A temporary ceasefire had been called, ships from both sides of the battle pulling back. The smaller of the ships had returned to dock inside their carrier vessels, leaving only the larger ships to hover harmlessly in the sky. No one was exchanging fire, though everyone was on alert. There was no doubt in Merla’s mind, that all eyes were on this clearing, each side waiting for the slightest hint of betrayal to signal the resuming of hostilities.
A hand was on her back, roughly shoving Merla forward. She almost stumbled from the push, Merla turning to glare over her shoulder at the human who had dared touch her in such a manner. He merely smirked at her, not at all apologetic for getting rough with a queen and a pregnant one at that. She gave him a withering glare, wishing her hands were free, wishing the pain in her head had stopped so that she could use her powers to tear apart the mind of this impertinent soldier. But for now she had to settle for simply glaring, the soldier moving to push her again. Merla quickly stepped forward, not liking this situation or the people that followed behind her.
It wasn’t just Coran and a few castle soldiers. There was close to fifty humans about, and that included the four male members of the Voltron Force. Behind her escort, the lions sat, silent sentries that watched over the proceedings. Merla knew that at any sign of trouble, the Voltron Force wouldn’t hesitate to run for the lions and use them to take out the Drules. However, it would take some maneuvering, to keep Princess Allura from being blown up along with Prince Lotor and his escort.
Across the grassy field, several Drule ships had landed. Prince Lotor and Princess Allura had yet to emerge from inside the ships, but already Drule soldiers were walking down the ramps. Amidst a group of them was Haggar, her brown robe making her stand out amidst the gray and black uniforms of the Drule soldiers. Her cat Coba followed at her heels, the witch looking quite unhappy about what was to happen. Merla couldn’t blame her, the Queen still shocked that Lotor had agreed to the exchange. She hadn’t really believed he’d value his child more than Allura, OR Arus, the Queen sure Lotor would have been busy making a replacement with the princess.
The Arusians around her were relieved, their thoughts trickling into her mind. They were smug, quite certain they had left Lotor with no other choice but to agree to exchange Allura for Merla. They were sure that once Allura was safe, the Voltron Force would be able to chase the Drules off of planet Arus. Especially now that they would have all five lions to fight with.
Merla didn’t think it would be that easy. Just because Lotor was doing the exchange, didn’t mean he would allow himself and his men to be chased off the planet. If anything, he would fight even harder, all in order to regain that which he had lost. Merla was too far away to catch any of the Drules’ thoughts, but she was sure Lotor thought this exchange a mere setback to his desires and ambitions. There was no other way he would consider giving up Allura, not if he thought there was the slightest chance he wouldn’t get to immediately steal her back.
Merla also knew if by some chance Lotor did not get Allura back, the Queen herself would NEVER hear the end of it. Lotor would gripe and groan, rightfully blaming Merla for all that had happened, all that he had lost. Merla couldn’t even muster up enough interest to care about that, the Queen angry and tired. It was not a good combination, Merla’s mood volatile at best. She itched to wreak some havoc, to maim, to kill, to destroy anyone in reach. Even in her weakened state, Merla was ready to do damage. It wouldn’t take much more to push her over the edge, and right now the soldier who kept shoving at her back was bringing her ever closer to the snapping point.
“All right, your highness.” Coran said, an arm being held before her. “That’s far enough.”
“Then tell this ill mannered idiot behind me to stop pushing me!” Merla snapped, her words coming out an angry growl.
“He’ll do more than just push you, if your husband seeks to betray us.” Warned Coran.
“IF he seeks to betray us?” Came the doubting voice of black lion’s pilot, Keith. “Try WHEN! Let’s face it, Lotor is scum.”
“Yeah!” Came the agreement of the short pilot of green lion, Pidge. “He’s bound to be plotting something. There’s no way he’d give up Allura. Not for Merla!”
