Mask 09

She couldn’t stifle her first, panicked reaction, Allura letting out a loud protesting shout in response to the harried announcement the Duke had just made. As much as she wanted to color in embarrassment for her outburst, she feared she could not, Allura positive the color had drained out of her face. Lotor had no better a reaction that she, the man letting out a vicious torrent of words, mixing foreign Drule words in with Arusian. The Duke seemed to flinch back from Lotor’s anger, the prince of Doom lifting a hand to gesture wildly.

“Where the devil are our men?! Why weren’t we alerted to this sooner?!”

“The Baron has men posted at various spots along the roads leading to the mansion. But…” The Duke’s words were cut off by Lotor, the prince clearly in no mood for excuses.

“But? But!! They were supposed to be watching the roads. Ready to alert us at the first sign of trouble. Were they too busy lazing about with drink and women to do their job!” He was growling out his frustration, and for one instant Allura started to reach out to touch his arm, wanting to calm him. But she fell short of touching him, curling her fingers into a fist as she felt another wave of helpless fear go through her.

“They’re using some kind of device to block transmissions!” The Duke managed to sputter out, almost seeming to cower before his prince’s anger. “It blocks all incoming and outgoing calls…I don’t know how far a ground it covers, but it was enough to keep our men on the road from radioing ahead.”

“Wonderful.” Lotor muttered, his expression no less sour.

“They must have figured out the Baron was at the party…” continued the Duke. “They’ve come prepared, and we have only moments to spring into action.”

Allura was barely paying attention to the Duke’s words, having brought her fist to her mouth, to gnaw at her knuckles. Terror locked her every muscle, Allura poised to run, though she knew not where she would go. Not even Lotor’s displayed anger could move her to do much more than flinch, Allura more frightened of the thought of Tristan’s men dragging her back to that fiend’s bedroom.

“What do we do?” She spoke out loud, the two Drules exchanging a glance. “Are we going to fight? Do we have enough men?!”

The Duke smiled at her, but she could see it was a forced expression. “We may not have to.” He stepped past Allura to start gathering up the documents on the desk, his arms becoming full off the many papers and blue prints.

“What do you mean?” Lotor asked at the same time Allura voiced a question of her own.

“What are you doing?!”

“Come with me….there’s little time to explain, and even less time to stand about here!” Duke Alistair hurried towards the room’s exit, Allura glancing uncertainly at Lotor. He nodded at her, and at her hesitation, offered her his hand. She stared at it an instant, then nervously reached to clasps fingers with him. Together they strode forward, stepping through the doorway and out into the study’s corridor. The Duke was standing at the end of the hall, vibrating with impatience as he waited for them to catch up.

“Fear not Allura.” Lotor murmured assurance to her. “I won’t let you go to him without a fight.”

“But what can you do….?” Allura asked, voicing her anxiety. “Even if you fight off his men, more will come….and we won’t be able to radio for help….”

“It may not come to that…” Duke Alistair had heard Allura’s concerns, another forced smile on his face. “If we’re lucky they won’t even know you’re here.”

“Won’t know? But how?” Allura shook her head, not understanding at all. “They’ll search the house….”

“And they’ll find nothing.” The Duke insisted, leading them over to a white plaster wall. “Here…hold this…” Before Lotor could answer, the Duke was already forcing the papers into Lotor’s arms, the prince hurriedly letting go of Allura’s hand so that he could keep the documents from falling onto the floor. “He said it was right about here….” continued the Duke, his hands smoothing along the section of wall before him.

“It?” Allura echoed, even more confused by the Duke’s behavior. A glance at Lotor showed the prince no less agitated, the prince giving her a useless shrug of his shoulders.

“Yes….the passage way….” Another minute of searching, and then an audible click was heard, the Duke’s face lighting up with excitement. To Allura’s surprise, the wall pushed inwards, inviting darkness into the hall.

“A hidden room!” marveled Allura, staring into the darkness. She wondered what purpose it could serve for, and asked as much out loud.

“No doubt it serves as a smuggler’s stash.” Came Lotor’s answer, the prince peering into the darkness. “I say it’s likely Krieg has been hiding some of his assests from both the tax collector’s of Alazne and Doom’s eyes.” Lotor’s voice betrayed none of what he was thinking, though Allura couldn’t help but wonder if the reveal of this hidden passage would spell trouble for the Baron.

