“Sorry, Princess,” fluted the the High Queen. “We cannot ally ourselves with beings so unbalanced.”
“Unbalanced?” asked Allura, with strained diplomacy. She glanced subtly around the suns-drenched clearing, but she could not lay eyes upon her fellow paladins amid the cacophony of colour and movement. She had noted earlier that there was a crowded dance floor, or perhaps a fighting ring, food distribution tables and a mountain of what looked like mechanical junk, all likely paladin collection points, however she had barely seen half of the clearing, and there was definitely some more subtle structures placed among the surrounding trees.
They can’t be getting into too much mischief if they aren’t noticeable, she reasoned. The paladin’s bond reflected enjoyment and a lessening of tension, not necessarily a good sign for diplomatic relations but not necessarily bad either.
And anyway, what right did this person have to call them unbalanced when her people were carousing like a ... like a pack of intoxicated yelmors! And Allura had been perfectly polite and reasonable throughout their entire discussion, despite her host's bizarre behaviour, and the exhaustion pulling at her limbs.
“Unbalanced,” sing-songed the Queen, and whirled around Allura in time to the wild wailing beat, her plaited pastel tendrils flaring wide from head and waist. “Out of whack! Stilted, restrained, ill-centred.” She came to a sudden stop in front of Allura, her solid black eyes round with seriousness. She clapped her hands three times. “Out. Of. Tune.”
Allura's eyes narrowed. Those sounded like a lot of synonyms for boring. Allura was not boring! Allura was diplomatising, it was important, she didn't have time to play childish games, she had a universe to save!
She was very tired.
“Well then, I hardly think you’ll enjoy the Galra's company,” Allura said, perfectly reasonably and definitely not snappish.
“Hah! There you are!” said the Queen, sounding pleased.
Allura does not grind her teeth. Was the woman baiting her? But no, Allura thought, the Queen had a simple and direct manner, and if she were the type to attempt manipulation, then she would not have exposed her drawers like that.
“Now the Galra,” pished the Queen with an airy wave. “They’re all so hard-headed. Well, Zarkon's lads anyway. So indoctrinated they can’t show anything but anger and fear. And frustration, when properly inspired,” the Queen leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially, “which they were.”
Allura decided to try a different tactic. Maybe it was the long term sleep deprivation, but it was worth a shot. Allura let go of the polite mask, and just let herself react.
She leaned forward, feeling her eyes widen in curiosity. “Zarkon’s men were here before?”
“I think that, technically, we have a governor,” the Queen mused. “I haven’t seen him in orbits though. We make it worth his while to keep his distance and not watch us or our guests too closely.” The Queen tutted to herself. “Zarkon really does not approve of recreational food in his people.” She flung out hands and tendrils, gesturing languidly to their surroundings. “Our planet doesn’t have anything that Zarkon values anyway, and we are no threat to him, so there's not much point in keeping forces stationed here.”
“Then what do you have?” asked Allura, too bluntly, a voice whispers, but she ignored it.
“Oh, just a beautiful home that feeds us well, interesting visitors bringing interesting tidbits, a large variety of entertainment, and the option to be leave if we don't want to be here.” The Queen huffed. “I was afraid he would try to take it at first, but it seems that Zarkon eats only ore and his own people.” She whistled disdainfully.
Allura let her face wrinkle in sympathetic disgust.
“Your home is beautiful,” Allura agreed, in full honesty, "and Zarkon is an idiot." The planet had a large variety of natural wonders, and the sentient built structures blended in so well they were barely noticeable, but she mostly meant the gathering of people. It has been ten thousand years since I last sawsuch a large variety of different species enjoying each other’s company so peacefully. Allura glanced at the dance/fighting. Or at least consensually. A tendency to keep to their own kind was one of the many scars Zarkon's rule had left on the universe.
Allura heard a whoop and glanced up to see Lance in midair above the dance/fight crowd, his ascent already slowing. There was a long piece of blue cloth wrapped about his forehead and trailing after him. One of their hosts let out a similar yell and bounced up after him, catching his arms around Lance’s waist and twisting them together through the air before they fell back down to the crowd.Allura could hear the sound of laughter and a faint cry of “I got you, buddy!”.
The Queen trilled laughter. “That one would be at home here, I think. He is the flirtatious one, yes? I will have to speak with him later, there are some sights he should see while he’s here.”
“We will not be here much longer,” Allura sighed. “You say you have no interest in an alliance, and if your strategy is to be worthless to the Galra then it may be you’re better off without us.” Allura was surprised at her own bitterness.
The Queen whistles under her breath, then gives her a fanged smile. “Worthless to the Galra, but maybe not to you.” She smiles wider. “But first, you have to prove that you can flow. This place doesn't suit those who can't limber up.”
Allura frowned, and the Queen gave her a hearty slap on the back with a tendril braid. “Go on, Princess,” she urged, “see the sights, let loose, go balance your scales. We’ll finish our little chat after the festival. Maybe you’ll be a little less rigid, eh?”
As she walked away the Queen called over her shoulder, “I’ll be sure to introduce you to the new Monarch!” then slipped off into the crowd.
“What new monarch?” Allura called, exasperated, but she was already gone. “I AM NOT RIGID!” Allura projected in a firm voice, and some of the people around her paused for a moment before cheering.
Allura scowled after the Queen. She thought they'd been getting somewhere! She was sure that the blunt approach was the right tack. And it’s not like they actually need this place as an ally, although Coran had hinted that it might be helpful ... Maybe this place has changed as much as everywhere else.
Allura fingered her comm. She could call the others in and get away from this place, on to someone who actually needs their help.
But if Allura was burnt down, the humans must be near exhaustion. She can’t remember the last time she had heard Lance laugh so freely as earlier. Pidge and Keith were both erratic and snappish from unrelieved stress and Hunk had been panicking more frequently.
Allura had been distracted with Blue lately, but she was a part of Voltron for however long it was necessary, and she could feel the tension in the paladin’s bonds winding ever more tightly.
The others had relaxed a little since arriving, but she could still feel her own stress and upset warping the connection.
Allura was part of the bond now, and they had to know that her pretence of being in control, of being confident and assured and sober and commanding, was often a front. She had tried so hard to be the leader her parents had trained her to be, but the facade simply could not withstand the psychic bonds created between the pilots of five lion robots that could combine to form a giant bipedal robot.
If these people would not be allies, and her four companions already knew that she was not as well put together as she presented, then why should she not let loose for a time?
Allura let herself feel the wild beat and thrum of the alien music, the pulsing of the crowd around her, felt the bonds pulling her in.
Allura let herself smile, too wide and fierce for any proper diplomat, and darted off towards the arena, binding her hair up as she went. Why should they get to have all the fun?