Queen Merla couldn’t help but bristle at that, insulted even though she knew that that was the truth. Lotor didn’t love her. Hell, he probably didn’t even LIKE Merla. The only reason he was even bothering to attempt a trade, was due to the fact that Merla was carrying his child. If not for that fact, Lotor wouldn’t have cared if Merla was left to rot in a dungeon, or die with these defiant Arusians. It made her shoulders sag, Merla understanding she meant NOTHING to Lotor.
“Don’t forget, her highness is pregnant with that fiend’s child.” Coran reminded them.
“How do we even know that’s true?” inquired red lion’s pilot. “I mean, this could all be some trick to get close enough to kill us all!”
“We don’t know for certain it’s true.” Nodded the advisor. “And Lotor didn’t allow us the time to have a doctor confirm Merla’s condition. We will just have to trust the prince is sincere in his desire to get back his unborn child.”
“Lotor is never sincere in anything except his want for Allura.” Pointed out Keith. “I don’t believe for one-second, a baby, even one of his own blood, would make him agree to this exchange. He’s bound to try something. And when he does…”
“Don’t act so hastily that you’d endanger Princess Allura!” An alarmed Coran protested.
“Don’t worry Coran. We’ll be aiming at Lotor, not the princess.” Keith said, trying to reassure the older man.
“What if he uses her as a shield?” Came Pidge’s worried thought. “You know he has no scruples, he’s absolutely ruthless!”
“Damn. He’s right Keith. What if Lotor tries something like that? What then?” That was Lance, the pilot of red lion, who looked to the captain for reassurance.
“We’ll just have to make sure he’s nowhere near Allura during the exchange.”
“Yeah, but how?” demanded Pidge.
“Well, it’s not like we’re going to release Merla first.” Pointed out the large man who piloted yellow lion. “If he wants her back, he’s going to have to send over Allura first.”
“Like Lotor would agree to that, Hunk!” Lance scoffed.
“We will have to do the exchange at the same time.” Coran announced. “Both sides will release their prisoners at the exact same moment. We will act accordingly should the Drule try anything.”
“Which they will!” said Lance knowingly.
“Hey, there’s something going on over there!” Pidge exclaimed, raising a finger to point at one of the Drule ships in particular. Merla hadn’t needed the alert, her eyes had been glued to Lotor and Allura the instant they had appeared in the frame of the ramp’s doorway. The prince had a firm grip on Allura’s arm, Merla surprised to see Allura wasn’t handcuffed. Apparently Lotor trusted Allura a lot more than the humans trusted Merla. Either that, or he didn’t think the princess could cause that much trouble on her own.
Dragging Allura forward, Lotor moved them down the ramp. The waiting soldiers spread out, but their weapons were hanging loosely at their sides. Ready to be used at a moment’s notice, but not yet drawn so as to minimize the implied threat. It was the same with the humans, the men and women tense, their hands ready to grab their weapons at the first sign of trouble. Merla was sure the Drules would get the first shots out, and all because her people were a race known for both their strength and speed.
“All right Coran! She’s here!” Lotor called out across the clearing. He was far enough away that he had to shout to be heard. “Send over Merla!”
“Not so fast Lotor!” Keith called out. “We’re not giving you the Queen without Allura being set free first.”
“You think me a fool, boy?” Merla felt Keith’s anger at Lotor’s insult. “You’ll betray us as soon as Allura is released!”
“Excuse me?!” Keith demanded. “I think you have that backwards! We’re not the untrustworthy ones! It’s you Drule who are so quick to back stab and betray!”
“I’ve given you my word that I would release Allura in exchange for my wife. And my word is good, once given.” Merla almost scoffed then, absolutely certain Lotor was planning a betrayal. Oh he might honor his word and release Allura, but that’s only because Lotor didn’t expect the princess to get further than a few feet away from him. A Drule’s word was true, but they almost always found a way to manipulate that truth so that the odds favored them. These humans were right to mistrust, but Merla wouldn’t alert them to that.
