Six Daysby Dr. Kat
Chapter Eighteen - Blood Morning
Lance peered out the meager portal from his cell in the flagship's brig. There sure was a lot of commotion going on outside. He felt a lightening and tingle within his stomach, like his was trying to gain hope...but, how could he? A wave of gloom swept over him again. Even if it was the guys trying to rescue him, how could he ever face them again? After what he had done? To them? To Red Lion? To Voltron? Oh, what should he wish for? For rescue? For death?
Yet, he still peered out the window. A filthy, sightless window. Trying to see something...anything, as Hagar's ship rocked from the unknown battle.
"Hmm?" Lotor opened his eyes and turned. "What did you say, Allura?"
"You just said...'good riddance' or something? What...?"
Lotor laughed lightly. "I was speaking to my mentors," he explained.
"But, there won't be anymore conversations." Lotor's chuckles grew until the waters seemed to echo his mirth and joy. "They've gone back. They've finally gone back!"
"Yes!" He grabbed her suddenly, standing up in a fluid motion and swinging her around in a moonlight circle dance. "Oh, I am so HAPPY to be rid of those two...well, not rid of them, but they aren't SPEAKING anymore!"
"Watch your back, Pidge!" But, just then, the robeast swung one of its five remaining appendages at the cruiser attacking Green Lion. "Never mind."
"The flagship is repositioning, Keith," Sven's voice came over the intercom. "I think they are going for a full-spread attack."
"Watch it, guys," Keith added. "Give them a clear shot."
"YEE-HAH! Got another one!" came a hoot from Yellow Lion.
"Are we winning yet?"
"How many are left, Keith?"
Keith punched some buttons, displaying a readout of enemy fighters. "A few dozen more," he announced. "Pidge and Sven, head for the castle. We'll join you soon."
"You got it!"
"Oh gods, I'm thirsty!" Lotor stopped his twirling, allowing the giggling Allura down to the ground, then moved to catch some of the waterfall in his mouth.
"I'm hungry, that's what I am," Allura huffed staring around. "Any fish?"
"Nope. But, here." Lotor reached an arm toward an outcrop of rock and the plant nuzzled in a shallow crevice. As he retrieved his hand, the fingers cradled a few purple berries.
"Lotor, do you think those are safe?" Allura questioned. "You know about this place being...well, unforgiving."
"Really?" With that, he promptly popped one into his mouth.
"LOTOR!" Allura grabbed at him and would have ordered him to spit out the fruit, yet the prince had already swallowed. "What...are you crazy?! What if it's poison?!"
"But, it isn't," Lotor replied matter-of-factly, as he stuck a second berry in his mouth.
Allura still stared at him, gaping in disbelief. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because it's a game." He placed a loving arm around the concerned princess. "The Dweller said so herself. It's only a game. I'm finally seeing it, now." He took a third berry. Why he hadn't seen it earlier was obvious, noting his mental state had been rather questionable. Now, the realization was so clear in his mind. "And, she can't poison us. She isn't supposed to."
The princess was nearly hysterical. "But...you KNOW how things have gone wrong here! What about that monster that sliced open your leg?! What about the wat...those circles?! The creature in the sand?!"
Lotor had put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing them gently. "Allura, haven't you noticed what she's been doing?" he asked her softly.
"What do you mean? She's been trying to kill us!"
"For starters, why did the Dweller just happen to set you at a position behind me at the beginning? Because, she knew you would be the one to catch up to me. She KNEW you would follow the rising sun towards me."
"And there was always a stream nearby for water. Why would she do that if she was trying to kill us?"
"Look." He pointed to his exposed left leg. The only traces of his earlier deep wound were only a few small faint lines in his flesh. "She knew I could heal after an attack," he explained. "Also, the beast took a very long time to attack again, didn't it? Why didn't it finish me off quickly after wounding me?"
"Well..." Allura thought back. "Well, it did just seem to...stand there waiting for awhile, but..."
"The sand creature waited around, too. It just waved us about in the air, back and forth around its mouth. Why did it not just eat us right at the beginning?"
Allura's face erupted into recognition. "And, the ring on the ground that made you age???"
"Why did it just happen to shift at that exact time?"
