She couldn’t believe what had just happened, her mind reeling as Allura tried to process the events of the last few minutes. Even seconds seemed too much for her, the girl taking a shaky step forward before her legs gave out completely on her. Ungraceful was her fall, Allura having the stray, hysterical thought that Madame Elianza would be so disappointed with her. It didn’t earn a giggle, Allura instead biting back a sob, right hand brought up to muffle any stray sound she might make.
“Allura!” Her friends were suddenly beside her, Liandra and Crystalline cuddling close in an attempt to soothe her. She continued staring across the room, waiting for her destiny to come striding back through the doorway. She barely felt the hands petting over her hair, or the hug Liandra attempted to give her, Allura waiting for him to return.
“She’s in shock.” Liandra said, speaking with a cool confidence that belied how worried she was. “Crystalline, go fetch her a cup of tea.”
Tea wouldn’t help in this situation, perhaps nothing would, Allura making a muffled sound that bordered on hysterical. The sound moved Crystalline into action, the older girl running across the room to the ornate tea set the Madame always had laid out for her guests. Allura could hear the china rattling, Crystalline working to prepare a fresh cup of tea for her.
“Oh Allura…” Liandra sighed, and shifted her arms around her, pulling Allura half onto her lap. The girl, the oldest of them all, rocked her back and forth, Allura remembering other women who had done similar acts to soothe her in the past.
“Honestly, what was the Madame thinking…?” Crystalline called from the parlor’s corner, hands busy preparing the tea. “None of us are ready to entertain, least of all Allura. I mean, she still gets performance anxiety in class!”
“I don’t think that’s the problem…” Liandra replied, hugging Allura tighter against her. “Did you not get a good look at that man?”
“He’s a Drule…yes?” Crystalline gave an uncaring shrug of her shoulders. “Really, I don’t see what the fuss is about. If you’ve seen one Drule, you’ve seen them all.”
“That’s not a very polite thing to say.” Liandra frowned than shook her head. “Did you honestly not notice who that was? You’ve seen him on the holos enough to be able to recognize him.”
“Oh? Is he someone famous then?” asked Crystalline, pouring the milk into the tea. “Lucky Allura…I bet you’ll get introduced to all the stars on his arm.”
“It’s a different kind of fame for that man.” Liandra sighed. “Crystalline, that man is Lotor, crown prince of the Doom Empire.” The shattering of porcelain was heard, Crystalline dropping one of the Madame’s fine cups. “Crystalline!”
The girl seemed too shaken to care that she had just broken part of a very expensive set of china. “You mean to tell me, he’s the one Allura is always keeping tabs on? That arena star…that Prince Lotor?” Liandra nodded, and Crystalline frowned. “Then what is the problem? We always said Allura fancied him.”
“You really haven’t been paying attention in class, have you?” demanded Liandra, Crystalline giving an uncaring shrug in response. “He may be the crown prince, he may be the arena star, he may even be someone Allura harbors a crush on. But….he also has an awful reputation.”
“You don’t say…” Crystalline was down on her knees, picking up the broken pieces of porcelain. “Just what does he do that is so bad?”
Liandra hesitated, Allura getting the distinct feeling the girl wanting to cover her ears. “Well, for one thing he kills without remorse…it’s what makes him so successful in the arena. He’s vicious and ruthless, and those are supposedly his good qualities! Don’t get me started on the bad…”
“But killing is normal to the Drule…I remember that much from class.” Crystalline said, depositing the china pieces on top of the table. “It’s one of the reasons why the Madame had us watch the arena fights in the first place. To get us used to such sights…”
“It’s one thing to see on the holos…you’re not there.” The two girls gasped, turning surprised at the sound of Allura’s quiet speaking. “There’s a distinct smell that lingers with death….blood is a scent you never forget…” How well she knew, Allura trying to keep her mind from traversing dark paths, the girl not wanting to relive memories best forgotten.
But she couldn’t stop the memory from surfacing, the recollection as bright and vivid now as it had been the day she had witnessed Zarkon killing Adaline. The most startling thing of all perhaps, was that she came away with the distinct feeling that wasn’t the first time she had witnessed such a scene! The smell of blood had been familiar to her, as had the terror that rose at Zarkon’s actions.
