Domus Prime:


Chapter XII

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

Her eyes narrow to slits, icy cold. “Now, now. Not about you. About your Queen, or perhaps what you’re really going to do with your Praesitlyn fleet.”

Renewed resolution, a sense of loyalty to the Queen and the mission…

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

“Your loyalty is seemingly unbreakable, huh? Wanting to impress me with your resistance?”

Sarcasm. A slight sense of repulsion. Unwavering resistance, and a pain / emotion / torture tolerance well above normal limits.

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

“Do you say anything else?”

“Maybe.”

“Be cooperative, Devron. I haven’t restrained you… yet. Maybe because I like you.”

An added sense of repulsion. Hate. Anger. More sarcasm.

“Well, that’s nice. But, if you liked me, you’d let me sleep.”

“Too bad. Answer some questions.”

“Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

…The scene blurred slightly, the events fast-forwarding just a few seconds…

“… I’ll kill you.”

“Such threats. You know you wouldn’t kill me. You’re in love with me, remember?” To prove how much she was in control of him, she reaches up to the neck of her bodysuit, grabs the zipper there, and tugs it down a couple of inches.

A slight sense of flash-started lust, instantly forced down by logic and loyalty. Hate surges. 

“You can’t deny the reaction you had when I kissed you. You knew what I was, but still, you wanted me. Didn’t you?”

He grits his teeth in anger. Pronouncing his words deliberately and slowly, he tells her, “Devron Zal. General. RN/P/S-23.”

Her grey eyes turn to fire again, and she rakes her fingers across his previous cuts. Blood previously held back begins flowing again, dripping down his cheek at the same slow pace.

Pain. Anger and hate flow forward to dominate. Berserker abilities wake from their dormancy, just slightly.

His eyes wander the room, looking for a weapon. None in reach, except for one on Cyani’s left hip, and she was a few feet out of reach. With a flash of insight, a plan materialises.

Knowledge of triumph. Small sense of happiness and victory.

…Another slight fast-forward as a long speech directed at Cyani flew past…

“…more than life itself.” Sithspawn. My lies keep growing, and growing, and growing.

She smiles, and unzips her bodysuit another inch. “Good. Maybe I can have my fun with you before the interrogation continues, then.” She steps toward him, intending to do just that.

Revulsion. Victory.

As soon as she steps within reach, he lashes his left arm out and grabs hold of her throat. With his right hand, he grabs the blaster off of her left hip. Pushing it into the bottom of her jaw, he angles it towards the middle of her head. “Told you.”

An undeniable surge of elation. Relief.

Completely surprised, she tries her last fallback option. Pushing her head forward, she presses her lips against his, trying to seduce him into a few seconds of hesitation. She kisses him with as much passion as she has, enhancing the effect by slightly shifting her body provocatively. When she pulls back, she looks into his eyes, looking for any change.

Hate. Anger. Revenge. All intensified by her last action.

None there. The same mixture of anger, hate and revenge burn in them, hotter than all the fires in the Known Galaxy.

Five seconds later, with her eyes still betraying her fear, he pulls the trigger with absolutely no regret. Her dead body slumps against him. Disgusted with her, he shoves it off and searches the now-empty room for anything of use.

…The memories disappeared, but as Catherine was about to open her eyes, another scenario appeared, and a familiar voice that haunted her nightmares…

“Could it be, she doesn’t trust you? Maybe so. Maybe she was afraid you would go and tell someone. Someone that you were willing to give up your loyalties for. Someone who offered you more than she ever would. This someone, she had blonde hair, didn’t she? And beautiful blue eyes… A nice figure… Did her name start with an A? I think it did. Started with an A… hmm… Oh yes. Andora, wasn’t it? No, that was her cover name. Her real name was actually Alanine Nilmian, but she went by Cyani. Darth Cyani. Do you know her?”

Disbelief. Anger.

Devron sets his jaw in anger. Speaking through his teeth, he replies, “Devron Zal, General, RN/P/S-23.”

“Familiar words! That’s what you told her. And then, you killed her. At least, you thought you did.”

More disbelief.

“I killed her, Ravage. I blasted a hole through her frickin’ head.”

“Did you, now?”

Across the long hallway, the door swings open. Revealed there is a small figure in a black bodysuit with streaks of red, the bodysuit hugging her curves as she starts to walk the one hundred or so metres towards him.

“Nice to see you again, Dev.”

Astonishment.

Devron shakes his head in disbelief. Ravage wants to wear me down. He wants me on his side. Have to resist.

Cyani, upon reaching him, wraps her arms around him, hugging him tightly. He stands there stiffly, trying as hard as he can not to notice. She loosens the hug and stands next to him, her head resting on his shoulder and her arm around his back.

Another sense of revulsion, familiar from when he was last faced with her.

“You never killed her, Devron,” Ravage begins again. “You were too attracted to her to kill her. You merely stunned her.”

Knowledge to the contrary. Anger. A sliver of curiosity.

Shaking his head in denial, he replays the scene through his mind again. “No,” he insists, the sound coming out relatively weak. 

“No?”

“No. I blew a hole through her head. I blew a hole through her Sith-spawned head!”

Anger. A slight loss of control.

“Then how could I be here, Dev?”

“You’re not! This is all some…some illusion! Ravage is playing games with my mind!”

“That’s what you want to believe,” Ravage replies. “A part of you still harbours some loyalty to your Queen. ‘Her Royal Ignorance,’ didn’t you call her that?”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Oh, sure, you didn’t mean it. Of course you didn’t. Who could resist Catherine? Her beautiful hair…Her stunning eyes…Her lovely figure…”

Hate. A thought back to Catherine. Loyalty. More loss of control. Realisation.

Devron fires a flurry of blaster bolts into the ceiling. “Quit probing my mind!”

“When you saw Andora, though,” Ravage continues, choosing to call Cyani by the name Devron knows best, “you knew that she was just like Catherine, but better. And, more willing. Look at her. She loves you! She wants to be with you, to have you love her. Go on, look at her, how devoted she is to winning you from Her Royal Ignorance.”

Disbelief. Angered curiosity.

Steeling himself, Devron looks down at Andora. She looks up at him, only an inch or two separating their faces. 

“Look into her eyes. There you will find love, desire, lust, willingness…”

It was true. Devron rips his gaze away, focusing on one of the far pillars.

A slight sense of betrayal. Knowledge that his control is slipping away inexorably. Berserker abilities starting to come into play.

“Why do you deny yourself what you want most? I can tell you do. I can sense it.”

“No.”

“Yes, though. You know it is true.”

“No.”

“It is, Dev,” Andora says, moving in front of him. “I do love you. And I think you love me too. You told me.”

“I didn’t mean it…”

“You did, Devron. Deep down, you did.”

“No.”

“Yes, Dev.”

“She knows. Go with her.”

Ever-growing anger, already burning hot and surging forth, threatening to take over.

“No.”

“Come on, Dev. Come to my room with me. I have something to show you.”

“No.”

“Submit, Devron. Do what you want to do.”

Loss of control. Anger and berserker abilities surge up, and violence dominates.

“No!” Devron brings his EKX-10 up, smacking away Andora’s hand. Then, depressing the trigger, he strafes Andora in anger, firing a continuous stream of blaster bolts into her and through her.

His EKX-10 beeps, the power pack drained. Andora’s body lays dead, barely recognisable.

Victory. Fear of Darth Ravage. An impending sense of needing to escape. Relief at killing the Sith woman.

…Devron let the connection break there. Catherine took a step backwards to rest against the wall, trying to make sense of everything she had just seen.

Catherine took a deep breath, trying to understand, and yet realising that what she had seen was truth. She looked up, sorrow in her eyes, and bowed her head after meeting his glance for a moment.

“I am sorry Devron”, she said softly, “I should have trusted you.”

That simple realisation of her mistake was too much for Catherine on top of everything else – the worry for her people, and her own hidden fears for what would happen to them all very shortly. Leaning against the wall, she slumped to the floor, her head bowed, and her hair covering her face and the tears that flowed silently.

‘I must be brave’, Catherine thought, desperately trying to get her emotions under control, ‘I have to be strong, for everyone who is counting on me.’ 

Ace suddenly spun around and saw the Queen standing behind him, her eyes full of compassion. “Your Majesty, I didn’t notice your presence.” 

“I noticed you didn’t, Ace. I didn’t try to sneak behind you, but I think you were thinking so hard that you couldn’t notice.” She tried to smile at him, but Ace did not seem to notice. She moved to stand next to him by the window and he gestured to the people below.

“Looks like they plan a major strike here. It looks like they are waiting for reinforcements.” Ace moved his sight away from the horizon to the Queen. She immediately began to smile when their eyes met. 

“The Grand Admiral has a plan almost ready. I am sure we will win with him leading our Forces.” For a brief moment the Queen looked outside, and an emotion akin to fear seemed to flicker on her face. But then she smiled and Ace was sure that he imagined it. 

