Songbird 36

It would be well past midnight before I eventually retired for the night. I had spent hours searching after the Iron Maiden’s gruesome display, my desperation mounting with the passing of each minute. I’d find no sign of Romelle, she wasn’t showing herself, and the slaves weren’t ready to reveal her location. Especially to a Drule. They stared at me with distrust and terror, many refusing to say so much as a word to me. It was frustrating, and ultimately my efforts were in vain.

And yet I still kept trying. I’d travel to three more work sites, scouring the faces for Romelle’s. At one point I thought I saw her, a cloaked female who had wisps of blonde hair peeking out from beneath her hood. I reacted in an instant, diving into the lower level. The slaves scattered at my arrival, including the woman. But I had locked on to her, chasing her down until I was able to haul her away.

The other Drules assumed the female had caught my fancy, laughing as I dragged the woman off to a private tent. Inside would wait nothing but disappointments, the hood pulled back to reveal some brown eyed woman with hair that was far too pale to be the gold of Romelle’s. It seemed my eyes were playing tricks on me, or perhaps I just wanted to find Romelle so bad that I was seeing her face where she wasn’t.

I’d release the woman, sending her teary eyed back to the work site. Her relief was palpable, as was her confusion. She didn’t understand why she had escaped molestation. But I was too distraught to even try to explain.

Even once it grew too dark for any more work to be done, I continued to search among the slaves. I disrupted what little sleep they were allowed, wandering among the groups hoping to find Romelle. It was when my own tiredness brought me to the point of near collapse, that I eventually called a temporary halt to my own search. I’d return to the castle, intending to catch just enough sleep before starting out early at the next work site.

Even in my dreams, I searched for Romelle. She always remained elusive, an unobtainable goal. She was always just out of my reach, never within my direct line of sight. I’d catch glimpses of her out the corner of my eye, smell the perfume she had once worn, or hear her voice. I could never make out what she was saying, voice whispering urgently to me.

I got no rest dreaming like that. I tossed and turned in bed, muttering things under my breath, grasping at things. I’d wake up to the sound of alarms blaring, a pillow clutched in my arms. I was in the soldier barracks inside the castle, resting on one of a dozen uncomfortable beds that filled the room. Lights were flashing on and off, red illuminating other soldiers who were awakening. Some were instantly alert, but other, less seasoned soldiers were disoriented. Either way, they were all annoyed, angry that their rest had been disturbed.

We had all gone to sleep fully dressed. For most of the soldiers, that meant they wore their military uniforms. They kept their weapons holster in easy reach, hooked over the footboard of their beds. Even as I sat there disoriented, the soldiers were reaching for their weapons, locking the holsters in place around their waist. They grumbled as they did this, more annoyed than curious as to what was the reason behind the alarms.

“Lieutenant, get a move on!” Snapped a voice. My body reacted to the command. I was already moving to get out of the bed, even as I continued to be disoriented from my dreams of pursuing Romelle.

It wouldn’t be until I had my belt in place, that I would think to ask. “What’s going on?”

“It appears some slaves have broken into the castle.” Came the answer. The Drule nearest to me was checking over the charge in his laser rifle. I did the same, noting my hand blaster was charged to full.

“Slaves…” I was still reacting too slowly, not processing things completely. But when it did, I drew up short. “How many?” I asked, trying to sound calm.

“Don’t know yet…” He admitted. “But it doesn’t appear to be too big a group.”

“How did they get into the castle in the first place?!” Another soldier wanted to know.

“The hell if I know!” snapped the other. “But I know one thing. None of them are leaving here except in body bags!”

Laughter erupted at that comment, the Drules eager to shoot down the slaves that had disrupted their sleep. My own heart was beating faster, I didn’t want to think Romelle was with the slaves who had so foolishly dared to enter this cursed castle. But I didn’t know what else to believe, following the soldiers out of the barracks.

“What is their goal?” I asked, and was given a rude snort.

“The ships in the castle docks of course!” It was an obvious goal, one I should have known instantly. There was nothing else worth risking one’s life for, the slaves always so desperate to escape from Doom. They might even be more desperate than ever after that display with the Iron Maiden, and Lotor’s promise to kill hundreds if Romelle was not handed over.

“Of course…” I echoed out loud. I was wondering how to find out what I really wanted to know. How to ask if Romelle had been sighted without drawing suspicions to myself. I kept my ears pricked for any information that was communicated over the airwaves of our communicators, nearly sick when they confirmed a woman had been sighted among the slaves. I felt it had to be Romelle, and I knew she was in danger. There was no way she’d be allowed to leave this castle, at least not alive. And if she somehow stole a ship, they would shoot it down as they had done all the others.