"She's been PLAYING with us, then?! Why? Why did she put us in here? Why did she and Mari plan this? Lotor? Why?"
The prince sat back against a rock, arms behind his head. "I guess...as a lesson," he muttered through his thoughts. The sky was still dark, yet the stars were beginning to disappear. The sixth day was coming. "One giant test. They wanted to see if I could change. Put myself back together." He smiled at Allura. "And, if we could...put ourselves together, too. I guess. Here. Have a berry."
The crippled ship shook terribly as it made a rather crude landing near the Castle of Lions. Yet, Hagar was not yet through. They may have brought down her ship and severely damaged her newest monstrous creation, but she would be eternally damned if she was going to let some phony, hot shot, bauble-loving, scar-faced, silk and slipper-wearing "lord" upstage a witch!
She stormed out of the open escape hatch, her crew soon surrounding the area, preparing for hand combat. The witch herself was gathering her inner forces, calling upon her years of experience and talent.
"Don't fire," she warned her troops. "Let them come." And, they did. Multiple forces that had been deployed to storm the castle now focused upon the new threat. Not many were left still in flight, and even those were being attended to by her robeast and the four Voltron Lions. "Come on, boys," Hagar whispered, her eyes glowing gold with power yet unleashed. "Spirits preserve me! COME ON!!" Rushes of winds swirled around the hag, her brown robes whipped this way and that, green lightning crackling from her gnarled wooden staff. "FACE A WITCH, YOU FOOLS!!"
We need to head out. This was what Allura had said to the prince, as they had finished breakfast. The sun had just begun to rise, and if they could get an early start on this sixth day, the last day, it would be best. She clung less tightly to him now, after getting over the initial shock of suddenly rising into the air. Stupid Drule...er elf! Why did he not warn her?!
"I'm glad I still remember how it felt and how to do it," Lotor declared to her as they whisked through the air. "It helps to have my mind together again. Though, I don't know how long I can keep flying, seeing that I'm not all elf anymore."
"Just stay close to the ground then, you goon!" she snapped. "And, warn me when you pull another stunt like this!"
"I thought you said you enjoyed those first flights."
She smiled, half in sarcasm, yet half in remembrance of the memory. "It almost gave me a heart attack the first time!" she laughed.
"Do you want to walk, then?"
"NO! Keep flying! I'll be fine." Besides, they had to cling to each other quite firmly, and she loved just being able to hold him this close. She loved to feel him...but, for how long could she enjoy this? How long before they would find a way home? Find a way back to...
Time continued to pass in the air, yet it was unknown how long the flight lasted. The sky was still darkened, as it was at the beginning of sunrise. "I see some mountains ahead," Lotor pointed out. "I could swear they were not there before."
The sky was not all that darkened her mood. "I had a dream last night. A...dream about our return." Tears formed in her eyes. Her gaze drifted to the dawn sky. The sun was not moving much, set low in the sky. And, the formerly rosy sky seemed to be turning reddish. "If this place is really not that dangerous... Lotor, what's left for us back in our old lives?!" She wiped away some tears. "I keep wondering this now. Lotor, what will happen back on Arus and Doom? It...it will be exactly the same as it has been. We'll be at war. We'll be...apart..."
"Allura?" Lotor stopped his flight and placed a hand on the side of her face. "I love you. And, you love me. Isn't that enough?"
"It won't be enough for the others," she sniffled. "It'll never...work."
"Allura? Oh, don't cry. Allura? Allura...I'll...I'll do anything." Her head had turned away to hide her flood of tears, but Lotor gently moved her eyes back to his view. "Anything. Please. Just say it. If you want me to defect and return with you to Arus, I'll do it. If you want me to use all my power to sway Doom's position, I'll do it. I'll defy the whole Drule empire if you want me to!" He set the two of them down on the ground as he cupped her chin with his other hand. "I'll even stay here with you. If that's what you want, I'll do it."
"Oh, I wish...I wish we could just leave all the...all that was. Lotor." She laughed in a raspy sardonic manner. "But, how can we stay here? We can't. We...don't belong here, do we? We...we both have to...have to go back. Don't we?" She wiped her eyes. "What's wrong with the sun? It's not rising!" The whole sky was now taking on the appearance of a sea of blood. And, a sanguine sun was still placed too low for the amount of time it had been visible.