“Ace, when I first came in here, I heard you say something about Boba Fett and someone called Emon. I would like to know what you meant by that?” 

Ace lost his smile. He looked at the Queen for a few seconds, then he replied. “It was nothing.” He closed his eyes, not wanting to think about it.

“Does it have something to do why you are here on Domus Prime?” Although it was obvious to her that Ace found it hard to talk about this, the Queen continued to press. She had to know what was troubling him, she had to know if she was able to help. 

“I was looking for him. Heard he could be here.” Ace looked serious, his eyes darkening with emotion.

“Who?” The Queen breathed, wondering what was the secret that Ace could not tell.

“My brother, Emon.”

“What about Boba Fett?” The Queen had already realised what Ace was going to say, but she still had to ask. She did not like what she was about to hear. 

“He is my brother.”

The Queen had been right. She looked at Ace, trying to think of something to say. She could not believe she could ever meet someone related to Boba Fett. Everyone had heard of the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter, even those like her who had never left Domus Prime, and now his Rebel brother was standing next to her. While closing her eyes the Queen spoke, her voice thick with emotion. “I… I’m sorry.”

Ace looked her reaction. He raised her head with his hand and shook his head. “Don’t be, Your Majesty. It’s not your fault.”

“What are you going to do when you find him?”

“I’ll take him home. That’s all.”

Ace turned to the window. The Queen watched him, trying to decide what would be best for her to say. “Your Highness, please don’t think about it. I think we should focus on the situation here.”

The Queen moved closer to Ace, hesitant for moment. Then she asked softly, “Ace, why did you tell this to me?”

Ace did not answer her immediately.

The Queen was suddenly confused and filled with conflicting emotions. ‘This Rebel pilot arrived here to find his brother, then he agreed to help us for no reason at all. Ace is an absolute darling, I’ve never met anyone like him, but why would he be nervous because of my last question? Could it be possible?’

“Your Majesty,” Ace’s voice broke through her thoughts and he turned to her, looking deep into her eyes. He smiled at her. “I told it to you because I like you. I don’t know what it is, but somehow you mean to me more than other people.”

Not knowing how else to react, the Queen smiled then closed her eyes and lowered her head to rest it against his chest. 

“I’ll be fine, Doc.” Jester sat up in his hospital bed, unhooking all the wires that were needlessly attached to him. 

“You must stay. Your wounds have not fully healed.” The medical droid said futilely as it tried to prevent Jester’s departure.

“Get out of my way!” Jester waved his hand and the droid flew across the room, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why did I do that?’ Jester was confused and his memories were jumbled. ‘What happened to me?’ He would seek out the only man that he knew could help him, the Riddler. ‘Where to begin… where is he?’

Jester roamed the corridors towards the Riddler’s room. He stood at the door and knocked. “Come in, Jester.”

“Hey, Riddler.”

“I sensed you coming.”

“Yeah, and?”

“Oh, nothing. What did you want and why aren’t you in bed?”

“I wanted to ask you about what happened earlier. Did you see anything or hear anything before you found us?”

“No. I didn’t see a thing. Do you remember anything?”

“No. And that’s the strange thing. They said that I didn’t receive a concussion or any kind of injury that would affect my memory. And they said the same thing about K. This just doesn’t make any sense.”

“You’re still hurt. Come over here and we’ll practice some healing techniques.”

“Maybe later. I’m fine right now, but I need to find out what happened.”

“No!” The Riddler stood up and walked over to Jester. “I’m sorry to yell at you like that, I’m just worried about your well being.” 

Jester continued to be frustrated with the growing paranoia that surrounded him. He had no intention of throwing accusations at anyone, yet he suspected foul play. 

Watching him, Jester noticed that the Riddler, the Grand Admiral was acting stranger than usual… not that he was strange to begin with but he seemed a little bit calmer than the other Grand Admiral he knew, more self-assured and colder, as though almost all of his emotions had evaporated.

Jester’s some-what Jedi senses told him there was something not right here. If he could just figure it out… 

Jester picked up Harold, his faithful rubber chicken and faithful companion and hugged him tighter.

Catherine wondered the halls in search of the Riddler. She was distressed how her Grand Admiral had just casually sent thousands of soldiers of the Royal Forces to their deaths and how he had not seemed to care at all. Her Jedi senses told her something was wrong, aside from her planet being invaded and her life being constantly threatened. 

Sighing, she considered the possibilities. Was the Riddler beginning to show his Dark Jedi tendencies again? Was it possible that the Dark Side of the Force was overcoming him? Was the Riddler having a mental breakdown? Or even more distressing – was this the Riddler at all?

Catherine searched the entire military wing of the seventh floor of the Palace, but could not find the Riddler. Although she was not going to admit it, even to herself, Catherine cared greatly for the Riddler, especially after all the time that they had been spending together recently. But there was a part of her that constantly questioned how she felt about him.

If there were something wrong with the Riddler, Catherine would find it out.

The Riddler sat in the War Room alone. His attention was turned upon a console screen, which showed Domus Prime’s Royal Forces being butchered before his very eyes. The Riddler simply could not bring himself to care. He witched the console off and pushed his chair back and closed his eyes.

His plan was almost complete… Almost. 

Just then, Catherine walked in and put her hand on the Grand Admiral’s shoulder, commanding his attention. He opened his eyes and smiled at her brightly, noticing immediately the tiny blush that stained her cheeks. Standing, he kissed her cheek.

Catherine suddenly looked unsure of herself, and murmured the first thing that came into her mind. “I was looking for you.”

The Riddler closed his eyes again, sat and said, “I know. You’re upset over the loss of our forces.”

Catherine looked into the Riddler’s deep brown eyes and said softly, “I do not know why I came here.”

The Riddler smiled at her and said, “Yes, you do.”

“Ok, so I do.”

“You want to tell me something.”

“Yes.” But she could not, it was too much on top of what was happening everywhere else. Domus Prime had to come first, and he had to understand that. That was what she would tell him.

The Riddler nodded, got up from the chair and kissed the top of her forehead as he walked out of the War Room. Catherine saw him leave without a word, her blue eyes full of conflicting emotions. She had no idea how to react or what to do, and so she ran from the War Room to catch up.

But the Riddler was gone, the hallway empty. Catherine looked around almost frantically, but could not see him. 

Catherine sighed, resting her head against one of the cool marble pillars that seemed to line the hallway. Whatever semblance of control she had once held over her emotions had disappeared, leaving her confused and almost lost. 

The Riddler made Catherine feel funny, her heart was pounding in her chest and she longed to speak with him again. She did not know what to do. 

The Riddler walked into K’s room. K lay in his bed, sleeping and recovering from the attack the previous day. Poor K was exhausted, and yet no one knew what had happened to him or Jester.

The Riddler smiled, placed his right hand on K’s head and began another mind attack. K’s eyes shot open and he screamed as the surging electrical pain shot through his brain making him feel as if someone was trying to rip him open from the outside. 

The Riddler continued the onslaught, grinning in a feral manner. He cared nothing for these worthless beings. He laughed as K’s helpless limbs flailed in all directions as he tried to find a way to subside the suffering. 

Finally, K stopped moving. The Riddler stopped the onslaught and checked his pulse, curious as to what the result might be. K was still alive, barely. The Riddler smiled and whispered in K’s ear. “Remember it’s all just a bad dream.”

With that, the Riddler left the room. He walked out into the hallway and punched the alarm button that would lead security to K’s room. 

Everything was going to plan. 

Jester was still asleep when The Riddler entered his room. He placed his right hand on Jester’s head and did the same thing to him as he had done to K. There was only one difference: the result was much more fun to watch this time. 

Jester’s body thrashed violently as the pain increased. Fire suddenly erupted in the room and electrical objects exploded as Jester’s undeveloped Force-abilities tried to defend him. Harold, Jester’s faithful rubber chicken, rolled off of the bed and landed in the fire. 

The Riddler used the Force and summoned the flaming rubber chicken to his hand as he extinguished the fire with a thought. 

With a thoughtful smile, the Riddler placed the smoking chicken back on the bed and said to the thrashing Jester, “How would you like Harold? Regular or Extra Crispy?” 

Then Jester stopped moving, silence descending suddenly on the room. Startled, the Riddler checked for Jester’s pulse. There was none. Something had gone wrong. 

Moving quickly, the Riddler put his hand over Jester’s heart and threw a strong dose of Force-Lightning into it. The shock threw Jester’s body stiffly into a convulsion that lasted only an instant, but the jolt had been enough to start his heart again. Jester began to breathe again and the Riddler smiled. He could not allow Jester to die yet. 

The Riddler walked out of the flaming room. He blew a cold breath out of his lungs and the fire immediately died. 

