Porcelain 71

The viewing deck was all but empty of people, the king’s presence there had assured him his solitude. It hadn’t taken much to get them to leave, just a glance at Lotor’s face and they had wisely fled, not wanting to bear the brunt of his anger. And he was angry, Lotor wondering how things could have escalated to this point, Allura being taken, spirited away right out from under his nose.

He thought back to earlier, Lotor recalling the advice of one of his generals. The man had sworn up and down that the best way to lure the rebels out was to have the fleet not be present in town. It had made sense, Lotor understanding that so long as his ships were such an overwhelming presence, there stood little chance of the rebels acting. And so he had allowed them to depart, the ships hovering in the sky, circling leisurely about the northern kingdom of Arus.

The rebels had bided their time, giving the fleet enough time to be far enough away that there would be slim chance of them returning in time to be of use. Indeed by the time they arrived, the town was in complete ruins, the few remaining buildings burnt to a crisp. But more than that, Allura was missing, Lotor sending his men to search the woods for her.

It was a chilling moment when word came that the guards who had been on duty to guard her cell were found dead. Murdered, and stripped of any valuables, and no sign of Allura to be found. There was only one slim chance for relief, and that was that her abductors hadn’t seen fit to kill her then and there. As long as there wasn’t a body, it meant she could still be alive.

He was caught in the midst of a heavy sigh, Lotor’s hands tightening on the railing as footsteps entered the room. He could tell by the sound that it was several people, and they drew closer to him. He didn’t turn, not even when they paused a respectful distance away from him. He was too busy trying to compose himself, staring without seeing out at the Arus’ landscape.

“Your highness….” A tentative voice, one of his aides speaking. “We are awaiting your commands…..”

Lotor drew breath, straightening taller before turning to face the group. Aside from two of his aides, there was the general who had advised him, along with several of his peers. The general looked nervous, the man trying not to fidget as Lotor stared at him. Lotor wondered what his face showed, did it promise him death for his earlier advice?

A smile then, Lotor knowing what he had decided then and there. “General Querak.” The Drule went still at his name, Lotor’s smile turning more menacing. “It was your suggestion that we leave the town, was it not?”

“Yes, your highness.” A reluctant bob of the General’s head, the man’s hands clasped together, fingers anxiously wringing out the skin. “It was the only way to ensure the rebels would appear…”

“And appear they did.” Lotor said without inflection to his voice. He gestured at the window, in the distance they could see still the smoking wrecks of what was once a town. The general seemed to flinch at that sight, though he did not whimper for forgiveness.

“And just under whose command was it that we fly far enough south that aide would be impossible to render in time?” Lotor asked, and Querak was speaking, voice low and urgent.

“It was mine, but…”

“But?” Lotor hissed, his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword. A sword that was never far from his side, his fingers itching to grasp hold of it and plunge it into the appropriate parties. “BUT WHAT?!”

At his shout, the others wisely backed up, leaving Querak and Lotor the illusion of privacy. It was something Querak surely did not appreciate, the man swallowing nervously. “I thought…I thought the soldiers we left in town would be enough to handle the rebels.”

“You thought wrong.” With a fluid motion, his sword was drawn, the lazon’s hum echoing in the cavernous room.

“Sire please….there was no way of knowing….I–WE had no way of estimating just how calculated and troublesome the rebel attacks would be.” The general did not turn his back on Lotor, but Querak’s hands were gesturing at his comrades, trying to include them in the fault. “There was no way to know!” He added, backing up as Lotor advanced on him.

“Did you not take the proper time to learn of the rebels and their history? Their attack patterns?” Lotor demanded. “I had men made available to you, soldiers who had personal experience with these terrorists. You should have used their knowledge to better acquaint yourself with the enemy we’re facing!”

“I can do better!” Querak said, sounding almost breathless in his fear. “Just give me one more chance…”

“The time for chances is over with.” Lotor said coldly, swinging his sword. Querak tried to run, and was cut down, the sword slicing into his neck. The general screamed, the blow was not clean, leaving Lotor to have to hack his head free of his flailing body. The gathered men watching barely reacted, one or two even looked approving, knowing this was the way of things in the Drule Empire.

Calmly, Lotor wiped his sword clean on the dead general’s clothes, and then was sheathing it in his hilt. “Commander….”

The commander stepped forward, supplying his name. “Commander Morgor sire!”

“Morgor…” Lotor smiled a thin smile, glancing at his young commander. “You are hereby appointed to General. See to it that you don’t make the same mistakes as Querak.”

“Yes, sire.” General Morgor did a quick bow, eyes shining with satisfaction.

Ignoring the body on the floor, Lotor continued to speak. “Tell me. What is the status of the search? Have we found anything? Anything at all?”

One of his aides spoke up, the man not needing to glance at the paperwork he held. “We’ve managed to search over seventy percent of the forest. And the surrounding towns that border it. Our soldiers in these towns have seen little, and the slaves there are reluctant to talk…..”

“Then it’s time to put the pressure on them.” Lotor told them, earning an answering bob of the man’s head. “They must know something…find out what that something is!”

