Freedom 36

The tremor that shook the castle had been unexpected, the people around him letting out nervous laughter. Lotor himself had been startled, his hands a steady presence on the waist of the woman he danced with. She didn’t look glad for his assistance, her face pale and tight with tension, the red head reluctant to dance with the prince of Doom.

He ignored her discomfort, swaying their bodies to the beat of the music, impatient for the song to end. His dance partner mirrored his mood, the woman eager to escape his grasp and return to her husband’s side. Mercifully, the beat of the music played on for only half a minute more, the song coming to an abrupt end which had Lotor releasing his hold on his partner.

Relief didn’t stop her from forgetting her manners, the woman sweeping out long green skirts to offer a stiff curtsy to the prince. Lotor nodded at her, but he was already scanning the crowd, looking for his wife, Allura. Other women approached him, along with some men, people eager to curry favor with him, or to take a moment to discuss the latest problems and politics on Arus.

Lotor didn’t so much as give them a nod of acknowledgment, moving through the sea of people, deftly avoiding crashing into those who were still dancing. Some of the court tried to follow him, making like a shadow to his presence as they hoped for the chance to get in close to the prince. Lotor let them, long used to being the center of attention, body relaxed as he moved.

A few more turns on the dance floor, and then the crowd seemed to part, revealing Allura in her purple clad glory standing by the buffet table. She held a goblet to her lips, nodding her head at something the woman next to her was saying. He turned his attention to her confidant, noticing the strong resemblance between the two blondes, the woman in black holding a good ten, fifteen years over Allura in age.

But even with that air of maturity around her, there was no mistaking her beauty. Or as Lotor was quick to notice, a beauty that would be all the more dazzling if the woman would at least smile one time at Allura. But sadness lined her eyes, with a frown that seemed to be permanently etched on her face.

“Lotor.” Allura hastily set down her goblet, a smile lighting up her face at having spotted her husband’s approach. He smiled back at her, coming in close to press a kiss against her right cheek. “There you are. I’ve been wanting to introduce you.” A gesture at the woman in black, the frown of hers deepening as she boldly looked into Prince Lotor’s eyes. “This is…”

“Ah, this must be your dear aunt, Queen Orla.” Lotor interrupted, reaching for the woman’s hand. He honored her by bowing, bending down just enough to brush a kiss on the back of her hand. “I must say you are lovely. I can see beauty blossoms in Allura’s family tree.”

“My….You do have a flattering tongue.” Orla said, hand not trembling in his grasp. “I can see why my niece is taken with you.”

“Auntie!” Allura gasped, a glance at her face showed she was blushing.

Lotor chuckled, eyes dancing with amusement. “Oh? And what has my wife been telling you to give that impression?”

“Just a few things mentioned here and there.” Orla answered. “Enough for me to gather my own opinion on her newfound husband.”

“All good I hope.” Lotor said, still holding onto Orla’s hand.

“Nothing but glowing reviews.” Orla told him. “But my niece is not the only one who talks. There are other less….savory reports coming in. I wonder which one paints a truer picture of the crown prince of Doom.”

“Why not take a moment to ask me yourself?” Lotor asked, and swept her into his arms. Allura looked surprised, but Orla kept that frowning disposition of hers, hands landing on his arms as he began moving her onto the dance floor. “It’s so much better to get to know a person directly than to rely on rumors and reports.”

“Yes, that is true. Although…” An odd light in her eye, Orla giving him a coy look. “If we had waited for you to get to know Allura, Arus might not be in the position it finds itself in these days.”

“What do you mean?” Lotor asked, spinning them around slowly on the dance floor.

“Come now your highness. You barely knew my niece when you decided you wanted her for your bride.” Orla shook her head, a stray curl escaping her golden bun. “All you knew was that she was beautiful. That is hardly the grounds suitable for a proper relationship to begin.”

“Ah but arranged marriages have often been based on other factors than one’s compatibility.” Lotor answered smoothly. “Allura and I have been fortunate in that regard, we find we suit each other quite well.”

“You certainly seemed to have charmed Allura.” Admitted Orla. “But I am not so easy to convince.”

“Oh? And what will it take to…” He used her words, fighting a smirk. “Charm you to my side?”

“I think we wait on time.” Orla said, hurrying to explain. “Time to see just what effect Doom will have on Arus in the long run. The time to see how you treat my niece, time enough to see what your true colors are.”

“And just what are you expecting to see?” Lotor asked.

“A man worthy of my niece, worthy enough to sit on the throne of Arus.” Came her answer. “A man who is honest and good…” She trailed off at Lotor’s chuckle, her frown seeming to deepen as she looked up at him.

