Haggar’s laboratory was located in an isolated part of the castle, the South tower all but abandoned of people. It was the way the witch and King Zarkon preferred, the pair wanting an air of secrecy around Haggar’s work. It wasn’t often that I had a chance to visit this part of the castle, and never before had I called upon the witch without Lotor present. I didn’t like Haggar, but then no one did, not even the King. And like many inside the castle, I didn’t trust the witch as far as I could throw her.
I was uneasy as I led Romelle to the witch’s lair, and trying not to show it. Romelle was on my arm, actually clinging to it as her nerves grew. She might not know much about Haggar, but she could read the menacing atmosphere that grew worse as we climbed the spiral staircase of the tower. It was even darker here, what little light there was only made the shadows more pronounced.
I was glad to lend my arm to the princess, knowing the limited light made it all the more difficult for a human to navigate the narrow stairs. Many a slave had slipped, and fallen, each accident ensuring they earned their death. If the fall didn’t kill them, their masters did, for what use was a slave with a broken body? Most Drules would not have the patience to wait for a slave’s injury to heal, content to put them down like an animal rather than care to pay for their medical treatment.
It was with that knowledge in my head, that I took extra care in guiding Romelle. She was no slave, but I didn’t want to risk her falling. As displeased as Lotor would be if she was injured, I knew I would echo his displeasure. Romelle was in my care, and she had been kind to me, showing concern over the injuries I had suffered at Lotor’s hands.
She was quickly endearing herself to me, though Romelle was probably unaware of the effect she was having. On me and on Lotor, the girl affecting the prince to the point he wanted to marry her. That was astounding in and of itself, for Lotor had previously insisted he would marry Allura, or marry no one at all. Of course I was amused at his grand scheme to make both princesses his wives. It just proved how big a dreamer Lotor was, not to mention revealed how greedy he was when it came to women.
When we finally cleared the last of the steps, we were on the landing that led into Haggar’s domain. A long corridor stretched out before us, the few flickering lights illuminating the door at the very end. The hall was nearly empty, save for two soldiers who stood guard on either side of that door. They didn’t look thrilled to be on duty for the witch, and most likely they feared that she would force them to volunteer for her experiments. It wouldn’t be the first time she had done something like that, the witch not caring if she used her own kind to further her research.
It wasn’t often that a Drule was turned into a robeast, but it didn’t mean it did not happen. I remember the last commander in charge of the Arus invasion, a man name Yurak. It hadn’t been enough to kill him, they had decided to turn him into a monster, and make him fight Voltron one last time. Big surprise that he had lost, our robeasts NEVER seemed to win against that robot.
Would Avok be any different? I did not know. But I wanted him to succeed, to give Doom the victory it had been longing for.
“Commander Sabbath.” One of the soldiers had recognized me, drawing up from his slouch. “What business do you have with the witch?”
“It is not Haggar we’ve come to see.” I told him. “The princess would like a moment with her brother.” Understanding dawned in his gray colored eyes, the soldier glancing at his companion. “Problem?”
‘”Witch Haggar is currently not here.” Explained the soldier. “She had a matter to attend to with the King.” I wondered if it was the same matter that Lotor had been called about, but I didn’t press for details.
“Is that a problem?” Romelle spoke up from besides me, drawing the soldier’s eyes to her. “She needn’t be present for my visit.”
“I’m not sure this is wise. You know how Haggar is. She doesn’t like anyone messing around in her laboratory unattended.”
“Well, then it is a good thing Commander Sabbath is here.” Answered Romelle. “He will make sure I keep my hands to myself where Haggar’s spells are concerned.”
I almost chuckled then, the soldier looking displeased at her reasoning. “It will be fine.” I tried to reassure them. “I will take full responsibility should something happen.”
“You better.” Warned one of the Drules in an ominous tone. “I rather it be your neck than mine that gets slit!”
