The late night silence was broken up by the sound of horses moving, their hooves reverberating loudly on a stone pathway. Faintly one could make out the sounds of their snorting, a stallion letting out a protesting whinny, angry at his sleep being disturbed. The driver of the coach tried to quiet the stallion’s neighs, hushed words whispered out as he begged and sought to bribe the horses with promised treats.
It made little difference, the stallion continuing it’s grumpy vocalizations, the coach being pulled along behind the four horses. All around them were buildings, broken down, with shuttered windows that allowed no hint of light to seep through. There was an eerie absence of people, no curious onlookers, but still Lotor kept the carriage’s windows closed.
Next to him sat Allura, or more precise, she leaned into him, the princess having given in to her exhaustion at long last. He dare not move for fear of waking her, taking the moment to enjoy the feel of her resting against his side, her pleasing scent of lilacs and jasmine filling his nose with every breath he took. Across from him sat the Baron and the Duke, Alistair looking as though he was struggling to stay awake.
Baron Krieg was leaning back in his seat, head turned upwards as he stared, lost in thought. It had been his suggestion to come to this town, having their coach venture to a part no reputable man or woman would dare set foot in. Lotor could see why, the run down surroundings hardly inspiring confidence, and his lip curled in disgust at the vermin he spied running from shadow to shadow.
Once again he wondered if the Baron had steered them wrong, Lotor holding back a disgruntled snort as he thought back to their hurried flight from his mansion. They had had only hours to prepare, the servants moving quickly as they got horses and carriage ready, and found clothing suitable to wear into Alazne’s slums. Lotor could swear his skin recoiled at the feel of the scratchy butler’s uniform he now wore, the prince unused to such coarse fabric touching his pampered skin.
The Baron and Duke were dressed in similar outfits, Alistair dressed as a simple cook’s apprentice, while Krieg wore the uniform of a simple errand boy. Even Allura had gotten into the act, wearing one of the maids’ simple dresses, a hand me down that bagged slightly on her slender frame. Her disguise had needed the most preparations, blue make up being applied to her face to give her the appearance of a Drule born girl.
They couldn’t hide what her brilliant sun spun hair meant, so they had bound it up onto a maid’s serving cap, all her curls pinned and tucked meticulously beneath the white cotton. Even with the hair hidden, and the unusualness of seeing Allura with blue painted skin, he thought she was beautiful, putting to shame all the Drule females he had ever known.
They had been fortunate in leaving the mansion when they did, commander Gideon only having left two men to watch over the Baron’s home. Those two had barely paid attention to the servants inside the carriage, the driver explaining they were being sent to town to stock up on supplies. A lazon fueled cruiser would have brought suspicion for such a simple task, but little mind was paid to the horse drawn carriage.
They had bought some time, but the local authorities would come looking for them soon. The plan was to ditch the carriage, have the driver lead the commander’s men on a wild goose chase while the Baron’s accomplices hid them in town. Accomplices might be too mild a word for the relationship between Krieg and the black market thieves, but the Baron insisted they could buy their silence.
Even so, there were enemies here, hence the disguise for Allura. Lotor knew they might be able to play off his own appearance if he wasn’t seen standing next to a girl who looked like the human princess of Arus. They were banking on no one paying a second thought to a pretty Drule maid, though Lotor intended to hide Allura more securely once they got inside their destined hideout.
The coach was going even slower, the other horse joining in the stallion’s restlessness. The Baron seemed to rouse himself from his thoughts, a half smile appearing on his face. “We’re here.”
“Here?” Lotor risked a glance out the window, seeing nothing remarkable about the set of buildings the carriage had stopped between. They looked no cleaner than any of the other wrecks, and seemed as if a hearty sneeze would bring the roofs crashing down on their heads.
“Trust me on this…” The Baron said, already making a move for the carriage’s door. A chill wind seemed to blow inside the carriage at it’s opening, Allura giving a shiver for her maid’s outfit wasn’t made of warmer fabric. Lotor squeezed her closer to him, trying to give her some of his warmth even as he shook her awake.
“Hmm….are we there yet?” came her sleepy answer, Lotor nodding.