“Ah…forgive me.” Lotor said, trying to control his amusement. “If you are waiting for a shining example of heroics, I’m afraid I will never prove myself to you.”

“What do you mean?” She demanded, fingers tightening on his sleeves.

“It’s just I am not good, I am no hero.” Lotor said, hardly put out by his confession. “If those are the standards you wait on for proof, I fear never will I live up to your expectations of me.”

“You will not even pretend to be something you are not?” Orla asked, watching him carefully.

“What is the use in pretending?” A question for a question, Lotor shrugging. “I am what I am. I make no claims against being the ruthless conqueror.”

“Just so long as you are not deceiving my niece about your true nature.” Orla retorted, swaying with him in time to the beat of the music.

“Trust me your highness, when I say Allura understands my nature better than most.” Lotor told her. “She’s had ample time this past year and a half to see me at my most…devastating. Just as she learns to accept all facets of my personality, so too must you and Arus.”

“Some things are beyond acceptance, and you would do well to remember that.” Orla replied, some of the sadness in her eyes being chased away by a flash of heated emotion. “The people of this planet still remember your empire’s attacks. Old grudges are sometimes the hardest to fade away.”

“How well I know.” Lotor said, a sigh escaping him. “Tell me Queen, how do you feel about this resistance? The one that has deemed your beloved niece a traitor to the planet?”

“I think they are fools in that regard.” Orla shook her head, eyes troubled. “They do not understand the duty that comes with being a royal. The burdens a crown places on one’s head. Allura was left with no choice but to make the best bargain she could for the planet.” A snort then, the sound unlady like as Orla narrowed her eyes at him. “They fail to realize just how worse Doom’s occupation could have been.”

“Yes, they do.” Lotor agreed. The music shifted into another song, but he kept his hold on Orla, not wanting their conversation to end. “Arus is the exception not the rule in the Doom Empire. It frustrates me greatly that the people do not show the proper gratitude to their princess for what she has achieved.”

“It will take time for that gratitude to show.” Orla sighed. “All they….we know is that there are soldiers of Doom in our towns, in our homes. Making demands, replacing the old regime.”

“But they have behaved have they not?” Lotor asked, a concerned note in his tone. “My man Engit has shown nothing but the proper respect to you and yours, yes?”

“Aye he has.” She nodded. “But what would you do if he hadn’t?”

“I’d replace him.” Lotor said simply, seeing her arch an eyebrow at him.

“That simple?” She almost let out a chuckle, shaking her head at his nod. “You’d do well to find out from all the representatives gathered here tonight if they have been as fortunate to have such an honorable….” A hesitation, Lotor wondering what she had been about to say. “Man like Engit looking out for their affairs.”

“I will do that.” Lotor promised. “Your kingdom has been one of the few to not be touched by the resistance. Perhaps because of Engit’s soft hand when it comes to ruling.”

“He’s doing something right, soft hand or no.” She said. “What will you do about the resistance?” He was silent a moment, just dancing in place with her as he considered her question. Her eyes suddenly widened, Orla gaping at him. “Don’t tell me you don’t have a plan?!”

“I’m afraid of the outcome of any such plans of mine.” Lotor confessed. “Your niece has a delicate nature, even after all the fighting she has participated in. I fear what I must do, not because of any distaste for killing, but for her reactions to my ways. Tell me, your highness…how would you deal with terrorists who were running rampant in your kingdom.”

“I’d stop them.” Orla answered, looking him straight in the eye. “One way or another, especially if the killings that have occurred continued.”

“Then you’re more practical than my wife!” Lotor sighed. “She seeks only the peaceful way to solve this problem.”

“She would.” Agreed Orla. “Allura has always been a kind soul. She takes after her parents that way. But then….King Alfor never had a problem with controlling the people. They loved him, both as a man, and as a ruler. Respected him too.”

“Where I have not yet earned that respect.” Lotor smiled grimly. “And I doubt the people of Arus will ever love a Drule. It’s…” Another tremor shook the room, causing him to trail off. It was stronger this time, Lotor nearly slipping as he struggled to maintain his and Orla’s balance. Sounds could be heard, a low rumble of noise that frightened the people in the ball room.

This time there was no nervous laughter, the people’s glances uneasy as they looked around. “Tell me your highness….Are these earthquakes normal for planet Arus?”

“No.” Orla’s look was troubled. “Especially not here at the castle….it sits on no fault lines.”

