Songbird 11

During dinner that evening, it became apparent that Romelle could no longer avoid Lotor. Not without giving offense. Her father’s delaying tactics were at an end, Cova and his advisors having occupied Lotor for as long as politely possible. The prince would have no more of it, insisting that enough details had been revealed to Cova of the Drule’s armada’s planned tactics.

Cova reluctantly conceded to Lotor’s wishes, feigning his blessings for Lotor to go off with his daughter. But he wasn’t pleased. Neither was I, hiding my frown behind my goblet. If I could have thought of an excuse, I would have used it. Anything to at least accompany them on Lotor’s tour of the castle. I might have even gone as far as to skulk after them from shadow to shadow, but Haggar moved to stop me.

“Commander…come with me.” I looked at her a long moment, sipping slowly of my drink. “I could use a big, strapping brute such as yourself to help me in my chambers.” She feigned a leer, which would have normally disturbed me. But I could see her heart wasn’t into it.

“Why me?” I demanded, setting down my drink. “You could have any of these soldiers help you.”

“But I’ve decided on you.” Haggar retorted. I frowned, knowing my position as Commander kept me from a lot of meaningless work. I shouldn’t have to play errand boy for anyone but the prince. “Besides, the nature of my work is delicate. I wouldn’t trust my belongings to just anyone.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” I agreed, but still made no move to stand. “And everyone knows the price they would pay if accidents happened while handling your things.”

“This is not a request, but an order.” Stressed Haggar. She didn’t often pull rank with me, but now she was doing it. “You’re going to do this, and you’re going to do this now.”

I grumbled, but ultimately pushed out of my seat. Her fangs flashed in a smile, Haggar seemed pleased she hadn’t had to argue with me for much longer. She’d then turn to King Cova, and nod her hooded head slightly. I’d follow with a much more respectful nod, though neither of us actually bowed to him. None of the Drules did, an insult Cova never chose to call us on.

Haggar would lead me out of the castle, and through the inner courtyard. Avok’s coffin was present, guarded by dozens upon dozens of soldiers. His screams continued, the monster still not subdued. I was begginning to wonder if he would be too tired to actually fight Voltron, after his long fight against his imprisonment. I voiced my concern out loud, Haggar pausing on the ramp that led up into the flag ship.

“I wouldn’t worry about Avok.” She said at last. “Someone with that much energy and anger, won’t let a little thing like being trapped tire him out.”

“Yes, but he’s been struggling for the better part of twenty-four hours!” I argued. “Surely something can be done to make him conserve his strength. Perhaps a sleep spell?”

“My spells are growing weaker where Avok is concerned.” Haggar had been hesitant to admit this, giving me a sharp look before walking the rest of the way up the ramp. “He seems to have developed an immunity to them, especially the stronger ones.”

“Does Prince Lotor know?” I asked, alarmed. Again that hesitation from the witch, but Haggar didn’t stop moving this time.

“I have not seen fit to tell his highness.” Came her answer at last. “And you won’t either.” I frowned then, not liking keeping secrets of this magnitude from Lotor. “It will only just worry him.” Haggar added. “Needlessly.”

“I think he has a right to be worried.” We were moving through the ship’s corridors. Haggar was spry for one of her advanced age, moving at a rapid pace. There were rumors that Haggar used magic on herself, all to better combat the effects of aging. A similar rumor existed about King Zarkon, the man an ancient age, and yet acted as healthy as a Drule in his middle age.

“Avok is not yet so far from my control, that there will be a problem.” Haggar retorted.

“I hope so witch. For all our sakes.” We both fell silent then, but I couldn’t stop worrying about her reveal. What did it mean for Avok? If spells meant to subdue him no longer were as effective, or had stopped working altogether, what about other magic? Namely the magic needed to change him back to his former self? More and more, it was becoming apparent that Avok was never meant to come back from being a robeast. But more than that worry, I wondered how Haggar planned to use Avok to conquer other planets. Especially when she was having this much trouble just here on Pollux.