I felt the tremble go through Romelle’s body, the girl shivering at those words. She clung all the more firmly to my arm, waiting until we had been ushered into Haggar’s laboratory to speak. “Is it that risky? What we’re doing, I mean?” Her worried blue eyes stared up at me, she began to chew on her bottom lip. “I don’t want to get you into trouble…”
“You won’t.” I quickly assured her with a smile. “Even Haggar is not so cold hearted to deny a sister visit with her brother one last time…” I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was saying, Hagagr wasn’t known for being nurturing. She probably wouldn’t care for the sentimentality of a sister who loved her brother with all her heart. She might even enjoy denying her this request, relishing the upset she would cause in Romelle.
But Haggar wasn’t here now, which not only suited me, but worked in our favor. Walking with Romelle besides me, we navigated the narrow space between tables, ignoring the potions, and experiments laid out on them. Romelle wisely kept her eyes averted from the sight of some large animal that had been cut open in several places. It’s guts lay exposed, but all the blood had been drained from it’s body.
“Where is Avok?” Romelle asked, and I shrugged. The witch’s lair was actually composed of several rooms, she had the entire floor of the southern tower to herself. I knew there was a library and bedroom, in addition to the cluttered room we were currently walking through. But there was one other chamber, at the very back of her laboratory, and it was there that she created her monsters. It was there that we would find Avok, the human prince resting on a cot.
“Avok!” Romelle immediately released her grip on my arm, all but flying to her brother’s side. He roused himself at her cry, sitting up and looking shocked to see her.
“Brother!” She went to hug him, then drew up short, as though she had only just realized he wore nothing more than a loin cloth. All the muscles on his tanned body were revealed, arms and legs bulging with them. I couldn’t be sure, the tunic had covered him so well before, but was he larger in size even just a little? Romelle was looking him over critically, her back was to me so I couldn’t see her expression. But I saw her raise her hands, bringing her fingers to hover over the prominent veins in his arms. “What..what is this?”
“It has begun.” Avok replied, and she shook her head in denial. “The witch has been inundating me with power at regular intervals. Giving me as much raw energy as I can handle at a time.” He flexed an arm, showing off for us both. “Already I can feel my strength has increased. It won’t be long before I am invincible!”
“Avok…you must stop this.” Romelle said, and I startled in reaction. I hadn’t expected her to try and talk Avok down from becoming a robeast! “It is not too late…”
“It’s been too late ever since we arrived on Doom.” Avok retorted. His gaze flicked my way, he was curious. “Who is this?”
“Sabbath’s my name.” I said, nodding at him. He was studying me as intently as I had him, and then he snorted.
“The prince has business with his father.” I explained, even as Romelle began to speak.
“It doesn’t matter where his highness has gone! Avok, you must listen to me. The plan has changed, father’s intentions, his ambitions have been corrupted by the Drule King.” Avok looked at her, but said nothing, Romelle’s voice becoming desperate. “It won’t be just Arus they use you for. Father and King Zarkon have made an alliance, one where they will divide up new worlds between them. New worlds that you conquer for them!”
There was little reaction from him. It made me suspect this information wasn’t new to him. It also made me wonder, had Haggar been informing Avok of what was going on? I wouldn’t put it past her, the witch taking pleasure in revealing to Avok he would be trapped as a robeast indefinitely. And yet he wasn’t despairing at the news, his expression serious but otherwise lacking emotion. Was he already so far gone into the transformation process that his feelings were starting to be stripped away? Or was there something more to it?
“Arus will fall.” Avok said, his tone patient as though he was explaining something to a child. “The ruling house will be demolished, the people enslaved. Our people, will finally be able to leave Pollux. To return to the mother world, and enjoy the riches that fertile planet has to offer. It’s what we’ve been dreaming of for years, what our people have been wishing for. Would you deny them that?”
“N…no…” Romelle was hesitant. “I wouldn’t….”
“Then you understand why I must continue on this course.” Continued Avok, looking certain he had managed Romelle. I wondered if his mind was already addled from the effects of his treatment at Haggar’s hands, for surely anyone else could tell Romelle was still not at ease.
“There has to be another way.” She said. “Surely we can find a way to defeat Arus without you having to become a robeast….”
“There is no other way.”
“We won’t know until we try!” Romelle insisted. “Avok please, come with me. Walk away now while you still can…” She was reaching for his hand, but he would not allow her to take it. “Avok!”
