Lotor sank down onto the ancient stone steps, casting his eyes out over the rough swells of the sea. The turmoil in his thoughts refused to grant him the peace necessary to continue the charade he played out before his troops every day. He was sure it would become easier with time and practice, but for now, this moment of solitude was a dangerous necessity.
As he sat in the golden afternoon light, letting the cool breeze blow long white locks back away from his angular blue-skinned face, his thoughts drifted over old memories, bringing pain exquisite for belonging to him alone. Flashes of images flew before his eyes. The laughter of a woman as she stood on this very stair, the rough winds of a coming storm whipping the long blonde curls around her head, the feel of her arms as she scooped him up and held him close. The feelings of absolute safety and sacred love washed over him, leaving him trembling in their wake. The echoes of the old songs seemed to hang in the air, scraps of melody and harmony echoing in the crash of the waves against the cliffs.
The memories gradually darkened in timbre as they always did. Laughter was replaced by screams, love by anguish, contempt, and hatred. There was no more shelter from the storm. Nothing he did would ever be enough to please his father. He would forever be a disappointment. Every time his father glanced in his direction, he would be reminded that his only surviving offspring was a child of the old blood, not a hardened Drule warrior.
This was his chance to prove his father wrong. He was worthy. He could learn to be hard and ruthless, if that was what was required of him.
"Let me prove myself, Father. Let me take the trial of conquest. I won't let you down."
Such fateful words from one so young. If only he had truly believed his mother's words of warning.
"You're father is a ruthless tyrant, Lotor. Never underestimate him, and never let him make you become less than you are, for in intimidation and deception lie the secrets to his invincible strength."
He sighed, watching as an eddy of wind made the white foam seem to dance across the rough surface of the waves. It was too late for him. He had completed the task laid out before him. No one could challenge his right as heir to his father's empire again.
"Go then, Lotor. Prove yourself worthy to be called my son. Take the one world that has defied my rule. Vanquish them or destroy them, but I want that world conquered. Fail, and this will be your final mistake."
He pushed himself to his feet and turned to survey the ancient shrine to the gods of the sea. Bits of broken shells crumpled under his boots on the stone floor. Blackened pieces of driftwood still lay in smoking piles around the old stone altar. Fighting to maintain a mask of careful indifference, he bent to pick up a robed form from a congealing puddle behind the altar. He cradled the stiff body in his arms for a moment, squeezing shut his eyes to stem a childish flood of tears.
He had been expecting resistance. A group of people who refused to fight to protect their world had been so alien to the warrior's training he'd received under his father that these people had almost broken him. The urge to flee, to run away with them to the old hidden shrines in the forest and mountains was overwhelming for one nearly fatal instant. Instinct drilled into him over long years of hardship flooded back in the end. The robots rounded up the survivors and herded them aboard slave ships bound for the lazon processing plant at the rim of the Empire. None of these people would ever see the sun rise over their homeland again.
In an attempt to escape the demons of the past threatening to flay his sanity, Lotor slipped away, ostensibly to search for runaways. His wandering feet carried him to this shrine, the home of so many happy memories. He hadn't expected to find the priest. The man turned to him without a trace of fear in his eyes. At least his death had been quick and as painless as Lotor could make it. The desecration had come later, when the robots alerted by the firing of his weapon arrived.
Lotor pulled his mind back to the present and once again crossed the shrine to the steps. Staring out into the sea, he released the body over the edge of the cliff, returning the priest to the gods he had served in life.
His last task completed, he headed for the ship waiting for him down the slope. He turned back one last time at the door, his eyes focusing on the ghost from the past laughing into the coming storm.
"I'm sorry, Mother. You have no idea how sorry I am. I've become the one thing you warned me of, the one thing I think you may have truly feared. There's no going back for me now. I only ask for your forgiveness."
Pulling the door closed behind him, he pulled on a cloak of arrogance and descended the slope without a single look behind him.
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