I set out to keep myself busy the next day. All in order to distract myself from the restlessness that had filled me at the thought of Lotor’s little excursion with Romelle. The very idea of the trip was leaving a bad feeling within me, new worries surfacing by the hour. Suddenly a guard and her brother didn’t seem like enough protection. They could easily be disposed of, though I was sure Lotor wouldn’t risk shattering the illusion of the alliance by doing anything too extreme.
He could however, arrange for a convenient excuse to come up. Something that would draw Prince Bandor away. I could already picture the smirk on Lotor’s face as he insisted Romelle would be fine in his care, leaving Bandor with no way to debate that.
It made me angry, for I liked Romelle. Liked her enough to not want her to be put in the unfortunate position of catering to Lotor’s desires. That anger translated into nervous energy, which I tried to work off in the gymnasium. Countless soldiers ended up defeated at my hands, and yet it did nothing to take the edge of my nerves. I was like an animal trapped in a cage, doing an endless amount of pacing.
Eventually I found myself in the castle’s docks. Built underground, they stretched on for hundreds of miles, well past the edge of the castle’s upper foundation. There were large metal doors carved into the ceiling of the docks, those would open up, revealing the dark, storm cloud strewn sky of Doom. It was through these doors that the ships inside the docks exited and entered, and it took careful coordination to keep accidents from happening.
There was few ships currently moving about, for the armada was on standby. Certainly none of the larger vessels moved, each one docked, and in the midst of being refueled. Liquid lazon was the Drule’s choice of fuel, expensive though it was. There was a reason for that, the lazon a more potent energy source, being slower to burn but making the ships fly faster. Speed didn’t always decide the battle, but when you were up against the lions of Arus, it certainly helped keep you alive.
The maintenance crew was out and about, it looked as if every man and woman had been called to the castle, all to hurry and get the armada in tip top condition. They seemed more rushed than usual, barking out orders to each other and the slaves they had brought with them. It wasn’t just refueling that needed to be done, some of the ship’s weaponry was being refurbished, and there was even a large battle vessel who currently had it’s side open, revealing it’s guts.
Those guts consisted of wires, hundreds of them dangling as a harried looking woman worked to fix whatever the problem was. I didn’t envy her the task, I wouldn’t have had the patience to work on such a ship. Even back in my days at the academy, ship maintenance had been my least favorite course. I had barely graduated, coming away with the bare minimum of knowledge that pertained to ship repair. At best, I could keep a smaller, short distance craft from falling apart long enough to get it to the true professionals.
I didn’t go on board any of the ships, but knew that inside they would be just as busy. Slaves would be cleaning, and getting the cabins and barracks freshened up for the officers and their soldiers. A few Drule technicians would be working on the computers, making sure their programs were all in working order, and virus free. Food, medicines, and other types of supplies would already be loaded onto the storage decks, the armada needing to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
As I wandered around from ship to ship, I spied the single vessel that had brought the Pollux entourage to Doom. It was more yacht than war ship, surely chosen for it’s harmless appearance. Doom would have shot down a threat, but this ship of the Polluxians was anything but that. I was surprised they had even managed to make it to Doom in such a vessel, and wondered how they had avoided the pirates that did business on the outskirts of the Doom Empire’s borders.
It left me wondering about what sot of defense capabilities the ship had. I was debating going on board the Pollux ship simply to satisfy my curiosity when the sound of footsteps drew my attention. It was the sound of many, hundreds, walking in tandem. I recognized that sound, realizing soldiers were being marched into the docks. I turned, more than a little surprise when I saw Mogor at the head of a small army.
He was leading them towards one of the largest of the vessels, a behemoth sized destroyer. A member of the maintenance crew hurried to get the ship’s ramp down, Mogor pausing to the side of it. He put his hands on his hips, and watched as the soldiers began to march up the ramp. There would be no reason for the soldiers to enter the ship unless they were leaving on a mission. But as far as I knew, we had all been given down time until Avok’s transformation into robeast was complete.
As soon as I thought that, I knew. Haggar’s work was over with, the witch succeeding for better or for worse. This peaceful, idle time on Doom was at an end. Soon Avok would fight Voltron, and regardless of whether he won or lost, Pollux would be betrayed. I felt ill at the thought, thinking of the hurt look Romelle would wear. I didn’t want to see that betrayed look in her eyes, didn’t want to know what she would think of me for being part of Doom’s deception.