From what the prince had seen when he had stopped his flight, the sun used to be slightly above the line of mountains in the distance. Now, it was partially covered by the tallest, the one with a trail of thick black smoke emanating from its peak. "You're right. It's not rising," Lotor muttered. "It's setting."
Chapter Nineteen - Can We Talk?
A blue light filtered through the woman's half-closed lids. Blue light. A breeze. A bird song?
"Waaaaugh!" Hagar sat up in terror. Way too fast, though. "Eegh...oog...uh..." The witch spat curses vile enough to boil metal as her mind continued to pitch and roll inside her skull. She fell back onto the infirmary bed. It had to be a sickroom. There were too many cursed flashing and beeping things around her.
"Sir, she's awake," came a nearby voice.
"We'll be right down, doctor," came a reply.
The good doctor, the witch thought to herself, the blurry figure of a man coming into focus. Well, he seemed to have recovered nicely, since the last time she had been here. Hagar raised a white-sleeved arm to her for....head...eternal damnation! "WHERE ARE MY CLOTHES!!! You have...AHHH!!! MY HEAD IS EXPOSED!!!" She frantically grabbed at her loose stringy black hair. "BOORISH VIOLATOR!!! HOW DARE YOU!!!"
Dr. Gorma motioned to an assistant, who soon got backhanded by the enraged patient. "Witch Hagar, please!"
"I AM A WOMAN, YOU KNOW!!! HOW DARE YOU...."
"Please...Hagar...oh, dammit. Get a tranquilizer."
"Hey, sleepy head."
"Breakfast time, Lance," came a higher-pitched voice. Pidge, most likely. "Feel like joining the gang at the table today?"
"Hey, Lance. How are you doing today, buddy?"
It had been some days since he suddenly found himself a free man once more. Free. On Arus. There had been some battle. Some battle Arus must have won.
The pilot's eyes remained open, but not fixed on anything or anyone. He didn't even smell the food on the tray next to his bed. His old bed.
"Come on, Pidge," he heard a softer voice say to the other. "I think we should leave."
Did they know about Red Lion, he wondered.
The door closed quietly.
"Setting?! Already?! It hasn't even crossed the sky!" Allura peered at the sun. "Oh...oh no. It is!"
"We don't have much time then." Lotor placed a hand around her waist, yet didn't tighten his grip. "Allura?" Instead, he looked into her eyes, trying to tell what she wanted. "What shall we do?"
Allura looked at Lotor, then the blood-red sun, then again at her prince. "Let's go."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." The princess heaved a disappointed sigh. "Hurry!" she stated in a more controlled voice.
"Yes, ma'am." With that, the arm about her waist tightened, and the air whipped past her face as they chased the setting sun.
"I take it that this treatment is under some sort of...compromise-based battle truce?" Witch Hagar sat upright in the bed, calmer than before, with a reluctantly accepted cup of what looked like tea in her hands.
"You were unconscious, and your flagship commander was dying when he agreed to the temporary armistice. I have documented proof. And, Arus has kept true to this agreement." Coran sat in the chair next to the witch's bed. She had finally been willing to engage in conversation with the prime minister of Arus after more suitable clothing arrived for her. Albeit, her gray-blue hooded robe was hastily borrowed from a clothier, which produced habits for the priestesses' orders, but that knowledge was left undisclosed. "You and your crew, after all did come at a most fortunate time. You yourself disposed of at least twenty..."
"How long have I been here?" Hagar interrupted. Her mind still felt the torment of power drain. She had emptied herself far too extensively this time. Never had she attempted such a surge...at least not in the past five hundred years.
"You have been unconscious for four days."
"FOUR days?!" No! Spirits! It couldn't be true! Too long! Lord Otron... There had been a personal spacecraft leaving his battleship. The coward had left, she was sure of it. Left for Doom...King Zarkon... "I must return to Doom!"
"Now. Now. You need to rest before..."
"Infernal FOOL! I'll rest later. My ship..."
"Is in pieces."
"...Oh....erg....no no no no..."
"It cannot that grave of a..."
"NO! Wretched mortal! You do not understand the gravity of my situation!"
Coran leaned forward, ears attentive. "Then tell me. I will listen."
