Domus Prime:

Chapter XIII

Ace and Devron wandered the halls of the seventh floor, once again wondering where everyone had disappeared to. Silence reigned in the Palace, the sound of their footsteps echoing loudly down the long corridors. Ace looked over at Devron and noticed that the General had his blaster in his hand, ready for any form of action. Ace copied him, holding his own weapon before him.

Devron stopped short as if he heard something, but Ace could hear nothing. “There’s some sort of fight in this direction”, the General said, and Ace saw some undefinable emotion flash in his eyes. “I’ll check out this one. You find the Queen and the others, and I’ll meet up with you soon enough.”

Ace grinned at Devron. “Where will she be?”

“Back in her rooms, most likely”, Devron pointed. 

“Are you sure you can handle it alone?” Ace asked as Devron started to sprint towards the corner.

“There’s not that many of them”, came Devron’s voice as he disappeared around the corner. Ace waved but the General did not see.

Ace walked back in the direction that Devron had shown him, and after a short while saw one of the Queen’s handmaidens standing guard, her blaster pointed at his chest in a deadly manner. Recognising the pilot, the white-haired young woman lifted her blaster, eyes sparkling.

“I must speak with the Queen.”

The woman smiled at him. “Her Majesty Queen Sailor Coruscant is waiting for you, Ace Azzameen.” Ace blinked at the woman for a moment, wondering how she knew his name. But he shrugged off his confusion and walked through the Queen’s rooms, spotting her standing on the balcony.

‘Calm Ace… You can do it…’ He took his helmet off as he walked towards her. As he had walked to this place with Devron, Ace had rehearsed over a thousand times what he was going to say to the Queen when he saw her next, but now that he was faced with her again he did not know what to say.

“Your Majesty, the Imperial Star Destroyer has been destroyed.”

The Queen turned to Ace, smiling. He grinned back in response, then her smile faded as she realised that he was alone. “Where’s Devron?”

Ace saw for the first time that trails of tears had left the Queen’s delicate make up a little smudged, and wondered why she had been crying. “He found a few soldiers had made it up to the seventh floor of the Palace and went to take care of them. He should be here soon.”

There was silence between them for a long time as the two of them were simply content to look at the other and take hope from the fact that they were both alive. The Queen broke the spell that held them, gazing down at the ground. “Ace, I missed you”, she said softly, tears starting to fall, “I thought you wouldn’t come back.”

Acting on instinct, Ace moved towards the Queen, concentrating on forcing himself to have enough courage for what he planned to do. Placing one hand under the Queen’s chin he lifted it until their eyes met again.

“I came back because of you, Your Majesty. Every moment in space made me worry about you more. I was afraid we would never see each other again.” 

The Queen did not wait any longer, throwing her arms around Ace desperately, as if she needed to reassure herself that he was really there. She pressed her head against his chest and he could feel the warmth of her tears soaking into his jumpsuit.

Tamira held on to Ace as though he was the last stable aspect of her life. And yet, soon that too would change. Tears fell freely down her face as all her fears and worries finally overcame her desire to remain calm.

‘He is in love with the Queen’, Tamira thought, bringing a fresh stream of tears. ‘He doesn’t even know I exist. When this is all over, I will probably never see him again. And even if I do, it won’t matter, because I am not the one that he wants.’

Her misery was too strong and so Tamira simply remained in his arms, crying. And though Ace did not understand, he was content to hold her and brush her hair back from her face gently, as on the horizon the silver face of Domus Prime’s third moon, Unmei, began to rise. 

Ace held the Queen close, and looked out over her head at the moonrise, noticing with amazement the way the moonlight made everything look more beautiful. 

“Look”, he whispered to the Queen, gently turning so that she could see the moon and the effect it had on Domus Prime. “Even the moon has accepted our emotions.” Ace said to the Queen. She continued to hold Ace tight, but looked out at the view from the balcony, watching the moon with tears streaming down her cheeks. 

“It’s so beautiful”, the Queen said after a time, wiping away the last few tears.

‘Please let everything to be well. Stay with me, not the Queen.’ Tamira’s thoughts dwelled on the future as she wondered about what would happen between her and the pilot when everything was over.

As Devron walked closer the sounds of the small gunfight became louder in intensity, the blaster bolts becoming more discernible and battle cries could be heard. “Sounds like a party. Maybe they’ll have something to drink.” 

Rounding the corner revealed a squad of stormtroopers firing at a small group of Royal Forces personnel. Reacting instinctively, Devron snapped his 36T out of its holster into firing position, immediately taking two of them out.

The stormtroopers, now facing a double-pronged threat, broke up into two groups. Another stormtrooper fell as one of the other troopers got a well-placed shot off, but the troopers also score a couple of hits. Devron snapped off a flurry of bolts at the five stormtroopers heading toward him, ducking around behind the corner. 

‘What happened to all my grenades?’

‘Oh yeah. I didn’t have any.’ 