“No deal, Lotor!” Keith shouted. “We’ve been burned one too many times by the likes of you. We’ll do it like we did on planet Neve. We’ll release Merla at the same time you release Allura.”
Lotor scowled, and promptly held a whispered conversation with Haggar the witch. Merla had a feeling it was all for show, Lotor not wanting to appear too eager or too willing to do things Keith’s way. The captain of the Voltron Force turned annoyed, Merla picking up on his irritation over Lotor delaying the exchange.
“Well, Lotor?” Keith called out. “Are we doing this or not?!”
Lotor ignored him, instead locking eyes with Merla from across the field. “Merla, how are you? Have they treated you kindly?”
“Did he just ask that?!” demanded Hunk.
“It’s the Drules who are known for their ruthless and merciless tactics towards prisoners. Not us!” Pidge sounded insulted.
“I am fine.” Merla called out. She bit back any comments about how she was eager to get this farce over with, and she certainly didn’t say anything about the pain she was in.
“What about you, Princess Allura?” called out Keith. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
There was a long hesitation from the princess, the girl seeming unsure of how to answer that question. “Just…just get me home, Keith.” Allura finally said, which made Lotor frown. He clearly hadn’t like what she had had to say, as though the man had hoped Allura wouldn’t have wanted to leave him!
“Will do, princess!” Keith was shouting, but warmth filled his voice at that promise. Merla wondered how Lotor controlled himself in that moment, the prince’s face ugly with anger.
“All right Prince Lotor, we’re going to release Merla at the same exact time you release Princess Allura.” Called out Coran. “Do try to behave as the two walk towards each other.”
“And you too, Merla!” snapped Keith.
“That’s right. We’ll have weapons trained on both you and Lotor. Make one wrong move, and it won’t matter how pregnant you are. You’ll all be dead.” Lance’s voice was cold, totally matter of fact as he stated this to the Queen.
“Somehow, I’ll restrain myself.” Merla said dryly, hearing the click of her manacles being opened. She immediately brought her hands forward, intent on rubbing her raw wrists. Tension from the soldiers around her, the men and women overreacting to that innocent movement of the Queen. More than ever, Merla wanted to turn around and claw out the eyes of the man behind her. She settled for smirking, Merla glancing at Coran. “You’re all fools.”
“Just get moving, your highness.” Ordered Coran, and the soldier behind Merla pushed her forward. Across the field, Allura was beginning her own walk forward. Lotor looked upset to see her go, Haggar actually having to put a hand on his arm in an attempt to stop him from going after the princess. Merla’s own expression hardened, the Queen hating the way Lotor stared after Allura. But she kept on moving, walking a slow, unhurried pace forward.
Allura was doing the same, her own expression tight with tension. She looked very frightened, as though at any moment Allura would break out into a run. Merla stared at her, and their eyes met, the Queen realizing Allura was struggling to hold back her tears. Merla wondered what those tears meant. Was it tears of relief, tears of upset, or a combination of both? She supposed she’d find out soon enough, Merla knowing the way her powers were malfunctioning, she’d pick up on Allura’s private thoughts as easily as she had the other humans.
They continued their slow, unhurried walk towards each other. All eyes were on them, everyone tense and waiting for something to go wrong. Merla continued to glare at Allura, the girl looking just as frightened of the Queen as she was of any other Drule. She’d actually hesitate as they drew near, Allura not wanting to have to walk past Merla. The Queen didn’t help matters, Merla hostile, her lips curling back to reveal her fangs in a silent snarl. Allura’s lower lip trembled, and then her thoughts began to come through to Merla.
It wasn’t just fear Merla picked up on, though Allura was very frightened. She feared the Drules, and she feared for her friends, and right now she was terrified to pass within touching distance of Merla. Allura kept remembering how Merla had tried to kill her, how it had felt to have the life choked out of her. It made Merla want to smirk, the Queen enjoying the scare she had given Allura, and knowing the princess would suffer nightmares from the experience for many months to come.
