The castle on Arus wasn’t in the best of shape, both inside and out, having born the blasts from the raiding Doom ships. The western stone wall was cracked in many places, looking as though it might crumble at any instant, or at the slightest of pressure. One of the four turrets on the highest floor had sustained immense damage, completely collapsing in on itself.
Many of the flags and banners of planet Arus had been removed, the remaining ones in a pitiful state. Tattered and shot full of holes, or bearing the black scorch marks of lasers. The Drules who occupied the planet not caring to allow the previous reign’s mark to remain unmarred on the castle. The castle itself, in it’s ruined state, did not seem worth the effort to rebuild, the Drules moving elsewhere to make their power bases.
Perhaps that was why the people of Arus chose to take shelter inside the ruined castle, hiding away from the Drules, content to live in squalor rather than risk grabbing the attention of their invaders. Many of these Arusians had been people too old or frail, too sickly to be made into slaves. They were left to fend for themselves, to go off and die out of sight and out of mind of the Drules.
It must have been quite a shock to them, Lotor mused, to see the Doom soldiers come marching into the castle. The people there had been unable to put up much of a fight, meek as they were none too gently escorted off the premises. It was because of Allura that nothing worse would happen to them than getting a little wet from the rain that currently pelted the planet’s surface.
At this very moment, she was by his side, staring wide eyed at the view screen in his office. The monitor was showing one of the halls of the castle, it’s red carpet no longer pristine, but covered in dirt and grime, a multitude of foot prints on it’s surface. There were pictures hanging on the wall, some of beautiful landscapes, others of people. The people tended to resemble Allura, with hair that could not rival the glorious crown of gold a top his beloved’s head.
The paintings were one of the few things not to have been looted from the castle, and even here they bore the marks of damage. The vandals hadn’t been able to resist taking knives to the canvas, slashing marks across the paintings in an attempt to further devalue them. Allura had looked pained when they came across a family portrait, a picture of a young girl standing with her parents.
Lotor had been startled to realize that was a picture of a young Allura, no more than five or six years of age, clinging to her parent’s hands. A brilliant smile was on her face, the girl oblivious to the fact someone had gouged out her mother’s eyes with the knife. The king’s face was a series of slashes, the canvas torn by the knife. Only the child had been left alone, a mockery of perfection next to the ruined faces of her parents.
The furniture was still intact in this hall, but in other places it had not been so fortunate. What had been too heavy to take, had been left behind, in some places cruelly smashed into pieces. Some of the ruined furniture had been taken by the homeless squatters, the broken pieces used as firewood. Lotor could imagine the statues and expensive vases and urns that surely had decorated the rooms once upon a time, the items now gone as looters both Drule and Arusian took them to sell.
There wouldn’t be much to be found in these rooms, especially not on the lower floors where the damage wasn’t so bad. Lotor wondered if there was anything to salvage on the upper floors, making a mental note to ask about it later when Allura wasn’t present. For now he tried to concentrate on the task at hand, watching the search party as they moved deeper into the castle, their camera making the picture shake and go in and out of focus as they traveled.
Currently the search party was being led by General Dicorta, with General Labreaza back on the Carnage. Dicorta kept up a steady stream of chatter, the man sounding nervous to be inside the ruined castle. Lotor made sounds at the appropriate intervals, showing he was listening, but for the most part he and the other three in his office were silent.
In addition to Allura, Haggar and Cossack were present for this viewing, the two Drules managing to put aside their bickering to watch the broadcast. Haggar seemed fascinated by the castle, murmuring things under her breath though Lotor could not understand what held her interest so.
The camera grew more shaky, the search party ascending up a flight of stairs. They had had to go around the long way, deviating from the coordinates blue lion’s lair had given them. The way had been blocked by a wall of rubble, stones piled up on top of one another, packed in too tightly to budge. The search party had tried, dislodging a few stones, only to hear the ceiling give a warning protest. It seemed the stones were what was holding it up, and to remove them risked bringing the floor down on top of their heads.
It was a time delaying problem, Allura having to think how else for them to reach the room that supposedly led to the final lion. At last she had realized if they accesses a servant’s staircase they had passed by earlier, they could get directly over the room. The search party had held back their grumbles, picking their way back through the halls, each soldier laboring to carry rope and various tools that would be instrumental in forcing open a wall or door.
General Dicorta turned to face the camera, his expression serious as he addressed his prince. “We’re about to enter the castle library in the northern wing.”
