The room was filled with a pulse pounding beat, an electric tune that was meant to inspire energy and activity. It all but roared around him, Lotor feeling it in his body, the music causing tiny vibrations in the floor. The feeling of being touched by the beat was lessened when he stepped onto the mats, the padded cushion doing much to block out the tremors.
Lotor walked bare foot across the mats, clad only in loose fitting trousers, his body ready for action. Already he had performed his routine of warm up exercises, the complex moves getting his heart pounding, his blood flowing. He all but vibrated with eagerness, his fingers curling and uncurling, forming loose fists as he moved.
Other men were out on the floor, soldiers of Doom who had come for additional work outs, not satisfied with the training a life in the military gave them. These men were big, rugged and cut with muscles, their bodies hard lines and angles. They were impressive to look at, the complete opposite of those scrawny, thin waisted men who relied too much on their blasters when fighting.
These soldiers were Doom’s finest, an elite line of soldiers excelling at hand to hand combat, as well as having good hand and eye coordination, able to handle a weapon be it the long distance rifles or the close quarter fighting of swords. They were perfect, just the sort of challenge Lotor enjoyed, the prince often sparring with them. The men didn’t bat an eye at seeing their prince out on the mats with them, long used to his presence and accepting of it.
Lotor nodded a greeting to several of the men, seeing them incline their heads back. Here there was no rank, no bowing and scraping. Here on the mat, Lotor was just another man, expected to fight and to do so well. There would be no holding back, the men would be trying to hurt Lotor, quick to attack and defend against anything he could throw at them. It kept his skills sharp, his body sharper.
Lotor let his mind grow blank, shoving aside the recent week’s findings, the problems of Doom and the internal strife between him and his father. He couldn’t afford to let any of it distract him, not even thoughts of Allura, for one stray thought could provide the hesitation his opponents needed to have him on his back. He might lose this day, but not without putting up a fight, Lotor not allowing anything but superior skill to defeat him in battle.
He reached the gathered men, seeing them performing warm ups of their own. Their faces were serious, the men stretching, bones cracking in place. Some were lying down on the mats, knees tucked in close to their bodies as they performed stomach crunches, others on their stomach doing one handed push ups. They noticed his approach, and took their time finishing up, forcing Lotor to wait on their leisure.
There was seven men in all, they moved to form a half circle around the prince, Lotor keeping his eye on them all. They were positioned in such a way that his back was left open, they would approach him head on for this first attack.
Keeping his eyes on his opponents, Lotor bowed, a slow bending of his body. They mimicked his actions, offering up bows of their own. Once the formalities were out of the way, the fight began, no warnings, no yells, they just moved. Lotor moved as well, shifting to the side, his hands brought up before his body, fingers straight rather than curled.
He watched and waited for the first attack, keeping on a constant move that kept the others from sneaking around to his back. They danced in that half circle, ever moving, ever crowding in closer to Lotor. Until finally one broke away from formation, and charged Lotor, a challenge in his eyes.
Lotor’s hands moved, a blue bur as he went to block the punch aimed at his face. His fingers grabbed at the man’s fist, holding it trapped. The man barely blinked, turning to aim an elbow at Lotor’s mid section, the prince’s other hand there to stop it. His own legs swept out, smashing into the Drule’s feet, Lotor intent on knocking him off balance.
The Drule dropped to one knee, pulling his fist free of Lotor’s grip, and pivoted on his heel. His long leg was swept out towards Lotor’s feet, causing the prince to stumble backwards. A sound to the right of him was the only warning he got, a Drule that had a good one hundred pounds on the prince was barreling towards him, large hammy fist aimed at Lotor’s nose.
To avoid the damaging blow, Lotor gave in to the fall, his hands reaching behind him to keep him from landing flat on his back. He hovered over the floor, back bowed but not touching the mat. The large Drule tripped over Lotor’s body, sliding forward to slam face first into the floor. Lotor barely watched him, already kicking out with his legs to do a standing jump to his feet.
A third opponent was before him, his hands and feet a blur, doing punches and kicks, Lotor moving equally as fast to block those blows with his wrists and ankles. A kick was aimed at his head, Lotor catching the foot with both hands, giving a push that had the man flipping backwards over his head. With an exhalation of breath, the man landed behind Lotor, the prince turning to block the punch that was aimed at the base of his neck.
His first opponent came charging at the other side, forcing Lotor to divide his attentions between the two men. His hands were fighting off their blows as best he could, though some broke through his defense, Lotor feeling the punches on his arms and his chest, his ribs surely protesting the blows. A hand rocked across his face, Lotor’s head turning as a gob of spit went flying from his lips. His opponents grabbed at his arms, trying to hold him in place as a fourth went running towards him.