“Yes, sire!”

“Have any slaves gone missing from those towns?” Lotor wanted to know. “The rebels have to come from somewhere….”

“Er….” Now the aide consulted the paperwork, but ultimately gave a helpless shrug. “There’s been little reports of runaway slaves. Everyone appears to be where they belong although…”

“Although?” Lotor asked sharply. “What?”

“Arus’ records of it’s slaves haven’t been meticulously kept up on.” The aide was apologetic. “Some could have slipped through the cracks.”

“That is unacceptable!” Lotor snapped, and began pacing before the group. “I want you to organize a party. Have them work on registering each and every slave into the computers. I want records of every man, woman and child, I want to know every detail of where they are, where they are supposed to be, and if they are missing. The slaves should have little free time afforded to them. I want to know where they go when they are not working. Is that understood?!”

“Yes, your highness, perfectly.” The aide answered. “I’ll get to work immediately on this.”

“Good.” Lotor said, then paused a moment. He knew what he was about to suggest would get a bad reaction, and he braced himself for the shouts that would surely follow. “In the meantime, I am going down to Arus.”

“Sire?” A collective answer, the men looking confused.

“I am not content to wait on the rebels and whatever it is that they want to do with Allura.” Lotor continued. “It’s time to make my presence known.”

“That’s too dangerous!” protested one of the Generals.

“Yes!” Agreed another. “You’ll be putting not only yourself at risk, but the Drule Empire itself. We cannot allow you to…”

“You cannot stop me!” roared Lotor, the force of his anger making them all take a step back. “I’m going to get Allura back….”

“You risk much for one girl…” pointed out an aide, a shrewd look in his eyes. “Your father would be disappointed.”

“I don’t give a damn what my dead father would think.” Lotor retorted angrily even as he knew the aide’s words were true. He could practically hear Zarkon sneering in his head, telling him how human and foolish he was acting. “That girl matters to me…”

“More than the future well being of the Drule Empire?” The aide demanded.

That brought him up hesitating, the gathered men exchanging knowing looks at the King’s pause. They surely didn’t understand his uncertainty, Lotor weighing carefully in his mind what sort of reaction his potential answers would earn him. It wasn’t that he didn’t care for Allura, in fact some would say he cared too much for the girl. To the point that it weakened him, Lotor knowing he was liable to have a mutiny on his hands if he admitted that one girl could matter more than the Empire itself.

“Sire…” The aide’s silky tone purred out satisfaction, the Drule confidant Lotor had been made to see reason. “The girl can easily be replaced….” A sharp breath from Lotor, the King hissing at those words. “You cannot.”

“Not now at any rate…” muttered Lotor, knowing it was all a matter of reproduction that kept his value so high. At the moment he was the single most important Drule in the kingdom, with nary a child to his name to replace him should the unthinkable happen. Even if he proved unpopular with the decisions he made, many would fight to keep him on the throne, preferring him to an uncertain future of battles over the throne.

His value would drop once he made a child or two, legitimate heirs that would be groomed to someday replace him. It wasn’t completely unheard of to kill the current monarch, allow the heir’s guardians to rule over the empire until the children came of age. Lotor felt certain he would have to hold off on making babies until he secured his popularity, easing the Drule into the changes he wanted to make to the empire.

Still right then and there he didn’t give a damn about any of it, wanting Allura back, safe and sound. “How well do the slaves know my face?”

“Sire?” A confused expression was answer to his question, Lotor almost impatient as he gestured wildly with his hand.

“My face. Do the Arusians know what the current King of Doom looks like?” An exchanging of looks, his aides and generals unsure. “Would a double suffice in fooling them into thinking the Drule King walks amongst them?”

“It may.” Allowed an aide, a hesitant look on his face. “But we came unprepared for such a need….”

“Check among the men. See if there’s not anyone that could at least pass for me from a distance.” Lotor told them.

“All right. but why?”

“If I can’t go down in person, than a double will have to suffice. The Drule King is too tempting a target. The rebels will come out for him.” Lotor didn’t care if he was putting needless men in danger, he’d let even more die if it meant getting Allura back. “And when they do? We catch them.”

“It won’t be easy…” warned one of the aides. “The rebels have proved surprisingly difficult to corner…”

“Nothing worth it’s value is ever easy.” Lotor pointed out. “Make sure the double is properly wired for tracking. Perhaps an under the skin implant so the rebels remain unaware of the tracking device…”

“Yes sire. That’s a wise idea.” Agreed one of the aides, making a note of his order on the papers he carried. “I must say….things would be a lot easier if that mistress of yours had been implanted in a similar fashion.”

It was an offhanded remark, a simple grouse that got Lotor thinking. He stared at the aide, a stunned look on his face, even as he knew he had not taken that measure towards keeping track of Allura. The aide felt the weight of Lotor’s gaze on him, the man looking up from his writing.

“What is it your highness?” The aide seemed nervous, not liking his King staring so blatantly at him.