The witch tugged at the strings on her hood as she relented and hastily explained the recent chain of events on Planet Doom, including the dealings with Lotor's aunt, Allura and the prince being trapped in some forest on Doom, Zarkon's illness, and the attempts on the throne. She had no time for diversions. No time for asking about her crew or her prisoner (surely "former" prisoner, by now). No time for the great unwavering Doom stubbornness which was ground into her from day one of her employment. Hagar just told everything. She needed help, and she needed it now. "Can't we discuss this? Is there not something that can be done to get me back to Doom?"
Coran thoughtfully scratched his chin, absorbing all that the witch had divulged. Then, as befit his diplomatic position, he weighed his situation: they had gotten back Lance, Arus was safe, but Princess Allura was still missing. If what the witch said was true, then there was a way of saving her. If they could get to the forest on Doom. "We can only provide you with aid in regards to your stay here on Arus. To get back to Doom would require..." His mouth curled slightly at one corner. "...something more."
The witch spilled her cup onto the floor upon hearing these words. "You are not serious," she grumbled in disbelief.
"According to our current truce, your stay here is allowed, but no mention was made about us helping you to leave Arus."
"I must leave Arus!"
"Under your own power, not ours. If you require assistance...then, well..."
"Just say it."
"We will need a treaty."
A sharp intake of breath was heard from the witch. Never. Never had she expected to hear that word. Her clawed fingers rubbed her still weary eyes. And, never would she ever have believed that she would have to agree. "His majesty will never allow..." She stared at the unyielding terran. "A peace treaty? With Arus?! Do you know what chaos that would cause?!"
"It's the only acceptable method of obtaining the use of our ships, madam." Then, he added: "And, I can only guess what chaos will result on Doom from the overthrowing of the reigning monarch."
I have the capacity to do so, Hagar pondered. Being the acting sovereign of Doom... She would REALLY be in trouble, though! DAMN IT ALL! Why?! Why?! WHY was she put in these stupid executive positions?! She hated them! I mean, why was always in the background, after all? To keep away from all this diplomatic political bureaucratic crap! So that she would always be safe! That's why!
Yet, every second brought Doom closer to ruin. She would need allies to help her regain control of Doom from Otron. The Lions of Voltron, combined with her own mystic arts were quite formidable against any opposition, that was sure proven of late. Even if Otron, by some perverse miracle, had not reached Doom yet, Hagar would at least need a ship, for crying out loud! "Where is an official parchment?" she mumbled.
"Madam? Should we not discuss this formally and in a more appropriate setting?"
"To HELLS with the setting! Bring me a pen, now!" She smiled, her mouth twisting through the lines and wrinkles. "And bring a stopwatch. You may wish to time this, for it'll be the fastest drawn-up peace treaty known to exist!"
"We have cleared the asteroid belt. Five hours until we reach Doom space."
"At last." Lord Otron was more than a little infuriated by having to delay his trip back to Doom. By now, his attack forces on Arus would be waiting in sheer ennui for word about his official seizure of the Doom throne. Fortunately, his small craft had not run out of fuel before suitable reinforcements had arrived. He was now traveling, in slightly more comfort and style, in a medium-sized transport craft. It did nothing for his demeanor, though. Delays were inexcusable! Especially when he was so very close to victory.
"Oh no. Sir!"
"What is it?"
The Drule currently at the helm swiveled in his chair, a look of disbelief in his eyes. "You are not going to believe this."
"What?" Then, Lord Otron caught the meaning quite clearly as the sight came into view on the main screen. "No. Again?! NO!"
There it was. The same strange black and gold ship that they had seen pop up out of nowhere four days ago. The same ethereal warning, just as before: "Do not disturb our balance," came the female voice. "The game must continue."
"What do you want?!" Otron screamed through the audio link. "What game?! Get out of my path!"
Then, the dragon-like craft struck, swiftly approaching with serpentine motions. Almost as if the ship were alive. Blasts from its mouth-like weapon blew the Doom ship completely off course, spinning hopelessly out of control, yet again.
"Attack that ship!"
"We cannot, my lord. We are too far away!"
"Why is it doing this?!" Otron soon pounded on the nearest wall in anger. "Who is that bitch, and why does she insist on forcing me away from Doom?! HELM!"
