Darkness had already come to the lower elevations, and the sun’s rays crept up toward us bringing the promise of a cold night. Lotor and I had visited a barren cliff, chiseled by the winds that blew off the peaks. The site was ugly, detached and hard, just like the drones that were guarding it. But I did not intend on telling him that, so I glanced up at him and smiled. He smiled back, but then looked awkwardly away.
“I know my planet isn’t as beautiful as yours,” he said thoughtfully.
I gazed at him for a few moments; it was like he had been reading my thoughts. “Your planet is beautiful, in its own, special way.”
“We don’t have too much vegetation or wildlife. But we’re happy to live here.”
Then we saw a flock of vultures crossing the sky and I said aloud an inconsequential thought. “What is the first thing you notice about nature?”
“The stronger animals survive and the weak die. Survival of the strongest is the principal on which I command my fleet. Those who can keep up are promoted, those who can’t are left behind.”
I marveled at his sudden dispassionate tone, as If I was a soldier under his command. “What about the wounded?”
He shrugged. “They are a burden.”
“And what happens to them?”
“They’re left behind of course. This is war, and war is no place for the weak.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Did I shock you?”
I shook my head. “No, my father and brothers feel the same way, Milord.”
“Please, call me Lotor.” His voice was low and pleasant, his manner courtly, his looks as handsome as I remembered from the holopics. And yet- there was something mysterious, unsettling in his golden eyes, like those of a feline ready to pounce.
“Why did you challenge my brother, Lotor?”
His eyes lit up with amusement. “I guess I got caught in the excitement, Princess. We were merely grown boys playing. I never meant to hurt him. Your brother has proven his prowess. He will become a robeast.”
“You must be tired after that fight.”
He looked down at me, and his mouth curved into a devastating smile. “I was, but seeing you has renewed my spirits.”
I blinked. “Thank you, that’s very kind of you,” I replied, feeling my lips twitching with nervousness under his intense gaze.
We walked back to Doom Castle. Twin towers flanked the gatehouse and appeared to stand in judgement as they looked down upon us. The drones in front of them stood quietly as we crossed the dark tunnel of the gatehouse. I wondered if father was angry with me for accepting Lotor’s invitation.
King Zarkon, father and Bandor joined us in the courtyard. They informed us that they had agreed on using their fleets to occupy Arus and deter any of its allies from giving them support. And because of his strength and excellent health, the process of turning Avok into a robeast would only take a couple of weeks.
“Princess,” Lotor said, taking my hand. “Will you be staying while your brother prepares to be a robeast?”
I glanced at father and then back at him. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Because I’m planning a dinner party this Friday evening and having the cream of Doom’s society. I ask that you attend the party with me and meet my friends. Please, say yes.”
I winced slightly. “I’m sorry, but-“
“Excuse me, Zarkon,” father broke in, turning to him. “May I speak with my daughter in private?”
“Of course, Cova,” he replied smiling. “You can use my study.”
One of the guards led us to the study, located on the far side of the entrance hall. He opened the doors and we stepped past him into a large room, nearly the size of a ballroom. Portraits giving the room an even greater feeling of airiness and space only rarely broke the dark walls. Gold brocade curtains lined the opposite wall. At the end of the room was a huge black marble fireplace, adorned with winged robeasts. The heavy leather chairs and imposing mahogany desk added a somber look.
Father stood against the desk, folding his arms across his chest. He looked up, a welcoming smile softening his tanned features. “Romelle, I must go back to Pollux. You and Bandor shall remain here, to keep me informed about Avok’s progress, and as a show of my trust on Zarkon and Lotor. I know it won’t be easy; but if anyone can pull it off, is you.”
I was touched by his words of praise. “I’ll do it. You and my brothers mean everything to me.” My voice caught and I bit my lip. “Please forgive me for my behavior of the previous days. I know how important it is for you to settle the score with our evil twin planet.”
He leaned close to me and pressed a kiss to my forehead. At this unexpected display of affection, I looked up surprised. “What was that for?”
He smiled down at me. “For all the things you do for us, Romelle. It shames me that it took this trip to remind me. You’re a good daughter,” he whispered in a choked voice. “I wish your mother were here to see what a fine young woman you have become.”
I felt tears sting my eyes. “Oh, father-“
“There now, my child,” he said gruffly, putting his strong arm around my shoulders. “We have work to do. You must not get yourself upset.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “It’s just that I’m so happy.”
“Come, let’s go back to the others,” he concluded.
To Chapter Eight
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