Letting out a sigh, Allura lay down on the cushioned bench of the holding cell, the girl rolling onto her side to stare at the drab gray wall. It was another dull, uneventful day, Allura wishing there was more to do than sleep or pace the small space of her cell. All she really had was her thoughts, and even there she was tired of worrying endlessly on this plan of Lotor’s.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that all of this was a bad idea, that it would somehow backfire in both their faces. And yet she couldn’t get in contact with Lotor to beg him to change his mind, her contact with the outside world cut off save for the Drules that guarded her cell. She didn’t even know how much time had passed exactly, Allura wondering if it had been two or three days since she had been locked inside her cell.
Her only real clue that time was indeed passing was the shift change of the guards, and the meals that were brought to her. She looked forward to meal time, not for the food, which was very scarce and unappetizing, but for the persons who brought them to her. It was always a different person, always a human, a native to Arus. So far she had had a handful of people deliver her meals, each one seeming of a downtrodden nature.
It frustrated Allura to see anyone in a such a sad state, let alone Arusians who were by all right HER people. They were the type who flinched at any sound, and would not meet the eyes of anyone, let alone hers. So far it had been very disappointing to try and engage them in conversations, her visitors mostly grunting out answers, anxious to get away.
They were often locked into the cell with her, the Drules giving her time to question the slaves while she ate. Allura wasn’t sure how to steer the conversation to the topics she needed, the girl not wanting to arouse suspicion or upset. Most of the slaves sent to her cell weren’t exactly talkative, not many looking directly at her. They seemed scared, perhaps worrying what the Drule guards would do if they opened their mouths to talk.
She tried to engage them, tried to win them over by offering to share her meager meal with them. Sometimes the slaves would accept, eating hungrily of the food. Other times they refused, darting fearful gazes towards the Drules who were pretending not to watch them so closely.
Either way, Allura was left right where she started, without succeeding in learning anything new. Frustrated, she began to doze off, only awakening when she heard the sound of multiple footsteps coming down the cement stairs. She rolled over, and pushed up onto elbows, wondering if it was time for a changing of her guards. That thought lasted only long enough for her to catch sight of the woman being escorted into the holding area.
Allura couldn’t say how tall the woman was, next to the Drules she looked positively short! She had on a drab gray dress, with a white apron that held smudges of soot and dirt across it’s once pristine surface. A tray was held before her, a plate with some garishly colored food stuff spread across it’s surface. Allura felt a smattering piece of excitement, realizing it was time for a break in the monotony of her imprisonment.
The woman and the guards drew closer, one of the Drules taking his time in opening the cell door. Allura continued to study this new human, noting she was much older than Allura, with many frown lines on her face. Her chestnut colored hair was curled, a white cap pinned in place on the top of her hair. Her eyes were a faded brown, but the most surprising thing of all was this woman actually met Allura’s gaze!
Allura reeled back from the realization, sitting up straighter on her bench as she continued to stare at the Arusian slave. The woman had a stern look to her, she held herself stiffly as she squeezed past the guard to enter the cell. The door was slammed shut, and the two guards stepped away, giving them a false sense of privacy. The
guards began talking to one another, their words in Drule. Allura tried to tune them out completely, focusing instead on the woman before her.
“Please…” Allura patting the space beside her on the bench, quick to offer the woman a chance to get off her feet. “Sit with me while I eat.”
“No thank you.” The woman had a thick, almost too difficult too understand accent. “I’d rather stand.”
It was hard to tell if the woman was being cautious or disdainful, Allura frowning but accepting her answer. “All right.” She took the tray from the woman, and placed it on her lap. A plastic fork was laid out next to the plate, Allura using it to push aimlessly at her food. “Would you care for a bite to eat?”
“They told me you offer your meals to us slaves.” The woman said, and Allura glanced up at her surprised. “It’s a kindness we don’t often see here on Arus.” Before Allura could even think up a suitable answer, she noticed the woman’s eyes filled with suspicion, her words almost snide. “Are you using us slaves as food tasters in case the Drules want to poison you?!”
Alllura’s mouth dropped open in shock, her eyes blinking rapidly. “Is that what you think?!” At the woman’s nod, Allura was shaking her head no, frantic to get her to believe her. “NO! No…it never even crossed my mind. Besides….if the Drules wanted to kill me, I don’t think poison would be their method.” She shivered, remembering the brutal displays of torture and death she had born witness to on Doom.
“Then why?” The woman asked, and Allura shrugged.
“Because it’s the right thing to do. I mean…if you see a person that’s starving, and you can help them, even just for a little while….wouldn’t you?”
“No.” The woman said bluntly, leaving Allura shocked. “Such things as kindness and goodwill towards others is unheard of on Arus these days. It’s a take care of yourself first mentality, a survival of the fittest.”
“That’s… disheartening to hear.” Allura replied, and the woman sighed.
“It wasn’t always like this.” The woman leaned against the bars of the cell, her hands forming fists at her sides. “Arus wasn’t like this…not until THEY conquered us.”