“They won’t be able to find you.” The Duke was gesturing, almost impatient as he watched Lotor walk inside the darkened passage. “Not without someone betraying your whereabouts.”

“I wish you hadn’t have said that.” Allura murmured, cautiously stepping into the darkness. She was too worried over potential betrayal from the Baron’s servants, knowing that the reward for her and Lotor’s capture was high enough to tempt even the most kind hearted of person.

“If you follow the passageway…” The Duke was already closing the wall, his words starting to muffle. “You’ll be able to reach the space behind the drawing room. Baron Krieg will greet his visitors there.”

“Thank you.” Allura said, trying not to jump once the wall closed seamlessly behind her. It was even darker now, and she shifted forward towards where she thought Lotor was standing. “Lotor…?”

“I’m here.” He assured her, and she heard the rustle of the papers he held. She realized now the reason the Duke had insisted on their removal, the Drule not wanting what they had been planning to fall into enemy’s hands. He neither wanted to alert them to the pair’s presence, nor to their plans to infiltrate Tristan’s villa.

“Here…” More sounds of the papers moving, and then she felt Lotor bump into her. “Hold onto my arm. I won’t guide you wrong in the darkness.”

She nodded, then realized the gesture was all but wasted on him. Even with the Drule’s heightened eye sight, it had to be difficult for Lotor to see in this complete darkness, the prince taking hesitant steps forward. Allura clung to his arm, trusting him to keep her from falling, and eventually they reached what Lotor deemed to be a much larger space.

The papers were pushed into her arms, Lotor advising Allura to remain pressed against the wall. She then heard him moving about, stumbling into things as he muttered. At last something metallic clanked, and she heard satisfaction in Lotor’s voice as he fiddled with something. Light flared up, not much, but it was enough to hurt her eyes after the complete darkness.

Blinking her eyes rapidly, Allura slowly got used to the change in light, spying Lotor holding a lantern. She looked away to peer curiously at the room, and spied a chair nestled among thick bags and locked chests. Silk draped over one such chest, and an overturned bag spilled gold and a several dazzling colored jewels onto the floor. She shuffled closer to the wealth, wondering how the Baron had accumulated so much of it.

“I see the Baron’s black markets dealings have been good to him.” Lotor was without humor as he made that comment, shuffling over to study the wall. She nodded again, Allura setting the plans down on the chair’s seat, before turning to look at the prince. He had found several holes cut into the wall, standing about even with his eyes.

“Spy holes?” She asked, coming closer.

“No doubt hidden by paintings. A cliche but useful device.” Lotor said. Allura tried to go on tip toe to look through one set of holes, but found she still came up short and sighed. Lotor smiled, and without asking, fetched one of the smaller crates, dragging it over to her. “You can stand on this.” He advised, already helping her by lifting her up by the waist. She held back a startled sound, still leery of being touched without invitation.

“Th….thank you.” Allura stuttered out in response, seeing his smile deepen.

“We won’t want to miss the show.” Lotor said, and returned to the other set of eyeholes.

“The show?” Allura echoed, turning slowly to peer into the room. Like the rest of the mansion, the room was elegant, expressing the Baron’s exquisite taste when it came to decorating his home. The walls were painted in soft navy colors, with gold accents that made up the bottom borders. The floor was a deep brown, planks of lacquered wood that echoed the footsteps of a pacing man. From the medals decorating his breast, Allura rightfully assumed he was the leader of this small party of enforcers. And it was small, Allura surprised to see just how few men were with him. She dared to feel hope that the Baron’s guards would be able to fight them off, even as she grew distraught at the thought of the violence that would ensue.

It had taken Lotor and Allura several minutes to traverse the passageway, enough time for the Baron to show. And yet he had yet to put in an appearance, leaving the men to frown and grumble. Two of the Baron’s employed men stood watch in the doorway, barring the visitors from leaving the room. She could tell they did not like that, the men itching to turn the house upside down in their search for herself and Lotor.

She heard Lotor chuckling, and glanced his way. In response to her puzzled look, Lotor hastened to explain. “He’s making them wait. No doubt to put them on edge.” Again that chuckle, Lotor voicing his approval. “It’s what I would do in this same situation.”