“Yes, Allura.” He glanced at Alistair, the man having succumb to sleep’s invite. “Wake up you lazy louse!” teased Lotor, giving his leg a hard kick. The Duke snorted awake, looking chagrined to have been caught napping. “We’re here.”
The duke looked as pleased as Lotor by their surroundings, but moved to follow the baron out of the carriage. Allura sleepily straightened up, stretching out her legs and her arms before standing. The Baron was waiting to help her down from the carriage, Lotor hefting a black duffel bag that contained plenty of money and the plans he had been working on.
“Now…” Krieg spoke in a hushed whisper, looking up at the carriage’s driver. “You know where to go?”
“Yes Bar–yes boss…” The driver had almost used the Baron’s title, a mistake that could have cost them dearly. “Don’t worry, they won’t catch me easily.”
“See that they don’t at all.” Advised Krieg, his tone dripping with warning. “There’s no doubt they won’t be merciful to anyone aiding us.”
The Drule swallowed nervously, nodding his head again. “I’ll do my best to avoid capture.” With those words he gave a hard flick of the horses’ reins, goading the beasts into a fast trot. Lotor just barely had time to slam the door shut before the carriage got moving, the prince turning to his allies.
“Let’s get inside…” advised the Baron, already heading for the ramshackle door. The glass windows had been shattered, wood boards nailed over it to protect from the elements. The door looked crooked on it’s hinges, with all it’s paint stripped free of it’s surface. Krieg paused before the door, and knocked three times in a row, Lotor recognizing it as a kind of code.
The door opened a crack, and Lotor spied an eye glaring out at them. “Yeah?” A gruff voice demanded, the owner sounding impatient.
“Rangspindhi.” Krieg said confidently, and the gruff voice muttered out a curse.
“Get in here you lousy bastards!” The door was opened just wide enough for one person to walk through at a time, Lotor making Allura walk before him and behind the Duke. He could tell by her movements she was nervous, possibly afraid of their surroundings, all elements of her sleep chased away. He felt she had a good right to be nervous, Lotor finding they had entered a kind of tavern, the door slamming shut behind him so loud and violently that Allura jumped in place.
Music was playing, but all talking had ceased, the people pausing to stare at Lotor’s party. He felt himself being sized up, the prince seeing this tavern was infested with shady looking characters who positively vibrated with ill repute. The Baron Krieg was already heading towards a table, his walk a confidant swagger as he approached the men sitting there.
Duke Alistair sighed, then followed after Krieg, Allura walking a tad slower behind him. Suddenly an arm reached out, catching her around the waist, a drunken human oaf leering at her. She let out a yelp of surprise, the sound tinged with revulsion. It only made the other denizens of the tavern laugh at her upset, the human lout pulling her onto his lap.
“Give us a kiss, my pretty!” He said, smacking his lips together in lewd suggestion. Allura let out a disgusted sound, slapping the man resoundingly in the face. Lotor was already hurrying forward, seeing the man look stunned by Allura’s blow. “Why you little tramp!” He snarled, but before he could return the slap, Lotor was there. He easily plucked Allura off the drunk’s lap, his other hand grabbing the man’s wrist.
“Hey!” The drunk protested, and Lotor smiled down at him. But the expression was one of pure menace, the prince exerting little effort in tightening his grip so that the cracking of the man’s bones could be heard.
“Keep your hands to yourself human, if you know what’s good for you.”
“Ow…!” The drunk cradled his injured hand to his chest, eyeing Lotor who smirked. The prince was about to usher Allura past, when the drunk pushed him further with his words. “Ah, who wants that Drule bitch anyway. Keep the slut, see if I care!”
In the blink of the eye, Lotor was on top of the drunk, the man toppling out of his chair and onto the floor. Lotor rode his body downwards, not missing a beat as he pummeled the man bloody. Faintly he could hear Allura crying out, saying something about stopping, but Lotor was too busy teaching the drunk the error of speaking so crudely about the disguised Allura.
The men sitting with the drunk had jumped to their feet, but they cautiously backed away from the scene, not wanting to get involved. Lotor was vaguely aware of someone touching him, a hand on his shoulder. He turned ready to punch that someone, and saw Krieg standing there, the baron looking exasperated with him. “Come on.” Said the baron. “He’s already unconscious. You made your point. No one else will touch her.”
