Listening to the encouraging cries of the children all around her, Allura took a running leap forward, diving head first into the lake. A splash was heard, water sealing over the top of her head, allowing Allura to sink into it’s cool embrace. She shivered, finding that even with the sun of a summer day shining it’s warm rays down on the lake, the water remained at a cold temperature.
With a gasp she broke through to the surface of the lake, water cascading down her face and hair, leaving her to blink rapidly as she tried to look at her friends. She could hear them laughing, Liandra and Corrum near by, Allura lifting a hand to brush the water out of her eyes.
“See Allura?” Liandra was grinning at her, approval in her eyes at the way Allura had dove into the lake. “You get over the cold much quicker if you just throw yourself in rather than hold back one foot at a time.”
Still she couldn’t help but shiver, feeling at odds with the warm summer day and the coolness of the water. Around her there was more sounds of water splashing, the older children jumping into the lake. It sent the currents of the water moving, Allura bobbing gently up and down. She glanced at them now, spying them in their colorful swim suits, laughing and talking animatedly to each other.
The mood was good all around them, everyone relaxed and enjoying their time together. It was a rare day off, Madame Elianza graciously allowing them a break from their strict studies to go cool off in the lake that bordered the rear of the mansion’s property. Allura had been especially ecstatic to learn of the lake’s existence, the girl having spent years without a proper sized swimming hole.
She had worried that she had forgotten how to swim, but the instant she had landed in the water, all worries had flown away from her, replaced with a flood of knowledge that had her taking sure strokes about the lake. In the distance, she spied a boat, two of the mansions’ servants out fishing for the day’s dinner. There wasn’t a chance of anyone else coming upon the children in this wet paradise, the lake was privately owned by the Madame, and Elianza would allow no one to trespass upon her property.
It was like they existed in their own little world, this time with Elianza, the children rarely having need or want to venture off the mansion’s property. Their needs were taken care of, and if there was something they desired, it was usually delivered to them, to the point the children became spoiled by this type of indulgence. Allura didn’t realize it, but Madame Elianza was cultivating in them the same appreciation she had for the finer things in life.
That included quick and prompt service, the people employed to keep the mansion in working repair, also working to cater to the children’s whims. Of course it wasn’t all fun and games, they had their daily lessons which continued even in the hot, hazy days of summer time.
In addition to the normal school schedule, where they learned about math, science, and the history of certain key planets, there were other lessons to be learned. Allura found her days busy with learning to walk again, Elianza making her prance about with a book on top of her head to encourage the proper stiffness of back and straightening of posture.
She still failed miserably at that task, the book often falling off of her head. But other areas Allura was learning to excel at, such as dance, the girl learning both the stiff, courtly waltzes and raunchier, more seductive moves. She had no way of knowing that the dancing would become even sexier as she got older, Allura always full of giggles as she practiced.
They had singing classes, Madame Elianza insisted on the children developing their voices. She said it would help them learn to moderate the tone and pitch of their speaking voices, teaching them to always sound pleasant no matter what kind of turbulent mood they were experiencing inside. She was also attended acting classes, the teacher trying to help Allura learn how to disguise what she was feeling from others. At this she failed, Allura’s face too expressive to manage such deceit. Madame Elianza feared Allura would never last at the demon’s king’s court if she could not learn to at least school her expressions into a blankness that belied whatever she might be feeling inside.
They learned to make tea, and how to serve it to each other, but never learned the arts of cooking a full meal. The Madame explained that there would always be servants to tend to them, be it their own people or the ones given to them by the nobles.
Every day life was a lesson, Allura learning the art of conversation, Madame Elianza instructing them to learn topics of interest that would capture the noble’s attention. It had to be something simple but interesting enough that they would not doze off, the Madame explaining that after a weary day of business and politics, the nobles would like nothing better than a distraction from the norm.
She was also learning fashion, the Madame teaching them what colors and patterns would suit them best. Allura learned what sort of gaudy clothing to avoid, and though she was not yet at an expert, Elianza said she showed promise in the ability to choose outfits that would flatter not hinder her sun kissed looks.
Etiquette was also par for the course, Allura learning the proper utensils to use at a meal, when to stand or remain seated depending on the status of the person who next entered the room. She learned she must never open doors for herself, but allow her companion to do it for her, something that directly contrasted Corrum’s orders to always open doors for his companions.
It was a lot to take in, and Allura was made to understand this was only the beginning. Kept apart from the teenagers, Allura, Corrum, and Liandra could only sit back and speculate about the sort of lessons the older children were learning.