“Romelle, stop this at once!” He ordered. “I will not be swayed from this course. I will become a robeast, and I will destroy Voltron. The plan is perfect!”
“Don’t you understand?” Her voice was rising with urgency, leaving me grateful Haggar’s laboratory was soundproofed against screams. “They are never going to let you go! You’ll never revert back to your old self, NEVER!”
“It will be a small price to pay…” Even I found him more foolish than brave, his self sacrificing attitude hardly admirable. Especially when it was causing such distress to his sister. “I can go to my fate at peace. And do you know why?” Romelle shook her head no, Avok smiling sadly at her. “Because I will give you Arus. I will ensure you, our brother Bandor, and our people no longer need to live in hardship.”
She was silent for a moment, just letting Avok touch her cheek. But I could see the trembling shaking her slim frame, she was struggling so bravely to remain calm and composed. “You won’t even remember me by the time Haggar is through! You won’t remember father, Bandor, our people. You won’t remember what it is you sacrificed yourself for, you will care about nothing! Nothing save anger, a rage that will motivate you to constantly destroy! Do you want that? Do you want to forget who you are, and everything you stood for?”
“Romelle.” He sighed, visibly frustrated that she wouldn’t cease her attempts at persuading him to not become a robeast. “I am but just one man.”
“I am also crown prince of our people. And I know with that title, comes sacrifice. It would be selfish of me, selfish of you too, to try and stop this. For what is one man’s
life when compared to the needs of the people….?” She was silent, leaving me to wish I could see her face in the moment. “If through my sacrifice, I can improve the situation of many, I have to do this. You understand, do you not? The good of many trumps the good of a single being.”
I have to admit, I was impressed by his words even if I thought him a fool. He wasn’t like any prince I had ever met, most, including Lotor, wouldn’t have given up their lives to spare the discomfort of others. They would have found someone else to do this distasteful thing in their place, would have sacrificed as many as possible to keep their own necks safe.
Grudging admiration was in my eyes as I met Avok’s gaze. He nodded at me, and did one last stoke of his sister’s cheek. “Thank you for bringing her to me.”
“It wasn’t a problem.” I said gruffly.
“This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.” Romelle tone was resigned in it’s sadness. “You should have been around to enjoy the success of your endeavors.” I heard a door slam shut, Romelle jumping in fright at that loud sound. Avok stiffened, and pressed a finger to her lips.
“Speak no more of this. The witch has returned.”
I could hear more noise now, the witch was moving through the rooms, surely heading for this one. What would she do if she learned Romelle had tried to change her brother’s mind this late in the game? Avok looked at me once more, expression grim. “I am trusting you to keep quiet about this as well.”
I nodded. The witch wouldn’t hear about this from me. “You have my word.” I didn’t know if that would reassure him, not many people trusted the words of strangers. Especially if that stranger was a Drule.
“So…have you been seeing the sights of Doom?” Avok was trying to lead us into a conversation to fool the witch into believing this had been a normal visit. Romelle let out a shaky breath, attempting to compose herself.
“There hasn’t been much to see.” She admitted, her voice no longer betraying her upset. I was pleased by her control, the command she had over her feelings. She might be conflicted and in turmoil, but no one would be able to tell that now. “I haven’t even left the castle, save to go to the arena.”
“We’ll return home soon enough.” Replied Avok. “Just as soon as my transformation is complete. And then you will have Arus to enjoy.” Again he looked at me. “Have you been there? Is it as beautiful as they say?”
“I have and it is.” I had accompanied Lotor twice now to Arus. The world was a fertile paradise, untouched by pollution. I had enjoyed seeing the sights of that world, as did many of the other Drules. We all had an appreciation for beauty, and it did the Drules good to see just what it is they were fighting for.
“You’ll have to tell me about someday…” Romelle said, just as Haggar was entering the room.
“Why talk about it, when you will soon see it?” Haggar asked, her screechy sounding voice echoing unpleasantly in the room. Romelle immediately turn to greet Haggar, the witch nodding her head. “Child, Prince Lotor is looking for you.”
