realize what she is doing is wrong until after we’ve gone too far. These thoughts leave me pleased, to the point it is difficult not to wear a continued smirk. I have to hide my malicious joy, at least while I am outside the guest apartment I have been given during my stay here.

But inside I can let my true face show. None of the Drules with me think to question my mood. Some might even hope the plan fails, so eager are they to test themselves in a real battle. But I think to myself it is a waste to fight, and even more so to die if I can claim this planet through a more peaceful means. No one need to truly get hurt, not in a way that truly matters. One girl’s hurt feelings and ruined reputation can hardly outweigh the lives saved through this plan.

I’m still smirking even as I smooth out the jacket of my uniform. There are no wrinkles, it is immaculate in appearance. I even wear several medals that I earned during my academy days. They may not amount to much, but they are real, and I had earned them through my hard work. And not through the gold my father could have paid my instructors to falsely flatter me.

My dates looked nearly as perfect as I do, one dress in form fitting black silk, while the other has a blood red, liquid like material that seems to have been poured onto her. One woman on each arm, we leave for the ball room. We are not the only ones, a good dozen Drules also attending the celebration. Someone carries the present I had picked out for Allura, some token of affection in the form of a glittering diamond and sapphire necklace. It cost a small fortune, but I can afford to be generous. Especially after all I intend to do.

The party starts about an hour before Allura is due to put in an appearance. Enough time for all the guests to gather and mingle. There are a few dozen visitors to Arus present in the ball room. People I recognize, if not from previous encounters, than from reputation and spy reports. Some are even rulers of worlds my father intends to conquer, but no one suspects the danger. Not from my father, and certainly not from me.

I play the part of the playboy prince, dancing with my companions. Flirting with several females who have also come to celebrate the princess’ eighteenth birthday. There is a buffet, and I enjoy some of the food. But I stay away from the wine and champagne. I want a clear head for tonight. I cannot, will not allow drink to cloud my judgment and cause me to make a mistake.

I do not even allow myself to fill with impatience as I wait for the princess’ arrival. I act as though unconcerned about anything but having a good time. Just as my Drule companions do the same. No one suspects that each and every Drule present is armed, ready in case the situation turns dangerous. I do not foresee a problem, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.

I am to the back of the room, when the announcement is made. The princess of Arus is ready to grace us with her presence. My anticipation increases, my pulse pounding faster. I am glad for my dates, for if they did not keep my hands occupied I might make a betraying gesture of nervousness. And all because I am eager to implement my plans for Allura.

She steps out on the top of the stair case just as the spotlight finds her. She is even more beautiful than her pictures have led me to believe. For one-second my breath catches in my throat. My date in red digs her nails into my arm. The pain is what steadies me, allowing me to coolly meet the searching gaze of the princess of Arus.

It is a shock when our eyes lock together. That vivid blue color full of hope and yearning could be enough to stop a man dead. I could have been lost to my shock if I hadn’t already known what she looked like. Even now the reality of her is almost too much to believe. How much more devastating a beauty will Allura be once she has age and experience under her belt?

But my gaze is cold, dismissive. I causally turn to look at my companion to the right, making an offhand remark. It doesn’t matter what I say, the both of us laugh. My companion in red keeps me abreast of Allura’s disappointment, the way her cheeks burn with humiliation. She is already hurting, upset by my dismissal of her. The trap has been baited, now to wait until she breaks.

I continue my flirtations, dancing not only with my bodyguards, but with several women of the party. I never come near to Allura, not even to wish her a happy birthday. But always, I am aware of her, watching as she struggles to keep her hurt emotion off her face. She is constantly seeking me out, her gaze always on me when I take a turn on the dance floor. Sometimes she dances too, Allura having no end of partners clamoring for her attention. And yet it is me she wants. It is me who she cannot get off her mind, who has dug in deep under her skin.

I dare say I am fueling the start of an obsession for her. She’s finding reasons to come near me, but never does Allura actually approach me. But she talks loudly, forces out laughter, all in an attempt to gain my interest. I give her none of it, stretching out her agony. Watching as she fights back tears, and at last can no longer keep up the pretense of being happy.

Making excuses, and forced to promise dances upon her return, Allura flees the room. She doesn’t even seem to look where she’s going. She’s that intent on getting away. It’s time to implement the next stage of my plan. I don’t even have to make excuses, the Drule females knowing what I intend. We move to follow Allura, my companions taking up position before the balcony’s curtains.

