The day was bright and breezy. the midday sun high in the sky. The few clouds that were present, were white tufts of fluff, a stark contrast to the past two days of gray storm clouds. It was rare for this season to have such continuos downpour, the storms seeming to come from nowhere. It had left Allura cooped up inside her castle home, the princess spending much of her time in her room, going over her studies.
By the time the third morning rolled around, she was well ready to go out, the rain be damned. Fortunately for Allura, the third day was a complete contrast to the previous days, ushering in strong beams of sunlight that touched down on the land. Her mood improved drastically, Allura fetching some of her books, and going out to her gardens.
The gardens themselves were flourishing, having soaked up all the rain that had pelted them. And now with the sun shining warmth on them, many of the flowers were blooming, leaving her surrounded by a multi colored forest, some of which stretched up as high as her neck. The garden was also fragrant, the flowers many varied smells perfuming the air. It would have been a nightmare for someone who had strong allergies with all the pollen being released, but to Allura it was heaven.
She ignored the white wood gazebo that was situated in the center most spot of her gardens, instead choosing to lay a blanket down on the soft grass. Sprouting up from the ground, it’s roots breaking up the evenness of the grass, was a large apple tree. It’s long, sturdy branches offered shade from the sun, and Allura settled herself against it’s trunk, a book spread open on her lap.
She stared down at the writing, but the words seemed distant to her, Allura hardly interested in reviewing her history lessons. She was more concerned with the situation facing the galaxy, Allura thinking on how close they were to eliminating the threat of the Keraclon once and for all. It chafed to be so close to a solution, and then be denied the answer, Allura frowning as she thought of Lotor and his smug demands.
Those demands had not changed, Lotor refusing to budge on his desire that Allura marry him. He was obstinate and stubborn, Allura holding back a sigh. She had always known how obsessed he was with her, but it was still jarring to be so near to that seemingly single minded focus of his. As such, she had spent the last two days going out of her way to avoid him, refusing all his requests that she come speak with him.
That didn’t seem to deter Lotor, the Drule walking about the castle, trying to catch her alone and unaware. It was no wonder she had fled to the solace of her bedroom, content to work on her school work rather than deal with him. But reports kept flooding in, keeping her abreast of Lotor’s whereabouts. He traveled just about everywhere he could, always escorted, though the castle’s command center was completely off limits to him.
As far as they all knew, Zarkon did not know the current whereabouts of his son. Given the state of the Drule outpost, he might even assume Lotor was dead, and that bought them time when it came to dealing with Doom’s King. Lotor was a tentative guest of the castle, but Zarkon would no doubt view him as a prisoner, and come to unleash his vengeance on Arus.
She knew Lotor had said that Zarkon would never negotiate for his release, but instead seek revenge against those who had taken his only son and heir from him. Now would not be a good time for an attack from Doom, not with Keith and Black Lion far from Arus.
It had been just hours after that horrid dinner date with Prince Lotor, that Keith had left. Some might say his mission was senseless, a wild goose chase that would not produce any results. Keith was almost stubborn in believing the opposite, his faith strong that he would find something, some glimmer of hope for Allura to grasp upon and be able to avoid marrying Lotor.
She was already grateful to Keith just for making the effort, Allura not holding hope that he would find what they needed. Keith had already been gone from Arus for fifty-five hours, endlessly searching planets, and moons, searching not for life but ruins. He kept in contact with Arus, calling in his reports every three hours. Sometimes she was present for his reports, but most times she left it to Coran to deal with. It was simply too much, to stare into Keith’s grim face, the truth of his lack of findings apparent with his frustrated expressions.
She often thought back to the conversation she had had with Lotor, trying to block out the moments when he had made her choose to endure his attentions. Allura certainly didn’t linger on the kisses he had pressed into her flesh, and when she did think about him pinning her to the table, she only felt anger. It made her fume to think this was how he was repaying her for saving his life, Allura wondering why he couldn’t be grateful enough to just tell her what she needed to know!
She didn’t understand why Lotor didn’t feel a greater sense of urgency, why he wasn’t compelled to do the greater good once in his miserable life. Was it the fact that the Keraclon were so far away from his home world, that allowed him the luxury to delay their defeat? Or was he confidant that Doom, such a brittle and inhospitable world would not catch the Keraclons’ eye, that he need only work on protecting the holdings that made up Doom’s Empire.