“It has to be something special…” Liandra mused, as the three friends swam to the water’s shallows. “Something the grown ups don’t want us kids knowing about.”
“But what could it be?” Allura wondered, sneaking glances at the teenagers who were racing each other in deeper parts of the lake.
“We’ll figure it out.” Liandra said confidently. “I know we will.”
Allura wished she had Liandra’s confidence, the older girl never losing faith in the hope that they would learn the secrets Elianza taught the teenagers. Liandra was hardly content to wait until she was of age, and Allura often found herself getting caught up in the older girl’s excitement. Corrum however, was more relaxed about these things, the boy thinking patience was the key. He knew if they waited, eventually the secrets would be revealed to them.
“Waiting is boring!” announced Liandra, splashing at Corrum in a fit of temper. “I want to know now!”
“But Madame Elianza says we mustn’t be in a hurry to grow up.” Corrum said, swimming out of Liandra’s splashing range. “That we should take the time to enjoy being children…”
“Do you always repeat everything Madame says?!” demanded Liandra with a huff. Corrum had to think about it, but at last he gave a cautious nod of his head.
“The Madame usually is very wise.”
“She can’t know everything! Right Allura?” Liandra looked at her for confirmation, Allura hesitating.
“She knows a lot…” Allura finally allowed, leaving Liandra to sulk and pout.
“She’s wrong about this though!” Liandra insisted. “I’m certainly old enough to learn more than she teaches!”
“I don’t know why you’re so eager for MORE lessons.” Corrum complained. “Do we not have enough classes and studying to do?”
Allura nodded to this, thinking the boy wise. “Don’t forget homework…The older children almost never have time to play! They’re always studying.”
“They find the time.” Liandra gestured the two children closer to her, a secretive look in her eyes. She cast a wary glance at the teenagers, those older children seeming not to pay one iota of attention to Allura and her friends. “I’ve seen them….late at night, they sneak out of their rooms, and meet in private. Usually when the Madame is sleeping or entertaining her friends.”
“And what do they do when they are alone?” Allura asked, voice just as soft as Liandra’s.
Another furtive glance, Liandra letting out a soft whisper. “They dance and they play, and they talk though I was too far away to hear what they said.”
“And just what were YOU doing up after curfew?” Corrum demanded, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Never you mind that Corrum!” Liandra said, annoyed that his question had ruined the mood. “But they do. They meet and they play, sometimes they even kiss!”
They kiss?” Allura giggled at that, Liandra nodding.
“But not like the kisses you and I are used too. These are adult kisses, the kind that leave them red faced and panting!” Allura was intrigued by this, having never witnessed a truly steamy kiss, not even on the holos she watched.
“Kisses are boring…” Corrum announced, being at the age where he had to pretend he was uninterested in such things. “And not worth breaking curfew for.”
“Kisses look fun!” Liandra told them, clapping her hands together. “I wish I could get a kiss like that.”
“Me too!” Allura exclaimed, sharing a mischievous glance with Liandra. For once they were of one mind, turning to face Corrum, who sputtered and began backing up in the shallow water.
“Oh no…” He began, as the two girls advanced on him determinedly. “You’re not going to use me for kissing practice!” But Liandra was already lunging towards him, water splashing all around them as she threw her arms around Corrum. He wiggled and squirmed, trying to fight off the girl, as Liandra planted sloppy kisses all over his face.
“Hold still Corrum!” She sounded annoyed. “It won’t work if I don’t get you on the lips!”
“I don’t want it to work!” The eleven year old exclaimed, trying to push Liandra off him. Allura snuck closer, and as he managed to disentangle himself from a still puckered up Liandra, Allura pounced on him. They went crashing backwards into the lake, Allura succeeding in landing a kiss on his nose before getting a face full of water. Sputtering and gasping, the two came up for air, Liandra giggling at the sight of them.
“Well, you’re certainly red faced and breathless!”
“It didn’t feel good at all!” Corrum complained, smashing a fist into the water to send a splash towards Liandra.
“That’s because you didn’t do it right!” Liandra told him.
“Hmph!” The boy said, and with a kick of his legs, was swimming past the older girl. Allura watched him move out to join the older kids, Liandra still giggling besides her.
“I’m right you know.” Liandra whispered in her ear in between her laugher. “You have to do it a special way, to get the right reaction from a kiss.”