It was no exaggeration that I suddenly felt time pressing down on me, rapidly counting down the seconds until Romelle’s innocence was shattered, our friendship perhaps destroyed. I snorted then, thinking any trust she felt in me, would be lost. And rightfully so. I didn’t often damn my own King, especially not for doing what our Empire had always done for centuries past. But right now I hated the Doom way.
That hate disturbed me as much as it surprised me. And thus I was uneasy as I approached Mogor, more and more soldiers piling into the docks. They didn’t all go on the same ship, spreading out to board the other vessels. It was clear it wouldn’t be long before the armada was granted clearance to leave. At the rate the soldiers were boarding, in three hours time the ships’ would be packed.
“General Mogor…” I called out in greeting, the dark purple Drule turning in my direction.
“Ah Commander Sabbath. Didn’t expect you to be here so soon.” I knew what he meant. My commanding position got me out of a lot of grunt work. I wouldn’t even have to board the ships until closer to our departure time. “I suppose you’ve heard the news?”
“No, but I think I can hazard a guess at to what is the source behind all this activity.” I answered. I had to hold back my sigh, I would not betray my disappointments to the General. “It’s that human prince, isn’t it? Haggar’s finished turning him into a robeast…”
“Yes.” The slightest of nods. “The word to gather our soldiers came immediately on the heels of her success. I dare say not even five minutes went by before she alerted King Zarkon to this.”
And Zarkon would be eager to have the next stage of his plan already in motion. I wondered if Mogor knew of it, then quickly dismissed that idea. The General was beneath me in the chain of command, if I did not know the exact details of the plans for Pollux, there’d be no way someone like Mogor would already know. Of course Mogor and the other Drules had to suspect something would be done to the people of Pollux. It was not Doom’s way to make friends with other worlds.
“I suggest you get ready.” Mogor continued. “We’ll be leaving once the soldiers and crew have all finished boarding.”
“That’s still hours off.” I told him. “But I will be sure to get my things onboard the flagship.”
“I just hope the prince is back soon.” Mogor muttered, a glower on his face.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” I asked. Surely Lotor would cut the city tour short, and rush back to the castle to take charge of this mission.
Mogor’s lips pursed together, giving him the look of tasting something sour. “We haven’t been able to make contact with his highness.” My eyes widened at that. “It seems he turned off his communicator and that of the guards that accompanied him.” He growled then, but said no more, surely not wanting to make an inflammatory statement about the prince’s foolishness.
“Just what is he thinking?” I snapped back, not expecting Mogor to have an answer. Lotor should have known enough to keep a channel open in case an emergency cropped up at the castle. This wasn’t a life or death situation, but it was urgent. Zarkon was not known for his patience, and might very well have the armada leave without the prince.
Mogor was shrugging, but he kept quiet. I’m sure we both thought the problem was that Lotor WASN’T thinking. At least not with his brain. It seemed that at the moment, all he really cared about was getting Romelle into bed. Which made me wonder just what was going on in the city of Walnov. It was still too early in the day for even Lotor to be able to maneuver Romelle into a hotel room. Were they shopping or at the fair? Did I even have enough time to fly out there to personally collect them?
It was then that I thought that I wasn’t the one thinking clearly. Especially if I was so far gone as to want to intrude on their date, even if I had a justifiable excuse for such an action. I just didn’t want Lotor to manipulate Romelle into being alone with him, actually seeing green over the thought.
“Carry on.” Troubled, I turned away from Mogor, my intent to navigate my way around the ships and enter back into the castle’s proper. I wouldn’t get far, a small cruiser was lowering itself down into the docks. It was predominantly a land bound vessel, it’s hover jets good for only the slightest of flights. It wasn’t even worth my notice, save for the fact the royal family’s crest was painted on the side doors.
I didn’t feel relief to see it, there was too many questions running through my mind. What was the cruiser doing back so soon? Was Lotor and Romelle inside it, or had they remained in the city? If so, had Lotor found some convenient excuse to keep Romelle there? What about Bandor, and the guard from Pollux? I needed answers, practically knocking over a member of the maintenance crew as I hurried towards the landing cruiser.
I could barely wait for it to turn off it’s engines, I was already gripping the side doors. I forced it to lift up, and peered into the dimly lit interior of the cruiser. Shocked faces looked back at me, and then a familiar voice was speaking.