“Allura?” The sound of Liandra’s voice had Allura shaking her head, the girl trying to break free of the memories that were boiling over within her.
“I’m fine.” She said, as ghosts of the past chased her, Allura remembering things she had not thought about in years. There was good mixed in with the bad, Allura recalling the fun times she had with Adaline and a young Lotor. But she also remembered the strain on Adaline’s face, the shadow that had always hung over them, danger seeming to lurk around every corner.
“Are you sure?” A doubting Liandra asked. Allura nodded, and abruptly jerked off the older girl’s lap, rising to stand on her own two feet. She was trying not to frown, wrapping her arms around her as though that would ward off the chill she felt. It wasn’t a coldness of the body, but of the soul, Allura shivering as she thought about the violence and abuse Lotor’s father had been capable of.
And though Zarkon had never laid a hand directly on her, Allura knew she bore the emotional scars that came with witnessing that evil man harm the two people she had loved most in the world. Feeling sick, she remembered the beatings, the bruises that had covered Lotor’s little body. Adaline had not escaped her husband’s fists, Allura remembering the murder had not been an isolated incident.
She had dreamt about the things she had seen on Doom, horrible nightmares that had left her shaken and screaming. If just witnessing such things had left her so torn up inside, how much worse was it for Lotor who had lived through Zarkon’s fists? She shivered anew, wondering what sort of man Lotor had become, growing up under Zarkon’s violent care.
She supposed she’d find out soon enough, Allura dully realizing she belonged to Lotor now. It was a moment she should have been excited about, the culmination of nearly nine years of hard work. But she could only muster up worries, Allura wondering what would happen to her now in Lotor’s care.
“M….maybe he won’t be able to afford you…” Liandra said hopefully. Allura turned to look at her, and whatever shown on her face had the older girl deflating. “Guess not…”
“He’s first in line to the throne of the biggest, richest Empire in the galaxy. Of course he’ll be able to pay.” Her tone was pragmatic, Allura listing facts. “Not to mention Madame Elianza wouldn’t have let him through the door if he didn’t have the credits to back up his desires.”
“Think of how he’ll spoil you Allura!” Crystalline was bright toned, the girl trying to look towards the positive. “With wealth like that, even the sky won’t be the limit!”
Allura had no interest in Lotor’s riches, instead listening to the two girls as they began talking about the things Lotor could buy her, the places he could show her. They talked as though the prince’s purchase of her contract opened up a whole new world for her, one without limits, the galaxy laid bare at her feet. They were trying to cheer her up, trying to give her some semblance of peace over what had happened, what was to happen.
But they couldn’t, not with her whole world changing once more, things happening too fast for her to properly come to terms with. It was less than a week since the Madame had made the startling announcement that they had learned all she could teach them. The students had known it for the lie it was, growing startled and upset as Elianza explained that soon people would be arriving to consider purchasing their contracts.
No one had been ready for such a thing, and even Liandra couldn’t muster up excitement at the thought of starting on the path that was supposed to lead them to their bright, new futures. Least of all Allura, the girl not wanting to leave the home and family she had had for almost nine years. Stupidly, selfishly, she had held out hope that she wouldn’t be picked, at least not by the first customer to walk through the doors!
And never had she expected it to be someone she knew, someone she shared a tumultuous past with! Would the future be just as chaotic as their past? She did not know, and that frightened her anew, Allura wanting to cry but not wanting to upset her friends any more than they already were.
“It can’t be as bad as you’re thinking.” Crystalline said, placing a hand on Allura’s shoulder. She almost flinched at the contact, her nerves on edge, Allura leery of sudden movements. “I’m sure the prince will be kind to you. He LIKES you. Anyone can see that.”
Like and lust were too different things, Allura thinking Lotor no longer knew her enough to be able to say he liked her beyond the physical attributes she had. But Crystalline was right, Lotor did like her, liked her enough to choose her to be his mistress. Her cheeks nearly burned with the heat of her blush, Allura remembering the instant she had looked up at the prince. He had been staring at her with the most startling of expressions, lust that surpassed the look of the slave when her practice brought him to the point of denied release.
