Freedom 09

Her fingernails drummed a beat on the armrest of her chair, tapping away as a sign of her agitation. The console screen before her had faded to black, only an occasionally beep was heard, letting her know a new message had arrived. Not that Allura was privy to it’s contents, finding any burgeoning signs of curiosity were squashed by the impasse of the unknown password.

Allura let out a deep sigh, swiveling her chair around so that she faced away from the computer. A quick glance around the room did little to pick up her mood, Allura finding little in the way of entertainment. It was maddening, this room’s lack of distractions, Allura longing for something to do. She wasn’t used to being idle, always there was work for her to do on Arus, papers for her to read, documents to sign.

Allura never, ever thought she’d miss the stacks of paperwork that always covered her office desk, but now even the most boring of documents would be a welcome relief. If only to break the monotony of sitting bored, all alone in Lotor’s chambers. This waiting for him, she found it to be slow torture, Allura almost looking forward to the prince’s return.

She almost wanted to laugh, having never imagined there would come a time where she would want to be around Lotor. But with no friends or family to surround herself with, he was rapidly becoming her only lifeline in the darkness that was Planet Doom. It was a dependence she did not want, Allura feeling a white hot flash of anger inside her as she cursed Lotor for taking her away from everything she had ever known or loved.

Her head bowed, Allura resting it on the palms of her hands, feeling the start of a headache that began as an ache behind her eyes. Stress was surely the cause, Allura wondering how she could ever hope to survive among Lotor’s people. So far she had seen little to endear themselves to her, Allura finding their ways to be horrific and alien to her in nature.

Her thoughts turned to the desolate wasteland that Doom inhabited, and she despaired at the thought of never seeing a blue sky again. She would wilt like a flower if she didn’t get to feel the warmth of the sun on her face. This planet would be the death of her, she was sure.

Such depressing thoughts were still on her mind when Lotor returned, Allura lifting her head up at the sound of his entrance. His golden eyes were filled with concern as he looked at her, Lotor stepping towards her.

“Allura?” He asked, voice soft. “Are you unwell?”

“It’s nothing.” She lied, tolerating a brush of his hand against her forehead, the man testing the temperature of her skin. “I’m just a little tired.”

“Do you need to rest?” Allura imagined she could hear a slight bit of anxiousness to Lotor’s tone, and she shook her head no. “Are you sure? I know you humans require more sleep than we Drules.”

“Don’t want to sleep.” Allura said, hastening to explain. “I’m afraid my mind won’t switch off just yet.”

“All right.” Lotor said, Allura grateful he wasn’t pressing the issue. “Are you up for a bit of entertainment?” She wondered what kind of expression she made, Lotor chuckling at seeing it. Her head nodded quickly, Allura eager to escape boredom’s grasp.

Grinning, Lotor reached for her hand, pulling her to stand. He didn’t let go of her, content to remain clasping her small hand in his. Allura said nothing, not attempting to draw back, realizing she was slowly getting used to Lotor’s constant handling of her. In the days that followed her capture, the prince was always finding a reason to touch her, be it her hair, her hand, or her back.

She was being conditioned, she realized. Taught to tolerate his touch, and the thought almost made her stop in her tracks, ready to pull back from him. It must have shown on her face, Lotor glancing at her with a quizzical expression.

“It’s nothing.” Allura assured him, casting about for a subject to discuss. “What did your father want?” She wondered if she really wanted to know, Allura sure that whatever that monster, King Zarkon had had to say, it was bound to cause pain and suffering towards others.

“Nothing really.” Lotor said at last, leading her out of the room. “He just wanted to congratulate me…..us on our impending marriage.”

“You mean gloat over Doom’s victory over Arus.” Allura clarified, frowning.

“No, not as much as you’d think.” Lotor replied. “And it’s all in part thanks to you, Allura.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you!” laughed Lotor. “You negotiated too well, my father is most distraught over the lost opportunities Arus offered us.”

“I’m sure he’ll find other planets to use and abuse in Arus’ place.” Allura said sourly.