He walked into the hallway and punched the security button, summoning the guards. His plan was almost complete. He had but one more thing left to do. 

Catherine entered the Riddler’s room and saw that he was not in it. She had always admired his room. The Riddler was a collector of rare and extravagant art and ancient Jedi Weapons. She stuck her head into the hallway to see if the Riddler was coming. He was not. 

She wandered in his room, with no real purpose in mind other than to wait out his return. Catherine saw the Riddler’s lightsaber on the table and ignited it. A lot of work had gone into the weapon. The lightsaber of a Dark Jedi served more purposes than necessary. It was sort of a Dark Jedi Swiss Army Knife. 

The brilliant crimson blade lit a dark blood glow over her face, which Catherine saw reflected in a mirror on the far side of the room. The sight seemed somewhat ominous, and Catherine found herself shivering. She deactivated the lightsaber and placed the heavy handle back on the table. 

Catherine moved to the Riddler’s closet, motivated simply by curiosity and saw there his Dark Jedi robes, those he had worn during the First Invasion of Domus Prime in his battle against Darth Blade.

Looking down, Catherine suddenly, she saw a foot in the closet. Horrified, Catherine pulled her hands up to her face in sudden shock, before putting down her fear and revulsion and pulled on the foot.

From the closet fell a living, breathing body. Catherine blinked in shock as she looked down at the Riddler. His unconscious form was bloody, pale, bruised and battered almost beyond recognition. He looked starved and dehydrated. Catherine reached out a thought to try and see if what she feared was true, but the Riddler was still alive, if not well. But it seemed as if he had been in this closet for a long time.

Suddenly, the terrible truth unfolded, and Catherine found herself closing her eyes in fear and guilt at the betrayal she had unwittingly committed. But there was still one mystery remaining. If this was the Riddler, then who in hell was the other Riddler?

Catherine was alerted to the presence of another in the Riddler’s rooms when she heard a coughing behind her. She had not sensed this person’s arrival at all, perhaps because she had been so distracted by her discovery of the Riddler’s inert form. 

Catherine spun angrily and found herself standing with a lightsaber handle pointed directly in her face. She blinked in surprise as she realised that the person holding it was the other Riddler.

General Devron Zal sat silently in the War Room worrying about the loss of the Royal Forces. An alarm sounded and Devron rushed over to a console where he saw something that made his blood go ice cold. There was clearly fear in his eyes. “Sithspawn!” Devron took another look and saw the same thing. “It’s a Sithspawned invasion fleet!”

Running from the War Room, Devron knew he had to find the Queen. 

The other Riddler pointed the lightsaber handle against Catherine’s startled face and said conversationally, “Stay right where you are, Catherine. If I push this button, they’ll pick the good majority of your head up with a sponge.” 

Wiping her face clear of emotion, Catherine looked into this man’s eyes, trying to see something there that was not familiar. “Who are you?” Catherine whispered as she desperately tried to understand how she could have been so deceived. 

He looked at her and smiled warmly, pulling the lightsaber away from her face. Hatred and another emotion warred within her at the sight of that familiar smile that was not familiar at all. 

He spoke with a slight sneer, his voice changing away from that of the Riddler, the faint accent becoming more pronounced. “I have so many names. But if you want, you may call me… Lord Darth Ravage!”

With a small gesture, his features morphed, becoming younger, and somehow sinister. Everything that was gentle about him became hard, full of anger and hatred. Catherine found herself gasping as she recognised the face she had seen so often before, but only in her darkest nightmares. 

Ravage smiled at her again, and Catherine found herself suddenly crying. “What’s the matter, Your Majesty? Don’t you like this face? Or is it the realisation that you’re in love with a Sith Lord?” 

‘No’, a part of her mind whispered in horror and Darth Ravage laughed at her, ‘No!’  She had come too far, and given up too much. She could not bear it if she had to lose him as well. And not to this one.

“I love that man!” Catherine cried desperately,  “Not you, Ravage!”

“Really?” Ravage’s voice was full of scorn for her and he stepped forward, kissing Catherine roughly though she tried to pull away. Finally he let her go and she took a step away, her eyes filled with horror and revulsion. Without realising what she was doing Catherine raised one hand and wiped it against her mouth as if to wipe away the stain of what he had just done.

Darth Ravage just laughed again. “My plan was so perfect: destroy your ability to repel an invasion and then take out all the key figureheads of power. I have disabled or killed all but a few. Jester, K and the Riddler are all but dead. The Riddler’s military advisers are dead already though as you’ll probably discover within the hour.” 

Catherine could not believe what she was hearing. She had no idea how to cope with this, a million conflicting thoughts tore through her. Ravage noticed Catherine’s confusion and decided to push her further, nodding his head in the direction of the Riddler’s body.

“He does care for you, a lot, if it makes you feel any better. He put up quite a fight.” 

General Zal flew down the stairs to find the Queen. They had no Forces left on Domus Prime to repel an invasion of this magnitude and they would have no choice but to surrender. The Grand Admiral could not be trusted, Devron thought. General Zal felt personally responsible for the death of his army. If he not listened to the Grand Admiral, they would still have a force. It would have cost him his job but so be it. 

“You Bastard!”

Darth Ravage blinked, his dark eyes sparkling with amusement. “Your Majesty, there is no excuse for such language.”

“You killed the Riddler. Look at him”, Catherine snapped, every emotion working overtime, “I do not even think he is breathing.”

Ravage took a step towards her, and Catherine moved back, stepping to the side to avoid the Riddler, now lying awkwardly on the floor. As the tears fell down her face Catherine prayed that she would be able to save him; and her own soul. Ravage moved towards Catherine again, and she found herself pressed up against the wall. The Sith ran a hand down the scar on her cheek, the barest of sensations creating a touch of ice down her back. She refused to give in and let her revulsion show.

“I think he wanted to die. Don’t you remember when you ran up those stairs because you thought the Riddler shot himself? He was shooting at me. I just took his place and pretended to be him. You were quite charming to a Sith Lord, you know.”

Blue eyes flashing angrily, Catherine spat on him. Ravage pretended not to notice. “And now the final curtain. Prepare to join the Riddler in death.”

Ravage ignited his lightsaber and swung at Catherine. Her Jedi instincts took over and she ducked beneath the swinging blade, rolling over to the cabinet where the Riddler kept his lightsaber armory. Destroying the cabinet in a burst of fear-inspired power Catherine grabbed one of the weapons and ignited it as she came to her feet.  

The blade was a deep red, darker than blood, and the light it cast across the room seemed only to intensify the emotion on Darth Ravage’s face as he smiled at her resistance. “So, the little girl wants to play with the big boys?”

Ignoring the emotions his words caused in her, Catherine gritted her teeth.

Catherine circled Ravage with her lightsaber pointed directly at him. She slashed a tricky right cut at Ravage’s head and she watched him circle around and block it. He did an extremely fast roundhouse kick to her head which she ducked but she did not see him continue to use his own momentum to continue his movement, sweeping her feet from under her. Catherine fell backwards onto the hard floor. 

Darth Ravage immediately slashed down on the floor, aiming for Catherine’s head. She rolled out of the way, her hair flashing behind her, and leapt to her feet again, quickly kicking Ravage in the gut before he sensed what she was doing. 

Ravage moved swifter that Catherine was prepared for, flipping onto his hands and smacking Catherine in the face with his left boot. She responded after a moment by trying to cut Ravage’s foot off with her lightsaber but he blocked the slash with ease as if he had been expecting it. 

Catherine parried at Ravage but he hooked her lightsaber with two graceful movements and swept it away from her grasp. Ravage swung his own weapon at Catherine, who ducked instinctively as sparks suddenly flew around the room and objects exploded. 

Ravage cut at her head and Catherine grabbed his wrist without thought, holding onto him and preventing him from slicing down and killing her. Ravage hooked her hand and punched her with his free hand, sending searing pain through Catherine. He kicked her hard with one heavily booted foot, sending her reeling backwards. 

Catherine tried again to punch the Sith, but he caught her hand easily once more and this time as he held her Ravage kicked Catherine in her chest and stomach. Ignoring the pain Catherine moved forward, delivering two powerful punches to Ravage’s gut, somewhat relieved when she saw him grimace in pain.

“What the-?” Ace lifted his head up in shock as he first heard the alarm. Standing beside him, the Queen raised her head, looking towards the door. As if in response to her motion, the door opened, and Ace moved instinctively before her, taking his blaster in hand and pointing it at the doorway. 

Devron Zal stormed in looking frantic. “Your Majesty, we are under heavy attack!” General Zal shouted into the War Room without even looking to see if the Queen was there. 

Ace steeped aside to let the Queen talk with Devron, his face paling. “Invasion”, Ace whispered as he stepped away.

Devron nodding at Ace, before turning to the Queen. “He is right, it’s an invasion.” 