It doesn’t matter if anyone sees I have followed the princess out onto the balcony. In fact it would be better if we were seen together. I make no attempt to skulk about, walking boldly through the vibrantly colored curtains. Allura has her back to me, staring up at the night sky. She doesn’t even acknowledge me at first, as though she would pretend she was out here alone.

A more charitable man would respect her wishes. But I am self serving, and she is a means to an end. I have to fight not to smirk, allowing the curtains to fall close behind me. It allows the illusion of privacy, though the sounds of the party aren’t muffled by the fabric. No one will hear what is said between us, not unless she starts to scream. But screams can come later, when we’ve moved to somewhere more suitable to my purposes.

“It’s another beautiful night on Arus.” I say as way of breaking the silence that exists out here. “I’ve forgotten how perfect this planet is…forgotten how much I missed visiting it.”

I’ve forgotten nothing. Every minute spent on Arus is a moment ingrained on my mind. This world has always seemed like an idyllic paradise. It’s no wonder I want it so badly. What I am not familiar with is the surge of desire that fills me as Allura turns to face me. She is visibly startled to see me, blue eyes wide with shock. I take this time to look her over, noting how clingy and low cut the pink fabric of her dress is. She is definitely child no longer.

“Lotor!” Allura exclaims. It seems she is incapable of saying anything more. She hasn’t had time to truly cry, though those beautiful eyes look wet. I can sense the pride she holds, a pride that won’t let her release those tears in front of me.

“Allura.” I do the slightest of bows, taking the time to enjoy a lingering look at her exposed cleavage. She doesn’t seem to be aware of what I am looking at, Allura flustered and too upset to return my gesture of respect.

“What are you doing here?!” She is almost rude in her questioning, shock making her that way. I straighten and meet her eyes, fighting not to smile so quickly.

“I suspect much the same as you.”

“As me?” She echoes, then manages a frown. “Somehow I doubt that.”

Privately I agree, knowing I would never be driven to tears or even the verge of them. “I needed a break from the party.” I said out loud. “Too much…stimulation for me. I’m sure you understand. After all, did you not have one too many suitors clamoring for your time and attention?”

She’s still wearing that shocked look in her eyes. “I am surprised you even noticed.”

I have to be careful with my answers. “One could not miss the cluster of men that have spent the evening doting on you.”

“Just as one can’t miss the amount of women you’ve danced with this night.” Allura quickly points out. I don’t deny it. It makes her frown. “You never came to wish me a happy birthday.”

“I’m doing it now.” The frown doesn’t leave her face, not even as I step closer to her. “I’m sure you understand. The party is so crowded, so overwhelming. Hardly the ideal opportunity for a cherished childhood friend to wish another well on their special day.” I step past her, and stop only when I am at the railing. My back to her, I allow the faintest ghost of a smile to cross my lips.

“You could have tried.”

“And miss this opportunity to be alone with you?” I question still with my back to her. “This chance to truly talk to you? Away from the prying eyes and the expectations of people? Allura…I wanted to speak to you as an equal, a friend….and not as a visiting foreigner…”

“As a friend…” She repeated. Was she being swayed by my words? It was still too soon to tell.

“Yes.” I study the view spread out before me. The castle is too far away to truly see the nearest city at this time of night. But I imagine I can make out a few twinkling lights, that just might mark the city’s houses. “It’s been a long time Allura. You’ve grown.”

“We both have.” She answers and I nod.

“That we have. We’ve changed.”

“For the better I hope!” She adds.

“Depends on your definition of better.” I tease, turning to look at her. Allura looks confused now. “Have we really become better people, or have we been turned into that what our parents want us to be?”

“I..” She hesitates. “I truly don’t know. But what I am now, it HAS to be better than the carefree child I was just a few years ago. That child was too ignorant of the troubles around her. Too uncaring of anything but when the next toy would come, the next game would be played.”

“I remember.” My tone is still teasing. “But….I think I can appreciate the child you once were.”

“You…you can?” I nod, and her eyes widen again. “I thought you hated the child I was.”

“Not hated so much as envied.” I correct gently. She is surprised. “You had a freedom to you…a freedom I could never enjoy. Even now…”

“Freedom….” She nods slowly in understanding. “I know a little about the Drule.”

“Oh? What do you know?” I ask, interested despite myself.