With that fear gripping my heart, I broke into a run, hearing the men behind me make startled exclamations. I was being careless, rushing forward, near heedless of the potential danger to myself. The soldiers would follow me, but at a slower pace. They were exerting caution, while I just wanted to reach Romelle and whisk her away before anyone realized who she really was.

The alarms continued to blare, casting it’s red flash on everything and everyone. I saw only other soldiers out in the corridors. The guests and servants of the castle were wisely staying hidden in their rooms. They’d be protected by the soldiers milling out in the hall, or at least that was the hope of many a person.

The soldier barracks were located well within a twenty minute run to the castle docks. I would run nearly every step of the way, turning corridors and lunging down steps. I’d come across corpses, humans slaves laying dead on the floor leading into the docks. The only weapons they had had was thick clubs meant to bash in their enemies’ brains. But those clubs couldn’t stand up to a killing shot from a laser, nor did they have the long distance range of a pistol. It had left them all too vulnerable, the slaves easy pickings for the soldiers.

I rushed past the bodies, heading towards the group of soldiers that had been present long before I had arrived. They were standing by the entrance to the docks, angry and shouting things at each other. One banged his fists on the sealed shut doors, while another had a lazon fueled blow torch. He was patiently working on the door’s locking mechanisms, trying to get to the wires inside it.

I took quick stock of the situation. It was obvious the Drules had been locked out of the docks. Three more bodies lay just past the sealed doors, their chests smoking ruins from prolonged contact to lasers. I had never seen quite so large and gaping a wound, wondering how it had happened. One of the soldiers would notice my gaze, and answer.

“I never saw anything like it.” He said, and spat on the ground. “We shot at these slaves, and still they kept coming. Even as the lasers widened the holes in their flesh, they somehow found the will to keep moving.”

“This is not all of the slaves is it?” I had seen no woman laying among the dead humans, Romelle was still alive somehow.

“Heck no!” Another pause to spit, his lips curling. “Two of the damn humans got away during the commotion. They’re inside the docks now, for all the good it will do them.”

“You don’t think they’ll be able to get away?” I asked, and a different Drule answered.

“Even if they hot wire a ship, they won’t get far.” He was confidant. “We’ll bring them back, just like we do with every slave that tries to escape!” And yet they were visibly frustrated by the fact they couldn’t get the doors open.

“I’ll never understand these humans…” Muttered the first one to speak to me. “Why would they give their lives so that the other two could get away?”

He was right, it was something a Drule soldier wouldn’t understand. Not when compassion and sacrifice had been beat out of us. The thought of sacrificing one’s self for the greater good was practically an alien concept. We Drules had become too self serving and greedy for our own self preservation.

“Did you see the woman?” I went still at that question, the Drules all turning speculative.

“Yeah I saw her.” One said at last. “Blonde hair…didn’t see the color of her eyes though…but she looked familiar…”

“Oh?” I tried for a natural curiosity, fighting back worry and excitement. “How so?”

“She sorta looked like that missing slave. The one everyone is looking for…what was her name…”

The roar of a ship’s engines drowned out any answer he might have been given. The soldiers turned even more agitated, one kicking at the back of the Drule with the blow torch. “Hurry it up, before they get too far away!”

“This is delicate work.” Came the muttered answer. “Just give me another minute…”

They weren’t happy with the answer. I however, was praying that it would take more than a minute to get the covering off the locking mechanism. Anything to buy Romelle more time to get a head start on her escape.

A commotion from the other end of the hall didn’t disrupt my prayers. The other soldiers from the barracks had finally arrived. There was not much for them, or us to do, so long as the doors remained sealed shut. Some of the soldiers paced, checking and rechecking their weapon’s charge. I leaned against the wall, my stance casual as I kept an eye on the door.

“What are you all doing!?” A new player had entered the hall. The soldiers immediately spun around, doing hasty bows at the sight of Prince Lotor. He ignored their greetings, a scowl on his face as he looked us over. “Why are you just standing here?!”

“Sire…the doors…they were sealed shut, the locking mechanism sabotaged!”

Lotor barely paid them any mind, having noticed me against the wall. “Lieutenant…” His scowl deepened, the prince angered to see me there.

“If we can get the covering off….we’ll be able to hot wire the locking mechanism, and override the previous command!”

Lotor gave a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Get on it at once.” He said, even as he stepped towards me. “Why am I not surprised to find you here!?” He was speaking before I could muster up an answer. “Where she goes, you follow…trouble attracts trouble.”

“We don’t know if Princess Romelle is among the slaves that have escaped…” I earned a humorless snort from Lotor.

“Who else could it be?!” Lotor demanded. “Who else would be so foolish, so desperate to try and get away?” He gestured at the bodies strewn all over the hall’s floor. “I will catch up to Romelle, and when I do, she will be as dead as the rest of these worthless slaves!”