Allura knew without asking that the they in question was the Drule. She scooped up an orange colored mush, taking a tentative bite of it, somehow managing to not make a face. It tasted as bad as it looked, Allura wishing they could serve her a meal that was actually pleasing to her senses. “What…what was Arus like before the planet was seized by the Drules?” The woman’s words were the opening she longed for, Allura eager to find out anything she could in this moment.
“Arus…” The woman let out a sigh, expression taking on a wistful look. “It was a beautiful place, a serene land. People were kind to each other, we mattered to each other. It was very much a world where everyone sought to help one another out, no matter the problem. We didn’t have much crime, people didn’t hate each other enough to do harm to their fellow Arusians.”
“But now they do?” Allura asked with a shiver.
“It’s not so much we want to harm others…” The woman began, relaxing her fists. “But our world is now one that is harsh….we have to fight for every little thing, for any comforts we can get. Food distribution is scarce, many go hungry for days, the stronger ones beating back the weak to gather the food all for themselves. It’s not just food, we fight for our survival, for cushier jobs…” She suddenly snorted, the woman showing disgust at her words. “Jobs! As if slaves could earn a wage for what we do.”
Allura was looking her over, noting the woman was pleasantly plump. “And you….are you one of the stronger ones?”
The look the woman gave her was shrewd, the woman hesitating. “I manage, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“How?” Allura couldn’t help but ask, and the woman flashed her a dark look. “Ne…never mind!” Allura decided, thinking perhaps some things were best left secret. “What…”
“They say you are a princess…” The woman interrupted her question before it could be fully voiced. “Is that true?” She was eyeing Allura, gaze traveling up and down the length of the girl’s body.
“I…” Allura shrugged, not sure how to answer. “That’s what they say.”
“Hmph.” The woman scowled. “You hardly look like princess material to me, dressed in that filthy fabric.” Allura colored at that, knowing she couldn’t help what she wore.
“What else do they say about me?” She asked, curious.
“Oh…” A shrug of her shoulders, the woman acting as though it didn’t matter. “This and that. Some of the rumors even go as far as to say you are OUR princess. Though why she would still be alive after all these years….”
“You don’t believe?” Allura asked.
“It’s debatable what I believe.” The woman said.
“What do you believe?” Allura wanted to know.
“I’m sure you’re just another trick of the Drule.” She answered. “A fake princess to further demoralize us.” A smirk then. “Maybe you are a criminal, one the Drule won’t mind executing before us slaves.”
“Execution!” Allura gasped, jaw dropping open at the thought. The woman was nodding, even as she heard the faint sound of thunder booming. She thought it meant another storm was on the verge of happening, hearing more of the booming sounds. The woman seemed unconcerned, still staring at Allura.
“It’s what you were brought here for, wasn’t it?” The woman demanded. “They want to put the final nail in the coffin of the royal house of Arus.”
“Final nail?” Allura repeated with a frown. “Does that mean Alfor and Diana are dead?!” The woman looked as if she had no intention of answering, Allura rising to her feet, the tray of food clattering to the floor. “Please! You must tell me what you know! What happened to them!? How did they die?” She was halfway lunging the small distance to the woman, hands already reaching to clutch at her clothing when a louder boom was heard.
Allura’s eyes went wide with shock, that couldn’t be the storm that made that sound. The Drules seemed to agree, she could hear the heavy footfalls of their boots running across her cell’s ceiling. The guards on the basement floor were also reacting, pulling out communicators to harshly shout out into them. Allura ignored the woman she was clinging to, trying to listen to what was being said in Drule.
“What the hell is going on up there?!” One of the guards demanded. A pause followed his words, the silence stretching on for at least two minutes, leaving the Drule to swear impatiently.
“We’re under attack!” Came the answer over the airwaves. “It’s those rebel terrorists. Bombs are going off all over the town!” Those words earned more curses from the Drules, on actually began to head for the stairs that led out of the basement.
“Wait!” ordered the other, grabbing his arm. “We can’t leave the prisoner here. You know the King would never forgive us if something happened to her.” That left Allura grateful in more ways than one, the girl knowing the Arusian slave would have no way of knowing what the Drule had just said. She didn’t need any more reasons for this woman to be suspicious of her.
Another explosion was heard, this one seeming to shake the building. Allura let go of the woman, but forced herself to sound reassuring. “It’ll be all right. They can’t leave us to die here in this cell.”
“It’ll all be over with soon enough…” The woman muttered mysteriously, even as a guard fumbled with his keys before unlocking the cell door. They shouted at Allura and the woman in a mixture of Arusian and Drule, hurrying them out of the cell and towards the staircase. Allura gripped the hand rail, hearing another explosion that rumbled it’s way through the building, causing an earthquake effect beneath her feet.
“Hurry, hurry!” snapped one of the guards, prodding her in the back with his laser pistol. A few more steps, and then she was stepping out onto the first floor’s landing, seeing the building was almost empty of people. Furniture was knocked over, and jackets and coats were left draped over desk and chairs, the owners not taking the time to gather the garments before fleeing from the building.
“Move!” They were prodded the human woman to step faster, the guards eager to get out of this building. Allura wondered if there was danger of it collapsing before they got out, the girl practically running towards the building’s exit.