“That’s good.” Allura spoke up, hands gripping the front of Lotor’s desk. It was a white knuckle grip she had on the lacquered wood, betraying how tense she was. “The library should be just above the main section of the parlor. Provided there are no unexpected surprises….you should be able to access the parlor from the ceiling.”
“Check it.” The general said, nodding at one of his subordinates. The soldier nodded in kind, and stepped past the waiting soldiers. He didn’t hurry, moving cautiously as he walked across the floor, hearing it’s floorboards creak in protest at times. It was clear from the sounds it made, this was the section of floor being held up by the rubble on the floor beneath them.
The soldier tested the floor with his foot, tapping it against the floorboards, ready to leap back in case they gave way. “It appears stable…for now.” Said the Drule, flashing the okay sign with his fingers. “If we move one at a time, we should be able to make it across without losing anyone.”
“All right.” Dicorta waved two fingers at his men, signaling for the first soldier in line to begin his walk across the floor. “Single file. No one rush.” The Drule that had tested the floor disappeared into the next room, his voice calling out in a glad shout.
“There’s no structural damage to the floor here!”
“That’s good.” General Dicorta called back, watching as the next soldier started his walk across the floor. “Scope out your surroundings. I want to find a suitable spot for our descent.”
“This is taking too long.” Lotor heard Cossack muttered under his breath, the commander expressing the impatience that the prince felt.
“It’s better they exercise caution rather than blunder ahead and risk limb and life.” The witch Haggar retorted, and Allura echoed her agreement.
“Yes. We don’t want anyone to die trying to find the lion.”
Lotor glanced at her, and she looked up, as though sensing his eyes on her. She looked a little sad, her mood having suffered to see the castle’s current state of health. “How are you doing?” He asked lowly, voice too soft to transmit over the airwaves.
“I’m managing.” She admitted, bringing up a hand to brush back her bangs. “I didn’t expect the castle to be so…so ruined!” Allura sighed, the breath escaping her in a soft hiss. “It was still whole when I last laid eyes on it. I can’t help wondering what happened to the people that worked there….”
They probably died in the attacks, or were taken to be slaves, but Lotor kept these thoughts to himself. “The castle can always be repaired…” He offered, even though he knew his father would think it a waste of money to restore the building. “It can be made to resemble the home of your memories.”
She was quiet at first, expression unreadable. “It wouldn’t be the same.” Allura said at last. “The building has been through too much….it’s changed, both inside and out…Memories are all I have of it now…”
She turned back to the view screen, clearly ending the discussion. Lotor looked at her for a few seconds longer, just studying her profile as she concentrated on the view screen. Her eyes bore no sign of tears, though they were sad all the same. She bore her pain well, dignified in a way few others could manage in such a circumstance.
A groaning sound from the screen had Lotor glancing away from Allura, the prince seeing Dicorta moving across the floor. The general was heavier than his men, and the damaged floor resented his weight, loudly protesting each step the Drule took.
“I think you need to lay off the pastries general.” Lotor said with a laugh, Dicorta allowing a frown to flash briefly across his face.
“I will take that into consideration your highness.” The General answered stiffly, and a few seconds later reached the threshold of the library. The camera man was the last to go across the floor, and finally the party in the office was allowed their first view of the castle’s library. The soldiers that had preceded the camera man into the room had already placed light sticks through out the library. The sticks cast a fluorescent light on their surroundings, brightly illuminating the empty book shelves.
There was piles of books on the floor, the looters having tossed them there as they searched desperately for something. The books looked to be intact, the homeless of Arus not having ventured this high into the castle for fire wood.
The floor was smooth tile, with purple shag rugs in place a top them. One such rug was lifted off the floor, tossed aside to reveal the blue and white pattern of the tile. It was here in the center of the room that several soldiers knelt, beginning to pry tools into the cracks of the tiles, forcing them to lift up to reveal the wooden floor boards beneath them.
Dicorta stood a few feet away, watching his men, nodding to himself as the tiles were cleared out of the way. The soldiers began cracking open the floor boards, pick axes smashing the wood, thick pieces of it being jerked free and tossed into a pile. They labored non stop for over thirty minutes, the time just ticking away as they worked to make a large hole in the center of the room’s floor.
One of the light sticks was brought forward, a soldier leaning carefully over the hole to peer into the darkness below. “We’re in luck.” He said, and the others all showed their relief in various ways, sighs and half smiles crossing their faces. “The room beneath us hasn’t been touched by the rubble that blocked our entrance. It seems to be clear of much of the damage.”