There was no doubt the prince had desired her in that moment, Lotor staring as though he was undressing her with his eyes. Never had she been the focus of such lust, not even Corrum at his most insistent had looked like Lotor had. Madame Elianza would have told her to be flattered at her powers of attraction, but to Allura it only scared her.
It had been a relief when the Madame guided the prince away from her, taking him and that painful gaze of his out of the room. She knew such a reprieve wouldn’t last, he’d be back before the ink had time to dry on her contract.
“I’m frightened…” She whispered out loud, Liandra immediately reacting to give her a consoling hug. “I don’t want to go with him. I don’t want to leave my family behind.”
“We’ll always be close to you.” Promised Liandra. “You can call me anytime you like, even if it’s just to talk about the weather.”
“It won’t be the same…” Allura said, feeling as though her words made her seem ungrateful. “And time and distance changes people, changes relationships…we won’t be able to stop our friendships from suffering.”
“No, you’re wrong.” Insisted Liandra. “We’ve nearly nine years of memories. They tie us together, our connections won’t die unless we let it.”
“We won’t.” Crystalline added. “It’s a promise, from us to you. So dry your eyes, and stop looking so upset!” Allura took the napkin Crystalline handed to her, the girl dabbing at her eyes to catch her tears. “You mustn’t go to the prince with red rimmed eyes after all.”
“Yes, I know.” Allura sighed as she nodded. “I must play the part of the happy courtesan, thrilled to be chosen by his royal highness.” It would call into action every ounce of acting skill she had attained, all in attempt not to disappoint Lotor and Madame Elianza.
“Oh, I can’t believe you are the first to be leaving us!” Liandra exclaimed, hugging Allura once more. “Our room is going to be so lonely without you there to share secrets with.”
“Crystalline could move in with you…” suggested Allura, but both girls were shaking their head no.
“There’s no point. The way Madame Elianza talks, we’ll soon all be off to settle into our new lives.” Liandra said. “Now that she’s opened up our contracts to be reviewed by perspective buyers, it won’t be long before others come to take us.”
“I pray that you find a good match.” Allura said, giving Liandra’s hand a soft squeeze.
“I’m sorta hoping it will be someone at the high court of the demon King. That way I’d have more opportunities to see you.” Liandra smile faltered at Allura’s sad head shake.
“Doom is not a place for someone like you.” Allura explained. “The high court even more so. It’ll destroy your soul bit by bit. I cannot wish such a fate on my friends.” She wouldn’t wish that fate on her worst enemies either, Allura recalling how cold and uncaring the people and planet had been.
Liandra seemed to sag with disappointment at Allura’s words, the girl taking her turn to try and lighten the mood. “It’ll only be for a few years right? I can survive that long.” She tried not to think of what would happen if Lotor renewed her contract at the end of it’s term. She had to keep confidant that he would tire of her, else she might
never escape Doom’s clutches. “And with a prince under my belt, I’ll be able to attract even more clients to me.”
“Oh yes!” Crystalline clapped her hands together in an excited gesture. “The nobles will all vie for a chance to be with a woman who captivated a prince!”
“So you see, it’ll work out in the end.” Allura forced a smile for their benefits. “The prince’s interest is setting me up for wealthy future.”
“A busy one too.” Added Liandra, the look on her face hinting that she did not buy Allura’s sudden cheer.
“In more ways than one.” Crystalline added, giving a wink towards Allura. “When you’re not seeing to prince’s pleasure, you’ll be networking. Setting up relationships that will be valuable for your future endeavors.”
“I suppose…” Allura sighed, thinking of the lessons Elianza had taught, the woman stressing the importance of setting up a support system of men and women who would not only be eager for a chance to sleep with them, but also easily managed to gain favors from. Just because Allura’s contract would be owned by the prince, didn’t mean she had to be idle. Her future as a courtesan depended on her gaining the interest of prospective clients for the future.
