The lion had barely finished docking, and already Lotor was at the ladder, hands impatiently gripping the steel rungs as he climbed upwards. He shoved at the hatch in the roof, hearing it slam into place, Lotor scrambling up out of the hole. He heard Allura call out to him, her voice startled as she struggled with the seat belts. But he didn’t wait, walking to the edge of black lion’s head, eyes squinted as he glared out across the hangar’s crowded floor.
There in the distance, sleek and made of beetle black metal, stood his father’s cruiser. Named the Blackthorne, it had seen little use over the years, his father having long since lost the desire to leave the safety of his own castle walls. He had everything brought to him, food, drink, people, Zarkon wanting for nothing. His riches lined the palace vaults with all the treasures he had acquired from the many planets Doom had conquered, Zarkon able to buy just about anything or anyone.
There was few things that could drive the king to leave behind the comfort of his home, and even with the near defeat of his army, Zarkon surely had been itching to return. “He’s got a lot of nerve.” Lotor growled as Allura pulled herself up out of the hatch. She made a questioning sound, Lotor speaking in Arusian so that his words wouldn’t be overheard by black lion’s pilot. “Showing his face here, after what he tried to do to you.”
“Just remember to play it cool and calm.” She advised, Allura coming to stand next to him at the edge of the lion’s head. Instead of looking at Zarkon’s ship, she was studying Lotor, her expression concerned.
“Don’t worry Allura.” Lotor assured her. “I won’t do anything foolish. No matter how tempted I am to get my hands around his neck.” Indeed he was itching for a confrontation, Lotor having to fight every dark impulse since the moment they had first seen the Blackthorne entering the castle’s hangar. For one wild instant he had been tempted to use Voltron against his father’s ship, even at the cost of innocent lives, both inside the ship and out in the hangar area.
Somehow he controlled himself, though even now the urge to kill was strong, Lotor’s fingers flexing over the handle of his sword. The ramp of the Blackthorne was lowered, a gaggle of people emerging from the ship. First came a squadron of soldiers, wearing the red and gold armor of his father’s personal guards. They quickly secured the area around the ship, forcing back the bystanders as various attendants began their descent.
Zarkon had traveled in style, bringing his most trusted servants and slaves along for the ride. He emerged now from the ship, surrounded by guards, each Drule scanning the area for potential threats. And yet Zarkon himself lifted his head, turning in the direction of black lion where his eyes immediately sought out Lotor’s angry figure. They were too far apart to tell for certain, Lotor trying to make out if that was a smirk that crossed his father’s face.
“Let’s go.” Lotor said, and began climbing down the side of black lion’s head. He heard Allura sigh, the girl moving slower then him, cautious as she tried to lower herself down to the floor. Lotor landed and held his arms up to her, catching her around the waist, and helping Allura to complete her descent. But even as he touched Allura, his eyes were on Zarkon, watching as the King barked out orders.
The king’s soldiers moved, clearing a path for Zarkon’s party to approach the lions. Lotor stepped forward to intercept them half way, conscious of Allura trailing worriedly behind him. It was for her sake that he wouldn’t act foolishly, Lotor conscious of the fact that Allura could be harmed if a fight broke out between him and his father’s guards.
“Ah Lotor…” It was a small thing, but Lotor felt a flash of annoyance at Zarkon breaking the silence, the king being the first to speak. “Come to greet me personally? How unlike you…”
“Welcome back father.” Lotor felt pleased that he didn’t hiss out the words through gritted teeth, although he was unable to manage even a half smile for the king. “Your presence at the castle was missed.”
“Yes. I suppose it was.” Zarkon said, a gesture of two fingers having the guards in front of him step aside so that father and son could look at each other directly. “But I see you managed things even without me looking over your shoulder.”
“You know I am quite capable of running things without your assistance.” Lotor retorted, not liking the smirk Zarkon gave him.
