Lotor had only been to see his father, lying unconscious in the care of the Druids, once. It had been enough. He'd never quite seen eye to eye with either of his parents, and certainly he'd never expected to have a chance to shape the Empire personally. His father had been immortal, prolonging his life by absorbing quintessence ripped away from other worlds, working always towards his vision, and focused always on his obsession with Voltron. The only way to take control would be to defeat him – a seemingly impossible task.
But Voltron had accomplished that task, leaving the empire without a head, and his mother had summoned him to step in.
No doubt she hoped to control him, to have him pursue her agenda, and to obediently step back into the shadows once Zarkon fully recovered.
Lotor had other plans. He had already encountered some of Voltron's new Paladins, and had seen their valour in action. He'd been researching Altean technology and magic for years, secretly reclaiming heritage his mother had kept from him, and that his father had gone to great efforts to eradicate. Now, with the re-emergence of the Castle of Lions and the powers they controlled, Lotor would act to cement his control over the Galra empire, and the universe...
"It was definitely the same person Hunk and I encountered in the weblum," Keith insisted. "It wasn't just the armor. I recognized how he fought."
"The same Galra," Allura countered, her expression stubborn, "who stole the scaultrite you'd collected!"
Keith drew a deep breath, trying to keep his calm. It was hard for him at the best of times, and more so when Allura was letting herself be blinded by prejudice. "He helped us, Allura. In the weblum, and again today." He looked to Hunk for support, hopeful but not expecting much.
Hunk fidgeted, glancing anxiously between the two. But then he took a deep breath, drawing himself up straight. "He's right, Princess. I don't know if we would have got any of the scaultrite without him to help Keith. He just took his cut, that's all."
Allura hmphed. "And today?"
"Today," Lance spoke up, refocusing Allura's attention so Hunk could relax, "I'm still not sure what happened, but I'm pretty sure he saved our lives. If we hadn't been able to make it back to our Lions before the Galra attacked, we'd have been toast."
"Maybe he's some kind of rebel?" Hunk suggested, tapping his index fingers together. "Like the Blade of Marmora... Only just one guy."
Allura, still frowning in dissatisfaction, turned to the only Paladin who hadn't submitted an opinion. "Pidge? What do you think?"
"We do know there are other rebels," she said, pushing her glasses up on her nose with a stubborn look. "And we still need to find them – and my family."
"Pidge is right. We have other priorities right now," Allura declared decisively. "We shouldn't be focusing on just one Galra – no matter what his motivations." And it was true – trying to find Pidge's family and trying to find Shiro, let alone trying to find out more about Keith's own heritage... Oh, and cleaning up the shaken remains of Zarkon's empire. The Paladins had a lot on their plates, but none of them put the encounter entirely out of mind.
The next time they encountered the lone Galra soldier, Allura was planetside with the four Paladins. The planet in question was Calgari, a planet brought under Zarkon's dominion only in the past decade. Its inhabitants had reached out to anyone who would listen for help in overthrowing the weakened Galra command, and they'd been in luck – Voltron force had heard and responded. The Paladins and their Lions had been helping rout the remaining ground troops, and Allura was meeting with local leaders to help negotiate the creation of a new planetary government.
It hadn't been what she expected at all – the Galra had forced several factions to work together, and without that unifying force, the planet threatened to fall into old patterns of conflict. The compromise they had suggested was that Allura should lead them, and accept any other planets who wish to join into a new confederacy. She'd rejected the notion out of hand – what good was destroying one empire only to replace it with another? At the least, she'd pointed out, they would still need to be able to manage their affairs without her constant intervention. After that she'd called for a break, ostensibly to give them time to consider alternatives, though she also needed time to get her own thoughts in order. Her father's vision had been one of united galactic peace, yes, but was this what he'd intended? And if everyone was relying on Voltron to rid the galaxy of the Galra, was that already too much power in their hands? Before Zarkon's defeat everything had seemed so clear...