“Well, yes…” Lotor agreed, expression serious as he looked at her. “We will finally recoup all the losses Voltron has caused us. Planets will be reclaimed, new ones conquered, and all for the glory of the Doom Empire.”

“Do you not ever get tired of this Lotor?” Allura asked him, her eyes studying his face intently. “When will enough be enough? Surely your people have enough planets that life as they know it can be sustained!”

“Ah but it’s a bit more than seeing to the needs of my people at this point Allura. To keep us fed, we must hold onto the planets we have, and that takes power.” Lotor pointed out. “Power, wealth, time….it all goes together. You’ve seen with your own eyes how we have had to struggle to hold onto the planets we already have, how their losses weakened Doom.”

“But….” Allura was quick to counter. “The more planets you go after, the more you encourage others to fight you.”

“Come now Allura!” A short burst of laughter from him, Lotor shaking his head no. “They would fight us regardless. Such is the manner of the universe. If Doom wasn’t around, someone else would rise up in our spot. Demos perhaps.”

She frowned at him. “So you think that makes it all right? That just because there must exist someone to fill the position of conqueror, that it should be Doom?”

“Why not Doom?” Lotor asked, giving an uncaring shrug of his shoulders. “We have the need, the drive to do it, and we do it well.” A smirk then, Lotor pleased with his kingdom’s accomplishments. She stared at his profile, frustrated at the way the discussion was going. “Allura…as much as I am enjoying this debate with you, I simply must insist we drop it.”

“Why?”

“Because neither one of us will yield their position.” Lotor explained. “It is an effort in futility to discuss such things. Doom will always set out to subjugate others. That’s simply fact, and as my bride to be, it is best you learn to accept that.”

Allura fell silent, letting him lead her through various the twists and turns of the maze that was Castle Doom. Corridor after corridor looked the same, leaving her to wonder how the prince even knew where he was going, Allura unable to make out any marks that distinguished the hallways from one another. She would be hopelessly lost on her own, Allura quick to realize that if she somehow managed to sneak away from Lotor, she’d still have no hope of finding her way free of the castle.

Such thoughts made her sigh, Allura’s pace slowing down noticeably. That earned her another concerned look from Lotor, the prince halting mid stride to peer into her face. “Are you sure you’re not unwell?”

“Really I’m fine.” Allura replied, then offered up a gesture of her hand. “Just wondering how your people manage to find their way around this gloomy place.”

“Ah…” Lotor made a noise of understanding, resuming their walk. “I suppose I could say magic and leave it at that but….” He paused just before the corridor turned, placing her hand against the wall just about level with her head. His fingers pressed down gently against hers, allowing Allura to feel the groove marks carved into the stone. “Drule symbols.” Lotor explained, Allura’s fingers still caressing the marks. In the darkness they were impossible to see on the black marble, leaving one dependent on touch alone.

“You don’t use these though, do you?” Allura pointed out, glancing at him. “I’ve yet to see you stop and touch the wall.”

“Very astute of you.” Lotor noted, hand taking hold of her arm. “No, I don’t need to rely on them. When you’ve walked these corridors as often as I have, you find yourself intimately familiar with them.”

“You’re counting turns.” Allura realized, as he led her around the corner. “We’ve made how many now? Six, seven?”

“Eight….and we’ve got three more to go.” Lotor answered. Allura nodded, trusting his word on this. She couldn’t help but marvel at the discipline it must have taken to become so familiar with the castle, wondering what drove Lotor to develop this talent. She wondered if she would ever become so adept at moving around Castle Doom, Allura stifling a shudder to think she would be here long enough for that to be the case.

“Lotor…Just where are we going?” She had noticed the farther they got from his chambers, the more people they ran into. Drules were starting to appear in droves, dressed in their finest of ensembles. They lurked about in the hallways, pausing to peer curiously at the prince and princess, golden cat’s eyes calculating as they whispered to their companions.

Others walked in the direction that Lotor led her in, some taking a leisurely stroll, others moving as though in a hurry. Human slaves were sprinkled among the Drule nobles, tending to their needs, serving them refreshment or being used as chairs. Allura was relieved to see that aside from being sat on, the slaves seemed better treated here, at least none were being beaten or worse. She whispered a thankful prayer in her mind for that small mercy, being sure to stick closer to Lotor as they hurried past.