“Your father wants Romelle alive, at least for the time being.” I reminded him.

“Heh….you’re wrong.” Lotor smirked then. “The days of my father extending his protection to Romelle is at an end. He doesn’t care what I do to her, so long as we can use her death as an example to our enemies.” I fought to remain calm, but Lotor’s noticed my upset. His look turned calculating, he was ready to torture me with his words. “It won’t be a quick death I give her either. She’s caused too much trouble for that kind of mercy.”

There was a clamor of excitement to the right of us, the covering coming off the locking mechanism. A Drule took the place of the soldier with the blow torch, fiddling with the wires. But neither Lotor nor I was really paying attention to that, too focused on one another.

“How should I do it…” continued Lotor, speculatively. “Should I call into play Haggar’s new toy? Have it squish Romelle under it’s feet?” He tapped his finger against his lips, pretending to think. “A sword thrust through her chest would end it too quick. I want her to suffer…”

“She’s suffered enough at your hands!” I snapped. “Just being near you was more than enough torture…”

“You wound me Lieutenant. I was nothing but generous with the princess.” His eyes narrowed. “She was the one who spurned me, remember? If she had only…”

“Only what?” I interrupted. “Loved you? She despises you. She saw through your act early on, saw the truth about you. You’re not worthy of her love…of anyone’s love!”

“And you think you are?!” Lotor growled at me. He took a menacing step forward. “You think you can win her heart….that you can somehow be loved by her after all that’s happened?!”

“It’s not about winning Romelle’s heart…”

“OH? And what is it about?” Lotor demanded. I shrugged, feeling it was pointless to try and explain something he wouldn’t understand. After all, the prince had no concept of doing the right thing, of good being rewarding. “Your silence speaks tons, Lieutenant.” Lotor flashed me an angry smile. “But whatever you try to do, it’s too little too late….her heart’s lost to you…”

The doors began to hum, shaking as they attempted to pull apart. “She’s left you, Lieutenant” continued Lotor, not taking his eyes off mine. “She left you without a second thought, without a regret.”

“You don’t know that.” I protested.

“Oh, don’t I?” Lotor asked. “Then where is she? Why are you not with her? Why did she not wait for you?”” He paused, waiting for me to give him an answer I did not have. “Heh…Romelle is all too eager to leave Doom…leave it and the people behind. And that includes you Lieutenant.”

I honestly tried not to let the words he spoke bother me. I kept repeating to myself that she couldn’t wait, she couldn’t lose out on what might be her only chance to escape from Doom. But it hurt to be left behind. My heart felt an unfamiliar pang in it, the anguish of being abandoned, perhaps forgotten by her.

“Hmph.” Lotor turned at the precise moment the doors pulled apart. “Get my command ship ready.” He ordered. “And someone find Haggar. Have her load the Iron Maiden onboard the ship.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Wha…you’re going to use the Iron Maiden against Romelle’s ship?” I was aghast, and I stepped forward, grabbing at Lotor’s arm. “You can’t!”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” He violently jerked away from me. “Why do you even care what happens to her next?! She’s abandoned you.”

“Romelle saw an opportunity and acted on it.” I replied. “She….”

“She what?” mocked Lotor. “She won’t come back for you. She has a new lackey to depend on.” He bared his teeth in a snarl. “She’s good at that. Stringing along men to get what she needs. She worked her charms on you, and on these pathetic humans who helped her escape. Heh…she must have given them some strong incentive to risk their lives so….the whore…”

I punched him then. “Romelle is not a whore!” I hissed. “And escaping Doom would be strong enough incentive for any slave with half a brain!”

Lotor brought a hand to his sore jaw, rubbing it as he scowled. He didn’t have to speak for two soldiers to grab me by the arms in an attempt to restrain me. “Congratulations Lieutenant. You’ve just earned yourself a stay in the dungeons.”

“What? You’re not taking me with you?” I was aghast.

“Why would I do that?” He demanded, a strange look in his eyes. “NO Lieutenant, you’re going to the dungeons. And you better pray I don’t leave you there to rot!”

I didn’t care about that, begginning to struggle against the soldiers holding me prisoner. “No, I have to go with you. I…”

“Do you really think you can make any difference?!” Lotor hissed in my face. “There’s nothing you can do to save her! You don’t get to be the hero this time!” His words stunned me, a ring of truth to them. I wasn’t going to get to save Romelle. I was failing her, just like I had failed her in the past. Only this time my failure would most likely result in her death. I let out one wordless scream, a howl of despair as I was dragged away. Faintly, I could hear Lotor’s mocking laughter, the prince amused by my upset.

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