Ace quickly took his commlink from his pocket, turning it on and speaking into it. “Emkay! Emkay? Are you there?” The commlink made a few crackling noises then went silent. 

Devron looked thoughtful. “It looks like they are jamming our communications.” Ace nodded, then moved his sight to the window. The Queen looked worried, both Devron and Ace saw it.

” What… what can we do?” The Queen’s voice was filled with fear, as if she only just realised how precarious her position as monarch on Domus Prime was. “We have to find the Grand-“

“No.” Devron interrupted the Queen, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, your Majesty, but the Grand Admiral Riddler was wrong. We can’t depend on him now. There is something wrong in him.” 

Queen did not know what to say, nothing made any sense. If she could not trust the Grand Admiral to lead what was remaining of their Forces, then who could be trusted? “What is our plan then?” Unconsciously her hand sought Ace’s. Devron noticed this without saying anything, wondering what Catherine would say if she could see Tamira’s actions.

“Excuse me”, Ace said lightly, trying to think of what would be done, “I think we could get good defend position if we send fighters against them. I would like to join them.”

The Queen turned to Devron, hoping that he would tell her what to do, but the General was silent.

Tamira thought about it for a moment, before remembering something she thought she had forgotten. She walked over to the wall, feeling for a certain indentation that she knew was there somewhere.

“Your Majesty”, Ace spoke, but she did not listen, “We have to leave now.”

The Queen thought about it some more, before opening the passage into the walls of the palace.

“I think I know a shortcut”, she said, smiling slightly, even as she worried anew where the Grand Admiral was and what had happened to Catherine. 

Catherine ducked another blow from Ravage, keeping her eyes on him always and her thoughts on the Force. 

‘Deep breath, step, and kick. Do not think about the Riddler, just concentrate on the Force, on staying alive.’ 

For a moment, though, she felt his life Force flicker, and her heart stopped. But then he was back still, waiting, holding on, depending on her. Or so she hoped.

‘Please do not let it be too late’, Catherine’s mind whispered desperately.

The Queen and Devron began to walk through the passage, the General following the Queen who was holding a small light that she had pulled from one of the drawers in the War Room. Devron turned to Ace, who still stood in the War Room unmoving. 

“Ace, we have to move. Come on.” Devron gestured for Ace to come.

The Queen was on her way already, not waiting for the others. She was trying to remember which path in the passages to take to get down to the hangar.

Ace started as he heard his commlink beeping. He answered it and was relieved to hear Emkay’s metallic voice. “Ace? Emkay here. Looks like our fears were correct.”

Ace sighed. “Yes, I heard about the fleet. It’s good to hear about you. Where are you now?” He gestured for Devron to leave, without results. The General still waited for him, the light from the Queen’s path starting to fade.

“I am now right above the palace. If you can make it to the roof, I can pick you up there.”

“Sounds good Emkay. Stay there, I’ll contact you soon when I find out more of this situation.” Ace turned the commlink off and put it in his pocket. He began to run down the passage with Devron. They caught up with the Queen quickly.

“What was it?” Devron asked.

“My droid is hovering over the palace, and offered us a ride.” 

The Queen stared at Ace for a moment, then began to walk down the passage faster. When she spoke, her voice was more like Catherine’s than Devron had ever heard it. He was suddenly proud of Tamira. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. And this is our home, we have to defend it. Of course you can do whatever you want.” 

When Ace looked at Devron’s face he saw a fierce anger there that worried him. “I am here to help, you just have to trust me. But one request: I would really like to fly one of the fighters to give all of my help to your other pilots.”

Devron thought about the request for moment before nodding. “You can, it is just that we don’t have a plan yet.” Worry sparked between the two men as they once again had to move quickly to catch the Queen and follow her closely.

As the three walked down the corridor, Devron’s mind was furiously hammering at the wall in his mind, trying to come up with a plan. 

‘No capital ships… All we have is the wing of starfighters, and not enough pilots to fly all 72… There are ten Sithspawned ImpStars out there, and that’s just the bigger ships… Not enough weapons… Wait a second.’

“Ace, Queen, hold up.” Taking a second to orient himself, Devron started walking at a near running pace the other way through the dark tunnel. 

“Where are you going?” Ace’s voice called, a split-second before two pairs of insistent footsteps follow him. 

“Back to the War Room. I may have a plan.”

Five minutes later, they gathered around a tacdiagram of the occupied space around the planet. Typing furiously, Devron picked the tacscreen’s diagram apart, until finally, what was left was a glowing web of fibres connecting each ship to each other. Some fibres glowed white while others shone with a light between red and white. On two of the wall tacscreens, data flowed down the charts. Ace and Tamira looked around at all of the data, perplexed, while Devron studied each tactical screen intently.

“Um, Devron”, Ace’s voice broke into his thoughts. “What exactly does this all mean?”

“No time to explain. The bottom line is that the ImpStar Warcrater is the big boss of this op, and if we can take that out, they’re gonna be screwed over, unless they have a second nominal leader, in which case we might be screwed, unless the starfighters really luck out, which probably isn’t gonna happen, so we might have to add a lot of guns onto some of the Lambda shuttles and other minimally armed ships and send them into battle, which probably isn’t gonna help much, so we might use the Gamma-class shuttles to-“

“Devron!” Tamira broke into his running dialogue, the sound of his name causing Devron to nod and get to his feet urgently. 

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s take a trip to the armory.”

Ace, Tamira and Devron walked out of the War Room into the armory next door. “Alright, guys, grab a big hovercart.” After giving the order, Devron ran down the hall, coming back five minutes later with a turbolift-sized heavy lifter. “Let’s go. Follow me.”

With Devron leading the raid of the armory and Ace offering an, “Oops. You missed these”, here and there, Tamira just followed, letting the two guys pile the explosives into her hovercart as she walked. ‘I’d rather be shopping at somewhere like La’Quel and Intiumm…’

Chapter 12

About ten minutes later, all three’s respective vehicles loaded with high explosives, they found a turbolift and took it down to the hangar bay. On the way Devron had a few moments to wonder at the where all the stormtroopers in the Palace had disappeared to. 

Once they were in the hangar bay, Devron drove his heavy lifter up the ramp of a Lambda shuttle. After exchanging glances of “what in hell is the crazy doing now?”, they followed him into the Lambda, hovercarts pushed in front of them.

Inside, Tamira and Ace unloaded their charges in front of Devron, who was already wiring boxes together with detonating tape and hooking all of it up to a group of wires hanging out of a hole cut in the side.

“What are you doing?”

“Wiring the explosives up to the self-destruct system. It comes standard on all Lambdas, just in case some pilot carrying sensitive materials were to get boarded.”

“And who’s gonna fly this thing up and give the Warcrater a present?”

“Who’s crazy enough to do it?”

“So, when do you leave?”

Devron finished strapping the rest of the explosives together. “As soon as I can run a pre-flight and program an overlay for the transponder code that displays Imperial and can’t be hacked into without an hour’s worth of time.”

“Which means…?”

“Five minutes, tops.” 

Ace watched Devron’s actions curiously. Although it seemed a crazy plan that Devron was suggesting, he realised that it could actually work. Ace’s eyes trailed at a star fighter sitting near them. 

“Devron?” Ace questioned. 

“Yeah?” The General replied without looking up at Ace. 

“Is that E-Wing?”

Devron did not need to look up to know what Ace was staring at. He gave a small nod. “Yeah, it is. They’re kinda fast, reasonably well armed, and manoeuvre reasonably well. Not my choice of vehicle, but I’m not everyone.” He continued to wire together the explosives, making a very large collection of electronics and detonation devices. 

Ace sighed. “What’s my part in this plan?”

“Hold on until I think of something. That one goes there.” Devron made the final check of his creation. “There, ready to kick the Sithspawn out of this system.”

Ace walked over to the E-Wing, examining it and entering its cockpit. He looked over all the buttons and controls but did not activate any of them.

“It has some features from the X-Wing.” Ace spoke to himself, noticing the Queen watching him and smiling a bit.

‘He’s so nice, and looks like a little boy with new toy…’ The Queen thought before turning to Devron. “Are you sure about this?” Her voice was reasonably calm, but Devron could hear the true fear behind that. 

He flashed her his most confident smile, hiding his own uncertainty. “No worries, Queen. If the Impies fall for my transponder overlay, and if I can land in the main hangar bay, and if there aren’t any people watching me, this’ll work.”

“Too many ifs,” Tamira protested. “What if there are people watching you?”

“Then I’ll have to go to another hangar bay to hijack a ship, which’ll cut my escape window pretty short.”

“And if you don’t make it to a ship in time?”

“Go splat. All over Domus Prime airspace.”