It wasn’t just the moment Merla had had her hands around Allura’s neck that the princess remembered. She was flashing back to it all, to every agonized minute, from the way Merla had tormented her with images of her dead father, to the fight that had happened once Allura broke free of Merla’s control. Allura started shaking, actually coming to a complete halt several feet away from the advancing Queen.
“Princess! What are you doing?! Don’t stop!” shouted Keith, the other members of the Voltron Force voicing their own encouragement and pleas for the princess to keep moving. Their voices distracted Allura from some of her fear, the girl thinking how good it would be to have this ordeal over with. To finally be home, and away from these vicious Drules.
And then Lotor’s own annoyed growl sounded, the prince taking a step forward despite Haggar’s best attempt to stop him. “Do not badger Allura!”
It was just a few words, but it was enough to turn Allura’s thoughts to Lotor. And what thoughts she had, Merla being hit with visual memories of Allura’s time alone with Lotor. The queen would actually flinch, witnessing every stolen kiss, forced caress, and outright molestation Lotor had done to Allura. She’d hiss in pain, hands curling into fists, the tips of her claws digging into her palms. But that pain was nothing, Merla shutting her eyes, wanting to scream and go for Allura’s throat. And not just Allura! She wanted to kill Lotor in the moment too! For all her anger, all her suspicions, she hadn’t had actual proof that Lotor had slept with Allura until just now. It was awful, it was terrible, and it made Merla go insane!
Allura had snuck past Merla, the Queen not bothering to look around. She could hear the Voltron Force still calling out to the princess, and every instinct in Allura was telling her to run. Merla began running at the same exact instant Allura bolted, and soon everyone was yelling. It wasn’t quite chaos, but it was a race to see which woman would reach safety first.
Lotor’s face was furious, the prince already drawing his sword. He wanted to go after Allura, and wanted to kill all the other humans present, especially the Voltron Force. He felt his plan was going all to hell, Merla picking up the confirmation that Lotor had indeed planned to take Allura back once Merla was safely returned to him. She wouldn’t even look at Lotor, continuing her run, veering towards the nearest Drule soldier. The man was standing, eyes on the humans rather than the approaching Queen. It took no effort to wrench his laser assault pistol from his holster. With a wild cry, Merla spun on her heels, already priming the pistol to shoot Allura in the back.
She was too far away from the humans to be aware of their thoughts, to realize just how much danger she was in. She heard shouts all around her, and then realized laser fire was being exchanged. She completed her turn, and gasped, Lotor in front of her. But his back was to her, the prince using his sword. Deflecting the lasers that had come barreling towards Merla with the intent to kill the Queen.
Merla wasn’t surprised that the humans were trying to shoot her. No, what shocked her was that Lotor had leapt to her defense, the prince twirling his sword in quick, complex patterns that sent the lasers ricocheting back to the humans. Some even came near to Allura, the Voltron Force quickly surrounding her. They were acting as living shields, trying to herd Allura towards the four lions with Coran leading the way.
Lotor didn’t say much of anything, just wordlessly snarling. The hum of lazon didn’t quite drown out all the chaos around them, people fighting, screaming, even dying. Overhead the ships in the sky were also moving into action, both sides opening fire. The smaller ships were launched, what seemed like a million Drule star cutters filling the sky once more.
The pistol forgotten in her hand, Merla stared at Lotor. Never had he been more magnificent than when he was angry and fighting in defense of her. And he WAS fighting for Merla, the Queen picking up on Lotor’s strongest thoughts unfiltered. He had acted the moment he had seen Merla was in danger, his thoughts not for the baby she carried, but for the Queen. He had actually wanted to save her, and that made Merla want to grudgingly tear up. But she wasn’t the type to cry, not even now as Lotor worked to protect her.