With a challenging cry, Lotor kicked out with his right foot, planting it in the man’s chest. He used the momentum to twist and do a cartwheel in mid air, his arms sliding free of the holding grips on them. He landed on the mat, face still stinging with pain, Lotor’s eyes narrowing as he eyed his opponents. They looked at him deadly serious, rolling their shoulders and shaking out their fingers. The one man was rubbing his chest, a frown on his face as he felt the spot Lotor had kicked.
He felt the movement behind him, the man’s running feet shaking the mat. Without even turning, Lotor slammed his elbow into the gut of the man behind him, then reached back with his hands, hooking them around the man’s neck. With a yell, he pitched the man forward, driving him over his shoulder and onto the mat. The man landed with the wind knocked out of him, flat on his back.
One opponent down, six more to go, Lotor wondering what form of attack they would throw at him next. The loss of one of their own seemed to enrage them, three charged him at once, surrounding Lotor, their blows pummeling into his exposed sides. Lotor took the beating, and lashed out with his arms, knocking the two on either side away from him. One had clearly not expected that, he hopped backwards as he tried desperately to regain his balance, arms windmilling frantically.
It made no difference, he landed on his back, clearly tagged out of the fight. Lotor didn’t pause to watch the man fall, he was already grabbing the third by his hair, bringing his face forward to smash into his head. The head butt left them both stunned, Lotor stumbling away from the man, even as another opponent attacked him. This one wore a long sleeved shirt, the material damp with nervous sweat as he grabbed Lotor’s left arm, twisting it behind his back.
Lotor had only seconds to think how strange it was that this man was so covered, the prince struggling fiercely to break the grip on his arm. He was right to be suspicious, a small dagger fell out of the man’s sleeve, landing into his waiting hand. A cry of alarm went up from the other men, Lotor seeing out the corner of his eye the hand sweeping towards him, dagger held point down to do some damage.
Lotor let out a wordless shout, his free hand grabbing the man by the wrist, stopping the blade’s movement. The man struggled against Lotor’s strength, the dagger being brought closer to the prince’s throat. Lotor gritted his teeth and tried to shove the hand away, succeeding in moving it an inch or more. His would be assailant grunted in his ear, pushing against Lotor’s grip, the dagger moving back and forth as both men fought valiantly for their goals.
Out the corner of his eye, he could see his sparring mates approaching, their bodies’ cautious as they circled the pair. “Put it down Darius.” One ordered, hands held up in supplication to the man.
“You don’t want to do this Darius.” Another said.
“It’s the crown prince! Just what do you think you are doing Darius?!”
“Listen to them!” Hissed Lotor, feeling his arm start to tire, the dagger slipping closer to his neck. Darius was silent, intent on his goal of slitting Lotor’s throat. “Whoever hired you, I can give you double, no triple their price! Your very weight in gold!”
“You’ll kill me the instant I let go of you!” Came Darius’ answer.
“They’ll kill you the instant you kill me!” Lotor retorted, and that dagger wielding hand hesitated. Lotor took the opportunity to shove it further away from him, Darius hissing in his ear.
“Better I take you with me!”
“You are a fool.” Lotor snapped. “Whoever hired you, knew you didn’t stand a chance of completing the job. They are just USING you. Using you to send me a message!”
“That’s not true!” Darius shook his head. “She wouldn’t betray me like that!”
“And I’m sure a man of your caliber inspires great loyalty among others.” Lotor couldn’t help but be sarcastic, his arm rapidly weakening. The blade touched his skin, slicing into it deep enough for blood to trickle out. That renewed his strength, Lotor wrenching the hand away, seeing his blood glint on the dagger’s silver tip.
Darius forced Lotor to turn with him, the man keeping an eye on the anxious soldiers who were trying to crowd in close to him and his prisoner. “Stay back!” He shouted, and now he took the dagger away from Lotor’s neck, waving it in warning at a man who drew too near. It was all the opportunity Lotor needed, the prince stamping his foot down to crush exposed toes.
Darius let out a yelp of pain, Lotor slamming his elbow into the man’s stomach. The hand that had twisted his arm behind his back relaxed, Lotor twisting free. Even as he brought his hand up to throw a punch in Darius’ face, the other men were lunging towards the pair, causing both men to go down to the mat in a tangle of limbs. Darius screamed in rage, the knife being kicked out of his hand, other men grabbing at his arms and legs, holding him down.
Lotor rolled out from under the press of bodies, slowly rising to his feet. He brought his one hand to his neck, wiping at the blood there, a frown on his face as he looked at the red color on his skin. Darius continued to shout obscenities, practically foaming at the mouth as they forced him up on his knees, his strong arms being held captive by the other men.
“What should we do with him, your highness?” Asked one.
“It’s the dungeons for Darius, no doubt about it!” Said another.