“Oh.” Frowning, the Queen walked over to the E-wing to talk with Ace. Devron, after strapping the last of the baradium detonators to a cluster of K-23 high explosive warheads, picked his way through the explosives up to the cockpit, where he began running the pre-flight check. 

Ace noticed Devron finishing his work and smiled at the Queen walking towards him. He looked at her, realising that it was time to say goodbye.

“Is he ready?” Ace asked, gazing to the shuttle. 

The Queen did look confident, but her emotions were hidden behind the calm facade of her hidden features. “Yes, he is ready. He is going to land in the hangar and hijack another ship.”

“Sounds good”, Ace turned the power on in the E-Wing, “although the Imps will blast him as soon as he gets out of the hangar.”

The Queen shot a terrified look at Ace. E-Wing’s engines began to make a louder noise, informing that they are almost ready. “Don’t worry, Your Majesty.” Ace turned the radio on and contacted the shuttle next to him. “Devron, the Queen told me about your plan.”

“And what about it?” Devron replied while doing his final checks.

“After you have landed and hijacked the ship, the Imps will surely think something is wrong and blast you.” Ace said with calm voice.

“I don’t think so.” Devron spoke in a confident voice, knowing that what Ace said was true but partly hoping that this Rebel pilot would not ask to come up with him.

“No offence, Devron, but think about it. One almost unknown craft lands in the hangar, and other ship flies away while the other exploding.” Ace waited for the reply and heard Devron sigh.

“I guess you are right, but it’s our only chance.”

“Unless”, Ace interrupted, “our fighters make an diversion. We attack right after you have landed. That would turn their attention to us, the fighters, allowing you to escape.”

Ace glanced over at the Queen, but her eyes were on a place at the far end of the hangar as she listened to the conversation that passed between Ace and Devron. 

“…the fighters, allowing you to escape.”

Devron turned the repulsorlift engines to one-percent power, making the dull roar fade down. It was a good idea, but… “No. We only have a wing of starfighters; there’s no way I’m gonna risk even one just to save my butt. I’ve made it through a TIE blockade before with a Skipray, without using my weapons at all.”

“Yeah, and you crashed. You need support.”

“It’s too risky. The charges in the Lambda alone are enough to blow a hole through the superstructure of the ImpStar. They’re bound to have at least one squadron of Bombers in there, plus a good reserve of military-strength laser cannon blaster gas, proton bombs, concussion missiles, and proton torpedoes. The resulting explosion’s gonna penetrate to the solar ionisation reactor. Count on an explosion at least the size of that ImpStar, probably twice as big.”

“So? I’ll stay away from it.”

“You?”

“I got nothing else to do. Might as well play babysitter.”

“Suit yourself. Stay away from the big boom.”

“Only if you will.”

‘Maybe this guy’s not so bad after all.’ “Alright. You ready to shoot and loot?”

“Whenever you are.”

“Let’s move, then.” 

Ace looked at the Queen. “We are going, are you going to be alright, Your Majesty?”

The Queen looked up at Ace and smiled weakly. “Don’t worry about me, just be sure both of you come back alive.” 

Ace smiled back at her, and his hand moved in preparation for closing the hood of the cockpit of the E-Wing. “We will, Your Majesty. And I worry.” Ace pulled the switch. Ace pulled the cockpit closed as the Queen started to move back from the ships. “Okay Devron, this is it.”

“Copy that.”

“You go first, I follow you few klicks away so the Imps won’t panic.”

“Affirmative. And Ace…”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t try to be a hero. If you get in bad condition, get out of there.”

Ace smiled to himself. “Ok, I will.” Ace checked the status of his ship via computer, waiting for Devron to take off.

“Good luck, Devron. You’re gonna need it.”

“You too Ace.” In one fluid movement, Devron’s shuttle moved from the hangar bay. He glanced up as he flew out to see Tamira raising one hand in a wave and waggled the flaps of his ship at her before leaving.

Tamira watched the two of them leave with a sinking feeling in her heart. Somehow she knew that something was about to go terribly wrong, and she had not heard from Catherine in several hours. Without Jedi abilities, Tamira could not track the handmaiden down, and she knew that somewhere in the Palace something must have happened to delay her.

And now Ace was off to do something stupid, and he might not even return alive. She had grown close to the pilot over the past few days and although Catherine would probably kill her, Tamira would have to tell him the truth. That would be the only way that she could tell if he truly felt the same way as she did. And besides, it would look rather odd to him if suddenly the Queen completely changed her attitude without any reason.

But there was little Tamira could do now. Tamira was not a fighter, she had never used a blaster in her life, let alone fought in a battle, although she had been trained in what to do. Tamira’s reputation for hiding in times of confrontation was well earned.

That was what she would do now. She would go back through the passages and join up with the Queen’s handmaidens. They were supposed to protect the Queen, and since she was dressed as the Queen, they could protect her from whatever was going to happen. Only Jedi Nay would know the truth and she would not speak out. 

“Hey! Hey, you alright?” The Palace Guard asked, sounding more than a little worried. 

Jester was in his bed, he was in deep pain and he could hardly move. He could not remember how he came to be here, or why he was hurting so much. 

“Hey buddy. You ok?” The Palace Guard continued to question him. Jester turned his head towards the man, confused as to why this man was in his room.

“What happened? What’s going on? What are you doing here?” 

“Some pulled the security alarm”, the Guard said, looking as if he had thought that person to be Jester, “and when we arrived the room was smoking, as if there was a recent fire.” 

At that moment, Jester looked at his faithful friend Harold. His small rubber body lay beside him and he was slightly burned. Deep inside Jester could feel his anger rising. He they dismissed all pain and rose out of bed. 

“Hold on”, the Palace Guard said, looking at Jester in worry, “your shoulder is out of the socket.” 

Jester continued to walk towards the door of his room. As he began to pass through the door, Jester stopped and slammed his shoulder into the doorframe. 

“Ahhh!” Jester screamed in sudden pain, then took control of himself and set the pain aside. He turned and looked at the Guard, “It’s fine now.” He continued to walk down the hall. It was empty. The regular Palace Guards who normally patrolled the corridors had been the ones summoned to his room. It looked as though a lot of Guards were in his room. And he did say that someone set off the alarm. 

Jester stopped cold in his tracks as he suddenly realised something. But he had to be sure. 

He headed off in the direction of the Riddler’s room. 

Devron accelerated his shuttle to one hundred percent. He watched the radar, seeing Ace’s ship disappearing from it. ‘This is it then…’ He switched his sight back to the outside world, hoping that he would get the chance to admire it again soon. 

As his shuttle raised above the clouds and the atmosphere, Ace punched the thrusters to full, making the E-Wing exit the hangar fast.

Ace spun the E-Wing once, before slowing down to sixty-six percent. 

‘Okay Devron… Your pull…’, Ace thought as he flew next to the hangar, watching the Queen and trying to ease the feelings the sight of her evoked. He placed his white-gloved hand against the cockpit’s window on the hangar’s side.

‘If I only knew how show my true feelings to her, how much she means to me.’ 

“Ace?” The sound of the commlink interrupted his thoughts. Ace knew that Devron was now ready.

“I’m here. What’s your situation?”

“I’m five kilometres away of them, but I have visual contact. They didn’t even send a craft to ID me. Looks like my plan is working.” Ace looked down at the Palace, wondering what the Queen was doing at this moment. “I’ll contact you when I’m about two kilometres away of them.” ‘Ace is worried about her, and she about Ace.’ 

“Copy that Devron. I’ll make my move then.”

Ace took his hand away of the window, and raised his sight to the sky. He checked the status once more. ‘Shields 200%… Lasers at maintenance level… throttle 66%… dropping to 50%.’

After that Ace looked out at the horizon over the trees and close to the sun, admiring the view and waiting for Devron’s call. 

Catherine and Darth Ravage battled each other furiously. She was truly the defender as Darth Ravage toyed with her, he gave her chances to fight where there should have been none, and Catherine knew that he was not ready to watch her die yet. 

He had scored several painful hits to her body as they fought, but Catherine still tried to remain optimistic. She was so tired though. With each powerful strike of his lightsaber, Catherine slowly weakened and was less able to fight back, as if the Sith was truly absorbing her power. 

“You’re doing well”, Ravage said conversationally. “Better than the Riddler did. Maybe you won’t give up just yet though I can sense your muscles beginning to weaken.”

Catherine locked her blade with his as he mentioned the Riddler and without thought backhanded Ravage. The Sith was momentarily stunned by the blow but immediately moved low and in a fluid motion swept her feet from under her again, causing Catherine to land hard on her neck. 

Darth Ravage went for a guillotine chop with his lightsaber but Catherine sensed what he was going to do and kneed the Sith where the sun does not shine, causing him to fall over quickly in pain. For the first time Catherine had really hurt him.

Darth Ravage looked up and gritted his teeth in anger and pain. “Maybe we ought to even things up a bit so you can avoid throwing low blows at me.”