"Allura!" Keith's voice over her communicator broke into her thoughts. "Pidge just intercepted a transmission from what's left of the southern hemisphere command base. Galra reinforcements are on their way, and it sounds like they're planning to attack the capital."
"Oh no!" She frowned, clenching a fist. "I'll warn the Calgari leaders. Are we going to need to form Voltron?"
They had a plan for this. They had all tried spending time with the Black Lion, but it seemed most willing to accept Keith as a pilot despite his strong bond with Red. As for Red... It had been her father's Lion, after all. She did not feel as though they'd formed a true bond either, but the Lion grudgingly accepted her pilotage on the rare occasions that Voltron's might had been called for since Shiro's disappearance. Keith reported feeling the same – as though even the Lions could not bear to accept his loss. Or, they'd both concluded when she'd spoken of her feelings to Keith, as though the Lions were waiting for Shiro to return. It gave them all a measure of hope.
"No." Keith's answer took a few moments to come. "It's only a few cruisers. We can handle it. I'm taking Lance and Pidge to meet Coran and the castle in orbit, and sending you Hunk as backup."
Once briefed, Shi-nen, the Calgari who'd been hosting the talks, spoke up. "There's a secure bunker nearby that the Galra command built during the occupation. If we can make it there, we should be safe while the Lions take out those ships."
"Typical Easterners!" Val-ris, head of one of the other delegations sniffed. "All you do is run and hide! If you'd shown more fortitude when the Galra first showed up-"
The groups broke into a series of shouted recriminations, and Allura took a deep breath to try and keep from strangling them all.
"That's enough!" She drew herself up to her full height, towering over the smaller Calgari. Their gelatinous forms quivered and turned a paler shade of orange in response. "We're going to the bunker. Any further response can be coordinated from there, but for now your safety is paramount." She didn't add that locking them up together might force them to work things out, one way or another, but it certainly crossed her mind. "Shi-nen, you'll have to lead the way. I'll make sure you arrive safely."
They raced through the meeting hall, and for once Allura was glad for the Calgari propensity to build labyrinthine aboveground complexes. It meant less crossing open ground – at least until the building started taking fire from what she assumed were Galra fighters.
"Hunk!" She hoped that the Yellow Lion was close by. "We’re cut off!"
"I'm here, Princess," Hunk's voice rang out over her comm, "But things are looking pretty hairy out here." She heard more explosions, and saw the Yellow Lion flying overheard through one of the new holes in the ceiling. The hallway they'd been headed for was totally caved in, and there wasn't time for the party of Calgari to carefully pick their way across it. Trying to cut across the barren rocky plaza outside wasn't a better option.
"Alright. Then you're going to have to come and pick us up."
"Uh – okay, I'm on my way."
The Lion wheeled around, and she heard the solid ‘kachunk’ of it landing above their heads. A moment later, metal claws tore carefully through the ceiling, and the large cat's head descended through the hole.
"Hurry up," Hunk called, "we're taking fire."
Fortunately, the Calgari needed little encouragement to climb inside one of Voltron's legendary Lions. Allura hopped in last, bracing as she felt it launch itself from its perch. The Yellow Lion was the least graceful, and Hunk was not the most talented pilot, but what it lacked in grace it made up for in strength and tenacity. It was a tight fit for the six of them in the cockpit, but when the Galra did manage to score a hit, they felt barely more than a shudder.
"Welcome aboard," Hunk said, sounding harried as he tried to keep his Lion in the air. "Now – where are we going?"
"Towards the hill," Shi-nen answered, wobbling his head frills in that direction while clinging on to Val-ris with his arms in an attempt to keep upright as the Lion twisted again. Val-ris, for her part, was clinging to her second-most hated rival, Li-hal, who had one arm entangled with Nor-gob and the other clutching Hunk's seat. It might be some kind of progress, Allura thought, and at least none of them were grabbing her. "There's a hidden door at the base!"
A shockwave rocked the Lion and Hunk dove, charging across the open plain rather than trying to stay airborne. "That wasn't me," he said, checking all his instruments. "Someone else just shot down one of those fighter drones."