Allura was staring at him, a tormented look on her face. He worried she’d start crying, and that would be a disaster for her tears would streak the make up that disguised her skin’s true color. Lotor very much wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, but right now he thought she very much thought of him as a monster. He sighed, and released his grip on the man’s collar, the drunk’s head hitting the hard floor with a thud.
Lotor drew close to Allura, and picked up the duffel bag he had dropped during the attack on the human. He was tempted to avoid looking at her completely, but instead he met her eyes, unsure of what expression to show her. She blinked several times, then looked away, walking towards the table that Alistair sat at. It left Lotor wondering how Krieg had gotten the previous owners to vacate the table, Lotor having missed the exchange between them due to the one sided fight.
With a disgruntled sound, Lotor dropped into an empty seat next to Allura, the prince slamming the duffel bag on top of the table. He wanted to keep an eye on it, not trusting any of the scum that surrounded them to keep their hands off the bag. A serving wench approached them, another human dressed in an eye popping outfit that had her breasts almost displayed completely when she bent over to take their orders.
In no mood for a drink, Lotor still ordered the house ale, knowing it would keep the owner from kicking up a fuss about them free loading on the property. Krieg talked amicably with the wench, ordering some kind of snack in addition to his drink. Lotor tapped his fingers impatiently on top of the duffel bag, waiting for the wench to leave them.
“Well, Krieg? Where are they?” demanded Lotor, a glower on his face. “I did not come all this way to watch you flirt with a bar maid!”
“They’ll be here soon…” Krieg quickly assured. “These men come highly recommended….”
“Recommended by who?” Lotor asked, and Krieg smiled.
“By my associates.” Lotor frowned at the baron, hardly feeling assured by what he said. “Don’t worry…..everything will be fine…”
“In my experience, reassurances like that is when everything is blown to hell.” Muttered Alistair. Allura was sitting quietly, looking down at her lap. Her fingers fidgeted with the apron over her skirt, giving the air of one who wasn’t paying attention. But Lotor was certain she was not missing a word of their conversation, the princess too savvy to lose herself in thoughts at such a crucial time.
The serving wench returned, setting down everyone’s drinks before them. A small plate of some kind of fried, brown powdered meat was left by the Baron, Lotor wrinkling his nose at it’s pungent smell. The Baron began to eat, the man seeming completely relaxed, even with the other tavern patrons seeming to watch their every move.
Maintaining his frown, Lotor crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes showing his angry boredom. He had to fight to keep from fidgeting, his foot wanting to tap out his impatience. The time continued to tick, the Duke and Baron making idle conversation, Allura once in a while joining in with her own opinion. Just when Lotor was about to explode with rage about being kept waiting, a heavy knock sounded on the door, three times in quick succession.
The same voice asked out a question, a man murmuring the strange word Krieg had uttered. Gruff approval was met, the door opening to admit two new people into the room. Lotor turned to look, seeing the first, a man who was a brown colored human walking towards their table. He had raven black hair that was short and shaggy, bangs falling into his eyes in such a manner that had to obscure his vision.
Behind him, towering a good six inches taller was a woman, a pretty pale purple Drule female. Lotor was surprised to see her, thinking she looked as out of place as Allura did in this tavern. She seemed so delicate, walking gracefully towards the table just as the drunk Lotor had put down regained consciousness. It appeared the man had not learned his lesson, for he suddenly goosed the purple female’s shapely rear, laughing mockingly all the while.
Lotor expected her male companion to leap to her defense, but suddenly she turned and back handed the drunk across the face. Her studded jeweled fingers caught on the man’s cheeks, tearing ragged marks into his skin that bled profusely. Nervous laughter followed the woman’s attack, the drunk whimpering as she suddenly held a dagger to his throat. “Touch me again…” She said in pleasant, dulcet tones. “And you’ll find yourself missing jewels of your own.” Lotor could not see what she was doing with her other hand, but the man yelped, a high pitch sound of fear.