Such a selfish attitude was just one of a plethora of reasons why Allura didn’t want to tie herself to Lotor, never mind what she feared the Doom Empire would do if they had access to Voltron. How much faster and ruthless would Doom’s conquest be, if Voltron was not there to impede their progress but to help their advance? That thought had her shuddering, Allura angrily flipping through the pages of her book.
The rustling of the pages didn’t disturb the peace of her gardens, but the sudden sound of footsteps marching towards her did. Allura frowned, knowing the gardens were her private sanctum. Few if any people would dare intrude when she was inside it’s fragrant confines. A glance up showed who it was, Allura turning hostile with a glare.
“It figures you would intrude on me here!” Allura grit out as a greeting, snapping her book shut. She moved to stand, not wanting to have Lotor look down on her for the conversation that was to ensue.
“You left me little choice.” Lotor said, maneuvering himself forward on his crutch. A discrete distance behind him was a castle guard, the man trying to pretend he wasn’t eavesdropping on the words the prince and princess were saying. “You’ve been avoiding me for days, hiding in your room! Surely you did not think I would miss out on the chance to see you the instant you stepped out of your private quarters.”
“Surely I did not, but I had hoped you’d have enough sense to respect me by keeping your distance!” She retorted. “Clearly that was a waste of faith!” She made a move as though to step past him, Lotor quickly blocking her way with the crutch. “Let me by!” demanded Allura, and Lotor shook his head.
“No, not yet. Not until we talk.”
“I have no interest in what you have to say!” Allura snapped, one hand on her hip. “Not unless you are about to tell me how to defeat the Keraclon!”
“Have you decided to marry me?” Lotor asked, and she quickly shook her head no. “Then no, Allura, I will keep my secrets. To the grave if need be.”
“Why must you be so infuriating?!” She demanded, her anger increasing a notch at his smirk.
“It’s part of my charm.”
“Charming is not a word I would use to describe you.” Allura shot back, incensed that her words did not wipe the smirk off his face.
“I’m damn plenty charming.” Lotor insisted. “In fact, many women think so.”
“All slaves no doubt, with no choice but to cater to your over inflated ego!” She retorted.
“Yes, I do keep slaves, but you do realize I do on occasion dabble with free women as well?” Lotor asked, arching an eyebrow at her. “I do so enjoy variety after all.”
“That’s not what I heard.” Allura said, thinking of the descriptions he had given Lance of his harem slaves.
“Oh? And that is what?” Lotor questioned, a curious look in his eyes.
She kept her gaze locked with his, almost daring him to deny what she knew as truth. “That you have a certain type.”
“A type? And that is a crime?” Lotor sounded amused as he asked that, still smirking at her.
“Well, no…” Allura admitted, then shook her head. “But it’s weird….you’re obsessed with blue eyed blondes, you even kidnapped my cousin because Romelle fit that type.”
“I took Romelle because she made a valuable hostage.” Countered Lotor. “The fact that she resembled you was just a bonus.”
“That’s sick!” exclaimed Allura, and Lotor laughed.
“No, it’s me being honest.”
“Hmph!” The tilt of head gave a haughty air to her demeanor, Allura eyeing him warily. “Romelle says you tried to give her a choice too. To marry her or be cast into the pit of skulls.”
“I was half out of my mind with grief over your supposed death. You’ll have to forgive anything I said and did at the time.” Before she could utter a response, Lotor grinned, stepping closer to her. “You weren’t…jealous were you?”
Allura’s mouth dropped open in shock, for one long instant she was very determined to hit him with her book. She wasn’t sure if the hard cover would knock any sense into that thick skull of his though, so she refrained that impulse. “Repulsed is more like it!” She retorted, but Lotor didn’t look convinced.
“You can’t imagine how relieved I was, how happy, when I had learned you had survived. That it meant we would have another chance to be together.”
“We will never be together!” insisted Allura, fixing him with her iciest glare.
“You’ll feel like a fool when you’re proven wrong on that account.” Lotor said, unaffected by the look she was giving him. “The Keraclon will be defeated, the Denubian Galaxy saved. And all because you agreed to be mine.”