Catherine smiled politely and wiped a stream blood from her forehead. She was not sure what had caused the wound, but it was painfully irritating. “Anything you say”, she said lightly, her sense of honour preventing her from killing him as he got to his feet. A part of her hated herself for her hesitation. “You cannot hurt me anymore than you already have.”

As Darth Ravage stood his features changed and morphed once more into the instantly familiar form of the Riddler. He smiled at her in a way that caused her heart to scream in terror. “It seems as though you’re way too affectionate to this form to hurt me. Knowing what I know now, I never would have let myself defect from Darth Blade to become this weakling, Riddler.” He said the name with profound scorn, and Catherine found herself completely unsure of what or even who she was facing anymore.

Ravage / Riddler began to fight Catherine. She was unprepared for this new onslaught for she had only heard to an extent about the Riddler’s Dark Jedi powers. He used them against her now and it was at this time that Catherine began to seriously question if she could get out of this situation alive.

As the ‘Warcrater’ grew huge in the distance, Devron slid a hand down to his hip, touching the Merr-Sonn QuickSnap 36T concealed there. ‘Time to sneak and peek, then zoom and boom.’

“Shuttle YX-47, identify your cargo and docking bay reservation.”

‘Oh, fun.’ 

“Warcrater, this is YX-47, carrying stormtrooper rations. My docking bay is Main Cargo 3B, Space 68.”

“Copy that, YX-47. Please shut down engines and allow our automated tractor beam system to bring you in.”

“I copy. YX-47 out.” With that, Devron dragged the throttle back to full stop. The constant thrumming under the floorboards calmed down as the shuttle glided along. A shake signalled the latching on of the tractor beam, which guided his now-inert shuttle along a preset path.

A couple of minutes later, the tractor beams set his shuttle down in the near-full docking bay. Reaching under his control panel, Devron flipped both the lower ramp and self-destruct switches then walked out of the shuttle. ‘It’s almost too easy’, he thought as, unchallenged, he jumped into a turbolift and took it to another docking bay.

Suddenly, the turbolift grinded to a halt and the interior turned blood red, the Emergency Alert lights flashing. A voice over the comm states clearly, “Intruder. Intruder. Rebel terrorist in docking bay cluster B. All stormtrooper details are assigned to deal with this threat.”

‘Just great.’ 

He knew that the stormtroopers would not get the explosives de-wired in time- if they found them at all. The trouble would be getting out, during these conditions, in five minutes.

Pulling his 36T out of its holster, Devron snapped a couple of shots into the latch at the top of the turbolift, opening up the emergency hatch. He climbed out and into the turbolift passageway. Looking around, he finally spotted the nearest door fifteen metres up. A small maintenance ladder was a metre away from the side of the turbolift – an easy jump. 

‘Here we go!’

Launching himself off of the turbolift, Devron caught hold of the ladder and started to climb up.

The dreams swirled in his mind: anger, pain, suffering, hopelessness. K fought to bring himself out of the depths of insanity that the dreams were trying to pull him into. He drew upon Ettall Makt and the teachings of his master, not much in the art of fighting but in the ways of the mind he had been taught well. 

K began to fight his way to the surface, forcing himself through the layers of terror that enveloped him in this synthetic nightmare. After what seemed hours exhaustion began to set in as he leapt into the light which beckoned him back to consciousness. 

K’s eyes shot open as he emerged into reality, the dream left behind in the depths of his subconscious. Pain was everywhere in K’s body as he struggled to even lift himself. He let his power flow through him and lend him the strength needed so that he could walk outside into the Palace interior. As K walked out into the palace, if you could call the shuffling and limping walking, the flickers of a dream played at the edges of his mind. He set off to find someone who could explain why the whole of his body felt like it was burning off of his bones. 

Jester slowly tried to make his way down the corridor. Despite his attempts at suppressing the pain, it still overcame him every few minutes. He had not been walking long when his head received a shot of pure needle piercing pain and he fell to the ground. Jester grabbed his head and rolled on the ground for a moment, hoping that it would go away soon. The pain didn’t last long, as he was able to suppress it again. As he grabbed onto the wall and pulled himself up, Jester heard someone in front of him. 

“Well, if it isn’t my twin.” Jester looked up to see K limping down the corridor in his direction. “I see you’re doing about as well as I am.”

“I feel like I could lift the whole world… And when I tried it fell on me.”

“That’s actually pretty good compared to how I feel.” Both of them enjoyed a short laugh before they both grabbed their heads in pain. “So, where are you headed?”

“I’m off to see Riddler, I think I know what’s going on.”

“What?”

“You’ll hear it when I tell him, I don’t think I could tell it twice.”

“Very well… Shall we proceed then?”

“Lets.” And so K and Jester proceeded to limp down the corridor, leaning on the wall for support. 

Ace circled around the palace, waiting for Devron’s signal. He tapped the radio.

‘Nothing… Time to move on.’

His thoughts dwelled with the Queen, hoping that she was alright, as well as Devron.

He pointed the E-Wing to the sky, moving the throttle to full speed, gathering up on one hundred and fifteen megalights and flying through the atmosphere. His radar beeped few times, informing Ace of the presence of other ships in front of him. Ace flew straight towards the Warcrater, and it seemed to grow in the viewscreen.

“Unidentified E-Wing, leave immediately or we will open fire.” A disembodied mechanised voice said on the radio on an open channel.

‘Go ahead…’ Ace ignored the message and continued flying towards the ImpStar. A few minutes later, the radar informed him that about twelve TIE Fighters were leaving the ImpStar’s hangar.

Ace spun the ship, setting the lasers to dual fire, aiming them at one of the TIEs and pulled the trigger, sending two laser shots against the ship. The TIE could not dodge the lasers and exploded from the impact. Ace pulled the stick towards him, making the E-Wing fly up. The TIEs flew next to him, trying to get Ace in their reticule. 

Ace dodged the shots the TIEs fired, professionally blasting few of them in exchange. He waited for the ImpStar to blow, to see Devron leaving the ship. S

Suddenly Ace felt his ship shaking as an result of one successful laser shot and he realised that two TIEs were following him, trying to score a few more hits.

‘Where’s Olin when I need him?’

Ace pushed the stick away from him, making the E-Wing flip and quickly turn down. The TIEs flew over him and Ace pulled back on the stick to get the TIEs to his view. After targeting one of them, Ace again pulled the trigger, letting the lasers sing their deadly song, which was bad for the TIE. 

The other TIE tried to spin away of Ace’s firing, but with the same result. Ace continued to avoid the fire and destroy the TIEs. 

After every TIE was destroyed, Ace began to fly towards the Warcrater, looking at the radar and hoping to see Devron leaving the Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer opened fire then, trying to hit Ace. The E-Wing had it shields at one hundred and twenty percent, meaning that only a few more hits would destroy it. ‘Devron, time to leave…’

Without hesitation, Ace avoided the shots as best he could still flying towards the Warcrater. When he was within one kilometre of the Star Destroyer Ace targeted one of the shield generators, moving his targeting reticule over it and pressed the trigger. The generator was damaged heavily, yet Ace felt a laser hitting his craft, dropping the shields to ninety-four percent.

Ace activated one proton torpedo, firing it at the generator and blasting it to oblivion. He quickly moved the reticule over to another generator, but only managed to hit it with two blasts because it was too close and he barely managed to avoid hitting it. 

The lasers continued fly past Ace with none of them hitting. He raised himself high above the Star Destroyer, preparing to attack again, but noticed five TIE Advanceds and one TIE Defender leaving the hangar on his radar. ‘This is bad…’

Ace cancelled his attack and began to fly away from the Star Destroyer. 

Darth Ravage / the Riddler played with Catherine. He sliced, slashed, chopped and battered Catherine’s body to the brink of death. After a particularly fierce exchange Catherine found herself being thrown against the wall and she slumped down to the floor in defeat. Lowering her shields and preparing for Darth Ravage’s final advance, Catherine was more than stunned when she heard a comforting voice in her mind. 

‘Focus your anger on me, Catherine. It will help you destroy him. I will bring you back from the Dark Side. You must give in to your hate and anger. It is the only way you can win!’

Hearing the voice of the Riddler, Catherine found herself turning her head away from Ravage to look in shock at the Riddler’s motionless body. As if he sensed her fear and apprehension at the thought of giving herself over to the Dark Side, the Riddler sent waves of comforting thoughts.

‘Catherine, trust me!’

Catherine wiped a tear from her eye and stood up carefully, calling a lightsaber to her hand. She leapt at Darth Ravage / the Riddler with renewed energy and began to use her hatred to fuel her skill and abilities. A part of her that remained distant from it all was amazed at how powerful it made her. 