At this rate, it seemed Avok would only be of use to destroy a planet, not subdue it. Haggar probably didn’t even care, so long as Avok defeated Voltron for us. She could after all, make more robeasts. Even if they would be considered substandard in comparison to Avok. But then, if Voltron was no longer in the picture, we wouldn’t need a better built robeast.

It was these thoughts that had me sighing. I was already uneasy with this whole debacle on Pollux, and the revealed developments with Avok only made my trepidation worse. I was also struggling not to worry about Romelle being alone with Lotor, trying not to picture just what he might try to do to her. I found myself hoping he had sated his lusts on his harem, if only to keep him behaving more appropriately.

“Here…” Haggar had reached her private cabin, pausing to unlock her door. I was loathe to enter it, peering into the darkness of the room. There was only a dim glow in one corner, some sort of glowing moss she had brought with her. The musky scent of mixed herbs, fermented oddities, and preserved body parts wafted out into the hall. It made my nose wrinkle in disgust, even as Haggar gestured impatiently for me to step in ahead of her.

She wouldn’t turn on the overhead lights until after I stepped inside, as though she was testing how brave I was. The room seemed a million times worse once the lights were on, looking like a smaller version of her workshop. She had a body laid out on the coffee table, I was surprised it could support the corpse’s weight without collapsing.

Skulls that had been picked clean of all skin, stared at me from the shelves, their mouths frozen in toothy grins. There were jars on the shelves beneath them, eyes and tongues floating in some kind of preserving liquid, even a brain at one point was revealed. I couldn’t help but wonder if those parts had once belonged to the skulls, even as my eyes were quickly drawn away to another shelf.

This one didn’t seem so bad, for at least I couldn’t identify what those bottled objects were. There was more shelves, filled with thick books that were bound in leather, and in one case the flayed hide of a long dead Drule. That book creeped me out the most, making me wonder who had been killed, and why it had been necessary to bound it’s pages in his skin.

“What do you need me to do?” I asked at last, not jumping when Haggar closed the door to her cabin. It didn’t seem like there was much that needed to be done, her shelves were packed with items. This cabin was her home away from home, Haggar often traveling to Arus on this ship. She had used this room long before Lotor had arrived to take over the Arus invasion, and even if Lotor was replaced, she would continue to use it for her magic.

“Oh, there’s some boxes and things in the bedroom.” Haggar said absentmindedly. She was setting her crystal ball down on a corner table that was bolted in place to the floor. All the furniture onboard our ships had to be secured, else accidents were liable to occur.

“Fine.” I grumbled under my breath as I went into the bedroom, and picked up one of the largest of boxes. It felt like it weighed a ton, and though that might have been an exaggeration, it still staggered me to carry it back out. Haggar was by the body, staring at it’s uncut flesh. I sincerely hoped she wasn’t about to start slicing into it while I was present.

“Just put it down over there.” Haggar gave an offhanded gesture by the couch. “We’ll unpack it’s contents soon enough.” Again I grumbled, placing it down where she said. She’d have me fetch three more boxes of a similar size and weight before stopping me cold with a question. “You’re worried about her, aren’t you?”

I instantly knew the her she referred to, though I tried to play dumb. “Her?” A box was in my arms, I pretended to be concerned with setting it down, rather than look at the witch. “You’ll have to be more specific than that witch. I know many women..and they me.” I forced a saucy grin on my face, letting her determine the nature of those relationships.

Haggar grew agitated, almost angry then. “I am not talking about those whores you fuck!” I was shocked by her language, and insulted by her choice of words. I didn’t sleep with actual whores, having no taste for the slaves kept in the brothels. It hit too close to home, I could remember growing up under the care of my mother and the other brothel slaves before being turned out on the streets. I had seen the harsh treatment they had received, and not just from their owner, but from the men who bought them for a time. Some men would spend the whole night with a slave, others only an hour. It didn’t matter how little or long they spent, the treatment was the same, deplorable.

I myself always made it a point to associate with women who were free to choose who they would sleep with. I didn’t want to buy affection, had even cultivated friendships with some of the women who had become my lovers. “I don’t associate with whores…” Not any more, not since my mother’s death, and I had been able to leave behind the life of my childhood.