"Find another way around! Find ANY way around that thing!"
The red-haired commander of the rebel ship listened to the chaos within the Doom ship. "Just try to find a way around me," the Dweller chuckled.
Chapter Twenty - Mountains of Hell
The land had been laid flat. No trees had been visible for quite some time. The only living plant life consisted of yellowing grasses and short briar-like clumps of thickets, through which the always present stream struggled. As the prince and princess came ever closer to the mountains, the plant life seemed scorched, and the air gained greater and greater hints of sulfur. There was a rumbling far away. Like thunder. Or a beast of some sort.
This time, the serpentine craft did not just push away Lord Otron's ship. It attacked. Giant claw-like hooks dug deep into the hull, leaving massive gashes in the metal.
"We'll be torn apart!"
"My lord, we MUST retreat!"
"Get us into orbit around Doom," Otron continued to order. "We are so close. I will NOT be denied my prize, this time!"
"Engines are giving way!"
"Sir, we will be lost!"
"Then BE LOST! JUST GET ME CLOSER!" Otron boomed one last time before stomping off the main bridge. "Damn fools," he muttered to himself. Damn expendable fools, that is. If he could just get a little closer. Lord Otron gathered his dearest friend to his side; a forked laser sword. Then, he headed for the pre-programmed escape pod. The ship creaked around him but still pressed on closer to his target. Just a little closer... He watched the monitor, waiting. A large jolt shook the capsule against the left wall. Waiting.
A beep and flashing light sounded and glowed under his fingertip. There! He smiled as he finally closed the hatch and launched. If he alone could just get to Doom. If the others could keep that monster ship busy...even if it destroyed the Doom ship, it did not matter. He looked back at the vicious battle and thought briefly on the soldiers aboard, blindly following his orders. Thank the gods of war for such corruptible souls, he prayed quickly as he turned the capsule full speed towards Doom.
"Can't this thing go any faster?"
"Sorry, Hagar. It is only one of the fastest ships in the galaxy."
"Grr." How could she be forced to ride in an Arusian ship with the LIONS as her escort?! The surviving Doom soldiers that also came with her fortunately made her a feel a little less uncomfortable. But, they had wasted too much time repairing the lions, healing the warriors, writing that wretched treaty, and planning the journey.
"We are entering Doom space, Coran," came a message from Black Lion.
"Copy that, Keith."
Even with the extra time taken on the preparations, Hagar had not truly outlined her strategy. How could she, without first knowing what she would be up against? Would Zarkon be dead? Would they truly need the troops following a slight distance behind them? She again paced the ship's deck, biting her thumbnail. Why were they taking so long? Why had she gotten herself into this mess in the first place? Hagar looked up in terror. And, why were they slowing down?
"WHY ARE WE SLOWING?!" she shrieked. "We have to..."
"We have a severely crippled ship on our scanners."
"It's a Doom ship, ma'am," one of the Drule officers confirmed, looking over the shoulder of the Arusian helmswoman. "I recognize the identification code, too." The Drule looked up, hope glittering in his gold eyes. "It's registered to Lord Otron."
"Zarkon!" The sound of his name forced the weakened king to sit up in bed, his eyes wide open. Yet, he knew not whether he was awake or dreaming. In the darkened chambers, a wisp of smoke twisted and coiled, turning black then gold.
"Who are you?" he rasped, clutching at a sheet with trembling fingers.
"You are ill," the smoke spoke to him. "But, you are able."
"What do you mean? Get out," he whispered, his head beginning to spin from the effort. It had been so rare a time, during these last five weeks, that he could even sit up in bed. Though he had gained his consciousness and knew of those who came and went, he rarely much cared anymore. It was as if some great flame had been extinguished. He knew who he had been. He could clearly read it in the dying ashes of his will. But, could he ever return? With no fuel? With no fire? No.
"You are right," the voice in the smoke told him. "You cannot return. But, you cannot give up. You must fight. One last time, you must fight."
Zarkon then heard the commotion outside his chambers. A strong male voice barked orders at all in his path. Words were spoken, regarding a "challenge." The figure of the once-proud king crumpled back into the bed. So, a lord had finally come to claim his head. It had taken long enough. Hagar was quite adept at keeping them at bay for so long.
"You must fight."