So engrossed was she in her thoughts of battle that she did not sense the Riddler’s own shock at how strong Catherine had become once she started to use her emotions against the Sith. The part of him that retained contact with her realised numbly that it was because her hatred was inspired and guided by love.

But Darth Ravage seemed to anticipate her movements and was able to lock up her lightsaber and backhand Catherine hard across the face so that she flew into a near wall. She nearly blacked out from the sudden pain, but instead struggled to her feet, determined to go on and kill this man who stood before her. 

He sighed somewhat dramatically. “The Riddler would be so disappointed in you if he knew that you were fighting him. If he were alive that is!”

Catherine did not speak, but instead spat blood at the Sith, her eyes darkening with anger and hatred. 

“Maybe another face might inspire you to fight even harder.” Ravage smiled, and once again his features seemed to blur, the Riddler’s face dissolving to be replaced by that of Jester. Catherine burst into tears, no longer able to sense the Riddler and terrified of what was about to happen. “Hmm, no. Not the reaction I wanted.”

Darth Ravage looked critically at her, and Catherine knew that he was probing her thoughts, looking for a weakness. She pushed away the intrusion as he had almost discovered a place in her that she had hidden a long time ago. He smiled at her, and Catherine thought for a moment that he had found someone whom she could never fight to change into.

“Ah! Here it is.” Darth Ravage changed form again, morphing into a shape that was very familiar to Catherine. Catherine blinked in surprise as she stared at herself. Even for one accustomed to seeing another person dressed as herself, Catherine found it incredibly disconcerting to look at this darker version of herself.

Darth Ravage / Catherine tried to take advantage of her momentary confusion, but Catherine sidestepped the blow and the battle started up once again.

With his 36T in its holster, Devron began to climb up the ladder, making a fast pace as he ascended the fifteen or so metres. Upon reaching the door, he frowned. 

‘Now what?’ 

Devron looked around the space next to the doorframe until a red button caught his eye. “Emergency Door Release”, it said. ‘Ah.’ Reaching over, Devron pushed the button. The door responded instantly, quietly sliding open. With a grim smile, Devron swung into the passageway, drawing his 36T from its holster and ratcheting in a power pack. After taking a second to orient himself, he started running silently along the stark, unpainted metal walls of the hallway.

The hallway in question ran into a docking bay of TIE craft and other assorted fighters and assault shuttles. Hesitating for only a second, Devron picked out a Gamma-class assault shuttle that looked particularly solid. Then, shoving his 36T into a concealed position, he sprinted for the open ramp of the shuttle.

A few seconds later, having thrown himself into the pilot’s seat, Devron ran the engines up to one hundred percent, disregarding the pre-flight check. The assault shuttle screamed in protest, but respectfully powered up its engines. Lurching forward, the shuttle picked up speed, flying through the length of the hangar bay. 

The comm system crackled to life and a very angry voice comes over it. “Rebel saboteur, stop your craft immediately.”

Smiling, Devron decided to respond. “This is Admiral Devron Zal of the Royal Forces, and I answer only to the Queen and Grand Admiral Riddler. Who is this no-good low-life pond-scum Imperial I’m chatting with?”

“Rebel saboteur, stop immediately or you will be fired upon.”

The assault shuttle roared out of the hangar bay and immediately reoriented itself to fly towards its reinforcement in the form of one E-wing. “Well, nice talking to you, stuff-shirt, but by my calculations, you have exactly two seconds before your Star Destroyer goes up in smoke.”

“Rebel saboteur, we h—“

The comm instantly went static as a huge explosion ripped through the Star Destroyer’s hull. A second later, the sympathetic explosions engulfed the whole mid-section of the Star Destroyer, tearing through its hull and vaporising everything in its path. The flames spread all throughout the hull, melting and incinerating, turning the Star Destroyer into slag.

Most of the TIE Fighters, disoriented by the huge blast, now focussed on the lone assault shuttle that shot out of the hangar bay a few seconds before the Star Destroyer blew. Instantly, the space around the assault shuttle turned into a hotly contested airspace as TIE Fighters swarmed the shuttle, throwing laser bolt after laser bolt into its hull.

Devron keys the comm on. “Blood is red, vornskrs are brown, that ISD got a load of explosives, and now it’s going down!”

The E-wing dogfighting with one of the TIEs not chasing after Devron reacted, first sending a proton torpedo through the TIE’s hull, then vectoring in to intercept the assault shuttle. “Hey, assault shuttle, I think I’m supposed to cover you and blow those TIEs off your butt. Want me to?”

“Nah, just sit out there and stockpile spice all day.”

“Okay.” The E-wing fired several laser bolts, taking two TIE Fighters out and damaging a third. “There we go. Now, about that help…” 

“Alright, Ace, blast some of these fleas off of my back, and we’ll be out of here.”

“Got it. What are you doing?”

“You’ll see.” With that, Devron shut down the comm and ran back from the piloting station over to one of the door-lined hallways. Upon reaching one, he slammed the door open and climbed the short ladder up. Feet first, he began to slide down into the zero-g stormtrooper armour shell.

After making himself comfortable, Devron scanned the small collection of visible controls. Feeling around yielded some more controls on the feet and in the gloves. Shrugging slightly, Devron sealed himself in, then hit the launch button set in the wall of the armour storage bay.

With a whuump and a hearty “Hooyah,” Devron, encased in his spacetrooper armour, launched out of the assault shuttle. Most of the TIEs followed the assault shuttle and the E-wing escorting it, but one inquisitive TIE took a pass around to watch the spacetrooper. Hitting the thrust controls, Devron lunched himself forward, landing on one of the TIE’s solar panels. Then, using magnetic claws to anchor himself, he began making his way towards the TIE’s cockpit. The pilot, aware that his new passenger was probably hostile, started barrel rolling in an effort to shake him off.

To no avail. 

Devron finally made his way to the cockpit hatch and, using his own hands, ripped the latch free and opened up the hatch. Then, assisted by the metallic arm, he reached in, grabbed hold of the pilot with the metal claws, and tried to drag him out of the cockpit into space.

The TIE pilot struggled and lashed out, trying to stay in his cockpit. Still, the mechanically strong lifter arm dragged the hapless pilot out of the cockpit and tossed him out into the ion exhaust of the fighter. He could almost hear the screams as the pilot tumbled butt-over-teakettle into empty space. 

Devron crammed himself into the cramped cockpit of the TIE. With his head stuck out in order to see he turned the TIE around and headed toward Ace’s E-wing. 

Ace, obviously noticing a TIE coming from behind, turned around and prepared to fire. The two craft sped at each other headfirst. Sensing his chance, Devron launched himself out of the cockpit, and – using thruster jets – manoeuvres more or less in front of the speeding E-wing as it blazed by.

As the E-wing shot past him, Devron caught hold of the port-side wing precariously. Using the magnetic grippers again, he crawled up the wing, stopping at a central position on the fuselage, just behind the cockpit. That done and his magnetic grippers attached firmly, he stuck his head down in Ace’s field of view and knocked on the cockpit with a gloved hand, waving.

Judging from the look on his face and the sharp, uncontrollable turned, Devron guessed that he probably scared the Sithspawn out of Ace. Then, using a tightbeam transmission: “Yo, Ace, mind if I catch a ride?”

Ace proceeded to mutter a stream of expletives, followed by “Where you headed?”

“Down to ground. The g-suit can keep me shielded, and I can gun for us. Got enough weaponry.”

“Got it. Heading down.”

With that done, Devron turned around so he was facing backwards, ready to take on all comers. Ace increased speed and together they flew back toward Domus Prime.

A few kilometres away, between them and the atmosphere, the now-empty assault shuttle exploded under the TIEs’ concentrated fire. Now without a target, the TIEs flew towards the lone E-wing with spacetrooper passenger, looking to decimate.

“Here we go…” 

Tamira found the handmaidens where Catherine had told them to be, staying with the few children hidden deep in the bowels of the Palace, including Jester’s niece, Rhea, who was screaming her little lungs out.

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Can’t someone shut her up?”, Tamira demanded, rubbing her forehead in anxiety. She wished for some fresh air in this place as she looked at a console and wondered at the steady rumbling sound under her feet. On the console, flashes of light suggested that a battle was taking place in space above them. 

‘Please let them be alright’, Tamira prayed to a random god. Without her realising, Jedi Nay had appeared in the side room behind the Queen, and upon realising, the Queen spoke softly.

“Where’s Catherine?” Tamira asked, wringing her hands together.

Jedi Nay could only shrug. “We have not seen her for hours. She left at the same time you did, with General Zal and that Ace character.”

“Catherine went to speak with the Grand Admiral, to discuss our defences for the coming invasion. I didn’t see her after that, because I was talking with Ace, until Devron came storming in looking like he’d eaten something that Sithspawned cook in the kitchens loves to foist off on us, you know, the sweets with all the coffeine and sugar? Then Devron said something…”

Here Tamira trailed off, thinking of Ace and how he might not return from the fight up there in space above her. For all she knew, he was already dead.