“Excellent news!” Exclaimed Dicorta, and gestured for the ropes to be tethered in place. The soldiers pulled out iron nails, about twice as large as their hands, pounding them into the floor with hammers. The ends of the ropes were then secured to the nails, their free ends being tied to one solider who had activated light sticks attached to his belt.
“I’m going in.” The soldier said, a determined look on his face as he crawled rear end first into the hole. The remaining soldiers held onto the ropes, helping to lower the soldier slowly down into the hole. The camera man snuck by closer, trying to get a good look into the room below. On the view screen, Lotor and the others could just make out the light from the sticks, and hear the sound of the soldier swinging as he made his descent into the room.
“What can you see?” The General called down into the hole, and the Drule’s voice carried up to them.
“‘I’m surrounded by walls on all side. Three are the walls of the room, the fourth is the rubble that stopped us from entering.”
“The wall you’re looking for is the south side wall.” Dicorta was looking at his data pad, the device holding the coordinates Allura had deciphered for them.
“I see it.” The soldier said, and the ropes went slack, the man freeing himself from them. The soldiers hauled up the ropes, then attached them to the next man, even as the soldier below them explored the room. “There’s some kind of tapestry over the wall….”
“Take it down man!” Cossack shouted, and though the others in the office shushed him, the soldier complied with the commander’s order. They could hear the heavy fabric as it was pulled down, making a soft thud against the floor. The soldiers continued to lower their comrades into the room, and each new man held a light stick, going over the wall, searching for the stone that would open it up to them.
Finally a click was heard, excited sounds coming from the soldiers in the room. General Dicorta nearly fell over head first into the hole when the rumbling sounded, floor shaking as stone ground against each other.
“What’s happening?!” Both Lotor and Dicorta demanded in one voice, the prince taking a step closer to the view screen.
The light amidst the darkness grew brighter, there was more of it then was possible from a few light sticks. The camera caught sight of the crack in the wall widening, the light flooding into the parlor to reveal a passageway. The walls were smooth steel, shiny and new, and looking so out of place with the rest of the stone castle.
“What can you see?” Lotor asked, and the answer came back.
“It’s…it’s incredible…” The soldiers weren’t waiting for orders, already taking a step into the passageway.
“Get down there!” Snapped Lotor to Dicorta, and the remaining soldiers hid their groans, helping to attach the rope to the heavy set man. He almost didn’t fit in the hole, having to wiggle his way through it. “Get the camera down there too!” Lotor said, impatient to see the passageway and it’s secrets for himself.
General Dicrota had the presence of mind to wait for the camera man to join him, the two Drules walking together into the passageway. The steel cast their reflections back at them, and further down the passageway they could hear the other soldiers talking, voices excited. Lights could be seen flickering at the other end, purples and blues, and the electronic whir of something being activated.
“Hurry it up!” Lotor ordered, eager to see what awaited them at the other end. Dicorta reluctantly moved faster, the camera man jogging after the general. At last they came to the end of the passage, and stopped, staring in wonder at the room. It was full of machines, various computers lined up against the walls, the Drules switching them on. In the very center of the room was the largest computer console they had ever seen, on an elevated platform.
Almost over looked was the doorway leading to another room, this one composed of five chutes, each one bearing the insignia of a different colored lion on it. They each contained a steel bar, a swing that would lower when one’s weight was added to it.
“What is this?” Dicorta was heard asking, and it was Allura who answered, looking as though she was mesmerized by the sight.
“Those chutes lead to the lion’s lairs…I’m certain of it!”
“We’ll have to explore them.” Lotor said, Dicorta turning to look at the camera. “Get a volunteer to go down that one.” He was looking at the chute with the final lion, noting that it was black in color.
“All right…” Dicorta agreed, turning to his men. They looked resigned to their fate, waiting for the General to choose one of them to go down the chute. “Stay in radio contact with us.” The General said to the young looking Drule he pulled out of the line up. “I want to know everything you find…”
“Yes, sir!” Clicking on his radio, the youth approached the chute, reaching to test the trapeze. He cast an uncertain look down into the chute, murmuring out loud. “It seems endless.”
“You’re about to find out if that’s true soldier.” Dicorta said, and the other soldiers laughed nervously. The youth couldn’t keep the frigthened look off his face at that, murming a curse as he stepped forward, dropping almost immediately out of sight in the chute. His panicked cry carried up to them, growing fainter the further he fell, trapeze swing making a whirring noise as it guided him down.