“Oh.” She wasn’t sure what to say to that, and commenced studying the room. The men inside weren’t familiar to her, none of them the guards from Tristan’s sick
party. One was a big brute of a fellow, enough size to him to compete with the shorter of Drules, his uniform ill fitting and stretching over the many muscles in his arms. The other was a more wiry fellow, a more normal height for a human, all long and lean. His fingers were nervous, playing out a tapping tune on the arm rest of his chair.

“Is that all the men?” She wondered out loud, hardly impressed by the trio.

“I doubt it.” Lotor answered. “No doubt the others are waiting just outside the property. These are probably the highest in the chain of command, here to play at paying a courtesy visit to the Baron….ah….and here Krieg is now.”

The pacing leader of the three could not hide his relief to see the Baron, the man striding towards the Drule, his hand held for a hand shake. The Baron ignored the offered hand, and strode deeper into the room, taking his seat on the couch opposite the seated two.

“Ah…” The baron was all calm and composed, looking at his visitors with a polite smile. “Commander Gideon…so good to see you. I trust your family is doing well?”

“Yes, as well as can be.” Came the commander’s polite answer.

“Your wife Charis is still expecting, isn’t she?” Krieg asked, Allura amazed he could make polite conversation with any of these men considering their freedom, their very lives might be at stake. “It will be your third son, will it not?” He said in response to the commander’s nod.

“Here now…” interjected the big brute of a man, an angry scowl on his face. “We have not come to pay you a social visit. We are on official business.”

“Oh?” A polite sound, the Baron looking puzzled. “And what sort of business do the local authorities have with me? I’ve reported no crimes.”

“But have you committed them?!” demanded the brute, before commander Gideon could interject. Krieg avoided answering his question, continuing to smile politely.

“I’ve take it you’ve heard the news?” Baron Krieg nodded, and Gideon let out a breath. “Of course you have. It’s been on all the channels.”

“Yes, dreadful thing, the prince’s fiancee being kidnapped. But…what does that have to do with me?”

“You’re Drule, ain’t ya?” demanded the brute, practically snarling. “That’s proof right there of your guilt!”

“Be quiet Olaf!” snapped the commander, then looked apologetically at the Baron. “Tensions are running high since the Prince of Doom is said to be the one to have absconded with the princess.”

“Said to be?” sputtered the leaner of the two seated. “I think we have concrete proof who did the kidnapping. Prince Tristan saw that scoundrel with his own eyes!”

“We have to keep an open mind to all possibilities” chided the commander.

“Still it begs the question, who the Baron is loyal to. The ruler of Alazne, or that Drule prince of his!” Krieg kept a neutral look on his face, leaning back in seat as he studied the one who has spoken.

“Deptuty Tulliver…”

“CAPTAIN Tulliver, as you well know!” The lean Tulliver snapped.

“Ah…captain.” corrected Krieg. “I may be Drule, but my home is here on Alazne. I think it’s better to cast in my lot with those who are closer, as they are far quicker to do me harm than those far away.”

“So you expect us to believe your loyal to Prince Tristan and not the rulers of Doom?!”

“Believe what you like.” Krieg answered smoothly. “I believe you were about to explain the reason behind this sudden visit?”

“It’s not so unexpected is it?” Commander Gideon asked. “You were at the prince’s party.”

“Yes.” Agreed Krieg with a nod. “I was.”

“We’ve been going down the list, paying a visit to all the homes and hotels of those at the party. Hoping they can give us information that will lead to the return of the princess.”

“And you rushed right over here when you found out I was at the party?”

“We’re visiting everyone….but it doesn’t help that you match the description of one of the few Drules at the party.” Explained the commander.

“Surely you don’t think I had anything to do with the princess’ abduction?!” The Baron tsked, tone chiding.

Olaf seemed to twitch, but held back a comment as his commander spoke. “You might know something…”

“I know nothing.” The Baron was quick to reply. “I can assure you I wouldn’t dirty my hands with such illegal dealings.”

Olaf snorted at that, the sound distorted with disgust. “Yeah, you’re good at not getting involved, aren’t you?”

“I don’t pretend to know what you insinuate with that.” Replied the Baron.

“I’ll bet you don’t.” Olaf grumbled, but a sharp glance from Gideon had him falling silent.

“Commnader, I don’t understand. Are you here to charge me with something? I’m aware that Drules have been taken off the streets, arrested for no other reason than for the color of their skin.”

“They’ve been taken in for questioning yes…” admitted Gideon. “But they haven’t been harmed.”

