Songbird 34

There are spots all over planet Doom where the bodies of slaves are left to rot, the dead denied a proper burial. Their bodies are left exposed to the harsh elements of Doom’s surface, becoming a feast for the maggots and the carrion creatures that lurk near to these open graves. The pit of skulls was one such place, although it was also the most notorious, being located close to the castle. So close that if you looked out one of the southern facing windows, you’d be able to make out a sea of white in the distance.

But it is no sea that awaits you. Just a deep, cavernous pit filled to the brim with bones. It takes time for such a large area to become covered with that many bodies, several decades worth of slaves having been dumped here. The bodies were always quickly picked clean, flesh stripped away by the vultures. I knew I had to work fast to find Romelle, if only to keep her body from being torn apart by the scavengers who made daily trips into the pit.

Bones crushed underfoot as I began my descent. Here and there, a skull would roll past, disturbed by my movements. I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted. Not if I didn’t want to run the risk of breaking my own neck by slipping. I might not have minded dying then and there, except for one thing. And that was the need I had to see Romelle one last time. All in order to take her body, and give her the burial she deserved.

I was near desperate to do this for her. A final act, that could never right the wrongs that had been done to the princess. I kept up a constant litany inside my head, berating myself for how I had failed her. I cursed my inaction, knowing this tragedy could have been avoided if I had just acted months ago. If I had just done something more to help her, rather than stand by frozen and silent.

I felt I was truly a coward. I knew my rebellion against Lotor had come to late to matter to Romelle’s circumstances. I wished I could turn back time, that I had acted that day on Pollux when everything went wrong. I must have questioned myself a thousand times, harsh as I wondered why I hadn’t acted to take her from her cell and attempt an escape.

Thoughts that had once been confidant were now uncertain. Yes, there could have been a chance we would have been caught and killed. But there was an equal chance of success in chancing an escape. Why hadn’t I taken that chance? Why had I been so stupid and indecisive? It mattered not to me that back then I hadn’t yet come to the realization that the Doom Empire was evil. It didn’t matter that I had been loyal, that I hadn’t wanted to betray my people. I had betrayed Romelle, and I had betrayed myself. And all because I hadn’t been brave enough to do something more for her.

Yes, I had been beaten by Lotor and his men. Beaten a thousand times over. I’d suffer a million more beatings if it meant I could bring Romelle back and rescue her from this situation. What was that pain compared to the pain of not having Romelle in my life? Of knowing she no longer lived and breathed. I would have been fine if I had known she was still here with me…still here and safe, far away from Doom and Lotor.

I’d reached the bottom of my climb, thoughts still racing and accusing. They insisted I had killed Romelle just as surely as Lotor had. That I had condemned her to this fate. All she had suffered, all the tortures and mistreatment. It was as much my fault as it was Lotor’s. Perhaps even more than the prince, because I had refused to do the very thing she had needed!

I couldn’t be reassured by thoughts that Romelle was in a better place now. To me, the universe had darkened from the loss of her bright soul. I was in despair, my eyes wet and blurring but I couldn’t give in to the tears. I might not never stop crying if I did. Tears wouldn’t bring Romelle back. She needed me to be strong one last time. To find her and take her out of this pit.

But as I gathered my wits, and looked around, I could see nothing to upset the white sea. No color to mark where her body had fallen. There was no shimmering gold of her hair. Nor the bold blue of her dress. Nothing. It alarmed me, and I began running atop the bones. I was panicked and thinking some creature had already carried her off.

But the absence of blood and tatters of her clothing strongly hinted that wasn’t the case. There would have been some sign, some disturbance in the sea of bones to let me know for sure if that had been truth. Instead I was confused, running about the pit, trying to find some sign of Romelle. It reminded me of the way I ran about the castle earlier, with no sense to guide me to her.

But I didn’t stop, determined to traverse the pit from one end to the other. I continued to curse myself in my mind, the insults coming easy to me. I didn’t care that I was in a dangerous place, alone and without weapons. One of the very creatures that could have feasted on Romelle’s body, could have easily come for me. The fact that I wasn’t dead wouldn’t have stopped the more vicious of carrion monsters.