"Not us," Lance piped up over the comm, more laser fire in the background. "We're a little busy up here!"
"But we can handle it," Keith added firmly.
Val-ris shook her head, frills wobbling. "I haven't signalled anyone. If it was ours, I don't know about it."
Hunk frowned. "Then who-"
"Worry about it later. Right now we have to get the Calgari leaders to safety."
They didn't have to wait too long to have his question answered, anyway. As they piled back out of the Lion, a dark-clad figure darted through the entrance to the compound ahead of them. Looking around, Allura spotted the small and sleek black ship they must have come from, partly hidden behind some fallen rubble. She narrowed her eyes.
"Hunk – we may need backup inside. The Galra may have beaten us here."
"Okay." He frowned, then drew his bayard and scrambled out to join them on the ground. The Calgari quivered and clustered around him. "It's okay," he told them, trying to sound reassuring. "Yellow will watch our backs."
The Lion, in response, settled down on its hind legs in a sentry position. Its eyes glowed gold for a moment, and the spherical energy barrier closed up around it. Behind its legs, the double doors leading into the command base stood open....
Lotor's heart raced. Not only was he close to securing another important asset for his plan, not only were the Paladins here, no – Allura was here. He told himself he could feel her energy.... soon. He worked quickly, downloading the crucial files he'd come for only a data chip. The Galra fleet could not run on quintessence alone. The ships required materials, and the Calgari system had proved a particularly rich source of ores that were essential to the construction of the ship's weapon systems. The scientists who had been mapping the deposits in the systems had been killed in the initial uprising, but their research had been preserved at the command center. His empire didn't need the planet for now, as long as they could return to take whatever they did need from the contested space around it.
The chirp of the file transfer came just in time, as several figures pushed their way into the chamber. Most were Calgari – insignificant to his plans. One was the Yellow Paladin, one of the first he’d met. And the other… He felt he’d been waiting for her all his life.
Allura frowned as she rounded the corner, stopping quickly, staff in hand. The Yellow Paladin, Hunk, slid into place beside her, seeming surprised.
“You again!” he said out loud, whispering something to the Princess, whose frown deepened.
Lotor palmed the data chip and grabbed his blaster. He had to be careful not to spook them. So far, he hadn’t actually spoken to them at all, and they had no idea who he was. It had been a delicate balance to manage the expectations of his empire and the persona he had developed for the Paladins, but the time had come to move things along.
“Who are you?” Allura demanded, keeping the frightened Calgari behind her. “And what are you doing here.”
“A friend, Princess,” he said, his voice modulated through the helmet, “whose goals align with yours.”
“You seek the destruction of the Galra Empire?”
He shook his head, walking slowly towards them. He kept his blaster in hand, but aimed causally at the ground. “Peace.”
“I’m not fond of the Galra notion of peace. Nor can I imagine how you might be in any position to offer it.”
The Calgari had all come into the room now, and the automated doors hissed shut, sealing them into the command center. There was a secondary entrance – it was how he’d come in, and it led directly back to his ship – but it was concealed. So far as they knew, they stood between him and the only exit, and had the upper hand. It would make the gesture all the more powerful, if things played out how he hoped.
“But I am, Princess.” Lotor reached up with his empty hand to remove the helmet of his suit; his long white hair cascaded freely, and he tossed it back out of his face. He smiled slowly, relishing the shock on Allura’s face. Yes, he was Galra, but plainly Altean as well. “It’s my empire now.”
“You… you’re Prince Lotor!?” She stammered his name, but recovered quickly and frowned more deeply.
“Wait what?” The Yellow Paladin looked even more confused. “That’s – you’re the guy who took over from Zarkon?”