“His business with his father is over already?” Romelle asked, and Haggar nodded.
“I wouldn’t keep his highness waiting for much longer.” It was a none too subtle urging, Haggar wanting to be rid of Romelle.
“Please…just a minute longer…” begged the princess, and Haggar sighed. At the same time, Avok asked a question, his voice showing his upset for the first time since we had come to him.
“Just why is Lotor looking for my sister?” He demanded, voice gruff with angry worry. “What business could he possibly have with you?”
Romelle started to turn back to her brother, but it was Haggar who answered. “Oh? Did I forget to tell you? The prince has made it his mission to see to the princess’ comfort.” She let out a wicked cackle, amused by the way Avok’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “They have been nearly inseparable these past two days. I dare say he is smitten with the princess.”
“Smitten?” Avok grolwed the word like it was the worst of curses, Romelle actually flinching in response. “Romelle, I do not like this. I do not like him. He has a high handed reputation with women.”
“He’s been nothing but…” Romelle hesitated, needing to settle on a word. “Nothing but charming to me.”
“He’s got all the charm of a snake!” snapped Avok. “He is not suitable for a lady of refined breeding. I do not want you spending any more time with him.”
“I’m afraid that is all but unavoidable.” Haggar wasn’t sorry at all, smirking at Avok. “The prince is very insistent on spending time with Princess Romelle.”
“Shouldn’t he have a war to plan?!” Avok demanded.
“The real work won’t start until we arrive on Pollux.” explained Haggar. “It will be a busy time then, for all involved.” She smiled, flashing her fangs. “I wouldn’t begrudge the prince for wanting to spend time with a woman as beautiful as your sister.”
“Damn him!” Avok grumbled. He grasped hold of Romelle’s right arm, his look urgent, his words commanding. “See to him briefly. Make whatever excuses you need to, but end this flirtation before it goes any further!”
“Promise me Romelle!” demanded Avok, and Romelle whimpered in pain.
“You’re hurting me…” Avok went ram rod stiff with shock, guilt flashing in his eyes. He immediately let go of Romelle’s arm, but from my vantage point in the room I couldn’t see if she would bruise from his grip.
“Forgive me.” He said, and then Haggar was clapping her hands together.
“As riveting as this all is, visiting time is over with.” She glanced at me, eyes narrowed with annoyance. I had a feeling she would have words with me at the first available opportunity, all to reprimand me for bringing Romelle for an unscheduled visit with Avok.
“I am not through talking with my sister.” Avok told her, giving off the impression he would not be content to let Romelle leave without gaining her promise first.
“Yes, you are. Its time for your next treatment. It cannot be delayed any further.” She made shooing motions with her hands. “Now off you go, the both of you!” Avok growled, but Haggar ignored him. “Commander, the princess if you please. I’m sure she doesn’t want to see the details of what I am doing to her brother.”
Truth be known, I didn’t want to watch the transformation process either, so I stepped closer to Romelle. “Come along your highness.” She nodded, and turned to throw her arms around her brother, giving him what might be the last hug they ever shared. Haggar made impatient noises during this, moving to fiddle with buttons on a control panel.
I took hold of Romelle’s arm, and gently pulled her away from her brother. She would have lingered for an eternity otherwise, Romelle loathe to leave her brother to the fate he had decided for himself.
“Good-bye…” She whispered, allowing me to lead her out of the room. The door swiftly sealed shut behind us, but not before we heard Haggar cackling out a comment.
“Do try not to scream so much this time. It hurts my ears.”
I inwardly cursed Haggar for saying that, knowing she purposefully said it within earshot of Romelle. The princess made a dismayed sound, a shudder wracking her body as we walked through the cluttered workshop of Haggar.
When we emerged out into the hall, the guards were gone, surely dismissed by Haggar. Romelle was still shaking, turning to look back at the door that led into Haggar’s laboratory. I gently tugged on her arm, trying to get her to move, but she remained standing there.
“I’m never going to see my brother again, am I?” She asked me, her shoulders sagging. “At least…not in the body I know and love.”
“I’m sorry.” It was the only thing I could say, and it was as close to a confirmation as she needed.