“Are you?” demanded the king, his eyes glancing past Lotor to peer behind him. “I seem to have forgotten with the way you bungled things with this war. Ah…and there she is.” Zarkon showed no surprise at seeing Allura safe and sound, flashing her a creepy smile. “The reason all this started in the first place.”
“It was you who put this war into effect by giving her away in the first place.” Lotor had to struggle to not reach for Allura, the prince wanting to shove her behind him, hide her from Zarkon’s stare. But he knew his father would take it as a sign of weakness, Lotor having to pretend it didn’t bother him the way Zarkon was looking at Allura.
“Then perhaps we should blame this war solely on you.” Zarkon said, at last turning his glance back towards his son. “If it wasn’t for your…infatuation with this slave….”
“She’s not a slave anymore.” Lotor interrupted, but Zarkon ignored him.
“I would have never had to have give her away.” Continued the King. “Although I suppose she does have her uses. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have the lions in my possession.”
“If it wasn’t for her, you wouldn’t have Voltron either.” Lotor told him. and Zarkon played surprised.
“It’s funny isn’t it?” Lotor mused, tone thoughtful as he stared at his father. “The family line you sought to wipe out is the only one that can activate the robot. Without Allura, Voltron would have been lost to you.”
“Ah, and I am….thankful for her assistance. Now with Voltron here, we can begin training the pilots to fly it.”
“Ah, but there’s a trick to the control of Voltron.” Lotor smirked, eager for his father’s reaction. “It seems only an Arusian Royal can pilot the robot. As Allura is the only one left alive, only she can command Voltron.”
“Then we’ll have to take good care of your pet.” Zarkon said, clawed fingers coming up to stroke at his chin. It wasn’t the reaction he hoped for, Zarkon entirely too calm at the news. “Come closer my dear…” Zarkon addressed Allura, his fingers gesturing her to step forward. “I want to get a closer look at my new pilot.”
“Your new pilot?!” Lotor practically shouted, so startled was he by Zarkon’s words.
“Yes…” Zarkon let out a pleased hiss, eyes on Allura who stood with her back straight, head held up proudly. “She’ll have to be trained to fly. It’ll take some time, but I’ve no doubt she’ll be ready to lead wars in a few months time.”
“Allura is not going to fly for you!” Lotor snapped, and this time he reached out for her, drawing her protectively against the side of his body. “Not now, not ever!”
“Do calm down Lotor.” Zarkon was entirely too calm for Lotor’s liking, smirking again. “I won’t send her into a war zone until after your heir is born.”
“No!” Lotor protested vehemently. “She will never fly Voltron for you. It has nothing to do with my children and everything to do with the danger! I won’t risk her!”
“It’s for the good of the Doom Empire Lotor. Stop being so selfish.”
“Selfish?!” Lotor made a scoffing noise. “You’re the one who is being selfish. You have the lions…they should be enough to win you new worlds. You don’t need to call on Voltron…”
“It’s a weapon at my disposal. Of course I should use it!” retorted Zarkon, sounding as annoyed as he looked. “Think with your head for once, and not with your…” A long pause, Zarkon smirking again. “Heart. You’ll see the value of having this girl fly Voltron for us.”
“I won’t do it.” Allura spoke up, voice quiet but determined. “I won’t fight wars for you.” Lotor felt proud of her for speaking her mind, even as Zarkon looked surprised, as though forgetting Allura was capable of speaking.
“There are ways to get you to change your mind…” Zarkon began, and Lotor quickly interjected with an angry shout.
“Don’t you dare threaten Allura!”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” It was a bold faced lie, Zarkon smirking. “But I merely intend to open her eyes to the advantages that come with serving me.” Another gaze at Allura, Zarkon pausing before he spoke. “Cortana could tell you many things about it….”
“Cortana is dead.” Lotor said bluntly, watching as Zarkon’s face took on a shocked look to it. His expression was such that Lotor could not tell if the king was faking his shock or not, his father’s hand tightening on his scepter.
“Dead?” He asked, and Lotor confirmed it with a nod. “How can this be?”