“Just what is the rush Commander?” Lotor wanted to know, no undercurrent of amusement in his voice. I relaxed though, giving him a respectful nod.
“I have good reason to hurry you.” I said. “Prince Avok’s transformation is complete. We are to leave for Pollux just as soon as the soldier’s finish boarding.”
“I see…” Lotor sighed, as though this was putting him out. At the same time, the welcome voice of Romelle spoke, drawing my gaze to seek out her seat inside the cruiser. She was seated to the left of Lotor, his arm resting lightly behind her shoulders. Romelle was stiff with tension, keeping her back straight so as not to brush up against that arm.
“Avok’s already been turned?” She asked, eyes looking alarmed. “So soon?”
“This was fast work, even for Haggar.” I answered, a sympathetic look in my eyes. She did not crumple though, maintaining her composure bravely.
“I want to see him.” Romelle announced, which drew Bandor into the conversation.
“Oh can we? Can we really?” The boy wanted to know, his voice ripe with excitement.
I didn’t think that was a good idea, for either of them. But especially for Romelle, who might break down into tears when she saw the monster her brother had become. “I don’t think there will be time…” I began, trying for a small lie that would dissuade them from this course.
“Nonsense.” Lotor said. “We’ll make time.”
“But..but sire…” I was trying to get him to look at me, my eyes urgent as I gave a shake of my head. I was hoping that would be enough to give him the message that this wasn’t the wisest thing to be done for Romelle.
“But nothing commander.” Lotor retorted. “If Romelle wants to see her brother, then she shall see him.”
I deflated, and stepped back from the cruiser. “Of course.”
“Oh boy, I can’t wait to see Avok as a robeast!” Bandor was all enthusiastic, being the first one to exit the cruiser. He practically bounced with impatience as the guards, a mix that was mainly Drule, but there was two men from Polluxian included in the group, exited next. Lotor was next to leave, and he had not lost the annoyed expression on his face. He was mad about something, though I couldn’t begin to imagine what. Or why they had chosen to come back at this moment, Lotor turning to help Romelle out of the cruiser.
She didn’t look like she wanted to touch him, but her concern for her brother Avok allowed her to grasp Lotor’s hand. He didn’t let go of her once she was out of the cruiser, Lotor bringing her close to him in a way that screamed of possession. No one else was commenting about this, and Bandor seemed oblivious to his sister’s discomfort. I had the feeling the young prince would have left us all behind if he had known the way to Haggar’s lair.
“We were begginning to fear you wouldn’t make it back in time.” I said, trying to start a conversation. I was uneasy with the tension in the air, especially since I didn’t know what was the cause of Lotor’s annoyance. Something had had to have happened, but what? “General Mogor tells me your father is pushing for us to leave for Pollux at once…”
“Why didn’t anyone try to contact us?” Princess Romelle wanted to know, and I hesitated. She clearly didn’t know about the communicators being switched off, and the look Lotor gave me said he wanted to keep it that way.
“There was a disruption on the communication grid.” I said at last. “We had no way of contacting you.”
“Then it is fortunate we came back when we did.” Romelle answered, and glanced at her younger brother. “You see Bandor, some good came out of cutting our trip short after all.”
“I suppose so…” Bandor grumbled, eyes looking downcast. “But I wanted to see the fair grounds…”
“Your sister wasn’t feeling well.” Lotor’s words were a gentle reprimand, but he looked as disgruntled as the young prince did. “We couldn’t continue to keep her out and about the city, given her condition.”
“Sick?” I glanced at Romelle. She seemed to be the perfect picture of health, skin a good color, eyes clear of a fever. True she looked worried, but there was nothing about her that hinted at her being unwell.
“I think something I ate disagreed with me.” She said in reply to my questioning look. “I’m sure it’s nothing more than a temporary virus.” It suddenly dawned on me how temporary it might be, the suspicion that Romelle had faked her illness coming to me. Lotor might even suspect the same, though he wasn’t attempting to call her on it. He continued to play attentive to her, though it was clear he wasn’t happy about them being forced back from the city.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I was fighting a smile, inwardly proud she had thwarted Lotor’s seduction before it had even had a chance to begin.