“What did General Zal say?” Jedi Nay’s voice was soft, but commanding. She made a small gesture towards the Queen as she spoke. Tamira knew that she had to answer, and so turned to the handmaiden.

“He said that the invasion had started, and that the Riddler could not be trusted.” Tamira blinked suddenly, and her eyes regained their focus. She shuddered, and turned back to her computerised view of the sky. 

‘The Grand Admiral can not be trusted? What could that mean?’ Jedi Nay asked herself as she quickly left the Queen’s presence. Something was definitely wrong here, not just the invasion. There was something sinister in the Palace itself. 

Perhaps General Zal had been mistaken, but if he was not, then Catherine was in grave danger. Either way, Jedi Nay decided that she would go herself to see the Riddler, and find out what was going on.

Catherine narrowly avoided a chop at her head, but as she moved she could feel as the heat of Darth Ravage / Catherine’s lightsaber blade singed her long hair. Another well-placed blow caused Catherine to leap away from the Sith. She let her anger flow through her as they battled furiously, using it to help her ignore her tired muscles and the ache in her legs. Several deep cuts marked her body, caused by Ravage’s continual onslaught, flashing with fiery pain. Catherine knew that she would not be able to go on much longer, that much of the future was clear to her.

She realised that she now had to look for an alternative solution to this crisis. Though she hated herself for even thinking of leaving the Riddler here with this Sith who usually bore his younger face, Catherine knew that she had to look for a way to escape.

Catherine started to back herself towards the door as she parried a number of strikes from Ravage’s crimson lightsaber. He smiled her own smile at Catherine and manipulated the Force to slam the door shut and locked.

Catherine ducked and rolled away from a furious series of attacks, knowing that she was in trouble. She stood and looked at Ravage in fear. “Oh shit”, was all she could whisper.

Jester and K dragged their reluctant bodies up the flight of stairs towards the Riddler’s room in the tower. As they approached it somewhat cautiously they realised that what there were hearing was jumping around and much yelling. While taking a moment to catch their breath, they exchanged a weird look that seemed to mix confusion and concern. 

Jester realised that he recognised who he was hearing within the Riddler’s room. Standing outside the heavy door, which had been replaced since Jester blew up the last one, K withdrew his blaster, and Jester readied his body to kick the door down.

K took a deep breath. “Ready?”

“Not really”, answered Jester with a painful and somewhat forces smile.

“Ok.”

Jester kicked at the door to the Riddler’s room. His entire body seemed to disappear in a haze of pain as he nearly broke his foot in trying to get inside. He used the Force to push the pain aside and breathed heavily. “Ouch”, was all he said.

K stepped forward and put a gentle hand on Jester’s shoulder, not wanting to cause the man any further pain. “Let a real man try this.”

K then threw his entire body weight at the door. The only result of this action was a horrible crunching sound as K’s body met with the door that, unknown to the two of them, was made of a mix of wood and steel. Jester winced in sympathy.

As K struggled back to his feet he muttered a few very nasty obscenities under his breath.

Catherine started as she heard a thumping outside the Riddler’s door and paused in her battle with her mirror image. Reaching out a distracted thought the Force told her that it was K and Jester out there. The Riddler – Ravage, she corrected herself – had told her about the almost indestructible nature of the Riddler’s new door, and she knew that they would never be able to break it down. She needed a better idea.

Catherine kicked Darth Ravage / Catherine hard in the head, putting all her anger and hatred behind the blow and stunning him for an instant. Taking advantage of that, Catherine ran to the Riddler’s arsenal cabinet and picked up another lightsaber.  

Catherine ignited the weapon and with a fluid movement threw it into the air and kicked it through the nearest wall. The blade deactivated seconds after it had left her hand, a security measure built into the weapon to prevent it from inadvertently harming anyone other than its intended victim. But it was enough, for the weapon flew truly through a hole it had started to create, and hopefully Catherine would soon be able to see the end of this conflict.

A lightsaber sailed through the wall quiet suddenly and without warning. Jester, completely unprepared for this development and his Force-senses dulled by the pain in his body, made an odd sound as the handle of the weapon hit him harshly in the head. Jester rubbed his head in pain and he too muttered a few obscenities.

K, having seen what had happened to Jester, picked up the weapon and handed it to the slightly concussed Jedi-in-training. “It’s a lightsaber.”

Jester looked at it oddly for a moment then seemed to recognise the weapon for what it was. Igniting the blade he began to cut his way through the Riddler’s door.

Ace punched the throttle to full, glancing out at Devron to make sure the General was still on board. “Hey Devron. Those suits should have missile launchers with them. Snatch few TIEs before they make your butt burn.” 

Ace saw Devron nod in his suit and begin to reload his weapons. ‘This man is good’, Ace thought. 

Devron targeted one of the TIEs, shooting before the weapons told him that he had a lock on his target. A few seconds later he was rewarded by a gratifying explosion as one missile passed straight through the TIE’s hull. The other TIEs that were following them shot a number of laser blasts, and one hit the wing that Devron was clipped to. 

The force of the impact caused Devron to lose his balance momentarily, but he did not fall from the E-Wing. Devron grunted and activated his commlink as he tried to take another shot. 

“Sithspawn, Ace, my weapon’s not functioning. That blast just screwed the wiring.” Ace watched as Devron threw the weapon at a TIE fighter that had come too close to them, and was stunned to see an explosion as if crashed into the cockpit of the approaching TIE fighter. Devron gave a short laugh and Ace shook his head.

“I’ll think of something. Hold on… tightly. I mean it.” Ace closed the connection, pulled the stick towards him while Devron attached himself more firmly to the hull of the E-Wing. The E-Wing raised its nose up, making a fast move over the final TIE bomber. Ace targeted the TIE with his proton torpedoes and blasted it away.

“That was the last one”, Ace informed Devron, who probably already knew this considering that Devron had a better view of the space around them. He was answered by silence. “Devron?”

“Sithspawn”, Devron cursed loudly, “Are you trying to kill me of what? Give a man some decent warning, why don’t you? That flip almost made me puke.” 

Ace laughed into the commlink. “Only one hundred and fifteen megalights, Devron.”

“Just gets us safely down”, Devron grunted, wondering if he could manage a return to the planet’s surface without this crazy E-Wing. 

“I’ll see what-“, Ace looked out at Devron, who did not look nervous at all. Ace smiled at him. “Okay, okay.”

He slowed the E-Wing down to one hundred megalights and descended through the clouds. Moving back towards the Palace, Ace steered them towards the hangar. As he did so, he found himself thinking of the Queen once again. ‘I hope she’s alright…’

Ace jumped down enthusiastically, and watched in more than a little awe as Devron unclipped himself and jumped down onto the ground. Devron quickly unzipped his suit and started towards the upper levels of the Palace.

“Good flying there, Ace. And thanks for the ride.” 

Ace followed the General almost warily, wondering what was going on in the Palace that he still looked so concerned. Surely the rest of the fleet would be able to handle what was left of the Imperials up in space, and the ground troops would be here soon to clean up Domus Prime’s surface.

“Don’t mention it, Devron”, Ace said politely. “It was a pleasure to help out.” 

Devron glanced back at the tone of Ace’s voice, and stopped just outside the turbolift. “Hey, whassup? We won, remember?”

Ace stared at the ground and nodded after a moment. “I’m fine. Let’s find the Queen and the others.”

Devron tilted his head to one side curiously. “You really are worried about her, aren’t you?” he asked while thinking, ‘Sithspawn, Catherine is not going to like this.’

Ace looked up at the General, “Yeah, I am.”

Devron and Ace took the turbolift up to the seventh floor, hoping that the Queen could be found and reported to there.

The Queen had moved from the hidden room once she had seen Ace and Devron’s E-Wing returning to Domus Prime. Tamira had practically flown up the stairs to the Queen’s rooms, and she now stood on the balcony caring nothing for her own safety as she watched the E-Wing come down to the hangar bay of the Palace. 

Realising that Ace was alright, Tamira could not stop a single tear from falling, and a great weight lifted from her heart. She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing that Ace would be there soon.

‘He kept his promise’, she thought wonderingly, ‘He came back alive. I am certain that Ace wants to see me as much as I want to see him. Please let him come here soon.’

Jedi Nay stepped purposefully from the top of the staircase, then stopped when she saw Jester trying to use a lightsaber to slice through the Riddler’s door. K was with him and the two of them looked like they had just woken up. From far away, Jedi Nay thought she could smell burnt rubber. 

‘What is going on around here?’ She could sense that Catherine was in the Riddler’s rooms, but there was something else there that suddenly frightened the handmaiden.

Jedi Nay ran the remaining distance, following behind the Jester and K.

On to Chapter XIII!

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