Haggar waved in a dismissive manner, as if the words was mere semantics. “I’m talking about the princess.” A chill went through me, even as I tried to tell myself she was being overly concerned over the exchange she had witnessed in the castle’s courtyard.

“What about princess Romelle?” I asked calmly.

“You like her.” She accused, and even with my back to her, I could feel the witch’s eyes boring into me. Like daggers, which instantly made me turn, all to better defend myself in case she should decide to attack. “Do not try to deny it. Not to me.”

“So what if I do?” I asked defensively. “There’s no harm in being attracted to a beautiful woman.”

“There is when that woman is slated to become the prince’s bride!” snapped Haggar. “Commander, I am concerned.”

“About me? You needn’t be.”

She snorted then. “I didn’t say it was you I was concerned about.”

“Then who?” I demanded, and she paused, looking unsettled.

“There’s a feeling in the air.” She muttered. “I can sense the wrongness of this situation. That girl will be trouble…” She shook her head, and turned back to the body on the coffee table.

“Trouble for who?” I asked, and prodded her for more information. “For me? For Lotor?”

“Yes…no….maybe.” That told me nothing, and I could see it frustrated Haggar just as much as it did me. She reached into her robes, rustling about the coarse brown fabric, before pulling out a wicked looking knife. It was some kind of ceremonial dagger, it’s blade curved and far cleaner than I expected, considering what it was used for.

Viciously, Haggar stabbed it into the body, blood immediately welling out in response. She had no trouble slicing it downwards, cutting open the stomach. Blood wasn’t the only thing that came out of the body, it’s insides began to fall out, Haggar making no move to stop most of it from landing on the cabin’s carpet. She left the dagger sticking out of the body, and then sunk her arms up to her elbows into the cavity.

Disturbed, I watched her, her hands rummaging through the insides of the alien’s body. She began to mumble, and it was not in any language that I understood. The body made horrible, squelching sounds as she sifted through it. I couldn’t be certain, but I believed she was using the insides to try and get answers, maybe even try to divine the future.

I knew enough not to speak to her while she was like this. I could only stare, waiting for her to finish. How long this took I did not know, a minute could have gone by, or an hour before the witch pulled back. Her hands were covered with gore and ichor, the blood a strange green color. Haggar seemed to stare down at the body in horror, and she actually swayed as though she might faint. I made no move to try and catch her. After that scene I wasn’t about to touch her, even to keep her upright.

Haggar was still mumbling in that weird language, when she turned to me. Her yellow cat’s eyes had gone dark, the black slit having expanded to eat away all the color. It freaked me out to tell the truth, Haggar looking demonic.

“She will be trouble.” Haggar announced in Drule. “Oh yes, I’ve seen it. So much trouble.”

“Romelle?” She nodded, and I tried to play off my nervousness with a laugh. “What trouble could she possibly cause.”

“Worlds of it.” Haggar retorted, eyes still black. “It would be better if she dies.”

I was still frightened, but anger flared in me, reacting to Haggar’s words as the threat they were. “You will not harm her!” I growled, and that unsettling gaze met mine.

“I will not harm her.” She agreed. “But you will.” I blinked, taken aback by that. “Take the blade….do what must be done. End her life now before it all comes undone!”

“You can’t expect me to harm Romelle!” I exclaimed, and her eyes seemed to gain back the yellow.

“You will do her more damage in allowing her to live through what will happen next.” Haggar retorted. I didn’t know if she meant it, or if she was trying to play on my
fears to get me to do what she wanted. “She will never love you.”

I let out an unsettled laugh. “You have confused me for prince Lotor. It is he who wants the princess’ love.” Haggar gave me a look that I was unfamiliar with. It still shakes me to this day. It was pity.

“Enough of this talk.” I said when I was able to recover from the look she was giving me. “You know it is pointless. The prince would be furious if something were to happen to the princess.” I moved back to the bedroom, gathering up another one of her boxes. Haggar continued to stare at me, turning slowly to keep me in her sights. I would bring another box out, and another, until all the boxes were by the couch. “Now what?”

