He stood before a window on the third floor of his home, Alfor’s back rigid with tension, his hands clasped behind him. His eyes stared unseeing out onto the courtyard of the castle, the people seeming like blurred ghosts, distant and unimportant. Even from this height, he should have been able to hear the sound of their talking, but there was little noise voiced by the people carrying out their appointed tasks.
He felt he should feel guilty for shirking his own duty, Alfor knowing that there was a pile of documents laying on the desk of his study. Papers that required reading, grants that needed to be assessed, documents that needed his signature. And yet he couldn’t muster up the incentive to return to his work, Alfor almost not caring if everything went to hell due to his neglect.
But there was none of that feeling, guilt and responsibility fleeing in the face of his angry worry. He snorted at that, finding the words too mild in describing the kind of inner turmoil he felt, Alfor knowing it surely leaked into his eyes. He wouldn’t give in to the grief bubbling up inside him, refused to give up hope just yet. But time was against him, Alfor knowing that every hour, every minute that passed only drilled the certainty in him that his daughter was gone for good.
His fingers curled even tighter, digging his nails into his skin as he glowered at the sky. He told himself it wouldn’t do to think that way, that the negative would only serve to mire him in depression. And yet, he couldn’t muster up the strength to remain positive in private, Alfor allowing his dark thoughts to take him the instant he had a moment alone.
Not that he had true privacy, the side door of his study open a crack, light filtering in from the bedroom next door. The woman inside the room, his wife Diana, had grown quiet, a small miracle he was thankful for given that she was prone to a great many hours worth of weeping these past few days. She wasn’t the only one, Alfor knowing that many of the maids who worked in his home joined her in her grief, shedding many tears for the missing princess.
The castle was normally a happy place to be, surroundings bright and cheery, but with the princess’ disappearance, a cloud of sadness had enveloped the building. Passing from person to person, each one echoing grief in their own ways for there had been none who hadn’t loved the princess. Alfor wanted to send them all away, but knew the castle needed people to maintain it. Knew he needed people around him to keep him from breaking down completely.
It didn’t stop him from sending the nobles away, Alfor hardly able to stomach their insistence on lending him their condolences. None dared voice the suspicion that his daughter was dead, but they hinted at it with their solicitous nature, their eyes reflecting pity whenever they looked at their king. He knew he shouldn’t blame them for thinking that way, not after the evidence they had found.
He bit back a shudder as he thought to that moment, Alfor remembering how he had been holding court when the guards came bursting into the throne room. His advisor Coran had rushed forward, seeking to keep a spectacle from taking place. But he was too slow in preventing one frantic soldier from waving something in the air. His
wife besides him had immediately recognized the item as belonging to Allura, a heart wrenching scream escaping her lips at the sight of the blood stained toy.
The nobles gathered around them hadn’t understood the significance of the toy, not until Queen Diana snatched at it, and began sobbing her daughter’s name over and over again. Alfor could remember the muffled roar of voices talking all at once, excited questions being asked, nobles voicing their concern. Alfor had had no time to act stunned, striding over to question the captain of the guard.
The guard captain had been grim faced, regret in his eyes as he reported his findings. A search party had gone out looking for the princess and her entourage, the party having failed to return at the appointed time. What they had found at the designated park area was nothing short of a nightmare, blood splatters everywhere, with dead bodies laying slumped over playground equipment. Men, women, children, none had been spared the assault.
One slim ray of hope was the fact that there had been no sign of Allura’s body. At least…not intact, for some of the dead had been torn limb from limb, their faces scarred by laser fire, obscuring their identities. He shuddered to think what effect witnessing such a massacre would have on a child’s mind, even as he prayed she would be found alive and whole. He’d get her the therapy she needed, just please God, bring her back to him!
Inquires were being made to the nearby towns, his soldiers investigating any and all leads, trying to help him understand the crime that had been committed. Alfor hoped it was some madman that had taken the princess hostage for ransom, even as he shuddered to think what a monster like that would do to his daughter. With that horrifying thought choking the breath out of him, Alfor shook his head, gasping for air.
It had been three days since the massacre had been discovered. Three long days where he tried to be brave, and cling to hope that Allura would be found. He didn’t want to believe his people were capable of such a crime, but the alternative was even worse, Alfor thinking of their decades long enemy. Doom. It was a distant planet, that habitually made trouble for Alfor’s world. The ruler of Doom had set his greedy sights on Arus, having fought to wrest control of this world from Alfor’s own father.
The former king of Arus had died fighting the war, slain by the demonic ruler of Doom. But Alfor’s sire had not been without plans of his own, leaving behind blueprints that allowed Arus’ most able minded scientists to develop a weapon. A weapon that had staved off attack from Doom many times, the two planets fighting to a standstill that seemed would never end.
It didn’t mean Doom stopped it’s attacks, they were as frequent as the rising sun, razing towns and unleashing monsters on the populace. The weapon, a robot code named Voltron tended to be all that stood in the way of Doom’s ultimate conquest, fighting off monsters and war ships with ease. But Voltron couldn’t be everywhere, certainly not with a little girl, royal though she may be.