Lotor was silent, striding over to stand in front of the enraged Darius. He grabbed at his short hair, forcing his head back as Lotor brought his bloodied fingers to the man’s cheek. With a look of distaste on his face, he wiped his fingers clean on the man’s skin, voice hissing as he spoke. “I’m going to give you once chance to tell me who hired you…and then?” A slow smile, evil at the heart of it. “Then I’m going to use the very knife you tried to slit my throat with to start cutting off body parts one by one.”
“You….you don’t scare me!” Darius said, but fear shown in his eyes.
“Is that your answer then?” Lotor asked, jerking cruelly on the man’s hair. His other hand lifted, Lotor not looking as he gestured for someone to retrieve the dagger and hand it to him. The handle was laid on his open palm, Lotor curling his fingers around it. Darius was silent, and Lotor’s look became positively vicious, the prince pressing the dagger’s blade just behind his ear.
He actually started to cut into the skin, blood dripping down the side of his neck when Darious screamed out a name. “Merla! It was Queen Merla who hired me!”
Lotor stepped back satisfied. “I’m not surprised. I was wondering when she would make the attempt, never dreaming any of my men could be tempted into betraying me. Very sloppy of you Darius. This wasn’t a well thought out plan.”
“It was the only time I could get close to you.” Darius admitted, and Lotor laughed.
“It’s not just a matter of getting close to your target, you fool. You have to factor in an escape plan if you intend to reap the benefits of being a hired hand. No.” Lotor shook his head. “You may have not known what you were doing, but Merla sure did. It mattered little to her if you failed, she just wanted you to make the attempt.”
“That’s a lie.” Darius protested.
“Is it?” Silence from the assassin, Lotor giving an uncaring shrug of his shoulders. “Then believe what you like. I’m sure it will be cold comfort on those lonely nights waiting for the torturer’s hand.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, a command barked out. “To the dungeons with this fool!”
“Yes, Prince Lotor.” The camaraderie between the men had faded, sparring partners giving way to the cold, experienced soldiers who were quick and eager to obey their prince. They began dragging Darius along the floor, the man struggling and shouting out in anger.
“Queen Merla will see you dead for this! All of you! I will be revenged!”
“The Queen can barely avenge the death of her own son….what makes you thinks you’ll be any different?” Lotor asked, turning away with a little laugh. It died down in his throat as he spotted a familiar figure leaning against the wall, one hand on his hip, the other clutching a golden scepter. “Father!”
King Zarkon straightened, handing his scepter to one of the guards that accompanied him. “A congratulations Prince Lotor.” Zarkon said, bringing his hands together to do a resounding clap of them. “For averting a near disaster.”
“You saw?” Lotor frowned, his hand going to the cut on his neck in an absentminded gesture.
“Just the tail end of the fight.” Zarkon said, a smile on his face. “Queen Merla means business.”
“We knew that when we sent her back to Amazonia.” Lotor said, and began walking towards his father. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have given her any assistance. I would have left her to flounder in space.”
“I was trying to make amends for your mistakes.” Zarkon replied, watching Lotor’s approach.
“And I nearly get my throat slit for your act of kindness!” He snapped, lowering his hand.
“Yes, that was exceedingly careless of you. Letting that man get so close to you.” Zarkon retrieved his scepter, fingers caressing the jeweled head. “Don’t you normally scan your sparring partners for weapons?”
“An over sight I will soon correct.” Lotor replied, and paused before his father. “What brings you to the gym? This is not your usual stomping grounds father.”
“I came looking for you.” Zarkon said, eyes watching Lotor carefully.
“Yes. It seems we have news from Arus.” A smile then, Zarkon looking pleased. “It seems another lion has been found. A green one.”
“And was it located in a forest like the drawings in yellow lion’s lair seemed to suggest?” questioned Lotor.
“Yes, a Blue Mist Forest. I’m sure the locals are quite upset about their woodland being destroyed, but it was a necessary measure to find the lion’s lair.” Zarkon said. “This one is smaller than yellow lion, but no less powerful.”
“Hmmm…” Except for that sound, Lotor was quiet, thinking back on the last week and a half. There had been little in the way of communication between Doom and Arus, Dicorta and Labreaza still searching for the other lions. During the wait, Zarkon had grown impatient, sending his own fleet of investigators to the planet. They had tested and confirmed Lotor’s findings, proclaiming yellow lion to be a unique marvel the likes of which had not been seen in either galaxy.
“Cortana is chaffing at the chance to go down to Arus.” Zarkon continued. “She is most eager to see if her magic can’t unravel the lions’ secrets.”
“I wish her all the luck in that endeavor.” Lotor said, tone blank of emotion. Zarkon snorted, shaking his head no.
“No you don’t. You don’t want her to be successful. You want your precious Arus saved.”
“And is it?” Lotor asked. “Are you ready to leave it alone and choose another planet to be your testing ground?”