Wordlessly, Haggar gestured to open them. I used my claws to slice open the sealant, spying the many books in the first box. Thankfully none of them were bound in skin. At least not that I could tell. But they looked old, some appearing as though they might crumbles apart at my touch.

There were other boxes, some with more books. But mostly it was supplies, bottles and jars, containing all matter of things. None of it was labeled, leaving me to wonder how Haggar knew what was what.

She’d come to stand next to me, and she would not speak save to tell me where to place each item. She’d watch me though, the witch’s gaze considering. It sent shivers down my back, but I would not speak to her. Not even to question her about this supposed doom she saw where Romelle was concerned. But it bothered me, especially the last thing she had said. But what did a creature like Haggar understand of love? Nothing, I was sure of it.

One thing was certain, Haggar had succeeded, perhaps inadvertently, to distract me from my worries about Lotor and Romelle. I was now more concerned about that vision she had had, and what it could mean. I was especially fearful for Romelle, thinking that Haggar might be so determined to see her dead, that she would enlist the help of some of the soldiers on board the ship. It made me want to warn her and Lotor, thinking if the prince knew Haggar wouldn’t be able to act.

Romelle was important to me, I knew that. I didn’t want her dead. Worry consumed me, and I found myself becoming careless in the handling of Haggar’s things. Nothing broke, but I nearly dropped a jar on the floor. Haggar was so affected by whatever she had seen, she didn’t even reprimand me.

“When you say…Romelle will trouble. What exactly did you see?” My tone was casual as I tried to pry information out of the witch.

“Everything…..nothing…” Haggar sighed then. “Too many images at once….leaving me only with the certainty of what must be done to avert disaster.” She looked at me with her eyes narrowed. “You are as big a fool as Lotor is, when it comes to women.” I frowned at her but before I could sputter out a reply, her crystal ball began to glow. She immediately turned to it, an excited sound escaping her. “They approach!”

“The Voltron Force?” I breathed out, watching Haggar touch her crystal. She handled it almost lovingly, laughing to herself.

“Go…inform Lotor of what is happening.” She told me, then frowned. “Don’t bother with your communicator. The fool has turned it off again.” I frowned too, thinking
now was definitely not the time of Lotor to be unavailable on the communication grid. “Hurry!” Haggar hissed when I didn’t move fast enough to the door. “Everyone must get into place….”

“I understand.” I hurried out of the cabin, glad to leave it and the witch behind. I’d pass other Drules in the corridors, shouting at them to find Mogor. To tell the General to get ready. Word would quickly spread that the Voltron Force was nearly on the planet, the soldiers getting ready for the next stage of our plan. Lotor would remain missing, forcing me to enter the castle in search of him.

I would pass on word to the human soldiers inside the castle, and they would inform King Cova of the Voltron Force’s impending arrival. But no one would be able to tell me where Lotor and Romelle were, the prince and princess having vanished. I cursed under my breath, stalking through the corridors of the castle. It would be a room by room search for them, time consuming and ultimately fruitless. The soldiers inside the castle were too concerned with getting into place to bother with looking for the missing pair, it would fall on my shoulders to continue the search alone.

It would take time, but eventually I would be alerted to sounds. I was on the second floor, drawing near to the stair case that led up to the third floor when I heard them. At first I wasn’t sure it was them, the voices and sounds muffled. They sounded as if they were whispering, as though both were concerned about drawing attention to them. A woman was hissing, sounded a little breathless with her panic.

“No, we can’t.” She said, and I heard the rustle of fabric. “It’s….it’s not proper…”

“To hell with what’s proper!” The man hissed back. I was still opening doors, checking the rooms for Lotor and Romelle as I listen to the exchange above me. “We are going to be married….”

“That’s up to my father to decide!” A gasp, followed by an outraged squeal. I could guess what had happened, the man having decided to silence the female’s protests
with a kiss. But she wasn’t happy about that stolen affection, and I could hear more clothing rustling. Another protesting squeak, and then the soft thump of a body hitting a solid surface.