“Get a hold of Madame Elianza.” Lotor ordered, not daring to hope in the thought that had fashioned in his mind. “I need to speak to her at once!”

“Madame Elianza?” repeated the aide, a frown on his face. “Really your highness, now is not the time to be expanding your stable of mistresses!” The aide’s eyes went wider at Lotor’s glare, the man murmuring for forgiveness.

“Just do it.” Lotor said coldly, the aide nodding. He pulled a communicator off his belt, the Drule stepping away from the group to hold a hurried conversation with whoever was on the other end. Lotor did not pause to listen to the conversation, instead turning to talk to the remaining aide and generals. “In the meantime, I want preparations underway for my double’s arrival in the biggest of the towns that border the forest.”

The men were nodding, the remaining aide writing this down. Lotor smiled, but it was without humor. “I want it to be a real splashy affair, one that will have everyone talking, including the slaves.”

“What will we tell them about the King’s arrival on Arus?” asked General Morgor.

“Tell them…” Lotor paused, weighing his options. “A mixture of things really. Tell them I’ve come to inspect the state of this troublesome planet. Tell them I’ve tired of my men’s lack of results. That I intend to lead the fight against the rebels personally. Tell them whatever you need to stir up the slaves, to the point they carry word back to the rebels.”

“It’ll make things even more volatile on Arus.” pointed out Morgor. “We might be escalating things to an all out war.”

“It’s a war we’ll win. One way or another.” Lotor said darkly. “The rebels may have started things, but I intend to be the one to finish this farce. However….” Lotor noted the harried aide was returning to the group, the King not quite smiling at that. “All this may be rendered needless in a moment. Well? Have you gotten a hold of the Madame?”

“Yes, your highness. They’re transferring the call down to this floor.” The aide explained. Already behind him, the glass pane that showed the landscape of Arus was flickering, static and snow replacing it. A man dressed in a deck hand’s uniform appeared, bowing and saluting to the gathered group of Drules.

“Er…do you want to take this call in private?” asked the aide, and Lotor shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter either way.” He nodded to the man on the screen. “Put me through to the Madame.”

“Yes, your highness!” The man exclaimed, and within seconds his image was replaced with that of Madame Elianza. She wasn’t wearing the most gracious of expressions, looking as though she was struggling to keep annoyance off her beautiful face. She was tapping manicured nails against the table top, staring out towards Lotor and his men.

When she became aware that the connection had been established, she forced a thin smile on her lips, bowing her head in a subtle show of respect. “I believe a congratulations are in order your highness. You are now King since last I saw you.”

“Yes.” Lotor nodded. “But let us dispense with the pleasantries, and get to the heart of the matter.”

“All right.” A shrewd look from her, Elianza’s stare considering. “To what do I owe this honor? Surely you have not gotten tired of Allura already.”

He tried to keep an impassive face at her words, Lotor appearing cool and unconcerned with what he was about to say. “Not at all. Although I do seemed to have misplaced her currently.”

A quick flutter of Elianza’s thick eyelashes, the woman blinking rapidly in shock. “I think I must have misunderstood you. You can’t possibly be telling me you LOST her.”

“Not so much lost, as….she was taken.” Lotor’s words had the Madame paling, the woman looking shocked.

“Taken? By one of your enemies?” She demanded with a hiss of air. She didn’t wait for his confirmation, eyes narrowing as she unleashed a tirade against him. “Your highness, when I allowed you to take possession of my charge, it was under the strict understanding that nothing bad would happen to her. How could you have allowed this to happen?!”

“It doesn’t matter how it happened. Just that it did.” Lotor interrupted, watching as she pursed her lips together, giving her the look of one tasting something sour. “And I need your help to get her back.” A murmur of conversation from behind him, the Drules speculating on what the Madame could do. “You keep track of your charges, do you not?”

“Of course.” Understanding had dawned in Madame Elianza’s eyes, the woman nodding. “All my students have been implanted with tracking chips in case….something unfortunate happens.”

“Is the one inside Allura still active?” Lotor didn’t dare let his hope show, waiting on an anxious breath for Madame Elianza’s answer.

“It should be.” Elianza said. “It’s just a matter of checking to learn her current coordinates. I’ll send over the information immediately.”

“Do that.” Lotor ordered, and she nodded. He thought the conversation was over with, but then she was speaking once more.

“Bring her back safely, your highness.”

“I will.” Lotor promised.

“And have the poor girl call me when she’s back!” Elianza added, letting her concern show in her voice. “I’m sure she’ll need a familiar shoulder to cry on.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Lotor said, wanting to be the one to comfort Allura if she needed it. He left Elianza on the line, his aide stepping forward to transmit the information the Madame would present them with to the proper channels. Lotor himself felt renewed hope, for once the King feeling there was a chance to return Allura safe and sound, and back where she belonged.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Okay so the rewrite is longer than the original 71! Whoo hoo! And thanks to Tenjp for giving me the suggestions that are helping me to resolve something in the story! You saw part of it with the contact of Madame Elianza!

To Be Continued….

Michelle


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