Now it was time for a performance of great magnitude, Lotor preparing himself not to fling accusations in his father’s face. Arm tight across Allura’s shoulders, he didn’t have to pretend to be angry. “That witch of yours got it in her head to kill Allura. To sacrifice her and my unborn children for a greater good.”
“And let me guess……you killed Cortana to protect your human.”
“To protect my family, yes.” Lotor said, eyes locked onto Zarkon’s. They were unflinching, an angry sort of shock on the king’s face. “The witch underestimated my willingness to do whatever it takes to save them.” He wondered if Zarkon would make the same mistake, not realizing the lengths Lotor would go through to protect Allura and his children.
“Why would she do such a thing?” Zarkon wanted to know, annoying Lotor with his pretense of not knowing anything.
“For some fool reason she believed Allura’s blood had to be shed in order to form Voltron.” Lotor snorted then, unamused at the thought. “She very nearly cost me Allura and my children…”
“And the Doom Empire access to Voltron.” A sigh then, Zarkon continuing. “This was purely Cortana’s doing.” Zarkon’s tone was gruff, the king unapologetic for what had almost happened. “She acted on her own, without orders from me.”
He had known his father would deny it, and yet it irked Lotor to hear the lies slip so easily from Zarkon’s mouth. “Yes, we know.” A stiff lip smile, Lotor forcing the words to come out. “We’d never dream of accusing you of something so….horrific.” A laugh then, Lotor hanging on to Allura like she was his anchor in the madness that surrounded him. “Even you wouldn’t be so cold as to murder your own grandchildren.”
“You keep saying children…” It was a segue into another topic, Zarkon avoiding confirming or denying Lotor’s words. “Has there been a development on that front?”
“We’re having twins.” Lotor said, seeing Zarkon look pleased. He didn’t have to wonder why for long, the king practically grinning as he spoke.
“Excellent that! One can be your heir to the kingdom, and the other can be trained to pilot Voltron.” Lotor blinked, hiding how startled he was at Zarkon’s words. The king chuckled, his spirits raised. “They will after all carry Allura’s royal blood. That will preserve the Arus bloodline and allow us access to Voltron for all eternity.”
Lotor blinked, not even having considered the thought that his children would carry the proper genetic credits to fly Voltron. “You act as though the Doom Empire is eternal…” Allura was speaking, a fiery challenge in her voice as she addressed the king. “That it won’t ever fall…”
“It won’t, I assure you my dear.” Zarkon told her, voice oozing confidence. “We’re unstoppable….now more than ever…”
“Funny that…” Lotor said, tone light and airy. “You didn’t think we were unstoppable when you fled from the castle.”
“It was merely a precaution.” Zarkon said, and a gesture from him had his escort moving, leading Zarkon past Allura and Lotor. The couple turned to follow, seeing the king was intent on drawing near to one of the lions. “The Doom Empire’s survival was dependent on at least one of us surviving. And you weren’t going to leave the castle Lotor.”
“One of us had to be here to lead the war effort!” Lotor snapped, and Zarkon shrugged.
“And a remarkable job you did there.” He reached black lion, his hand stretching out to touch the side of the feline’s face. “Tell me Lotor….if the lions are such a valuable weapon on their own, why did you not simply call in the lions that you did have to the war? Hmmm? We may have ended this nonsense sooner, even if we only used two or three at a time.”
“We needed time to train the pilots.” Lotor sputtered out a response, Zarkon continuing to caress the lion’s face. “Plus we had no way of knowing if less than five lions would be enough.”
“You’re making excuses again Lotor.” retorted Zarkon, tongue making a tsking sound. “And you know how I feel about excuses.”
“It’s the truth.” Lotor hissed. “It was better to wait, then risk everything on the shoulders of a single lion.”
“No need to get so riled up, son.” Zarkon said, turning away from the lion. ‘What’s done is done, and we can’t change the past now. We’ll just have to learn from your past mistakes. I suppose you’ll be sending the lions to Amazonia straight away?”