"My name is Lord Otron, and I challenge the king!" filtered through the closed door. "Zarkon, you coward! I challenge you, by the laws of Doom! Open the door, and face me!"
"You must fight," the smoky dragon insisted.
The king's eyes closed. "Why should I? All is lost for me."
"Is all lost for your son, then?"
Zarkon's eyes immediately shot open and targeted the wisp. "What do you mean?!"
"He is returning."
Zarkon raised his head. Could it be true? "He is?"
"Now, fight." The king watched the smoke demon curl around one last time before it vanished into the darkness of the room. He lay in the blanket of silence, stirring the ashes in his mind, exposing softly glowing embers, and trying to regain one last spark.
Slowly, he sat up, then stood up on wobbly legs. Yet, he forced them to straighten. To hold him upright. To walk. He forced his fighting arm to reach into the case near his bed. To grip the hilt of the sword.
One last spark.
"He...left us," gurgled one of the Drules on the bridge of Otron's ship. "He left us...for dead. Why? We did what he...said..."
"Where did he go?" Hagar pressed. A cursed medic kept getting in her way as the witch was interrogating, and she shoved the woman aside. Why those Arusians had to bother with patching up the wounds of the mutinous crew was beyond her reasoning, but she had no time to argue. "TELL ME!"
"To Doom..." the soldier choked out between ripples of blood. "He took the escape...pod to..."
Hagar rose from her crouched position and stormed after Coran, grabbing him roughly by the arm. There still might be time. "YOU! ME! LIONS! NOW!" she snapped curtly, dragging the stunned prime minister towards the docked Black Lion. Crawling through the hatch, the two soon found themselves staring at the leader of the Voltron force.
"Coran..." Keith started out. "Uh...why...?"
"Don't ask," Coran groaned.
"We have no time! Get to Doom! NOW!" the witch snarled. "And, bring those other cat colors, too!"
The thick reddish smoke was laced with black. Rivers of molten lava, yellow and red hot coursed through the barren rocky face. Lotor flew around the fire rivers as best he could, trying to find a cooler route. He didn't dare land on the ground. The burnt state of their skin was enough to tell him that it would not be worth the risk.
Where waterfalls had trickled pleasantly down cliff faces earlier, now the two beheld walls of liquid flame. The reds and dirty golds threw ominous shadows in the haze and dying sun. Looking up through the brume, they beheld a sharp cut mountain range, the one above them belching more than smoke.
Allura heard Lotor murmur something in a Drule tongue. "What is it?"
"Something of legend...I think," he muttered back, again saying the litany of reverence to the hellish site.
"A legend?" she inquired. "Ahh!" Lotor pressed them both close to the hot rock face, escaping another eruption of lava and boulders. "I thought you said the Dweller wouldn't hurt us!"
"I did, but I'm not taking any chances in this place," Lotor replied. He carefully flew away from the mountain side, checking for danger. Then, he glanced to the left of the volcano. "I can barely see the sun anymore," he declared, worriedly. "Where do we go?!"
Allura looked up at the mountain. Its presence, sharp, towering, and menacing drenched her in awe and fear. It almost matched her fear of returning. Her fear of losing... But, she soon shoved the simile out of her mind and thought. "What is the legend you know, Lotor?" she asked again.
"It...uh...it was an old tale. One of the few my father actually narrated to me." He hovered about five feet above the nearest ledge and looked around constantly as he talked, coughing from the smoke in his lungs. "He said that when Drules leave this world and wish to enter the next, they must fight their way through the Hells to prove themselves worthy of the Greatest Afterlife. The last hell consists of mountains, the largest having a great mouth which spits demon fire." Lotor pointed at the volcano. "That just reminds of an old drawing. One a blind sorceress had sketched for my father's book of myths. I remember it quite well. It scared me more than a little bit." He chuckled slightly.
"One of the mountains of hell?"
"The Fire Mountain. Yeah. I guess so."
Allura licked her cracked lips and smiled just enough to prevent the skin from tearing. It mimicked a legend, she thought. It was still the game. And, if they must pass through all six hells, then so be it. "And, how do your legends say to get through this last hell?" she inquired.
Lotor soon caught her idea, but was fearful. "The Drule warriors are said to scale the mountain side and hurl themselves into the opening, thus passing from one realm into the next."