Lotor wasn’t sure what all they’d heard, but it wouldn’t be very palatable. There were powerful factions that demanded retribution for Zarkon’s defeat, or who insisted that he continue to pursue his father’s goals. It was one reason he’d continued to follow his own agenda as he had. The other had been the chances he’d had to observe the Paladins more closely. He’d learned their names, knew more about how they fought, and he knew, also, that they were missing one of their number. They hadn’t formed Voltron since that climactic battle.
“I rule,” he answered, drawing himself up to his full height, eyes locked with Allura’s, “in my father’s stead. His vision is not my vision.” She was quite beautiful, and it was distracting. But despite her expression, she had not looked away from him either – perhaps she felt the same. He stepped closer again, extending his hand. “I believe that the path forward must be walked together.”
Allura blinked. She looked at his extended hand, then back up to his face. And then she decked him.
Lotor was surprised. The blow stung, and he reeled backwards, nearly losing his balance. It made his blood rise in a most agreeable way, and he smiled, rubbing his chin. “Yes, the Galra are not easily tamed, but we respect strength, Princess. With you as my queen…. Imagine all that we could accomplish.”
The proposition shocked her, but her stunned expression turned to a scowl quickly enough. “Never,” she declared.
He had not thought this would be easy. “Be reasonable, Princess. This is the simplest path to peace.”
“I have vowed to destroy Zarkon and his empire. I will have no part in its continuation, in any form.”
He held a hand out to her. “It will be our empire, Princess. We can remake it in our own image.” He knew they would have conflicting views of what that meant, but given time, he was sure he could persuade her. “And with Voltron at our command, we could be unstoppable!”
Before she could respond, Lotor was tackled from the side. It was one of the Calgari, who had sidled its way around the side of the room.
“We will never live again under Galra control!” it yelled. Lotor could feel stinging needles from its tentacles penetrate his suit before he flung it off of him and across the room. While its fellows cowered, the Yellow Paladin raised his rifle. Negotiations were at an end for the moment, but Lotor was not giving up that easily. He dropped into a crouch, kicking out a leg. Allura would listen to him. He tripped her, catching her over his shoulder and lifting her in one smooth motion, making for the secret exit.
. . .
“Uh, guys, we have a problem,” Hunk called over their comm, scrambling back towards his Lion, knowing he was too late as he heard the other ship’s engine taking off.
“What is it, Hunk?” Keith’s voice was strained, and the sounds of laser fire persisted.
“You know that guy we kept running into? The one who helped us in the weblum, and a couple other times? He just kidnapped Allura!”
“I’m reading her energy signature on a small ship leaving orbit,” Coran’s voice chimed in, sounding tense but focused. Hunk could imagine exactly how he must feel. “It’s – It’s opening a wormhole!”
“You must save the Princess!” Shi-nen was quivering, clinging to Hunk’s waist.
“We’ll take care of the Galra.” That was Val-ris, picking herself up off the floor, hustling over to the same computer station that Lotor had been using before he took off.
“They’ve already gone after her,” Coran’s voice came, sounding somewhat more shaken. “But if you have any help to give, now would be a great time!”
“I’m coming,” Hunk said, shaking himself loose of Shin-nen and scrambling for his Lion. Behind him, he heard the Calgari giving orders to someone. He couldn’t worry about it right now – Coran, and the rest of the Calgari, needed the Yellow Lion. He’d have to trust that his teammates would do a better job than he had at helping Allura.
Allura didn’t make it easy, but Lotor was strong, and she hadn’t managed to break out of his grip by the time he reached his small ship. He’d shoved her into the rear seat, and restraints had clapped around her wrists, ankles, and waist at his command.
“You are going to regret this.” When she broke free, she’d be sure to leave him in a worse state than his father. If the Paladins didn’t rip him to shreds first.
“My apologies, Princess.” Lotor glanced back over his shoulder with a smile once the ship was breaking orbit, and damn if he didn’t sound sincere. “Perhaps I acted too hastily – this was not how I’d envisioned our first meeting.”
“You certainly are not endearing me to your point of view,” she quipped. If she could keep him distracted… But then she gasped, recognizing what was happening on the screen before her captor: a wormhole was opening. “That’s why you stole the scaultrite! You’ve built your own teleduv!”