“How rigid and strict your people are. How even the children are forced to put aside fun, forced to grow up far sooner than we humans.” Allura explains. My expression darkens for a moment in acknowledgment. “I am surprised though, to hear you wished for it could be different…”

“What child doesn’t wish for the right to play?” I ask, and she bows her head in acknowledgment.

“Point taken.” She hesitates, then asks. “Has it gotten any easier now that you are grown?”

“In some ways.” I allow. “In other ways, it’s as burdensome as ever. Especially being the prince of such a hard people.” I shake my head then. “But do we really want to talk about such a sad subject on a day as special as today? Come Allura, it is your birthday! I want you to smile for me.” I grin at her, trying to encourage the smile to blossom. It’s a slow one, hesitant and not fully reaching her eyes. “You can do better than that!” I insist, than turned devilish. “Or do I have to tickle you into submission, just like when we were children?”

“You wouldn’t dare!” Allura gasps, and I step towards her with a purpose.

“And you should know better than to tell me what I would and would not do!” She turned, as though she would flee through the balcony’s curtains. I couldn’t allow it, my trap not yet closed around her. I lunged after her, expression playful as I grabbed her arm and pulled her close. She struggled but did not scream, allow me to tickle my fingers along the sides of her waist.

“Oh Lotor!” She laughed, trying to struggle free of my hand. “Stop!”

“Not until you give me a genuine smile!” I tell her, still continuing my ticklish movements. She laughs, a hand brought to her mouth to muffle the sound. I don’t want that, and I grab her hand by the wrist. Now both my hands are occupied with the holding of her, and Allura gasps when she realizes how close together we are. Almost immediately after the gasp, the faintest of blushes start to color her cheek. It is a fetching look for her, and her eyes still sparkle from her earlier laughter.

“I…I think I should go back to the party…” She speaks in a hesitant whisper. “Gerald and the others are waiting for me…”

“Let them wait a moment longer…” I say, my tone controlled. “They’ll have all night to dance with you. While I…I will only have this moment…”

“Only this moment? What do you mean?”

“To my regret, my father is insisting I return to Doom first thing in the morning. I would have liked a longer visit but alas….” A shrugged of my shoulders, my expression schooled to be frustrated. She is dismayed.

“Do you have to go so soon?” Allura demands. I nod, which only increases her upset. “But I wanted to spend time with you!”

“I’m afraid it can’t be helped. Our obligations to both my father and your guests limit us in the time we can be together.” She doesn’t like that, doesn’t like the thought of returning to dance with men who are not me. I can practically see the gears turning in her mind, Allura trying to figure out a way to arrange more time together with me. “If only we could have more time together.” I sigh. “There is so much to catch up on…and it will be months if not another year before I can return to Arus again.”

“Months?!” She gasps, aghast. I nod.

“My father has my future all mapped out for me. I’ve things to do, worlds to visit, people to meet to further Drule relations. He doesn’t even allow me time for vacations, so quick is he to put me to work.” I can see how upset she is getting, how dismayed Allura is at the thought of being apart from me for that long. “But I’m glad I got this moment with you, even if it was just for a few minutes at most.”

I let go of her, and make a move to leave the balcony. Now it is Allura who stops me, her hand on my arm. “Wait…” I pause, waiting expectantly for the thoughts to form within her. “You can’t leave. Not until we’ve had a chance to catch up.”

“But I must. My father…”

“Your father need never know!” She exclaimed passionately. “Do you remember how to get to the palace garden?” I give a cautious nod. She smiles but is not yet relieved. Not until she has my agreement to the scheme she has formed. “I want you to come to it…to meet me in the gazebo after the party has ended and everyone else is asleep.”

“That won’t be till well after midnight!” I protest. “Well, after the time you should be in bed.” I make no mention of how improper it would be for us to meet that late. For inside I am gloating, ready to seal the trap closed.

“I am not a child anymore!” She snaps impatiently. “I can and will go to bed at my choosing.” A shake of her hair, gold curls seeming to fall out of place. I resist the urge to brush them back, just looking at her. “Lotor….please….meet with me. We can spend the night catching up on old times.”

“I do not know….”

“Please!” She’s almost begging now, tightening her fingers’ grip on my arm. “Just grant me this one wish…this one request….”

“All right.” I sigh as though conceding a great deal. “How can I refuse a princess on her birthday?” I am rewarded with her dazzling smile, Allura squeezing my arm one last time before letting go. She thanks me, and then with one last look my way, hurries on ahead into the ball room. I take my time in following her, lingering on the balcony to gloat at how easy she has made things.

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