And then, all was silent, the swing suddenly returning, the soldier nowhere in sight. “Sergeant Duzmeyr!” Dicorta shouted, both into his communicator, and down into the chute. “What’s happening, can you read me!?”
All seemed to hold their breath, waiting for a response that seemed to take forever to come. But finally, faintly, the radio answered back. “I’m okay. I…”
“Where are you?!”
“I’m in a ship.” Duzmeyr replied. “A one man transport….It’s taking me somewhere…I’ve no control over it!”
“But you’re alive at least.” Pointed out Dicorta, a wry smile on his face. He was turning from the chute, walking back towards the room filled with computers. The soldiers were hovering around the console on the platform, having trigger a view screen that took up the length of one wall. But no picture was on it, the men still trying to figure out the controls.
Suddenly Duzmeyr cried out, voice sounding excited. “I see it! I see the…” The communicator cut off with a loud screech, Dicorta dropping it to clap his hands over his ears. The other soldiers were doing the same, their eyes worried for the fate of their comrade. Buttons lid up on the console, flashing red lights that seemed to beg for someone to push them.
No one was approaching the flashing buttons, leaving Lotor to want to scream with annoyance. He wanted to know what those buttons did, what the significance was behind the lights. A deep rumbling sound was heard, the room seeming to shake and vibrate with the noise. One soldier backed into the console, elbow just missing the flashing button.
“What’s going on?!” Dicorta demanded, and the soldiers looked around, one openly shrugging.
“That noise seems to have originated from outside.”
Another already had his communicator out, fingers flying over the buttons. “I’m contacting the Carnage for you sir.” He said, handing the communicator to the General. Dicorta snatched it from him, shouting into it.
“General Labreaza, do you read me?!”
The view screen inside the office split in half, Lotor seeing the inside of the Carnage’s command deck on the right side. Labreaza was there, standing to attention, waiting for acknowledgment from the prince.
“Speak General.” Lotor said, and the man nodded, excitement flashing in his yellow eyes.
“Sire, it’s unbelievable. One of the stone statues outside the castle has just come to life!”
“What?” Dicorta appeared on one of the monitors behind Labreaza, as astounded as Lotor and the others in the office.
“It’s true.” Labreaza gestured to someone off camera. “One of the lion statues that stood guard over the entrance to the castle, it shattered, it’s stone shell revealing the fifth lion!” The picture on the right side of the view screen blurred, changing to show the outside of the castle where the lion ship stood. It was unmoving save for it’s tail, which lashed about lazily, and it’s head which turned this way and that, studying it’s surroundings.
“Son of a snow lizard!” Cossack exclaimed, reminding Lotor there was others in the room with him. “That lion’s huge!”
Indeed it was, immense being a more apt word to describe black lion. It looked like power brought to life, barely contained in it’s metal frame. Lotor wondered how it had been hidden for so long, seeing it’s stone twin sitting next to it, covered in the dust and debris that had been stirred up when the lion freed itself from it’s prison.
Duzmeyr’s voice came over the Carnage’s radio, the young Drule sounding stunned as he hailed the ship from inside the lion. The man was back on his military issued communicator, too frightened to touch the controls inside the lion for fear of what would happen.
“Get one of the pilots we’ve trained on the lion down there.” Lotor ordered, eager to see black lion in action. “And send more men down to explore the other chutes. We may have found an easier way to reach each lion.”
“Yes, Prince Lotor.” Labreaza answered, ready to carry out the prince’s orders. His voice was a background noise, his men responding to the commands Labreaza issued.
“We did it Allura!” Lotor turned to her now, reaching out to catch hold of her hand. She went unresisting when he pulled her to him, Lotor lifting her up to spin about dizzily in place. He laughed as they spun, hearing her startled sound as her hands gripped his shoulders. “We finally have all the lions! And with it, Voltron!”
“Don’t celebrate just yet, my prince.” Haggar interrupted, his good mood sobering at her words. “We still have to figure out how to form Voltron…”
“There’ll be a message.” Cossack said confidently. “There has to be one.”
“And Allura will be the one to translate it!” Lotor added, seeing her nod. “You’ll see wi—Haggar. Then pieces are all falling into place for us!” He set Allura back down so that her feet touched the floor once more, though he didn’t let go of her. He was content to remain holding her as he watched the monitor, eager to see what would happen next on planet Arus.