“STOP!” The shriek that followed had me rushing forward, the last two doors remaining closed. I had recognized that voice as Romelle’s, the princess sounding protest. “St—” Her shriek turned into another gasp, and then Lotor’s moan followed. If I could, I would have flown the rest of the way to them, my head clearing the landing as I rushed up the stairs.

They didn’t notice me at first, too focused on each other. Lotor had Romelle trapped between him and a wall, his one hand caressing down her side and to the back of her. He was pulling up her skirt as he did this, revealing plenty of thigh as he forced his kiss on her. She wasn’t docile as he kissed her, Romelle angry and through with being polite. She was actually hitting him, repeatedly and even went so far as to grab at his hair and pull.

She had more strength than Lotor gave her credit for, that pull on his hair hurting him to the point he howled. It was then that she slapped him, the sound resounding through the hall. She hadn’t noticed my arrival, too focused on Lotor, blue eyes a dark sapphire that brimmed with her anger. I couldn’t see Lotor’s face, but I saw what he did next, grabbing her by the arms and slamming her hard into the wall. The back of her head bounced on the paneling, Romelle making a pained sound.

He slammed her a second time when I was crying out. “Prince Lotor!”

“Sabbath!” Romelle was the one who answered, even as Lotor tried to slam her a third time. It made me wonder if he was trying to knock the fight out of her, or render her unconscious. Both things were possible with him, the prince didn’t handle rejection of any kind well.

“What do you want commander?” Lotor asked, Romelle staring at me over his shoulder. Her anger had dimmed, her expression pained. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t given her a concussion through his actions.

“Sire…” I paused, warring with the impulse to grab Lotor and slam him into the wall. “Let go of the princess.”

“You don’t give me orders commander.” Lotor retorted, and moved to grip Romelle to him. She struggled, hands scrabbling for purchase on his face. Her nails were nor claws, but they still scored marks on his skin, Lotor crying out. His hand lifted, he appeared as though he was going to strike Romelle. I lunged forward, grabbing hold of his arm.

“Don’t!” Romelle took that opportunity to wiggle away from him, but not before Lotor grabbed at her dress. A ripping sound was heard, the back of her bodice being torn. Romelle quickly crossed her arms over her chest to hold up her dress, darting behind me when Lotor tried to follow her. “Why are you acting this way?!” I hissed to Lotor. He turned to me, and I could see he was barely in control of his emotions. But he wasn’t drunk, his eyes clear of any intoxication.

“The princess and I are merely having a misunderstanding.” Lotor said, with barely restrained anger.

“It looked like more than a misunderstanding to me.” It was foolish of me, but my own anger was roused.

“Then perhaps you should have your vision checked.” Lotor retorted, trying to move around me to get at Romelle. She gasped, and moved with me as I turned to keep him in sight. Lotor’s eyes narrowed, he didn’t like that Romelle had gone to me, anymore than he liked that I was protecting her. “Commander…” He had switched to Drule. “When I ordered you to protect the princess, I didn’t mean from ME.”

“That may be so…but I can and will stop my friend from making a mistake.” I told him.

“The only one who is making any mistakes is YOU.” Lotor snarled, and tried to lunge past me. Romelle shrieked, and abandoned her position at my back, making a run for the stairs. Lotor tried to follow, and I grabbed his arm, earning a strike to my face. I staggered, and hit the wall, shocked he had hit me.

“There is no time for this bull shit.” I growled at him. “The Voltron Force is here.”

“The Voltron Force?!” He didn’t look like he cared. Or maybe the problem was he thought I was lying. “Are they really?”

“The news comes from Haggar’s own crystal ball.” I told him, my voice unable to hide my anger. “She told me to get you. It seems you forgot to switch on your communicator again.” The look on his face said it was no accident his communicator had been switched off. “We need to get into position.” I added, when Lotor glanced in the direction Romelle had run off.

“Very well commander.” Lotor was reluctant. “Romelle can wait…for now.” He was still giving me the evil eye, I could feel our friendship had been damaged. I didn’t know if it was repairable, and right now wasn’t the time to try. Not with the Voltron Force drawing near.

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