“We’re almost there.” Lotor said mysteriously, offering a smile over his shoulder. She didn’t return it, an awful thought occurring to her.

“We’re not…not returning to the throne room are we?” Allura asked, trying not to imagine just what sort of gruesome entertainment’s the court of King Zarkon would have.

“No. We’re nowhere near the throne room.” Lotor assured her, Allura letting a relieved look cross her face.

“But we will be seeing my father.” Lotor added, and Allura drew to a halt with a gasp.

“Your father?!” Allura shook her head, trying to draw her hand free of his grasp. “Why?!” She must have voiced her question too loud, Drules were falling silent around them, the quiet broken up by a hissed out snicker.

“He’s attending tonight’s coliseum.” Lotor explained, though that was hardly the answer she had asked for. “We’re to be sitting in his private booth.” Lotor added, and Allura shook her head no.

“I can’t…I can’t be around him!” Protests tumbled free of her lips, Allura staring at Lotor. “I can’t just sit there and pretend that everything is okay between us. That he isn’t the reason for all of Arus’ problems. That he didn’t kill my father!”

Her voice was rising with her panic, Lotor shooting a glare at the lurking Drules, a gesture from him causing them to go scurrying out of sight. “Allura…listen to me.” He captured her face in his hands, holding onto her cheeks as he made her look at him. “You have nothing to fear from him now. Our planet’s differences are a thing of the past now. It’s time to let go of old grudges.”

“I can’t just forget what he has done….what’s he tried to do to me and my people, my friends. My family!” Allura tried to shake her head again, but Lotor’s hands kept her from moving. “You ask too much of me!”

“Some would say I don’t ask enough.” Lotor muttered, her sharp hearing picking up his words. She fixed him with a wounded look and he sighed. “Allura, please. It’s just for a little while. You must be seen by my people. Seen submitting before my father.”

“You mean to humiliate me!” Allura snapped, voice frosty as she glared. “You mean to parade me before them as some kind of trophy!” Lotor hesitated, and she cried out. “You do!”

“I have a right to want my bride to be seen on my arm.” He said at last, and she hissed at him.

“You just want to gloat over your victory over me!”

“I think I have been restrained in my boasting.” Lotor said levelly, dropping his hands to her shoulders. “Allura…” He drew her close to him, the princess going reluctantly to his embrace. “You cannot avoid my father forever. Living on Doom will put you in close proximity to him. Why not make the best of it, learn to tolerate his presence?”

“I shouldn’t have to.” She retorted, staring glumly at his chest.

“Life is full of things we must do…” continued Lotor. “And this is one of them. Come Allura, put aside your fears, your hatred and become the noble princess once more.”

She said nothing, just leaning against him as he stroked her hair. “Allura….prove them wrong, prove that Arus has not been defeated by joining me at the coliseum with your head held high.”

“I really…..really don’t want to do this.” Allura said at last, Lotor offering her a small smile in reply.

“I know.” He pressed his lips against her forehead, a sweet gesture that had her blinking up at him in surprise. “You’ll come away stronger for the experience.”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Allura murmured, allowing Lotor to lead her once more. She couldn’t help but wonder if Lotor had ever had to do anything that he didn’t want to do, wondering if the prince had any fears that could come close to comparing to the one she had of Zarkon.

Neither one of them was speaking, traversing the final corridor in total silence. Here there was no Drule nobility, only a handful of guards spread out against the walls. They stood at rigid attention, spears held at the ready, free hands quietly saluting Lotor as he glided by with Allura.

Doors were pulled opened before they reached them, and sound filtered into the hall. She could hear cheering, the ecstatic cries of an immense crowd of people. A few feet passed the archway of the door and the floor turned into steps, leading up a steep incline. As they climbed those stairs, the roar of the crowd grew louder, almost deafeningly so.

At the very top of the staircase, she could see a light, a sickly yellow glow that did little to chase away the gloom. She caught the scent of carnage, of foul rotting things and her nose wrinkled in distaste.