“How strange…” Lotor murmured, hand letting go of Orla’s waist to reach up towards the tiny button on his lapel. A tap of his finger had the tiny com unit activating, Lotor speaking into it, voice a soft murmur. “This is prince Lotor. Have there been any reports about unusual activity regarding the recent tremors?” He paused a bit, waiting for a response but none came.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” Lotor hissed into the com unit, Orla standing before him looking concerned.

“Problem?”

“There’s no answer.” Lotor told her. “It could be just a faulty wire…the transmission receivers may be down but…”

“But you’re concerned.” Orla noted, and he nodded.

“Very. Come your highness….let us return to my wife’s side.” Lotor said, offering her his arm just as another tremor shook the room. This time people did fall to the floor, a few panicked shouts being heard. Orla grabbed onto Lotor for support, the prince frowning as he listened to the noise, listened to the rumbles and heard something else amidst the music and the castle seeming to groan in protest.

‘Is that….?” Orla trailed off, turning to peer behind her.

“Laser fire.” His tone was grim, Lotor’s free hand hovering over the hilt of his sword. “That was no earthquake.” He continued with a growl. “It was a bomb.” He meant to speak the word softly, but still was overheard, an anxious cry being picked up as word traveled quickly through the room.

“A bomb!”

“It was a bomb?!”

“The castle is under attack?!”

“No one would dare!”

“The resistance would!”

Lotor tried tuning them out, spinning about with Orla trailing behind him, his eyes seeking out the buffet table. He caught a glimpse of purple, the many hued dress of Allura’s before she was swallowed up by the crowd. He headed in that direction, shoving roughly at bodies, knocking both men and women out of his way as he tried to reach Allura’s side. But when one was moved out of the way, another two or three nobles appeared in place, turning anxious eyes to the prince.

“Prince Lotor, what will we do?!” cried out a man, hands raised in supplication.

“What can we do?!” demanded another. “It’s the end for us for sure.”

It made Lotor want to slap him, the prince fixing him with a stony glare. “Calm down. They want you to panic. It’ll only serve their purpose if you give in to the fear.” The laser fire could be heard louder now, the musicians having ceased their playing. Somewhere in the room a woman let out a loud sob, another swooning in her partner’s arms. “My men will protect us!” added the prince, once again casting about for Allura. Why wasn’t she hurrying to his side?!

He only had seconds to wonder that, and then an explosion rocked the main doors of the ball room. The metal blasted open, shards of shrapnel flying, striking those closet to the door. The nobles lost all sense of reason at that, panicking as they screamed, and running about the room, seeking a way to escape or at least a place to hide.

Not even checking to see if Orla still followed him, Lotor was moving, his sword already drawn and humming in the air. He could see his men, the ones that hadn’t been injured by the door’s blast drawing their weapons, limited to steel swords for the moment. They took up position to the sides of the door, arms tensed and ready for a fight, when a tiny grenade came rolling into the room.

It made an almost comical sound, rolling to a stop, seeming harmless. That was before it began hissing, a thick smoke pouring out of the canister. It enveloped the men by the door, covered them in a dark cloud that made it hard to see. Lotor gave up on watching the door, continuing his pace, feeling a hand touch the back of his jacket.

“Stay behind me and out of my way.” Lotor advised Orla, moving them through the crowd. “I’ll need room to fight…”

It was as though his words heralded their arrival, the terrorists bursting into the room in a shower of laser fire. The screaming grew louder in volume and frequency, the laser fire proving an indiscriminate foe. It struck man and woman alike, dropping people down to the floor, their moans the only sign that they were still alive. The blaster fire rebounded off walls, causing a ricocheting effect, the very thing Lotor’s men had hoped to avoid by using swords.

Lasers came close to him, Lotor using his sword, the lazon blade built to deflect such bolts. He heard another scream, this one different from all the rest, identifiable as Allura’s, Lotor breaking into a run, Orla hot on his heels.

The terrorists were mingling with the crowd, clad in Doom armor, visor helmets over their eyes, protecting them from the smoke that was spreading through the room. They walked right up to the partygoers, aiming point blank at their chests, their blasters firing off round after round to bring them down with little fuss and muss. Most of the nobles were dropping to their knees, pleading for mercy and finding their attackers had none.

A few tried to fight back, aiming punches and kicks, some of the men having worn decorative swords for the evening. The thick Doom armor proved a sufficient barrier against the swords, giving the terrorists time to react and bring their weapons to bare against their assailants.

The Drule soldiers were putting up a valiant effort, charging the terrorists, swords in hand. Most fell before reaching the attackers, but a few got through, their trained hands driving pointed tips into the exposed flesh that was not covered by armor. Shouting could be heard, angry sounds as several soldiers grappled with the terrorists, fighting to steal back their blasters.