“I don’t think Corrum will ever let us practice for real on him…” Allura said mournfully.
“It’s fine. We’ll just have to learn some other way.” Liandra told her, looping a friendly arm across Allura’s shoulders. “Tonight, when everyone is supposed to be asleep, we’ll sneak down and spy on them. And maybe this time, we’ll get close enough to hear what they’re saying!”
Allura was uncertain, it showed on her face. Liandra turned pleading eyes on her, all but begging as she talked. “Come on Allura, it will be fun! And we might learn just
what it is that Madame Elianza is up to with them!”
“Well…..” Allura still hesitated.
“Oh come on Allura, don’t you want to know what the secrecy is all about?” Liandra asked. Allura thought about it, then nodded slowly, the girl grinning and hugging her excitedly. “Then we’ll do it tonight! It’s a promise!”
“A promise.” Agreed Allura, taking seriously those words. She wasn’t the only child who had made a promise recently, a lonely boy on a planet some distance away from Ranxhi was working to uphold a promise of his own. While Allura spent carefree days out in the sun lit gardens of the Madame’s estate, Lotor lived in solitude and darkness, trapped inside the castle on planet Doom.
His days were full with as much schooling as Allura had, perhaps even more, the boy having his regular classes, in addition to sword training with his father. He had beginning courses in politics, and ruling a kingdom, the boy slowly learning how to navigate the dangerous world of the demon king’s court. He had his own version of acting classes, but these focused more on helping him to become a skilled liar, in words, actions and disguising his face.
Lotor also was learning how to read people, and given enough time and attention he would eventually find it easy to tell when most people were lying to him. His father continued to make him kill, Lotor killing several dozen creatures a day, his father building him up towards murdering slaves. Lotor still flinched when it came to snuffing out a life, especially when that life had done nothing more than live.
He was mediating more and more, trying to attain that perfect moment when the killing rage was upon him. That moment was when he felt nothing, no pain no suffering, no guilt or conscience. He didn’t even feel happy about what he was doing, not even when he struck in the name of vengeance. He knew it disappointed his father, Zarkon wishing Lotor could find pleasure in the taking of innocent lives.
The best Lotor could manage was having his thirst for vengeance satisfied, the prince finding more and more soldiers of Demos to execute for his sport. Zarkon killed many that day on Zabatos, but some he had saved, bringing them back to Doom in order for Lotor to practice the killing arts on. The prince was leaving a trail of bodies behind him, neither man, animal, or monster safe from his sword.
His skills weren’t limited to sword fighting, his father bringing in teachers to instruct him in expanding his fighting repertoire. He learned how to throw a punch, how to defend himself with his fists, how to handle a whip. Lotor learned just how many lashes a lazon whip needed to kill a man, the number differing between human and Drule. He was taken to the shooting range, the woman teacher riding him harder than the men, demanding perfection in his aim. Slowly he learned how to handle several different types of guns, the prince firing holes into the cardboard cutouts presented before him.
His father brought in acrobats, the men and women teaching Lotor to be limber and how to perform somersaults and back flips. He learned how to jump from a great height, and even more importantly how to land, the boy slowly working on not falling to his knees after such a jump. The acrobatics were then choreographed into his fighting, Lotor learning how to make killing look like a dance, as beautiful as it was deadly the boy holding a natural grace he had surely gotten from his mother.
In addition to all these lessons, his weekends were full, the boy spending time onboard a docked battle ship. It’s crew helped him to learn the various ins ands outs of flying, and maintaining the various programs that kept the ship in good health. A retired commander was brought in, the man furthering Lotor’s education, and regaling him with stories about wars fought long before Lotor was born.
Lotor studied these wars, his teachers making a game of it, ordering him to figure out the patterns and keys to the winning side’s victories. At first he failed miserably, the prince just a boy who had no skill for strategy. But they began developing it in him, giving him large tomes with words that seemed to never end. And when that wasn’t enough, they gave him games. Computer programs that simulated the wars, Lotor playing one side against the artificial intelligence of the computer. He was given command of a fake army, the boy having to make every decision from what land to seize, to making sure the food rations were properly maintained so his armies did not starve.
The war programs weren’t the only games he played, he was given combat simulations, the program putting him in the pilot’s seat of a fighter jet. Lotor spent hours with this particular program, playing late into the night, the lights flashing all around him as he shot down ship after ship, his accuracy improving by leaps and bounds.