“Yet.” Muttered Olaf darkly.

“And no…” Gideon said, choosing to ignore Olaf’s grumble. “We’re not charging you with anything. But we would like your cooperation in the matter.”

“I’ll do what I can, but I fail to see of how I can be of use to you.” The Baron said, just as an excited clamor rose from outside the room. Allura’s eyes widened as several more human soldiers burst into the drawing room, one of the dresses the baron’s servant had purchased clutched in his hands.

“What’s this?” demanded Gideon, even as the Baron rose to his feet. Olaf immediately stood, tensing for violence as he watched the Baron’s reaction.

“We found this and a whole lot more in one of the upstairs’ rooms!” announced the soldier with the dress. He seemed to be shaking it about, a gloating smile on his face.

“Sorry your lordship…” A Drule guard was at the doorway, an unhappy expression on his face. “I tried to stop them, but they insisted on searching the house.”

“Without my permission?!” demanded the Baron, drawing up to his full height. “I hope you have the proper search warrants Commander, else you will be brought up on charges of your own for trespassing and unlawful invasion of privacy.”

“First explain these dresses!” Tulliver demanded.

“Can’t a man buy a few tokens for his mistress?!” The Baron demanded in return. “Is it against the law to want to see to the care and comfort of his lover?!”

“No but…I’m well aware you’ve taken no one as your mistress these past few months.” Commander Gideon pointed out. “So who are the dresses for.”

“It’s not my woman, but the mistress of my guest.” The Baron nodded at Duke Alistair who was being roughly pushed into the room. “The lady in question is his.”

“And where is this lady?!”

“She couldn’t remain cooped up all day.” Retorted the Baron. “She’s gone to town, to see the local sights and do some shopping.”

“You won’t mind if I check on your story will you?” The Commander’s question was more statement than request. The Baron nodded, not betraying any of his inner reluctance.

“Check the house.” Ordered the Commander. “Leave nothing unturned. We’ll see what other secrets the Baron is hiding.”

“You’ll find none, I assure you.” The Baron retorted, frost chilling his words. “And unless I see a search warrant produced, I will have to exert my rights to have you removed from the property.” Hesitation from the commander had Krieg smiling. “You do have a search warrant, do you not Commander Gideon?”

“No, but I can get one.” He retorted, sounding defensive.

“Well, until you do, I suggest you leave now before you incur any more damage to your careers. Good day gentleman.” The Baron turned his back on the authorities, moving to pour himself a drink. It was a clear sign of dismissal, Krieg drinking his brandy at a sedate pace.

“Damn you, this isn’t over with!” Olaf growled, and took a menacing step towards Krieg. Tulliver quickly grabbed Olaf’s arms, shaking his head.

‘It’s not worth it…”

“Damn it Tulliver, you know these Drules only understand one thing, and that’s brute force!” shouted Olaf.

“You’ll be up on charges if you touch him without proper reason.” Commander Gideon snapped. “We’re leaving Baron Krieg. But I suggest you and the Duke and his mysteriously absent mistress don’t stray too far.”

“Where would we go?” asked Krieg in between sips of his brandy. “All ships have been grounded, it’s not as though we could flee the planet.” A humorless chuckle from the Duke at that.

“Just stay put. We’ll be watching you.” Warned the Commander, and turned to leave the room. Olaf glowered at the Baron’s back, and only Tulliver’s pull on his arm got him to move. The soldier holding the dress let out a disgusted sound, flinging the garment onto the floor. The Drule guards hurried to escort the humans off the Baron’s property, and it wasn’t until they left the room that Allura sagged in place with relief.

“That was close.” She said, glancing at Lotor. He stood leaning with his back to the wall, a frown on his face.

“Too close.” Agreed Lotor. “Luckily the Baron was well in his rights to throw them out for trespassing.”

“But they’ll be back.” Allura sighed, unable to keep from shivering. She brought up her arms, hugging herself as she stared at the floor.

“Yes, they will.” Agreed Lotor, with a nod of his head. “And next time they’ll have gone through all the proper channels. They’ll be armed with warrants, and worse yet with suspicions. They’ll have found out there is no mistress, and that none of the cruisers or carriages left the manor in days. They’ll be on to us, if they aren’t already.”

“Then what do we do?” Allura whispered, and heard Lotor step towards her.

“First things first. We vacate the mansion tonight.”

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