My frantic, near aimless running almost proved the death of me. I took one step too many, the bones being disrupted under foot. They started to give way, collapsing downwards. I just barely managed to leap back, my heart beating wildly in my chest. I watched as the bones continued moving, revealing a crack that was widening beneath them. I moved backwards, seeing the crack widen into the size of a small hole.

It would have been just big enough for me to get stuck in. Trapped and vulnerable to the predators that roamed this pit. I was unsettled by that close call, even as I thought that maybe a similar hole had opened up to swallow up Romelle’s body. That thought had me renewing my search, as I carefully skirted the edge of the hole. Occasionally my foot would dislodge more bones, whole skeletons falling into the hole.

It would take some searching, but eventually I would come across a second hole. Much larger than the first with jagged edges, it had swallowed up a sizable chunk of the land. It looked so deep it made me wonder if it was endless. I stood as close to it’s edge as I dared, peering into the darkness of it’s maw. I could not see anything, would not be able to know if Romelle’s body was down there without a light. But I picked up a skull, testing the depth of the pit by throwing it down inside it.

All too soon I would hear the sound of the skull smashing into the ground below. The pit was deep, but not endless. I actually thought about jumping down inside it, but knew I would have no way of climbing back up out of it. I would have to return to the castle for equipment, and I was determined to do just that. But people were approaching me, soldiers dressed in the uniforms of the castle’s guards. I eyed them warily, wondering if Lotor had sent them to arrest me. I found myself tensing in preparation of a fight, but no blows were exchanged.

Instead they hailed me, eyes showing their surprise to find another person inside the pit. “Did the King send you?” One asked, and I shook my head no. I offered no explanations, studying them with interest. They had lanterns with them, and lengthy coils of rope over their shoulders. Perfect to descend into the hole.

“Why are you here?” I demanded, and was given a complaining grimace.

“We’ve been sent to retrieve the princess’ body.” One said, an exaggerated sigh escaping him. “King Zarkon wants to send a message to planet Pollux…to pay back the young prince for his interference at the battle surrounding the Omega Comet.”

“A message…” I shuddered, guessing what that would involve. Romelle’s body would be further desecrated, her head cut free and delivered to Bandor. All to further torment the prince, and pay him back for daring to stand up to the Doom Empire.

“Haven’t they all suffered enough?” I asked out loud. It earned me blank looks, the Drules not understanding what I meant by that. I sighed and turned away. “Never mind.”

The guards began to work around me, their movements sending more bones to fall over the edge of the hole. They attempted to clear a space so they could hammer in an iron post into the ground. This post, along with several others, would then be used to secure their ropes in place. I watched as they did this, and made a decision.

“I’m coming with you.”

There wasn’t many protests. They were too eager to get this job over with so that they could return to the celebration. Another pair of eyes might help to find the princess’ body all that sooner. And thus I was given a lantern of my own, and I attached it to hang from my belt. The Drules continued to complain about this task the King had given them, right up to the point I disappeared over the edge of the hole. It was a relief to be away from them, even if the break was temporary. I couldn’t stand listening to them bemoan the inconvenience Romelle had caused them in dying this night. They didn’t care that she was dead, they were just upset that her death took them away from the parties.

Their complaints just made me angry, and murderous. I wasn’t planning to let them take Romelle’s body. There was no chance in hell that I would allow them to bring her to Zarkon to further ruin. Then and there, I had made a vow that they would not be leaving this hole alive. Not so long as they pursued Romelle’s body.

It was a calmness that settled within me as I plotted the deaths of these soldiers. I’d reach the end of the rope, my feet touching down on the ground. The lantern lit up the area well, revealing the bones that littered the floor. I dropped to my knees, and began digging about, trying to find Romelle. The guards would soon land near to me, still bitching and complaining about the work they were sent to do. They weren’t nearly as thorough as I was in moving about the bones, content to let someone else find her.

My nails would hit solid stone, a claw breaking off from how forceful I had thrust my fingers down. There was nothing under this section of bones, forcing me to move to another segment of land and begin my digging over with. I wouldn’t stop until I found her.