Instruments trumpeted out a tune, heralding their arrival, Lotor leading her from darkness into the light. She stood blinking for a moment, trying to get her eyes to adjust to the sudden change. She could hear the crowd in her ears, and when her eyes adjusted, she saw Zarkon standing a few feet to the front of her. The evil King was dressed in red and black this time, rising from his seat to flash fangs at their entrance.

“Ah my son. How good of you to show yourself.” Zarkon said, voice booming out loud enough for all to hear. Lotor dropped into a bow, his hand on her back to guide her into mimicking the movements. She bristled at the thought of paying homage to her father’s killer, even as she struggled with the rising fear of being so close to him. This was a million times worse than the throne room, and far more intimate. Allura was close enough to make out the lines of age on the reptilian’s face, see the way his lips were stained red from his drink. It looked like blood to her, Allura stifling a shiver as Lotor allowed her to pull free of the bow.

“Come closer. Allow the people to see the princess of Arus.” Allura shot an alarmed look at Lotor, having no desire to step within reach of King Zarkon. But Lotor was maneuvering her forward, bringing her to stand in front of the balcony’s glass pane. She nearly screamed when Zarkon placed a hand on her shoulder, grinning evilly at her. The Drules gathered in the stands leapt to their feet, a standing ovation as they cheered at the sight of her.

“Our people have waited a long time for this moment.” Zarkon’s voice dropped down in volume, his words clearly meant for her and Lotor’s ears alone. “It may not be the total crushing of Arus that we had hoped for, but in the end victory is ours.” Allura nearly sagged with relief when Zarkon’s cold, clammy hand left her shoulder, the King lowering himself into the balcony’s throne.

Allura found herself seated between Lotor and King Zarkon, the princess trying to be subtle as she shifted closer to Lotor’s side. The prince kept a hold of her hand, giving her reassuring squeezes, Allura trying to gain strength from his touch.

“This should be a treat for you princess.” Zarkon said, tone conversational, eagerness in his eyes as he stared out into the center of the coliseum.

“Oh?” Just a sound from her, but Allura was pleased she was able to manage that much of an acknowledgment to the evil King.

“Yes. You’ll get to see the criteria on which we based our robeast selection.” Lotor explained, in Zarkon’s stead.

“And just what is that criteria?” Allura asked, and Lotor gestured at the pit below them.

“They fight to the death. We find when one’s life is on the line, it brings out a certain….ruthless quality to the combatants.”

“Why don’t the prisoners rebel? Turn against their jailors?” She was surprised when Zarkon began laughing, a horrible barking sound as he pounded his fist on his throne’s arm rest.

“There is always a chance they’ll survive in the pit. They have no such guarantee if they attack my men.” Zarkon answered in Lotor’s place. “Those that don’t fall into line, are quickly disposed of. You’d do well to remember that princess.”

“I see….” Allura murmured, her attention being drawn by the sound of metal opening. A gate was rising to the left of the center pit, a magenta hued alien striding forward to the cheers of the stadium. The alien had stark black hair shaped into a jagged mohawk down the center of an otherwise bald head. His right arm carried a ball and chain, the left was deformed, resembling a large lobster claw which he occasionally snapped in the air.

On the other side of the pit, another alien was emerging, steps reluctant as it moved. It was feline in appearance, white skin with tawny fur that fluffed up around it’s head. Wicked looking claws were attached to it’s fingers, and a sword was sheathed to his side. The crowd’s reaction was more subdued to the entrance of the feline, clearly the magenta skinned alien was the favorite to win.

A Drule servant appeared, startling Allura as he began laying out a small array of foods. Lotor and Zarkon both demanded plates to be brought to them, but Allura found she had no appetite, watching with growing dread as the two aliens in the coliseum’s pit began circling one another.

“Watch closely princess.” Zarkon said around a mouthful of food, gravy dribbling down the sides of his chin. “You wouldn’t want to miss a moment of the fun.”