Once outside, she gasped, spying the chaos that had overtaken the dilapidated town. What few buildings had remained, were on fire, and Drule soldiers were running about, gathering up the slaves, some forcing them to enter the buildings to presumedly gather whatever the Drule considered valuable. She was horrified that they considered lives more expendable than the jewels and gold the slaves were being forced to retrieve, but she didn’t know how to stop them.
“The fire’s spreading!” Shouted a Drule, as another explosion went off. Allura was pleased she didn’t scream, even as bits of flaming rubble pelted the ground. She couldn’t help but be reminded of that time on Zabatos, all those years ago when she had been a child of ten years old. At least here she wasn’t alone, Allura being guided by the Drules away from the buildings.
“This one is going to collapse at any minute!” Another Drule called out, and one of her entourage spoke a command.
“Head to the forest! Away from the chaos!” They all began to move that way, the little group seeming ignored by the other Drules and slaves. Allura rushed forward towards the trees that lined the edge of town, eager to get out of the bombing zone. The woman was right beside her for every step she took, and the two guards sandwiched them in.
It took them several minutes to reach the woods, the Drule ahead of them leading them deeper, past tight clusters of trees. Soon other humans appeared, looking frightened, Allura realizing they had fled at some opportune time, surely saving their lives in the process. The Drules paused, frowns and sneers on their faces as they looked at the group of humans.
“What are you doing? Why are you not helping to put out the fires?!” One of the Drules asked in Arusian.
“I…that is we…” one of the men stuttered, fright making the words hard to come out. The Drule snickered, and mocked him cruelly.
He never got the answer, for suddenly more people appeared, hooded ones that drew weapons on Allura’s group. The Drule guards cursed, moving to take aim at the new group of humans. Allura’s eyes were wide with shock, she opened her mouth, though she wasn’t sure what she was going to say. The woman besides her suddenly grabbed her arm, jerking her cruelly to the ground as both sides opened fire.
The uncovered humans screamed, and went fleeing deeper into the woods. Allura wanted to scream with them, feeling laser blasts fly just above her head. The woman kept a grip on her, holding her down though Allura made no move to get up. The Drules were alternatively cursing and screaming, one being shot, falling to the ground before her. She was forced to watch as the life went out of his face, his gold eyes turning pale as the light dimmed from them.
The other Drule snarled, shooting wildly at the humans. “Die you sons of bitches!” He screamed, managing to take out two of the humans before he was shot down. Allura’s heart beat wildly in her ears, she was shaking and frightened, and even if the woman hadn’t been holding her down, she wouldn’t have tried to get up. Not even when the footsteps of the cloaked ones were before her, one kicking a foot into the side of the dead guard.
“Wh…who are you?” Allura croaked out, lifting her head to stare fearfully up at the hooded group. Even as she asked she felt stupid, knowing without a doubt it was the resistance group that had been terrorizing the Drules.
“That was cutting it close.” The accented voice of the woman besides her said. “I thought you were going to bring down the building on our heads!”
“Sorry Gertrude, but we had to make it a believable attack if they were going to evacuate the buildings!” The man who spoke was unapologetic, Allura turning to stare wide eyed at the woman.
“Gertrude?!” She was ignored, Gertrude rising to stand, and hauling Allura up as well.
“Is that her?” The man asked, Allura unable to see his face in the shadows of his hood. “Is that the so called princess of Arus?”
“Use your eyes!” snapped Gertrude. “The resemblance is uncanny…if she’s not the princess, then they picked someone who could be a dead ringer for Diana.”
Allura had gone even more wide eyed, looking back and forth between Gertrude and the man. “What…” They immediately glared at her for speaking, but Allura continued with her question. “What do you intend to do with me?!”
“That’s a very good question.” The man said. “One I can’t answer. Not here ay any rate.” He raised his arm, cloak falling back slightly so she could see he was wearing mismatched pieces of armor over his clothing. “We’ve got to move. Hurry up and take anything of value off the bodies. It won’t be long before the other scum comes
looking for their comrades.”
The other cloaked humans moved at his words, kneeling down to peel off the armor off the bodies. Others gathered up the weapons and their spare chargers on the belts, tucking them under their cloaks. There was a ripple of excitement as one found energy bars in the one guard’s pocket, leaving Allura to realize food was almost as valuable as the weapons themselves to these people.
Handcuffs were also removed, Allura frowning, and shaking her head no when one of the cloaked men approached her with it. “No…there’s no need…” Her protests were ignored, Gertrude of all people, twisting her arms behind her back, the manacles being slapped into place on her wrists.
It wasn’t enough to chain her, a black hood was brought out, being shoved over her head. She thought she’d suffocate, and Allura certainly couldn’t see through the thick, dark fabric. It also muffled sound, Allura unable to make out just what the voices were saying as she was dragged forward. She had no idea where they were taking her, and that frightened her almost as much as the thought of what they might do when they reached their destination.
She could only pray, Allura hoping Lotor and his men would somehow find her before it was too late.
To be continued….
Gertrude is what I think I named Nanny in MAsquerade. So yes, if the hints weren’t obvious, it’s Nanny who was in this chapter!