As we all dug, one of the Drules began exploring the area. I couldn’t’ help but be distracted by what his light revealed. Tunnels built into the stone, three in all. We were all amazed. No one had realized there existed an underground passage beneath the pit of skulls.

“The King will want to know about this.” Said one of the guards.

“Do you think there’s anything of worth down here?” Another asked.

“I highly doubt there will be some lost treasure if that’s what you’re hoping for!” laughed the third.

“Even if there was, that treasure would belong to the King.” Sighed the first.

“Keep digging.” I grunted, moving to a different patch of land. “Save your fanciful treasure hunts for some other time.” They grumbled in response, more interested in exploring the tunnels then the assignment they had been given.

The digging didn’t take that long to complete with four of us working. It became apparent that she wasn’t buried underneath the bones, and a ripple of unease went through us all.

“You…you don’t think there are predators down here in these tunnels?” asked one, his voice lowered to a whisper. Suddenly he wasn’t so interested in going treasure hunting. Not if there was danger to be found along the way. “Ones that could have carried off the princess’ body?”

“Who knows…”

I stalked over to one of the tunnels, holding up the lantern so that it’s light could extend into the passage. It might go on only for a short distance, or it might extend for miles. Brown moss and mushrooms grew along the walls, bits of bones having rolled into this tunnel. I continued to exam the area, taking a few steps into the passage. The soldiers would cautiously enter into the other two tunnels. They knew they had to return with Romelle’s body, or what they could find of her remains.

Angered, I moved deeper into the tunnel. I’d come across a swatch of blue cloth, a remnant of her dress. It had snagged on a jagged piece of rock, tearing free of her skirt. I knelt down to pick it up, grief retaking me. Was this cloth to be the only thing left of the princess? I pocketed it, and continued down the tunnel’s path. I’d walk quite some distance, and then come along another open space with several new passages to choose from.

I was wondering how I could ever hope to find her. This place might be a maze, and I myself could become hopelessly lost. But that thought didn’t stop me from moving forward. I stepped into the open space and gasped. The ground was soft here, my feet sinking into it. It surprised me enough that I looked down, and that was when I spied the foot prints.

There was mine of course, my boots making large imprints into the soft dirt. But there was also another set, two in fact though I barely registered the second. I was too busy examining the smaller, daintier sized foot prints. The ones that could have come from Romelle’s shoes. Warring emotions overtook me, I didn’t want to hope she had survived the firing squad and the fall into this underground cavern. And yet excitement was coursing through me at the thought that a chance existed that she still lived.

I closed my eyes briefly, breathing deeply. The tears wanted to fall, I was so torn by my hopes and emotions. And then a voice spoke from behind me, making me jump in fright.

“What have you found?” I didn’t speak, ignoring him. But he drew up besides me, his lantern adding it’s light to mine. I heard him swear as he spied the foot prints. “Shit….you think she’s still alive?!” I shrugged, watching as he began to follow the trail the foot prints left behind. It was then I realized the second set walked with Romelle’s, as though someone had come to help lead her away.

“Hey! We found something!” shouted the Drule, and soon the others arrived. They all stood uncertainly before the tunnel the foot prints led into. No one was volunteering to go in, especially once it became apparent that the ground hardened again just a few short feet into the tunnel. And with it’s hard state, the trail was lost, leaving no certainties of tracking those that had come previously through.

“These tunnels could be endless.” I said, feeding into their fears. “We might never find our way back.”

“He’s right.” Came the agreement. “It’s too risky.”

“Is it any riskier than facing the King with the news we disappointed him?” wondered one of the guards.

They all shifted, uneasy. “We’ll…we’ll come back with more men and equipment.” Decided the apparent leader. “The King can’t fault us for taking extra precautions when dealing with the unknown…”

“You don’t know the King very well, do you?” One asked, humorlessly.

“We won’t accomplish anything just standing around!” snapped the leader. “We return to the castle.”