“Devana come! Stop wasting our time on filth like him!” came the bored tone of her companion. Her arm seemed to tense, the man crying out in pain, and then she reared back from him, returning her pristine blade to the sheathe on her hip.
“Are these the ones?” Lotor murmured to the Baron, seeing them move purposefully towards their table. The baron moved to stand, a welcoming look on his face.
“Devana, Drake, so good of you to come.”
“You’re late.” Growled Lotor, crossing his arms over his chest again as he looked over the odd pair.
“Comes with the territory.” The man named Drake said. He gave a toss of his head, his bangs moving enough for Lotor to spy he was missing one eye, the skin scarred from some long ago wound. “We’re here now though, so let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
Devana nodded, and pointed a manicured claw at the bartender. “We’re using your back room.” Her tone allowed for no arguments, the bartender nodding his head as if he was used to this happening frequently. Drake and Devana didn’t even look back to see if Lotor’s party was following, walking confidently towards the back door of the tavern.
The Baron gave Lotor an apologetic look, as if trying to excuse the behavior of the pair. Lotor scowled and grabbed the duffel bag, Allura hurrying to stand when he did. Together the four hurried after the newcomers, entering what had been deemed the back room. The door had barely clicked closed behind them, and the female was speaking, leaning against the table, one hip arched provocatively.
“We don’t come cheap.”
“No one worth their talents does.” Chuckled the Baron. “We can pay.” He nodded at the duffel bag Lotor had, the prince opening it to flash the gold coins and jewels inside. It had been taken from the Baron’s secret treasure room, and Lotor wondered if it would be enough to satisfy this pair of crooks. Their eyes seemed to light up with greed, but other than that, they betrayed no further interest in the money. Lotor knew they had instead on money in a more tangible form, the crooks not trusting credits to be wired into their accounts.
“What’s the job?” The female asked, looking away from the duffel bag’s contents.
“We need to break into a home….” began Krieg, and Drake interrupted the Baron with a laugh.
“We don’t do simple break ins. Not anymore. Call us when you have a real job for us.”
“It is a real job!” Allura surprised them all with her fiery exclamation. “It’s to save someone’s life!”
“We don’t do missions of mercy either!” Drake retorted.
“Hear us out, please!” Allura said, taking a step forward, her hands clasped together. Lotor held up his hand, stopping her from getting any closer to Drake and Devana.
“We wouldn’t have called you if it was simple.” Lotor said. “We need to break into the prince’s home to retrieve something of value…”
“Hold up!” It was almost imperceptible, but Devana’s gold eyes had widened slightly. “The prince? You want us to break into one of Prince Tristans’ homes?”
“Yes!” Allura confirmed for Lotor.
“You’re crazy!” Devana said as Drake shook with laughter.
“No,. we’re desperate.” Lotor admitted. “And we’ve got the money to pay for your help.”
“No money’s worth going up against Prince Tristan!” exclaimed Devana.
“Hold on Devana…” Drake spoke up, his laughter having lessened in force. “This job….will it…hurt the prince in any way?”
“Oh yes.” Lotor said, with a smirk. “You could say it will cost him all his ambitions. It will certainly hurt his pride…”
“Hurt pride and lost ambitions is good, but I need more.” Drake said. “Just why are you doing this?”
“He’s a very bad man! Who can’t be allowed to get away with what he’s trying to do!” Allura said, voice an earnest exclamation.
“How noble.” Commented Drake in response to the princess’ words.
“He’s tried to ruin lives…” Lotor said, and Devana shrugged.
“That’s nothing unusual as far as Tristan is concerned.”
“This has to do with the missing princess….” Baron Krieg said, and Lotor turned, furious at the Drule.
“Missing? Don’t you mean stolen?” Drake asked, wanting a clarification.
“She wasn’t stolen, she was saved.” Allura said, voice so quiet Lotor had to strain to hear her. “Tristan wanted to force her into marriage with him. Marriage so he could gain control of Voltron and begin a galaxy wide conquest that would rival the Drules.”
“And you know this how?” Devana questioned skeptically.
“Because…” A dramatic fling of her cap onto the floor, Allura’s hair tumbling downwards. “That princess is me.”