Again that suffocating feeling, Alfor fighting to remain standing. He should have never let Allura go to the park, maybe then she would have been safe. If he got another chance with her, he’d lock her in the castle grounds, keep her from straying, keep her protected with dozens of guards. He pleaded with any God that would listen to grant him that chance, Alfor straightening as he spied a cruiser entering the courtyard.
Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing, the servants in the courtyard turning to look at the soldiers vacating the cruiser. Alfor’s stare burned through the window’s glass, the man seeking out the eyes of the man in charge of this deployment. The soldier looked up, and it was with sorrow in his gaze that he shook his head no, Alfor deflating as he realized the man did not carry Allura in his arms.
“It just isn’t fair.” His wife’s hoarse voice nearly caused him to jump in fright, Alfor somehow maintaining his composure. “It’s another beautiful day…” Indeed it was, the sky an endless sea of blue with nary a storm cloud in sight. Or the gray and beetle black metal of invading Doom ships. “It doesn’t seem right for her not to be here to enjoy it…”
Worry of worry, his wife’s voice trembled, Diana fighting a losing battle. He was already turning, ready to comfort her when she burst into heartbroken sobs. A handkerchief was in her hands, the silk wrinkled and well used, the woman bringing it to dab at her eyes. Alfor approached her, but fell short of touching her, fearing he would somehow catch her grief.
“We’ll find her.” Alfor repeated words he had said over and over these last three days. “Someone will have seen something, will know something. We’ll find the monster who did this, and bring him to justice.”
“What if it’s too late?” Diana whispered in between sobs. “What if the light has already left her?” Alfor spread his hands helplessly, unable to bring himself to whisper comforting falsities, even to his own grief stricken wife. He felt like a pale imitation of himself, unable to help her, to help his daughter, and to help himself.
“Just pray love.” He urged her, and was shocked by her fit of temper.
“I am sick to death of praying!” Her fingers clenched around her handkerchief, her wet eyes burning brighter than they had in all three days that had passed. “What good is it? What good is our gods if they cannot return our daughter to us, safe and whole?!”
“Careful Diana…you blasphemy.” He warned, aghast by her words.
“I don’t care!”
“You should.” He fought against the instinct to seize hold of her arms, and give his wife a good shake. “You invite the Gods to strike you down with such talk!”
“If it meant I would be reunited with our daughter, I would welcome death.” Diana told him, and he made a disgusted sound, turning his back to her.
“You have to live on. If not for yourself, then for the kingdom.” As did he, Alfor thought, knowing so many depended on his rule. She didn’t respond to his stern admonishment, at least not in words. Her weeping was heart breaking to hear, Alfor staring out the window into the horizon.
He lost track of time, the sun lowering in the sky, hinting at the time that had passed. His wife continued weeping, needing comfort he could not give her. She’d be better off with the maids, at least those girls would be able to console her in some way. Perhaps their shared tears would alleviate some of the grief his wife Diana felt.
“Diana…” He didn’t turn, voice raising loud enough to be heard over her sobbing. “Please…..return to the bedroom. I’ll send for…” A knock sounded on the door of the
study, a frantic pounding that hinted at the nervous excitement of the one doing it. Alfor couldn’t stop relief from flaring into him, relief and hope, the King shouting out a command.
“Enter!” He turned at the door’s opening, spying his advisor Coran, his face paler than normal. His once neatly trimmed mustache had grown bushy and wild, the man ceasing to take care of his appearance since the princess’ disappearance. “What is it, what’s happening?” Alfor said, watching as Coran gave him a stiff bow. He was in no mood for formalities, waving a dismissive hand at his advisor.
“A call has come for you.”
“A call?” echoed Alfor, seeing Coran nod.
“Yes.” His face and voice showed his displeasure, Coran practically hissing out a name. “King Zarkon is waiting on your private line.”
“Zarkon!” breathed out Aflor, and Diana gasped, her weeping momentarily forgotten.
“Yes. He says it’s important. That he has something that you want.” Coran explained, and Diana took a step towards the advisor.
“It’s Allura, isn’t it?” She seemed to be warring with hope and grief, excitement coursing through her at the thought of her daughter being alive. He knew that excitement would dull once she realized the magnitude of Zarkon potentially possessing their daughter.
“He didn’t say.” Answered Coran. “Will you take the call?”
“Of course!” Alfor said, and in his haste knocked over a pile of paperwork. The papers scattered on the floor, Alfor stepping wrinkles into the documents. He didn’t care about the damage done, his shaking hands pressing buttons on the control panel on his desk. A whirring sound was heard, a large panel descending from the ceiling. Coran lurked near the doorway, clearly loathed to be dismissed from this interview, and Diana had all but ceased her sobbing, allowing only a stray sniffle to escape her control.