“Thank you for your concern.” Romelle replied, as we exited out of the docks, and into the castle’s corridors. Fortunately for us the South tower was located pretty close to the castle docks. It would not take us long to walk there.
“Did you enjoy what you did see of the city?” I asked her, but it was Bandor who answered.
“We hardly got to see anything!” He complained. “Just a few dress shops…”
I almost smirked then, amused that Romelle had managed to fit in shopping and a deception.
“There will be other times Bandor…” Romelle told him, which didn’t lessen Bandor’s sulk. “Doom and Pollux are allies now. I’m sure there will be plenty of visits between us in the future.”
“Of course there will.” Lotor spoke, the lie coming easy to him. “As soon as Avok defeats Voltron, we’ll all come back to Doom. There will be a great celebration, all the cities dressing up in honor of our accomplishment.”
“I can’t wait to see that!” exclaimed Bandor. “To see the people honoring Avok!”
We were moving up the spiral staircase now, and I found myself keeping an eye on the young prince. I was ready to catch him should his excitement help him to fall, but fortunately for us all, we made it to the top without accident. As we began walking down the long corridor that led to Haggar’s laboratory, a loud angry voice was heard. It was male, but unrecognizable to me, screaming out his rage.
“What was that?!” Bandor said, his eyes growing huge.
“I believe that was your brother.” The wordless scream was heard again, the male furious.
“If that’s Avok….what are they doing to him?!” demanded Romelle. “Why is he so upset?!”
“It’s natural for a robeast to be upset. I don’t exactly know what Haggar does to them to keep them in this state of continued anger…” I shrugged then. “The anger works well for our purpose…a robeast knowing only violence, and the longing to destroy.”
“Will we be safe?” Romelle wanted to know, and Lotor smiled at her.
“Do not worry Romelle. I will protect you.” He patted his sheathed sword’s pommel, looking confidant he could put down an out of control robeast.
“If you kill Avok now, all of this will have been a waste!” One of the Drule soldier said. Lotor shot him an annoyed look, the prince not wanting that reminder.
“No killing.” Romelle gasped out. “That’s still my brother…no matter what he has become…”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Lotor replied, then gave the accompanying guards a command. “Wait for us out here.”
“Yes, sire.” They said, both Drule and Polluxians bowing. The rest of us entered into Haggar’s lair, listening to the robeast’s screams grow louder and more furious. Bandor looked around the workshop, forcing me to grab his wrist when he attempted to poke the eviscerated remains of a body.
“Don’t!” I hissed in warning. “The witch will not take kindly to her experiments being disturbed.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything!” protested Bandor.
“Brother, listen to the commander.” Ordered Romelle, keeping her eyes averted from the bodies.
“You don’t want to know what the witch will do to you.” I told him. “She’s been known to curse people for less offenses.”
“Curse? I’m not afraid of a witch’s curses!” Bandor scoffed at me.
“Bandor! If you cannot behave, you will have to wait outside with the guards.” Romelle told him, and the boy sighed.
I still kept my eye on him, not trusting his curiosity would lead him to sneak a touch, or even steal something from Haggar. Except for that brief exchange, we were silent as we entered the rear most chamber. To my surprise, King Zarkon and King Cova were also present. The two men were staring at the creature behind the glass, watching as Drule soldiers struggled to subdue him.
“Is….is that…” Romelle’s hand was flying to cover her mouth, she seemed at a loss to finish. I couldn’t blame her. Avok no longer looked human. His once tanned skin had been turned a dark purple, darker even than Mogor’s flesh. His eyes had turned completely yellow, no pupil remained, making him appear blind. But he wasn’t, well aware of every move made against him, Avok attacking and batting around the soldiers like they were mere rag dolls.
Romelle shrieked when one hit the glass, a smear of blood following the body’s downward slide. Lotor pulled her against his chest, his hand on the back of her hair to keep her from seeing anymore. But he wasn’t looking down at Romelle, but staring critically at Avok.
“What’s taking so long?” Lotor wanted to know. “Why isn’t he in the coffin already?”
“Ah Prince Lotor.” Haggar cackled. “As you can plainly see, Avok is difficult to manage. He has well surpassed even the most powerful of robeasts I had previously created. And all because he was a WILLING subject. He was able to take in far more energy than any previous test subject. I dare say he might even be able to take on Voltron and win!”
“He better old witch.” Grumbled Zarkon.