Lotor just tsked at that, looking almost tired of her protests. An awkward pause developed between them, Lotor turning to look around the garden. “Its very pretty here.” He said at last. “I can see why you like it here.”
“I’d like it a lot more if you were gone from here!” A snide Allura said.
“You wound me Allura.” Lotor glanced back at her. “Is my presence so distasteful to you?”
“YES!” An exasperated Allura exclaimed, earning a faint, wistful smile from Lotor.
“We’ll have to work on that. As my wife I expect and demand you to want my company, to enjoy it.” She sputtered wordlessly at that, Lotor walking over to a flowered hedge. She thought he meant to pick the lavender colored flower, but he merely bent to sniff it, enjoying without touching. “So different from Doom.” He commented out loud. “A small slice of paradise right in your own backyard. Ah, how I envy you.”
“Do you like flowers?” Allura asked, not sure what to say in response to his comments.
“I like anything that’s this pretty.” He answered, much to her surprise.
“Somehow flowers don’t seem to suit you…” Allura muttered.
“Oh? And what does?” A curious Lotor asked.
“Blood and death.” Allura eventually said after a lengthy pause. Another glimmer of a half smile, Lotor reaching out to finger the petals of one of the flowers. His actions were careful, a gentle touch that barely disturb the petals. “Isn’t that what you Drules prefer?”
“Some of us do.” Agreed Lotor. “My father most certainly does. But you’ll find that most Drules much prefer drinking and sex to the violence of the battlefield.” He straightened then, and turned back towards her. “You really shouldn’t base your assumptions on the rumors and lies that fester on the lips of those who have been….defeated by the Drules.”
Another faint smile then, Lotor nodding at her book. “I’m sure you’re well versed on the rewriting of history that comes on the heels of a war. The winners try to embellish their side of things, and the losers always exaggerate the things that were done to them.”
“But not all of the Drule’s misdeeds are lies and exaggerations!” protested Allura. “I’ve been to some of the worlds you hold, seen the people, downtrodden and enslaved. Untold cruelties committed to them, at the hands of the Drule.”
“An unfortunate necessity.” Lotor answered breezily. “If they would simply submit when we first set foot on their world, we could avoid all manners of unpleasantness. Allura, take the time to study some of the worlds that prosper under Doom’s rule. You’ll find the treatment of the people much different there.”
“Just because you’re nice to some..” Allura began, shaking her head wildly. “It doesn’t excuse the bad things you do to others!” His expression was disappointed then, as though Lotor had pinned many hopes on somehow making her see his point of view.
“I don’t ask for forgiveness…”
“No, you just want my acceptance.” Allura corrected. “And that is something I cannot grant you.” She moved to walk past him, and the listening guard straightened, an almost guilty look in his eyes. She didn’t reprimand the man for clearly eavesdropping on her conversation with Lotor. She was just grateful for his presence, sure Lotor had behaved himself only because of the watchful eyes of the guard.
“Allura.” Lotor called out after her, but she didn’t stop, and she didn’t slow. She didn’t want to talk to him anymore, Allura stepping quicker towards the castle’s side door entrance. Even with Lotor’s ease at using his crutch, he couldn’t quite keep up with her fast pace, and she soon left him behind.
She didn’t get far in her travel to her bedroom, running into Pidge near the stair case that led up to the floor that housed her personal chambers. It was apparent he was waiting for her, and his face was looking pale, eyes downcast and worried. Her already turbulent mood took a tumble downwards, Allura fearing the worse to see Pidge looking so depressed.
“Hello Pidge.” She greeted him, and he moved to fall in step besides her. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Keith.” Pidge answered, and something in her stomach clenched. “He’s found something.”
“Oh?” That was all she said, Allura suddenly too nervous to find out more.
“Yeah….it’s bad too.” Added Pidge, with a sigh. “Coran asked me to come get you. To discuss Keith’s findings.”
“I understand. Let’s go.” Allura said, and Pidge began to walk her in the direction of the castle’s strategy planning room. The rest of the Voltron Force was present, Hunk and Lance sitting in their usual seats at the large table. Coran was at the head of it, and behind him on the monitor was Keith, his expression grave. Behind him she could make out some kind of ruins, Allura’s brow furrowing. Why did the broken remains of that building look so familiar?