“It’s just not fair.” She still wasn’t looking at me, I could only see the side of her face. “There should have been another way. One without cost to us…” A sigh then, Romelle making a fist out of her right hand. “Do you know we hadn’t even tried to explore any other options since Avok came up with this mad plan of his? Not even one?”
“Really?” I was surprised. “I would have thought Avok would have exhausted all other routes before going to this extreme.”
“He didn’t. None of them did. Not my father, not his advisors…no one.” She frowned then. “Is Arus really worth it?”
“Doom thinks it is.” I said. “We wouldn’t be putting so much time and effort into the invasion otherwise.”
“I have a bad feeling about this….about all of it. My brother, Arus, this alliance…” Romelle was starting to tremble again, she was on the verge of an emotional break down. “We’re on the wrong course…and there is nothing I can do to stop it.” She turned to me then, her eyes glistening with wetness. “No one will listen to me, no one will take my fear seriously.”
“I will.” I was serious when I said it, listening to her sniffle.
“I…I am begginning to wish we had never come to Doom.” She confided, struggling not to break down and cry. “I wish…we had tried some other way. But my people have seen the struggle the Doom Empire has had with Arus and it’s defender. It led them to believe that if an Empire as vast in size as Doom, could not take down one simple planet, what chance did Pollux’s meager military have.”
“I had wondered about that. For a people who hold such a grudge, they’ve been inactive when it comes to attacking Arus.”
“We’ve been biding our time.” Romelle explained. “At first Arus was under Doom’s rule, sixteen years would go by before Arus fought back to regain it’s freedom. This last year has been interesting to say the least. Watching and waiting, wondering if Doom would ever regain control of Arus. We knew we couldn’t fight both Arus and Doom, and thus my brother came up with this insane scheme of his. Truthfully I didn’t think his offer would be attractive enough for King Zarkon to take seriously…I hoped and I prayed he wouldn’t…”
Her voice broke on a sob, her control had snapped. She began to openly cry, a hand pressed to her lips in an attempt to muffle her weeping. Her shoulders shook continuously, Romelle lowering her eyes. It was a heart wrenching sight to see, this brave girl breaking down into tears. I shifted my stance, not sure what to do now that she was crying. After all, what did I know of comforting a woman? But the sight of her tears made me want to try.
“Sabbath!” She surprised me by flinging herself against my chest, her hands forming fists that gripped the fabric of my shirt. She didn’t look up at me, crying into my chest. I stood there shocked, completely unprepared to have her in my arms. “Sabbath, tell me it will all work out.” She begged me, even as I stood there unmoving. “Lie to me if you have to, but tell me this is the right thing to do!”
I didn’t want to lie to her so I just made a soothing sound, a soft croon in response to her weeping. I knew this was bad, in more ways that one, Lotor waiting and looking for her. He would not be pleased to know she was in my arms, and yet I couldn’t resist putting them around her. The hug was awkward, I was holding her like she was a delicate porcelain doll. Her trembling increased, she was clinging so hard to my shirt, not saying anything now.
I do not know how long we stood there, time seemed to freeze. Lotor would be very angry about being made to wait for her, but I knew I could not return Romelle until she had regained control of her emotions. Lotor would not understand her tears, would not be appreciative of her upset, nor would he know how to comfort her anymore than I did. But he would lack the patience to try, and might be blunt enough to tell Romelle to just get over it.
“Thank you.” Romelle abruptly pulled back, her face composed. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, and her eyes were red. But she was no longer crying. I fumbled for something to wipe her face on, eventually using the sleeve of my shirt to dry off her face. “We mustn’t keep the prince waiting any longer.”
I knew she was right, but still I hesitated. “Are you going to be all right now?”
“No. But I will manage.” She said, her head held high. She seemed so regal in the moment, I was in awe of her. If not for her reddened eyes, I wouldn’t have known she had just been crying her eyes out. I didn’t know it then, but Romelle had trusted me enough to allow me to see her when her emotions had been at their worst. It was a trust that could have shattered from the events that would soon happen, but I like to think it only grew stronger.