“He will.” Insisted Haggar. “With his strength, and the enchanted armor I’ve given him…Voltron will stand little chance against him.”
“But first we have to get him to Pollux.” reminded King Cova. “Is there not any easier way to get him inside the coffin?” Another soldier was thrown, his head being twisted so that his neck had snapped. I was glad Romelle’s face was hidden against Lotor’s chest, preventing her from seeing such a gruesome sight. But it couldn’t block out the snapping sound that had following the twisting action.
“Cool!” exclaimed Bandor. “My brother is awesome!” No one paid any attention to Bandor’s words, we were all intent on the soldiers’ struggles with Avok.
“Hurry up and put him in chains!” Lotor snarled at the men inside the glass chamber with Avok.
“Lotor, son, if you’re so impatient, why don’t you go in there and show them how it is done?” Zarkon smirked then, Lotor growing silent in response. The prince was surely taking in the scene of carnage inside the chamber, and I knew nothing would get Lotor inside there until Avok was unconscious. Truth be known, I wouldn’t have gone in there either, not even if they agreed to triple my pay. After all, what good was money to a dead man?
The soldiers continued, one trying to lasso a length of chain around one of Avok’s flailing arms. It snagged, but Avok used that chain to pull the screaming soldier to him, giving him a brutal punch to the nose. Romelle flinched at each sound and scream, and I began to feel even more concern.
“Perhaps this is too much for the princess to see.” I suggested. “She is ill, and surely this is not helping matters…”
“Ill? I certainly hope she’s not too ill to travel.” Grumbled Zarkon.
“I will manage. But I think the commander is right. I should be excused.” Romelle winced as Avok began slamming a soldier repeatedly into the glass.
“Will that glass hold?” An alarmed King Cova asked.
“It will be fine, I assure you. I’ve had countless robeasts try to break it before…” Haggar told him.
“But if Avok is the strongest….”
“It will be fine!” snapped Haggar, Cova falling silent with a grumble.
“How are the other preparations coming along?” Zarkon asked his son. “Are the ships being boarded?”
“Even as we speak.” Answered Lotor.
“Good.” Zarkon nodded in satisfaction, then sighed. “Avok may delay things though. Perhaps our armada should go on ahead to Pollux….Lotor will remain behind to oversee Avok’s transport personally.”
Lotor didn’t look thrilled at that idea. “Yes, father…”
“And Cova, there is no reason for you to delay your departure any longer. Avok will be in the capable hands of my son.” Cova didn’t look like he believed in Lotor being capable, especially where Avok was concerned. But he bowed his head in acknowledgment of Zarkon’s words.
“Of course. We shall make ready for prince Lotor’s arrival.” He turned, calling out over his shoulder. “Come Bandor, Romelle…” Bandor made a disappointed sound, but moved to follow the King. Romelle tried the same, and found Lotor’ tightening his hold on her.
“There is no rush for Romelle to return to Pollux, is there?” Lotor asked. “She is unwell, and could use a brief rest before traveling.” He had turned solicitous. “It will be no trouble to allow her to travel as part of my entourage.”
Avok roared behind us, King Cova hesitating. “Are you really that unwell my dear…?”
“I’m sure I am not that ill as to be unable to travel presently.” Romelle began, but Lotor cut her off.
“Oh, but I insist. A brief rest before our journey will do you a world of good, and restore the color to your cheeks.”
“Lotor….remember what I told you…” Zarkon’s tone and words were threatening, leaving me to wonder just what he was referring to.
“I haven’t forgotten father.” Lotor assured him. “I am merely looking out for Princess Romelle’s welfare.”
“Is that all you’re looking out for?” Haggar cackled wickedly. Lotor shot her a dark look, but she continued laughing.
“If you’re sure it will be no problem…” Cova looked uncertain, glancing at his daughter. I couldn’t know that though Cova was displeased at the thought of Romelle spending even more time with Lotor, he was also seeing the advantages to having his daughter be an active distraction to the prince. The wheels were turning in that mind of his, Cova wanting Lotor so besotted with Romelle that he wouldn’t be able to think straight. Certainly not enough to be able to erect a defense against Pollux, when the planet turned against the Doom armada.
There was plots all around her, Romelle becoming a pawn to so many. For a princess that wasn’t considered important, her value was mounting, and not just to Lotor or to me.