"You mean JUMP into the volcano?!" she shouted over the din of the rumbling mountain.
"Well, that's what they say!"
"Nice." It reminded Allura of the legends found in the old Arusian library books. There were always princesses being sacrificed to the volcano to keep it from erupting or things like that. She felt Lotor grab her closer and whip to the side, escaping another torrent of fire. Her eyes burned from the heat and fumes.
"Allura?" She looked at the scorched face of the prince. "The sun is almost gone."
"And, we need to hurry up and choose," Allura finished, coughing out a mouthful of ash. Her whole insides were in turmoil, wriggling like hundreds of caterpillars...or garden worms maybe. "Feel like taking the plunge?" Tears evaporated as quickly as they were shed.
Lotor touched the side of Allura's burnt face, then swallowed, preparing himself for one last effort. Their last chance of getting home. "Going up." And, the two shot skyward, climbing Fire Mountain.
Chapter Twenty One - Inferno
"You use your sword better than your brains." So the king had said to his own hot-headed son. It seemed to be a trend among those attempting a take-over. The thought of power in their grasp made them giddy. And foolish. Zarkon shook off the wave of weariness and glared at the grinning lord.
"Weighed down by your years, old one?" he chided. "Well now, do make some effort. I cannot go too easy on you, after-all."
A clash of metal against light. The blade of Zarkon's sword was tempered especially to be effective against laser weapons and other such modern conveniences. There was a parry. Then, a sharp slice that sent the king staggering back, then crashing to the floor. A chuckle escaped from Otron.
"Oh, please! You cannot even defend yourself?" Otron swooped long again with the forked weapon, catching a portion of the king's right palm and wrist. "Admit defeat, and I will kill you swiftly, Zar... *uh!*"
"And, give me an open shot," Zarkon began, the sword in his bleeding hand settling into its new scabbard. "And, I will take it with pleasure."
The volcano's slope was far below them as Lotor steered away from the spews of rock and lava. The gaping opening in Fire Mountain was becoming wider and closer with each passing second. And there, through the smoke and fire, a small trickle of water bubbled up from the mouth of the volcano, silently tracing its way down the mountain and to the land below.
The four Voltron lions landed on Doom. For some reason, they were given clearance, even though they were clearly an outside (and enemy) group. Hagar didn't even think that hearing her voice on the communications channel would have caused Doom's control system to grant them permission that easily. She could be held hostage, for all the castle knew.
However, what she found next was even more surprising. Witch Hagar and her friendly Arusian escort service ran towards the throne room, only to see a hunched figure seated on the throne atop the pyramid-shaped platform.
"I see you choose outsiders to aid you, Hagar," the figure declared upon seeing the panting witch. "Is this a new truce, then?"
She could not answer, partly from shock but mostly from lack of breath. The tall figure stood, then reached to one side at a motionless heap draped across the throne's left arm. With a heave, he sent the lifeless body tumbling down the stairs, a rune sword still wedged firmly in its breastbone and the eyes frozen in disbelief.
"I will ask this once, so listen carefully." The figure in red soon tore down the throne, his eyes blazing in anger. "WHAT have you been doing to my kingdom?!"
I am in trouble. "But, sire! I thought you were needing..." Hagar eyed the lifeless body of Lord Otron before meeting Zarkon's hateful gaze once more. "...help?" I am in deep trouble.
"Stow it, witch. We'll figure this out later." A moment of weakness appeared, taking Zarkon momentarily to his knees, but it was soon masked by sheer will and purpose. "We must go."
"Go where?" Hagar asked as she trailed the king.
Zarkon wrenched his sword free with a hastily bandaged hand, then wiped it clean on the dead man's cloak before heading toward the door. "To find my son, of course."
Flames leapt at them from all sides. Allura couldn't be sure if it was the fumes causing hallucinations, or if she really saw...
A large hand, with claws for nails grabbed at her. She screamed, causing Lotor to tighten his grip on her. Did he see the images in the flames and lava? Was she dreaming?
"Did you see that?!"
"I thought I was crazy for a minute," she sighed in relief, her heart still beating way too fast.
"Well, if you are, I'm joining you."
"Are we at the top yet?"