“Ah Princess Allura, Pidge. So good of you to join us.” Welcomed Coran, as the young pilot closed the door behind them. “As I’m sure Pidge has told you, the captain has found something….something disturbing.”
“Disturbing?” Allura raised her eyebrows, troubled by Coran’s choice of words. “What is it? And is that the Drule research facility?” She nodded at the screen, and was shocked by the silence that descended in the room. “What? What is it?” She wanted to know, and finally Hunk spoke.
“Don’t you recognize that place Allura?”
She looked at the scenery behind Keith and frowned, noting the scorched earth, black stains on the pavement where something had burnt it’s mark into the ground. There was no greenery dotting the landscape, no buildings in the distanced, save for a few stones that had somehow survived a blast strong enough to disintegrate most of the rubble.
“No, I’m sorry…” Allura started to say, then noticed a half broken plaque that was jagged end was charred black. It shouldn’t have stood out, the bronze metal dirty, the writing almost illegible. But then she recognized it, the symbol that marked the broken building as property of the Alliance. Her eyes widened, her hand lifting to her mouth, Allura suddenly feeling ill. “No….what…?”
“It’s what’s left of planet Zegabob.” Keith explained, and Allura gasped, recognizing the name. Zegabob had been the planet that housed the Alliance medical facility they had brought Lotor to. She was dismayed to think that within a handful of days, the planet had been reduced to this, the city, one of many she was sure, so much rubble on the ground.
“What, how?” Allura demanded, even as she had a sinking suspicion she already knew the answer.
“It was the Keraclon, princess.” Coran stated. “Keith has been searching for signs of survivors, but so far…nothing.”
She thought she might cry, so horrified was she. Everyone in the room was looking just as sad, heads hanging low, and Lance was gripping his mug of coffee so tight his knuckles turned white.
“They didn’t just kill anyone they came across.” Keith was speaking. “They took the time to burn the bodies, nothing but ash and husks left behind.”
“There’s not even enough remains to identify anyone….” added Lance.
“I did find something else.” Added Keith. “The last known transmission of General Hristhine.”
“Let me see it.” Allura said, and everyone looked away from her.
“I don’t think you should.” Coran said. “It’s….not suitable material for you, for anyone to see.”
“What? Why not?” Allura wanted to know.
“He’s ranting and raving princess. He’s seeing hallucinations, and shitting himself in fear.” Lance said bluntly. “It’s not a good last memory to have of someone. And that’s before the Keraclon enter and…” A poignant pause, Allura wondering what Lance had chosen not to say. “Kill him.”
She didn’t want to watch a video of a man being killed, Allura feeling a lone tear slip down her cheek. The sight of her upset seemed to settle it, the video would not be played.
“But why would the Keraclon attack Zegabob?” Pidge wondered out loud. “I mean…it’s nowhere near the route they have been traveling. It should have been years before the planet fell victim to their attentions.”
“They weren’t here for the planet.” Keith informed them grimly. “One thing Hirsthine made clear in his lucid moments was that they had come looking for something…”
“Something?” Allura asked, and her expression hardened. “You mean someone.”
Keith slowly nodded confirmation, expression grim. “They’re looking for Lotor, Allura. They’re hot on his trail, no doubt determined to stop him from revealing what he knows. Hristhine said something about the Keraclon trying to hack the computers in order to access the memory banks. To check the recent transmission. They wanted to make sure no one else knows the secret to their defeat.”
It took a moment for Allura to process all of the meaning behind Keith’s words. “They were even checking the records to find out who had recently taken their leave from the facility….I worry that they might track those people down to their home worlds…”
“I’m more worried that they’ll figure out Lotor is on Arus.” Lance said, but Allura barely heard him. She had already spun on her heel, throwing open the room’s door. Coran and her team mates cried out her name, demanding to know what she was doing, and where she was going. She didn’t pause to answer them, breaking into a run, almost blinded by her emotions.
She remembered the nurses, the soldiers, the General and the patients she had visited with. She remembered all their faces, their laughter and their serious moments, thinking of the hopes and dreams they must have had. All gone now, their lives snuffed out as if they were inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. She was angry at that, almost to the point she wanted to cry, but more than that, she was angry with one person in particular, Allura knowing Lotor could have prevented those senseless deaths.