Another button pressed, and then the ugly visage of the demonic King of Doom appeared before them. Alfor could only recall two times previously seeing this man, and both times he had been just as terrifying, whether he was grinning like now, or angry like he had been the first time Alfor had used Voltron against his forces. Right now Zarkon seemed in as good a mood as he had been when he killed Alfor’s father, his face a gloating taunt that did not hide the ghoulishness of his grinning face.
He felt Diana move closer to him, the woman frightened of the purple skinned Drule, but trying to lend her husband support. Zarkon barely glanced in her direction, his mockery of a smile flashing fangs as he spoke. “Good tidings to you King Alfor.”
Alfor was in no mood for faking pleasantries, growling out his words. “Get to the point Zarkon. What do you want?”
“Is that anyway to speak to fellow royalty?” demanded the Drule King, making a tsking sound. “I see your manners have not improved much since last we spoke.”
“At least I had manners to begin with!” shot back Alfor, trying not to bristle with impatience as he rested a hand on his hip. “Not like you Drules, all savage barbarians who take what you want at the cost to others!”
Zarkon’s eyes flashed, some hint of annoyance to those golden depths. “I’d be careful how I speak to me if I was you…” His tone was warning, his eyes narrowing. “It won’t be long before I am ruler of your pitiful planet.”
“If it’s so pitiful, why do you want it so badly?!” demanded Alfor, noting Zarkon’s smirk was strained.
“It holds some value of worth in slaves and resources.”
“My people will not be your slaves!” Alfor snapped, feeling Diana place a hand on the small of his back, reminding him of her presence.
“They’ll become slaves willingly or die by my hand. All of you will!”
“Not so long as we have Voltron!” Alfor reminded him, displeased when Zarkon let out a laugh.
“Ah yes. There is that…weapon of yours.” A clawed hand reached up to stroke at the Drule’s chin, the King looking thoughtful. “We haven’t been able to discover a weakness for the robot.”
“That’s because it has none.” Alfor couldn’t help but be smug then, proud of his father’s design.
“But humans….ah humans come with plenty. Even you Alfor.” His gaze suddenly slid to Diana, Zarkon practically leering at Alfor’s wife. “Such a beautiful wife. I can see where the princess gets her looks, even at her young age.” Alfor’s lips flattened into a thin line, refusing to react to the news that Zarkon knew what Allura looked like. But Diana gasped, a question issuing out of her.
“You’ve seen her?”
“She’s very pretty, especially for her age.” Zarkon said musingly. “She’s what, six or seven?”
“Five! She’s five!” Diana answered, stepping closer to the image of the king.
“So young….so weak…so easy to kill…..”
“Damn it, say what you have to, then be gone from my sight!” Alfor roared, and jerked his wife back from the viewing panel.
“Oh no…” Zarkon’s eyes glittered with rage, his voice hissing out. “You don’t give me orders. Not now, not ever! Especially when I hold your daughter’s life in my hands.”
“She’s alive?” Diana was struggling in Alfor’s arms, silent tears streaking down her cheeks. “Oh you haven’t hurt her, have you?!” Zarkon made a noncommittal noise, which cause Diana to scream, a sound that bordered on hysterical.
“Give me back my daughter!” Alfor snarled, still holding onto his wife. “Or so help me, I’ll have Voltron bring down your twisted empire on your very head!”
“Do that, and I kill the brat before Voltron can even appear on the horizon!” His words were a deep guttural growl, reeking of menace and willing intent. “Your robot has never been able to completely defeat my minions…..to send it now will only result in the princess’ death.”
“What do you want?” Diana asked, voice a loud shriek of pain.
“Calm your woman down.” Zarkon ordered. “I loathe hysteria, especially in women who should know better.”
“Shhh Diana, my love. It’ll be all right.” Alfor whispered in her ear, his wife seeming to sag in his embrace.
“It won’t be.” Zarkon interjected with a snort. “As of this day, Arus belongs to me now. You’re to renounce your crown, and abandon your home, and your riches. And this? This is the important part. You are to deactivate Voltron. I want no interference when my people come to land their ships on Arusian soil.” He smiled then, looking far too pleased. “Do this, and your daughter may live a long life, albeit as a hostage on Doom.”
“No…” breathed out Diana. “If we agree to your demands, you will send our daughter back to us!” Zarkon remained impassive to her protests, Diana turning to Alfor,
eyes urgent. “Tell him! Make him understand! We need our daughter back!”
“She’s a hostage to our behavior love…” Alfor explained as gently as he could. “We can’t dictate the terms of her release.” She looked as if she didn’t understand, Diana shaking her head no again and again.
“I’ll give you by the rising of tomorrow’s sun to let me know what you have decided to do.” Zarkon told them, sounding certain of what course of action they would take.
Of course he had to be, Alfor realized bitterly. They weren’t like the Drules, they couldn’t’ sacrifice their only child, their hearts wouldn’t let them. As horrible as the thought was of allowing the entire planet to be enslaved for one child’s life, Alfor couldn’t, wouldn’t make the decision to let Allura die. It must have showed on his face, for Zarkon let out a wicked laughter, the sound seeming to echo in the room long after the viewing panel had gone blank with static.