“I’m afraid the lions are leaving me with little choice.” Zarkon sighed. “There’s been new findings.”
“Of what nature?” Lotor wanted to know.
“About the lairs themselves.” Zarkon grimaced. “It would appear that the lions while strong, do occasionally need rest. In order to recharge their power, they must return to their lairs at least once a week. Our scientists cannot understand it, have found no power source to explain what is going on. It really does seem to be the magic of nature, the element themselves recharging. Testing has begun, but it appears each lion is limited to their lair alone. Yellow lion unable to get sustenance from the woodlands that make up green lion’s lair.”
“So in other words, if we are to make use of the lions….Arus needs to remain untouched, if only to protect those lairs.” Lotor kept the smile off his face and out of his voice.
“Yes.” Zarkon looked angry about it. “We are working on finding the third lion now. The repeating pattern in green lion’s lair seems to be fire. The translators think it points to the volcanoes that cover the northern hemisphere of Arus.”
“It will take time to explore all the active and inactive volcanos in that section.” Lotor pointed out.
“I am in no rush.” But his face said otherwise, Zarkon looking impatient for all the lions to be found. “In the meantime, we must prepare for war with Merla. I fear this little encounter today is just the start of her attacks. Such a pity the Queen couldn’t be made to see reason. But then….that is a woman for you.”
“I will get to work setting up strategies for the men to follow. Working with my generals, we will come up with unbeatable plans of actions. Merla won’t know what hit her.” Lotor smirked.
“Good. I want this threat neutralized as soon as possible. Amazonia must remain part of the Doom Empire. It won’t do to give the other planets ideas that they can fight us and secede from Doom.” Zarkon said, giving a shake of his head. “It would be sheer and utter chaos if that were to happen.”
“It won’t.” Promised Lotor. “I’ll make an example of Merla. One that will have the other rulers hesitating in their tracks to oppose us.”
Zarkon nodded, and gestured for his guards to move, the soldiers surrounding Lotor and the King. Together, the royal father and son began making their way to the exit of the gym, still discussing the situation with Merla. “Do try not to drag this war on for too long.” Zarkon continued. “I find it so tiresome when we are the ones under siege.”
“I could always bring the fight to Merla’s doorstep.” Lotor was quick to suggest.
“Ha no!” Zarkon chuckled. “My decree remains the same. You are to remain on Doom for now. You and that slave of yours.”
“Why would I try to take the girl and run?” Lotor demanded as they stepped out into the hall. “My power and wealth are all tied into Doom. I would be a fool to turn my back on it.”
“Yes, you would. But you have been behaving stupidly ever since I gave you that girl.” A snarl then, Zarkon flashing his fangs at Lotor. “If I had known how truly troublesome the chit would prove to be, I would have killed her alongside her father.” Lotor said nothing, Zarkon’s grin widening. “Does the thought of that bother you so? Good, I’m glad. Keep that image in your head, and remember that your enemies won’t hesitate to threaten her in a similar manner. You’ve got to be strong if you mean to protect the mother of your unborn child….”
“Why do you even care?” Lotor asked.
“I don’t.” Zarkon said. “Not about her. But even I am not so cold hearted as to turn a blind eye to my future grandchild.”
“You just care about the Zarkonian line being extended.” Lotor accused. “You care nothing about the child when it comes to it as a person. You’ve no love in your heart for it.”
“It makes me all the stronger.” Agreed Zarkon. “Unlike you and Merla, I am not bound by love, I won’t know any grief should you or my grandchild die. You’re merely all tools, things to guarantee my name is not forgotten to the past. The Zarkonian line will carry on, one way or another, and I will be remembered as the one who ushered us into greatness!”
~Not if I wipe your name from the history books.~ Lotor thought silently to himself. “I think you forget, some of what makes the Doom Empire so great has been through MY accomplishments father. It is I who have added many planets to the Empire, my hard work who has helped you to amass the great wealth you so covet.”
“I won’t forget about your accomplishments.” Zarkon said, making a dismissive gesture with his hands. “But it will be the King they remember, not his son. Come Lotor! Don’t scowl so! It’ll only serve to give you permanent frown lines. Go, see that woman of yours. I’m sure you are eager to tell her how you’ve managed to save her former planet from destruction.”
Lotor did a slow blink of his eyes, surprised Zarkon had guessed at what he intended to do. Zarkon laughed at his expression, grinning once more. “You’re easy enough to read Lotor. Especially where Allura is concerned. A word of advice son, learn to school your expressions better when around me. This….infatuation of yours is making you weak to your emotions.”
“I will certainly do that father.” Lotor promised, watching as the guards stepped around his stilled form. Zarkon didn’t glance back, merely making a grunting sound of acknowledgment as he and his procession of soldiers continued on their way. Lotor was left staring at their retreat, his hands clenching into fists.