With a few grumbled out uncertainties, they all moved to leave. I’d stay rooted to the spot, staring at the place where the footprints stopped. I pleaded silently in my mind, to any God or devil that was listening. Pleaded with them to let this be more than just a coincidence. To beg, to ask, to demand they allow Romelle to still live. My hand went to the fabric in my pocket, fingers touching it for comfort.

~Please be alive.~ I thought. It might have been selfish. Misery could only await Romelle if she remained on Doom. And yet I wanted her to be alive, if only to do that which I hadn’t been able to before.

“Lieutenant! Are you coming?!” A voice shouted from further down the tunnel behind me. It moved me into action. I hurried back to the area with the bones and the ropes. Most of the men had already begun their climb up. Only one still stood waiting for me. I nodded to him, though I hadn’t really cared if they left me behind, so consumed with my own worries.

Going up was harder than going down, especially given how sore I still was from my earlier beating. But I made it to the top, scrambling amidst the bones to pull myself up out of the hole. The guards were busy gathering up their equipment, not wanting to leave the ropes behind. They didn’t trust that Romelle, or the person with her, might come back and use the ropes to get out of the hole.

“Do you think the princess still lives?” It was the question on everyone’s minds, our voices hushed as we walked.

“I don’t see how.” Another said. “She was shot at by an elite firing squad. And even if she survived the lasers, how could she have managed such a fall?”

“But there’s no sign of her body….just those footprints…”

“Could it have been someone else carrying off her body?” One wondered.

“Why would they bother?” scoffed another.

“I dunno…” He was defensive. “Maybe it was cannibals. I hear the slaves are starved enough to be willing to eat anything.”

“Don’t say such an awful thing!” I growled out angrily. A wide eyed look was given my way, the Drule startled by my anger.

“I’m just trying to explore all the possibilities..” He muttered. It didn’t make my mood any better, a new worry having been given me in regard to Romelle. Once again I began praying silently, asking for Romelle to be safe and alive. The Drules with me would continue speculating about the missing princess, and what those footprints could mean.

And then it would happen, their communicators all going off at once. The reactions were startled, the Drules practically jumping in place out of fright. Someone would retain enough sense to answer their communicator, upset voices filling the air.

“It’s terrible! Someone inform the King at once!”

“Inform the King of what?” I asked, not prepared for the news that would follow.

“It’s..It’s Arus!”

“What about Arus?” One of the soldiers with me would ask.

“Don’t tell me they’re actually fighting back?” another wondered, letting out a laugh that showed he didn’t think they were capable of such a thing. Not without Voltron at least.

The laugher would die down abruptly. “Arus was set to fall…” explained the voice over the air waves. “Our robeast was breaking down the castle walls….and then….Voltron appeared.”

“Voltron?! But that’s impossible!”

“Voltron is trapped on the Omega Comet, doomed to ride it to the ends of the universe!” added another.

“We don’t know how it happened, but Voltron is back!”

“No!! It can’t be true…”

“Voltron defeated our robeast…our ships are on the run…Arus is lost to us…” The voice continued to bemoan what had happened, right up to the point an explosion occurred. It appeared the ship had been destroyed, but the communicators didn’t go silent. More and more soldiers’ voices were on the airwaves, all arguing over who would be the one to inform the King of this new turn in the war to claim planet Arus for the Empire.

“Shit, it’s not gonna be me.”

“The hell it will be me.”

“I’m not going anywhere near the King until well after things have calmed down.”

The Drules I was with echoed similar thoughts. No one wanted to face Zarkons’ wrath for they would surely die for delivering such a news. As everyone continued to fret over what was happening, I couldn’t help it. I promptly began to laugh, almost sick with relief. Romelle was most likely alive, or so I hoped. And so was the Voltron Force, the galaxy’s hope restored. For all of Doom’s plots and plans, they had failed yet again. And that was something I found absolutely hilarious now.

The soldiers edged away from me, concerned by my uproarious display. I didn’t care, unable to muffle my mirth as I headed back to the castle. I wouldn’t be the one to break the news to Zarkon, I had too much to live for, to much yet to do for Romelle. But for the first time in a long time, my heart no longer felt that heavy. Things were about to change, starting with me.

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