Devron launched himself out from behind the corner, landing awkwardly on the floor as he drilled holes in two more stormtroopers. The last one hesitated for a half-second, allowing Devron to line up a perfect shot and pull the trigger.

Nothing. A light blinked red, indicating a drained power pack.

“Sithspawn!” Devron hurled the useless thing at the stormtrooper and leapt for a blaster rifle lying around doing nothing. The trooper ducked the thrown blaster and snapped off a quick shot, which seared into Devron’s left leg.

Muttering something like “Sithspawfucishiaaam!” out loud, Devron battled back the fiery pain, snatching up the blaster rifle and quick-tapping the trigger ten or twelve times. Blaster bolts impacted all over the trooper, blowing holes in his armour and sending him flying back into his remaining two companions. Thus incapacitated, the stormies were easily shot by the three Royal Forces troopers still alive.

Slowly, Devron dragged himself to his feet. “Godamothifudgin…” It hurt, but he was able to limp over to the three troopers. “Sitrep?”

“No one can say. There might or might not be other trooper platoons around. There’s something going on up near the tower in Res Hallway 21, I think. You might want to check it out. We were ordered to go to the Queen’s chambers to set up a static defence.”

“Do it. And make sure that you do it good. I’ll go investigate.”

“Yes, sir.” The troopers went up towards the Queen’s chamber, leaving Devron. ‘The Grand Admiral lives in the tower near residential hallway number 21. This is not good.’

Scooping up another blaster rifle so that he has one in either hand, Devron ran/ hobbled as fast as he could down to the hallway.

‘Something’s not right’, Ace thought.

The Queen raised her head from his chest and saw the pondering look on Ace’s face. Gently she stroked his cheek, catching the pilot’s attention. “Is something wrong?” she asked him. “You seem to be drifting.” 

Ace blinked and looked down at the Queen, worry creasing his face. “Devron has not returned yet. He should be here.”

The Queen looked again out at the silver moon on the horizon, resting back against Ace’s chest. “I’m sure that he is fine. General Zal can take care of himself.”

Ace nodded slightly. “He is incredible man. Much courage, much skills. But he needed my assist in space, he may need now…” 

The Queen turned to Ace, her hands gripping his arms almost painfully. “Ace, please don’t go. I have a bad feeling about what is happening out there, I fear that something will happen to you if you leave me.”

Ace pulled her hands from his arms and pulled her into his embrace. ‘Devron may be in trouble… Ace… no… You mean too much to her, stay… Ace stay…’ Ace sighed deeply as he held the Queen to him.

He tilted his head so that it was as close to hers as possible. “I can’t go, Your Majesty. I just can’t. I need to be with you, your Majesty.” She looked up at him, surprise and relief washing over her features. Ace looked at her for a moment, then leaned down and kissed the Queen of Domus Prime softly on her lips.

“Ace”, the Queen began, trying to stop the flow of tears and think of a way to solve this situation. ‘I must tell Ace’, she thought, ‘otherwise I will lose him forever.’

“Yes, Your Majesty?” As she heard the sound of his voice Tamira realised that he was waiting for her to go on.

‘Catherine’s going to kill me for this’, Tamira thought worriedly, as she held Ace’s hand tightly and wished for another outcome. ‘But, somehow I know this is what I have to do.’

Tamira sighed. “My”, she started, looking out at the moon and trying to find the strength to go on, “my name is…” She looked up at Ace’s beautiful eyes and holding their gaze.

“My name is Tamira”, Tamira said at last, and it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “I’m not the Queen, just her friend. She asked me to be her decoy so that she would be safe from harm. I’m no one special, she is the one who needs protecting, not me.” 

Her eyes downcast, Tamira waited for Ace to judge her, to condemn her actions and to be angry with her for lying to him. But it did not come. 

Ace blinked once in surprise, a million conflicting thoughts and emotions racing through his mind. One thought kept repeating itself in different tones.

“She’s not the Queen.”

Anger, betrayal.

“She’s not the Queen.”

Hurt, confusion.

“She’s not the Queen.”

Shock, wonder.

“She’s not the Queen.”

Happiness, hope for the future together.

“She’s not the Queen.”

Sudden realisation.

“If you are not the real Queen”, Ace asked softly, trying to sort everything out in his mind, “who is?”

He brushed a tear from Tamira’s face. She looked up at him hopefully, and smiled when she saw the acceptance in his eyes. Her smile was enough to banish the last of his negative emotions, though a new fear suddenly replaced them, making him uneasy.

“Catherine”, Tamira replied easily, “You met her the other day.” 

Ace thought about it for a moment, but for some reason he could not remember her face, only that she had been posing as a handmaiden and that she was rather pretty.

Something was still worrying Ace though.

“Where is she now?” he asked, trying to understand the nature of his fear.

“She went to speak with the Grand Admiral. She should be back by now.”

Several things clicked together in Ace’s mind at once, and before he realised what he was doing, he had started to move from the room. He did not know where he was headed, only that he had to go help, moving with his blaster in one hand and Tamira’s small hand in the other.