“Er yes…” Lotor nodded. “Although they need to recharge at Arus before making the trip to Amazonia.”
“Such a pity that the queen wasn’t with her army.” Zarkon grumbled, moving away from the lions. His guards hurried to keep up with him, Lotor and Allura trailing behind them. “It would have made things so much easier if she could have been destroyed along with her ships.”
“The lions will get to her on her home world, of that you can be assured.” Lotor was confidant, smirking at the thought of Merla’s impending death. “We need only sit back and wait now.”
“I’ve never been good at waiting.” Zarkon complained, and Lotor actually chuckled at that.
“Yes, how well I know!” They were moving through the hangar, heading for the archway that would lead into the castle. People were pausing in what they were doing, dropping to their knees to bow as their king passed them by. But Lotor noticed that the respect the king expected from all, did not reach their eyes, the people merely doing a show of it. He hid a smile, knowing word of Zarkon’s behavior during the war had spread even here, the people disappointed and disgusted with their king.
“We’ll have plenty to keep us busy while we wait.” Continued Lotor, Zarkon stepping through the archway.
“Well, yes. We have to rebuild what was lost.” Lotor said, and began listing things. “And I don’t mean just the city YOU destroyed. The people’s faith has suffered for this war, many have gone hungry and poor. We’ll have to help them as best we can.”
“I’ll leave the details of that to you Lotor.” Zarkon gave a negligent wave, showing how uncaring he was for the subject. “Just be sure to pass the proper documentation to me of all your ideas. I do not want to see you doing anything too outrageous, and spending obscene amounts of money on the refugees.”
“But money is what is needed most!” Lotor protested, and Zarkon snorted. “It’s the duty of Doom’s rulers to fund the restoration project.”
“Just work the slaves harder.” An unconcerned Zarkon said. “You’ll cut the costs in half if you rely on slave labor, since we won’t have to pay them a decent day’s wage.” A smirk then, Zarkon looking positively gleeful at the thought. “You’ll lessen the cost to nearly third of what it need be if you hold back on their daily food rations, and cut short their sleep.”
“How cruel!” Allura gasped, sounding horrified by what the king had said. “They may be slaves but they are still people!”
“People who are owned and cared for by the Doom Empire.” Zarkon told her, looking amused by her objection. “They live and die on MY whim.”
“I don’t have to feed them at all.” Zarkon continued, cutting off Allura’s protest before it could get started. “If need be, I’ll work them to death to keep costs down on Doom.”
“There’s plenty of gold in the treasury…” Lotor was hugging Allura to him, trying to calm her. “Money put aside for just this sort of emergency. Don’t worry Allura…the slaves will not starve. And neither will the refugees…”
“You’re getting soft Lotor.” Zarkon commented, pausing before the bend in the hall. “You used to never care about the slaves. You used to think of them as less than people.”
“Maybe I’ve realized the error of my ways.”
“Maybe.” Agreed Zarkon. “But it’s a change in you I don’t like. Don’t forget whose son you are. Don’t allow things like love and sentimentality to make you weak. Or else you’ll never be fit to sit on the throne.” With those words he was turning to the right, his guards accompanying him deeper into the castle. Lotor and Allura stayed at the bend, staring after Zarkon and his entourage.
“Don’t worry Allura…” Lotor said, but he was absentminded, thinking on Zarkon’s words. Had he really changed all that much? If he had, he felt it was for the better, Lotor wanting to become the kind of king who was worthy of his people. But more importantly, worthy of Allura’s love. “Things will work out. Even if I have to go behind my father’s back to finance the rebuilding.”
She hardly look reassured, Allura playing with the front of her dress’ bodice. “Nothing has really been decided.” She sighed, glancing up at him. “The slaves, the rebuilding, Voltron…”
“He won’t force you to pilot Voltron for him.” Lotor said quickly. “I won’t let him endanger you.”
“Thank you…” She said, switching to Arusian. “He really needs to be stopped though….and soon.”
“He will be.” Lotor promised, also speaking in Arusian. “Count on it!”