The two combatants charged each other, weapons drawn. The sword slashed open a chest, only to be snatched away as the balled chain looped around the blade. It left the feline to depend on it’s claws, it’s white fur becoming matted with blood as it’s claws dug in deep in his opponent’s chest. The magenta hued alien cuffed the feline in the head with it’s left hand, and quickly it was over, claw opening around the feline’s neck.

Lifting the feline up off the ground so that it’s feet dangled helplessly, the victorious alien roared, looking to the crowd for approval. He got in the forms of cheers, the people urging him on to finish the kill. A glance at Zarkon, showed the King leaning forward in his seat, eyes glittering with blood lust. His hand raised, thumb protruding upwards. Slowly that thumb was turned downwards, Zarkon giving his final say about the fate of the feline.

Allura’s eyes were wide with horror, and she started to let out a soft cry. “No….!” But it was too late, the claw convulsed, the head severing in a spectacular show of blood. Allura bit her lip, her hand raising to her face, but she couldn’t block out the memory of how the head had flown free of the body, nor could she stop the sound of bone snapping from repeating in her ears.

Zarkon’s loud munching only served to further agitate her, Allura wondering what kind of monster could have an appetite after witnessing such a horrific display. She was grateful that Lotor had at least stopped eating, Allura unsure if he had no stomach for it, or if it was merely a pretense to save her sensibilities. She was grateful either way, feeling his arm go across her shoulders to hug her close to him.

Suddenly a hand was on her knee, Allura risking a look to see Zarkon was touching her. Gravy stained her dress, and Zarkon offered a twisted smile to her. “You’re not eating princess. Is something the matter?”

“I find I have no appetite tonight.” Allura said truthfully, noticing slaves had come out into the coliseum, laboring to drag the loser’s body off the field. Zarkon noticed where her attention laid, his smile widening.

“It’s a pity…but his death will not go to waste.” Another noisy chomp of his food, Zarkon’s eyes dancing with amusement. “I’ll have my best chefs prepare his body for my feast tomorrow night.”

“Father!” Lotor shouted, as Allura leapt to her feet, bile rising in her throat as she stared horrified at Zarkon. She looked closer at his red stained lips, and now she feared it really was blood that colored his mouth. Smirking, Zarkon raised a leg of some unidentifiable meat to his mouth, watching her carefully as he bit into it with relish. She nearly lost the contents of her stomach then and there, and she staggered back against the glass.

“Allura…” Lotor said, rising, reaching for her. But she ducked under his hands, and went running, past the chairs and down the stairs. Lotor shouted her name this time, and she heard him swearing in Drule, Zarkon’s laughter drifting after her.

She almost slipped on the final step, catching herself at the last minute. She ran through the doorway, startling the guards who looked unsure of what to do. Lotor’s voice was heard, the prince hot on her heels, chasing after her. He caught up with her quickly, just around the bend and out of sight of the guards. Allura fought him as he tried to take her in his arms, breath coming out in panicked gulps.

“Allura…..calm down and listen to me!” Lotor ordered, hands grabbing at her wrists, holding them up before his chest. She shook her head, a resounding no escaping her, her struggles renewed ten fold at his capture of her hands. “It’s not true!” He hissed at her, and she stared at him disbelieving. “It’s not true. We are not cannibals. Gods Allura, what must you think of my people to believe that?!”

“Then why?” She gasped out, trembling against him. “Why would he say such an awful thing?!”

“To get a reaction from you.” Lotor explained, and for the first time she noticed he looked furious. “He wanted to scare you, and it worked.”

“It’s not true?” She asked, needing to hear it from him. “You’ve never eaten anybody?”

“No Allura. I promise you that.” Lotor said, and she relaxed some. “I may have killed, plundered and pillaged, but I can assure you I’ve shown the proper respect for the dead.”

“…….I can’t go back there.” Allura said, begging him to understand. “I can’t be near your father, or watch any more killings. Please Lotor….take me back to your room.”

“All right…” He agreed so easily, she was surprised, gratitude in her eyes. “But only if you promise to get some sleep.”

“I will.” She whispered, turning to follow Lotor back the way she had come. But inwardly she wondered if she’d ever be able to sleep again.


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