"Almost..." As he finished the word, the vent opened up beneath them, revealing a lake of swirling magma. Large bubbles forced their ways to the surface and burst, loosing sprays of molten fireworks. And, in the center of the immense crater, the liquid fire gathered into a whirlpool.
"Does it look like this in the legends?" Allura queried, feeling just a little uneasy about the fiery vortex beneath her feet.
"I don't know," Lotor told her. "They either don't say, or I had fallen asleep when it was told to me." They could hear the roar of the mountain, the rush of winds, the crack of flames and rock.
Then, Allura peered out over the mountain and to the landscape beyond. It was flat, like a blank piece of black paper. On the edge of the sheet, only a sliver of the red sun was left. "Lotor?"
He must have known what she was thinking, for he too had looked up. "Allura?"
"I'm in no hurry to die, you know." The princess laughed in a raspy voice. The silence between them confirmed their final feelings, and the prince soon turned them face down into the volcano. His cape wrapped around them both; a feeble attempt to block out impending doom if they were wrong.
"Lotor?" came what could be her final request.
"Lotor...don't leave me? If...if we get back and are ever separated...follow me?"
"I will always follow you. I swear it."
Something had changed in the out-of-place Doom forest. The group, which included Voltron pilots, a prime minister, a king, a witch, and a few perplexed soldiers stood just out of reach of the first trees. They swayed now, as if blown by an unfelt breeze. Their leaves had lost the dark green color. Even in the darkness of the Doom night, they appeared reddish, like small tongues of flame.
"I'm detecting fluctuations from inside there," Pidge was telling Keith, as he scanned the forest area. "It's like there's an energy source inside."
"He will come back," whispered the king softly. Only Hagar was able to hear his last attempt at hope. Though he stood erect and regal, she could also see the extent of his failing strength.
"He will come back," she assured him, and they both turned to watch the forest in silence.
Why do you stay with him?! The flames shot up from the bubbles, forming hands, wings, and faces with sharp teeth. The princess heard their voices, a deep ethereal sound pounding in her brain.
He is a monster! A flicker resembling a beautiful angel suddenly morphed into a hideous hairy beast with gaping jaws and cat-like eyes.
"No," Allura whispered in protest to the voice.
Do you know what will happen, fool?! Allura gasped as a flame spread across her entire field of vision. She could no longer feel Lotor's arms about her, nor their perilous descent into the center of the whirlpool. All she could see and feel was the flame. And, in it was a scene of Arus...burning. Flames engulfing everything that was created. The Castle of Lions. Coran. Nanny. Pidge. Lance. Hunk. Keith.
"He has changed," she argued.
He will never change!
As the large flame dissipated, the whirlpool loomed large, a black void now visible in the center. They soon dove straight into the center, the swirling lava forming walls around them.
You think he loves you?! Visions of slave girls appeared, flickering seductively towards the figure of the prince.
How can you say he has changed?! A face with one large eye emerged, staring heartlessly at the young princess.
How can you ever think he has changed?! A coil of chains wavered in and out of view.
"I have seen it," Allura answered. The face vanished. "I have felt it." The chains soon followed suit.
What will the others think?! the voices continued.
What of their hatred?! Long knives of lava shot upwards at the princess.
"WE WILL FIND A WAY!!" she screamed, the knives bursting into flaming teardrops at her words. "I know I have doubts," she heaved. "I know it. Even now. But, we can find a way. I know we can."
You are a fool.
You are naive.
You believe too easily!
"I will NEVER betray her!" The voice snapped the princess back to reality, and she saw Lotor screaming those words over and over at the flames. "I love her! Dear gods, I LOVE HER!"
"Lotor!" She squeezed one of his shaking arms.
"Huh?! Oh! Allura, PLEASE tell me the flames are talking to you, too!"
"They are." She saw him sigh in relief. "And they are wrong!" she added.
"They are wrong," he affirmed, a sob in his voice.
Her eyes caught a glimpse of something up ahead. "Lotor!" There in front of them was a mouth. The mouth of a cat. A red.... "Red...it looks like..." It couldn't be. As they reached the threshold, the cat opened its mouth, a roar escaping its throat. "Red Lion?"
The jaws slammed shut.
Whirling red flames.
Then...On to Home Again