Unfortunately, the prince and his wife made far too tempting targets for the human soldiers. The Arusians were concentrating their main efforts on the royal couple, trying desperately to take them both out with as many shots as needed. Lotor was fast, but even he wasn’t infallible. Merla learned that the hard way when he let out a cry of real pain, a shot hitting him in the shoulder of his sword arm.
His sword’s motion began to slow, Merla screaming like an enraged tigress. She ended up flinging herself at Lotor, knocking the injured prince to the ground. She went down with him, remembering the pistol. Kneeling over Lotor, Merla began firing shot after shot at the Arusians, not caring who she hit so long as they died. The laser fire kept coming, and then Haggar was surrounding them with a green glow of magical forcefield.
The shots were absorbed by the witch’s forcefield, Coba her cat familiar yowling in upset. Haggar didn’t even bother to reassure the cat, too busy concentrating on maintaining her magic. Just as the forcefield prevented outside fire from getting in, Merla’s own shots could not get through. The Queen let out a disgusted sound, but really she was more relived than anything that Haggar had moved to act.
A groan from Lotor drew Merla’s eyes to him, the Queen seeing he was bleeding heavily from his shoulder wound. Instantly she let go of the pistol, her hands reaching to tear open the top of Lotor’s tunic. He growled at her, trying to chase her off with one hand, but she leveled her fiercest look at him. He narrowed his eyes in response, but let Merla examine the injury.
She hissed at the sight of it, the wound deep and showing no signs of stopping it’s bleeding. She used the torn remnants of Lotor’s tunic to put pressure on the wound, knowing the prince would need stitches and soon. He might even require a blood transfusion if he didn’t stop this damnable bleeding. Pressing on his wound, Merla bent her forehead to his back, muttering a fierce complaint.
“You’re such a fool.”
There was not much Lotor could say in the moment, the prince in pain and struggling to understand why his first instinct had been to protect Merla, rather than the baby. And why he had leapt to their defense, rather than go after Allura like the lovesick idiot he was. He was confused, and might even come to regret his actions, once he realized Allura was lost to him, at least for now. But for that single sweet moment, he hadn’t been thinking about Allura. And that gave Merla a sliver of hope, one that they might be able to build up on together.
“Ngh…” A drawn out groan from Haggar, the witch seeming to sway in place. Her eyes were thin slits, and sweat beaded on her face. It was clear the strain of the spell was getting to her. She wouldn’t be able to maintain the forcefield for much longer, and the humans continued to shoot their way.
“Can you stand?” Merla asked, and Lotor was down right sarcastic in tone.
“It was my shoulder that got shot, not my foot!”
Merla almost smirked then, retrieving the pistol from where she had dropped it. “Then get up! We have to get to one of the ships before Haggar’s magic gives out.”
Together they rose, Lotor a little unsteady on his feet, most likely due to blood loss. He insisted on Merla remaining behind him, the pair beginning to back up towards the nearest Drule ship. Coba yowled, tail twitching as he slunk away. Haggar begin to move, but slowly. It seemed they weren’t going to make it to a ship before her magic ran out.
And then a kind of miracle happened. The sunny skies of Arus darkened, as though a great number of storm clouds had descended. But no clouds made as much noise as these, and Merla saw many of the humans looking upwards. The Drules began to look too, just in time for laser fire to rain down on the clearing. It was focused on the humans, but a few of the Drules got hit too. That sent everyone running, no one focused on fighting anymore.
Merla didn’t bother to look, using the thoughts that were coming to her to understand what was happening. It was a new group of ships, made of beetle black metal, and bearing the skull and crossbones insignia of Doom on their sides. They weren’t hesitating in shooting, these newcomers intent on taking out all the humans on the ground. Both sides were running for their ships, and that included Merla’s group. No one wanted to remain out in the open, not when the personal armada of King Zarkon had arrived.
Lotor paused on the threshold of the ramp, glaring up at the sky. He didn’t need to speak for Merla to understand just how bad this was. King Zarkon was here, and there was no doubt about it in anyone’s mind, the Drule was PISSED.