He didn’t reply, but she could see the reflection of his smug smile. But it meant it was true – he was part Altean, in spirit as well as looks. Could he be Haggar’s son? Or had the Galra taken in – twisted – others as well? Her heart broke to see her people preserved in such a monstrous way.
“We will be arriving at my command center shortly, Princess. I regret that you had to be conducted here in such an unseemly manner, but I trust that once we have arrived, we can conduct our – blast!”
A flash of familiar blue energy flashed across the path – the Blue Lion’s ice breath. But Lotor piloted deftly out of the way, and soon passed through the energy shield surrounding a Galra battleship larger than any she’d seen.
“Perhaps we won’t have time for the leisurely chat you had in mind afterall.”
“Don’t underestimate my resources, Princess.” Lotor’s confidence sounded strained, but only a little. He pulled the smaller ship into a landing bay, and several drones surrounded the vessel as he popped open the cockpit. “But don’t worry.” He smiled again as the restraints withdrew, offering her his hand as though he were her escort at a gala, and not her abductor. “No harm will come to your friends.”
“Highness,” a Galra voice crackled across the intercom, “The Lions are attempting to disable the shield.”
Lotor frowned, but seemed more annoyed at being interrupted than at the report. “Deploy fighters. Keep them distracted until we are ready to jump.”
“Yes your highness. Vrepit Sa!”
“Vrepit Sa,” Lotor repeated mechanically as the transmission cut out, and he smiled again at Allura. “Come, Princess.”
Allura took the hand now. If they wormholed away, there was no guarantee the Lions would be able to follow them a second time. She would have to make an opportunity to escape before then, but there were too many guards too close. If she could get him to let down his guard, though, and time things right…. She smiled in return, though tightly.
Lotor seemed to take this as some kind of invitation, and pulled her in close, chest to chest. He was taller than her, but that, and his violet skin, were certainly the Galra blood. His features, as she’d observed early, were starkly Altean: his finely pointed ears, the blue markings on his face. His eyes were strange – only his irises were Galra gold, his pupils a deep Altean indigo. It was not unbecoming, and yet…
“There, Princess, I’m not so terrible, am I?” Mistaking her scrutiny for something else, he reached up to brush his fingers against her skin. It was all Allura could do to keep from decking him again, but it was satisfying to see a darker purple blooming on his chin from where she’d hit him earlier.
Allura twisted free from his embrace, and the drones, which had backed off, returned to alert. “It is terrible to think my people had all been lost, and to find instead that you are what they have become – heir to our greatest enemy.”
Lotor waved off his guards. “I am offering you the chance to build something new, Princess. Join with me, and we can rebuild Altea!”
“A world you know nothing of,” she pointed out flatly. Soon… She had to keep him talking, as painful as it was.
“But that’s not true. I’ve had time, Princess, to study, and learn, and collect. You’ve seen for yourself how I’ve mastered Altean technology – my birthright.” He swept his arm towards the hallway ahead, and the guards begin to fall into place behind them. “Come, and I will show you.”
Yes, the teleduv. She had hoped to see it, or at least his control room, but if she left the hangar, it would be a much harder fight to make it back to any ships. Setting her jaw, she made to step forward.
As she’d expected, Lotor moved to keep pace, but stumbled unexpectedly, crying out in surprise. Before his guards could act, she was on him, stripping him of his own blaster and holding it to his head. His body was limp in her arms, his golden eyes staring up at her imploringly.
“Your scientists should have told you, ‘your highness,’” she said coldly, “that Calgari paralytic spines have a delayed effect on Galra physiology.”
Once she’d escaped, she could take some time to reflect on his muscled form, his perfectly pointed ears, those strange but enticing eyes… How satisfying it had been to see him smile in pleasure after she’d nearly laid him out. Later.