One smart solider used a terrorist as a human shield, holding the man close to his body as he advanced forward. It didn’t deter laser fire, the terrorists shooting at him and his hostage anyway, leaving the Drule to carry the dead weight of the unconscious man. Such was his strength that it made little difference in slowing him down, the man moving steadily forward.

Lotor reached the buffet table, seeing it over turned, the food making a slippery spill on the floor. He let out a curse, not seeing Allura, sending a glare at the women who cowered behind the knocked over table. He was just about to hiss out a question, demand they tell him where his wife was when he heard Orla’s warning gasp.

Anger in his eyes, he turned, sword arm swinging outwards with deadly intent. He had time to shove Orla behind him, seeing the black and gray armored form of a terrorist. The man’s blaster was charging, preparing to unleash a laser blast in the next second. Lotor reacted on pure instinct alone, lashing out with his arm, sword cutting into the man’s wrist.

A scream of pain was heard, the man’s hand severed from his arm, the blaster falling to the floor still clutched in his frozen grasp. Lotor didn’t bother to track it, he was kicking out with his foot, knocking the man backwards and off balance. A rustle from behind him, Lotor turning, arm tensed up to unleash another blow. He was stopped by the sight of Orla kneeling down, the woman’s face repulsed as she worked to pry the blaster free of the dismembered hand.

“Let’s go.” Lotor said, holding out his hand to the Queen. She took it, being pulled back to a standing position, blaster in hand. If the situation wasn’t so serious, Lotor would have smiled to see the prim Queen holding a blaster in one hand, and her skirts in the other.

“Go where?” Orla wanted to know, and Lotor cast an anxious glance around the room. With so many of the nobles fallen, it was easy to see the whole of the ball room. Lotor looked to the left and to the right, and then he spotted it. The brightly colored gown of Allura’s, the princess moving rapidly. Her Nanny was behind her, wielding a silver serving tray as a shield, pausing occasionally to bash it against anyone who drew too close to her charge.

“That way!” Lotor said, already taking off. He ducked and wove around bodies, sword on the move, constantly deflecting the laser fire. It wasn’t as heavy as it had been when the terrorists first arrived, the attackers slowing down their assault as more and more of the party’s attendees had fallen to the fire.

Lotor’s eyes were for Allura, not wanting to lose track of her again. He watched her as she moved, Allura seeming to have a specific destination in mind. “Move quickly!” Lotor advised Orla, leaping over a body.

Allura had reached a door, she was struggling to open it, her Nanny pressed against her back. The tray was held up, the woman doing her best to guard the princess. Lotor was running now, hearing Orla’s heels click on the floor as she tried to keep up with his fast pace. He didn’t turn to see how far she had fallen behind him, Lotor rapidly closing the distance to Allura.

The door was open, Allura rushing inside the room. Lotor didn’t have time to relax, though he breathed easier to see her disappear into safety. Her Nanny was the next to follow, and Lotor let out a shout to get her attention.

“Wait for us!”

There was a second’s hesitation in the woman, and then she straightened, looking Lotor straight in the eye as she began to close the door. Lotor swore, fearing he wouldn’t make it in time, and thrust his sword into the ever dwindling crack of the door. He heard Nanny gasp, the woman backing away from his weapon. It bought him the time he needed to kick open the door, Lotor glaring at the woman as he held her at bay with his blade.

She looked defiant, leveling her own glare at Lotor, the animosity crackling between them. Allura let out a cry, a glad shout that showed she was relieved to see him. Orla swept past Lotor’s frame, hurrying into the room, her skirts brushing against his legs.

He was just moving to follow, when something struck his back, Lotor feeling the hot heat of a laser shot against his skin. Allura let out a horrified shriek, already taking a step towards him as Lotor stumbled forward. Another blast hit him, Lotor’s vision growing dim, seeing the faces of the women waver before him as he fell to his knees. Moving in slow motion, he grabbed at the knob of the door, attempting to pull it shut behind him.

The door clicked close, Lotor feeling the heaviness of his body as the effects of the laser began to force it’s hold on him. Allura was rushing towards him, skirts dragging across the floor as she reached out with her hands. He had a second to smile at her, his words slurred as he spoke.

“Lock the door.” Lotor said, his hand slipping free of the knob. “Find something to bar it in case they try to break it down….”

“Yes.” Allura agreed, catching him as he fell the rest of the way, his face being cradled against her chest. He struggled to stay awake, but the softness of her body lulled him into a relaxed state, Lotor’s eyes closing as Allura cried out his name.


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