“I…” She hesitated, the sound of approaching footsteps stealing her voice. Liandra and Crystalline also paused, the three friends turning to look expectantly at the door. They waited only seconds before Madame Elianza walked in, the prince not far behind her. She was smiling, but Allura could tell it was as forced as her own expression, the Madame not pleased. Allura didn’t understand why, any more than she understood the reason behind Elianza suddenly graduating them all.
“It’s time Allura.” Elianza said, her words leaving Allura to combat a sudden wave of fresh tears. Liandra and Crystalline reached out to crush her between them, hugging her one last time. She closed her eyes, more to block out the sight of the prince staring at her than to savor the feel of her friend’s touches. The two girls whispered things to her, speaking of their love for her, and how much they were going to miss her.
Madame Elianza allowed all this, the woman in no rush to separate the three. The prince however was a different story, the man clearing his throat impatiently when the group hug lasted longer than a minute. When Elianza made no move to speak, Lotor took it upon himself, his words holding an edge to them. “Im afraid we don’t have time for long good-byes. I’m a busy man, with a tight schedule to keep.”
Call her crazy, but Allura sensed it was a lie, the girl trembling at the sound of his voice. It was no longer the soft pitch of a child, but the smooth baritone of a man, one who was used to getting his way.
“Come girls!” Elianza clapped her hands together three times in quick succession. “You’ve had enough time to say your good-byes.” Reluctantly they parted, Allura knowing what the Madame said was true.
With one last look at Liandra, Allura forced herself to move, walking towards the prince and Elianza. His stared burned into her, the prince enjoying her approach. He seemed no less clam now than he had been during the moment of choosing, the prince visibly agitated. No one spoke about his state, Elianza choosing to ignore it as she took hold of Allura’s hand.
“You’ve worked hard to reach this point.” Elianza said, leading Allura and the prince out of the parlor. “The road wasn’t always easy, but you always managed to conduct yourself with honor and poise. I’ve no doubt you will continue to do so, bringing pride to both my name and yours.”
“I will do my best.” Allura answered, voice soft and whisper like.
“That is all I can ask. All anyone can ask.” The Madame cast a look at the prince, Lotor crowding in close to Allura. He was so close they could touch, Allura swearing he was taking this time to sniff at her hair. The Madame continued to speak, but Allura barely heard her, instead looking around the elegantly appointed hall. She was trying to memorize key details, wanting this moment forever blazoned in her mind.
With the Madame’s voice droning on, they reached the mansion’s exit, the doors already thrown open for servants were outside, fussing over the prince’s transport. Bags were in their hands, the servants packing Allura’s meager belongings into the cruiser’s storage space.
“Well…” Elianza brought them right up to the rear of the cruiser, the Madame turning to pull Allura into an unexpected hug. “This is a parting, but not a good-bye.”
“I will always be but a holo call away.” Madame Elianza said, air kissing over Allura’s cheeks. “Do not hesitate to contact me if you need advice, no matter how trifling the problem seems.”
“Thank you.” She choked up at that, a sob wanting to come out as she clung tighter to Elianza. This woman had been a mother figure to her over the years, Allura
fond of Elianza, grateful for all she had done.
With reluctance and uncertainty, she drew apart from Elianza, turning to stare uncertainly at the prince. He actually smiled at her, but the look was strained, the prince gesturing for her to step inside the cruiser. She moved to do as he asked, and as she gripped the edge of the cruiser, she felt his hand suddenly on the small of her back. She tried not to stiffen at his touch, frightened and noting how badly his hand was trembling as he helped her into the cruiser.
She sat down on the soft leather cushions, and began shifting over to the opposite window, leaving enough space for the prince to climb inside. He sat down next to her, a servant closing the door. Allura’s last sight was of Elianza, the woman’s smile slipping to betray how worried she truly was. Allura felt a shiver go down her spine, the girl wondering at the cause of the Madame’s unease.
She continued to stare at the door, even when closed, Allura looking out it’s window towards the mansion that had been her home for nearly nine years. She wasn’t ready to leave it, Allura fighting not to cry. Not ready to leave, and certainly not ready to be alone with Prince Lotor. It mattered little in the end, she had no choice, Allura biting back a moan as the cruiser began to move, building up speed as it prepared to take her away from her home.