“I’ve got it,” Pidge yelled over the comm. “The shield – it’s more like the castle than like usual Galra tech. Lance – you can use Blue’s sonic blast to modulate the authorized frequency sufficiently that-“
“Pidge…” Keith was using his ‘I’m really trying to be patient, but please get to the point’ tone. They’d all become more familiar with it lately.
“Lance can get us in,” she said, charging her Lion towards the shield. “I’ll send the frequency, and you blast us through.”
“Uh… Can I get someone out? I think Allura made it out on her own.” Lance put in. “Look – the other fighters are chasing after that ship!”
Pidge saw what he meant, and blinked, doing some quick calculations. “She can get out on her own, that won’t be a problem. But I think we can trap the other ships inside – Keith and I will just have to take out the rest while you keep them contained.” And then…. They’d have to wait. Coran could lock on to their position using the castle, but he and Hunk had their hands full with the other Galra. She sent the frequency, trusting Lance and Blue could figure out the rest, and launched Green after one of the emerging fighters while Keith focused on cleaning out the ones that have been harrying them earlier.
The first thing Coran felt when the castle emerged from the wormhole was relief: he wasn’t sure what the Blue Lion was up to, but Pidge and Keith were fighting a handful of freighters and defending a small ship that was registering Allura’s energy signature. She was safe.
Moments later, Hunk and the Yellow Lion emerged, the missile launcher at full strength, to help cover their retreat back to safety. The castle’s shield had taken a beating, but there was only one Galra ship here, no matter how large. With Allura back, they could form Voltron if the needed to. He somehow didn’t think they would.
The poison didn’t last very long – just long enough for Allura to make her escape. Lotor couldn’t help but appreciate her cunning, frustrated though he was at her slipping away, and her unwillingness to hear him out. There would be other chances, and the seed had been planted. They would meet again. Meanwhile, the faint throbbing of his jaw where she’d hit him was a reminder of how strong, how perfect, a queen she would make.
He’d made it back to the bridge just in time for the inevitable report – the Castle of Lions had appeared, along with the Yellow Paladin. The fleet at Calgari had been destroyed by local forces. He sneered, trying not to think of what his father, or his mother, would say about such failure…. But he had achieved at least one goal. The datachip with the ore deposits was safe.
Still feeling stiff, he stepped up to the teleduv controls. “Prepare to wormhole,” he hissed.
Allura was fine. Incensed, perhaps, but fine. Lance had this confirmed when he tried to lighten the mood by saying he couldn’t really blame Lotor for wanting to marry her. Keith and Allura had turned deathglares on him. Pidge had elbowed him in the side. Hunk had, helpfully, clapped a hand over his mouth to prevent him saying anything worse, like suggesting that the lady did protest too much. Which, clearly.
Now they were all standing on the bridge, surveying the devastation over Calgari.
“Wow,” he said. It seemed safe enough.
He, Keith and Pidge had done a pretty good job on the first cruiser. The other two seemed to have an unending number of drone fighters, though, and keeping them in check had been like trying to swim upstream. It made sense, he supposed, if whatever data Lotor had gotten off the computers on the ground had been the real goal. He supposed it was meant to be some kind of magnanimous gesture to keep them occupied without putting them in real danger, but it was kind of an annoying dick move. And it hadn’t paid off. The debris from the cruisers littered the viewscreen.
“Uh, yeah,” Hunk said. “That’s the Calgari’s work. Don’t look at me!”
“Yes,” Coran agreed. “First they launched their own fighters, and just as I’d gotten a lock on the Lions, they discharged some kind of energy weapon from the planet! I didn’t get a good reading, but I’d bet half a gaklbrud that it used the hulvarian ore that’s so prevalent in this system. That stuff really packs a wallop if it’s properly refined!”
“Well, they’re hailing us now,” Pidge put in, adjusting her glasses. “I’m sure they’ll tell us.”
Allura crossed her arms. “If they can learn to fight together, they can learn to govern together.” Her frown deepened. “I’m going to be very clear with them: I am not going to be anyone’s queen.”
No one in the castle dared to disagree.