All these lessons left little time for the boy to have a true childhood, his toys growing neglected and forgotten. When Lotor wasn’t working on one of his lessons, he was eating or sleeping, and even then he was inundated with information. Holos played before his meal, Lotor watching himself battle in the arena, the boy being made to discover his weaknesses, and how he could have killed quicker, more effectively.
Audio played while he was sleeping, the programs changing nightly, trying to teach him subliminally the things he was having the most difficult learning. The boy was being worked hard, and it would come to no one’s surprise if he collapsed from the strain of it all.
Yet somehow he managed to remain standing, just barely at times, but moving zombie like from lesson to lesson. His father paid him frequent visits, so it was no surprise when the knock came on his bedroom door, Lotor barely glancing up from the flight simulation program. “Enter!” He called out, lights flashing as another ship exploded under his assault.
His father came striding in, nodding in approval at the game Lotor was playing. “You’re doing good son. But keep watch on your left wing, your shield is dropping from the strain of deflecting assaults to that section of your ship.”
If he could have, he would have blushed, Lotor feeling heat surged to his cheeks. He still wasn’t perfect at maintaining his defense when piloting a star cutter, a mistake that could cost him his life on a real battlefield. He began diverting power to the left wing, still pressing the buttons rapidly to take out three more ships while simultaneously trying to dodge attacks from that side.
Within five minutes he earned a game over, Lotor reeling in his temper even though his first impulse was to slam the controller down on the floor. But a tantrum would do no one any good, not here, and not in space where his life would be at stake. Of course he didn’t expect to ever man a star cutter in battle, at best he would be regulated towards commanding the flag ship, holding a whole fleet under his control.
It was a daunting thought, Lotor starting up the program again. He was determined to beat his best time, wanting to shoot down a three hundred ships in under ten minutes. He’d keep at it until he succeeded, enduring game over after game over, all in order to meet and exceed his own expectations.
“Is there something you wanted father?” Lotor asked, staring at the screen. Lights flickered, explosions being reflected in his eyes as he shot down ship after ship.
“Yes, there is.” Zarkon told him, and closed the door. That got Lotor’s attention, the boy realizing this must be something serious. But he still kept on playing, wanting to prove to himself that he could fight and hold a serious conversation at the same time. “You’ve been doing well in the arena.”
Too well perhaps, Lotor knowing that they were having difficulty in disposing of all the bodies. They had long since given up on digging graves, instead transporting the bodies to a place some distance from the castle. It was known as the pit of skulls, and anything left there soon fell prey to the vultures that picked the corpses clean till nothing was left save for some bones.
“I think it’s time we step things up.” Zarkon continued, and Lotor echoed his words.
“Step things up?”
“I think it’s time you stop hiding in the shadows, and make your debut.” That got Lotor to look up from the screen, his ship being left defenseless. “You’re ready. The crowds will come from all the cities to see their prince battle man and beast inside the arena.”
Lotor stared at him, shock and awe warring through him. His ship continued to be fired upon, until it’s shield failed, and it became one glowing ball of orange flame. Zarkon grinned and pointed at the screen. “Your loss son.”
Lotor blinked, and shook his head, trying to center his thoughts. “I’ve not killed in front of an audience that big before!”
“You killed on Zabatos.” Zarkon pointed out, and Lotor sighed.
“That was different. That was…vengeance…”
“Vengeance or pleasure, you’ll have to start fighitng for the court’s entertainments eventually.” Zarkon said. “Now is a good as time as any. You’re more than ready, and the nobles are eager to see the fruits of our labor.” His father had invested much time and attention into Lotor’s various educations, the prince realizing the man wanted a return on his investment.
“If it would please the court…” Lotor was fighting to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“It would please ME.” Zarkon told him, with a fang flashing grin.
“And just when am I to start appearing?” Lotor asked, holding back a sigh.
“Tonight.” Zarkon told him, and pulled the plug on Lotor’s pilot program. “Get some rest son. I want you in tip top condition when you face Haggar’s robeasts.” Lotor wisely bit back protests about not being tired, the boy nodding his head instead. “Do me proud Lotor. I want the nobles screaming with delight at the sight of my son wielding his sword.”
“Yes, father.” Lotor answered, the man smiling and turning to exit the room. Lotor sighed, and forced himself away from the holo’s screen, stepping towards his bed. But it was not sleep he would seek on it’s soft mattress, the prince beginning preparations to begin his meditations. He prayed to the Dark Gods of Doom, all but begging him to give him strength and the ability to not bring shame and dishonor on his and his father’s name.