A beep from his commlink started Ace, and he stopped and activated it. “Emkay?”

“Ace! Where have you been? I have been worried. The battle up there is over, there was a massive explosion and the bad guys are gone.”

“Ease your circuits Emkay, I’ll answer you questions in time. Devron managed to destroy the Star Destroyer. I have been busy so I hadn’t time to contact you.”

“Affirmative, Ace. Don’t do that again. So what’s the situation?”

“Things have settled a bit, but I think something needs to be done. Find your way to the hangar; you can refuel Otana there. But don’t wander around, I suspect there are troopers around.”

“Alright Ace. I’ll be in touch.” There was a pause. “I found him.”

“You did? Where is he now?”

“He left already. Said he was needed somewhere.”

“Okay, we’ll discuss that later.”

Ace put the commlink back to his pocket. Emkay turned the engines on and lifted off. He began to find the hangar to land.

Ace looked around the hallway, feeling the Queen – Tamira’s  – hand in his and wondering what to do now that his brother had been found. ‘To leave or stay’, he thought in confusion, ‘She needs me.’

Tamira looked up at Ace in concern, wondering what was happening. “Is everything okay?”

Ace smiled down at her, not wanting to worry this beautiful woman. “Yeah”, he breathed softly.

But Tamira looked deep into his eyes and Ace suddenly realised that he could hide nothing from her. “I can see that something is wrong. Please, tell me.”

The forced smile on Ace’s face disappeared. “My droid, Emkay, found my brother”, he said softly. His sight fell to the floor as she realised what he was going to do.

“Will you take him with you?” Tamira found herself wondering what future she would have with Ace. Could she leave Domus Prime? Would she finally be able to see the Galaxy as she longed to? Or would she be left here again, lonely.

“No, he didn’t go home. This means that my family business will be lost. Unless…” Ace’s voice trailed off sadly.

“Unless what?” Tamira prompted him with a small smile, trying to show her support. She took his hands in hers, ignoring the blaster in one and stared up into Ace’s eyes. 

“Unless I leave and help my family. That is the only way I can help my sister to keep up the family business.”

Tamira let Ace’s hands fall as she realised that she was not going to be able to continue her happy fantasies of being able to remain with Ace. He was going to leave her, and tears started to form once again, though she pushed them back as she walked back into the Queen’s rooms to join the handmaidens there. 

Devron continued his awkward shuffling down the hallway, knowing that he would never make it in time. As he passed the War Room he looked inside quickly, and started when he saw that all of the officers within, who should have been out leading the fight for Domus Prime, had been slaughtered. 

At a brief glance Devron saw that they had been killed by someone wielding a lightsaber, and he realised instantly that there had to be a Sith inside the Palace. Devron took a step away from the War Room, moving towards the one place he thought the Sith would be.

He tripped over one of the stair as he ran up them towards the Riddler’s room and landed heavily on his leg. He stifled another curse, wanting to be moving again as he struggled to his feet. When he was moving it did not hurt as much. And besides, Catherine needed him. Devron turned and hobbled the rest of the way to the Grand Admiral’s room.

When he arrived at the top of the stairs he found Jedi Nay, Jester and K already in the hallway, cutting through the door with a lightsaber and about prepared to knock the rest of the door down so that they could get inside. 

After a mighty heave from the four of them, the door gave way. They all crashed down on top of one another, Devron grunting in pain as he landed on his bad leg again, and K and Jester both nearly passing out from the pain the fall inspired.

Darth Ravage / Catherine stepped away and backhanded Catherine so that she fell back in surprise. He stopped to assess the situation. He was clearly outnumbered, it was time for another Sith trick. Darth Ravage / Catherine thought back to his training with Darth Blade, what could he do? He suddenly remembered a way to beef up the odds in his favour.

As the new arrivals in the Riddler’s room gathered themselves back up and finally saw what was transpiring, they were left astonished by what they saw next.

Jester was the first to regain his voice. He cried out in shock, “Catherine. There are two of you!”

One of the two women rolled her eyes at him and murmured sarcastically, “No shit, Sherlock!” The other Catherine looked at that one in shock and terror, but the longer Jester looked at them, the more the two looked alike. He reached out with his Jedi senses, but both seemed to have a black wall around their minds, he could not find which was the true Catherine.

Jester hobbled over to a corner, and leaning against the wall took out his lightsaber. He held it in one hand, motioning the weapon towards both Catherines. 

They stood in the middle of the room, each holding their own ignited weapons, standing just outside each other’s reach, both looking battered and tired, their robes torn and their long plaits of hair singed slightly. One’s face was bruised, while the other seemed to move somewhat awkwardly, as if a low blow had caused some painful damage. 

Despite the commotion around them, the attention of both Catherines seemed to be almost entirely focussed on each other, hatred flashing in their eyes and anger consuming their stances. There was no doubt that both had been manipulating the Dark Side in their battle; the air seemed to crackle around them. 

They continually moved, circling, prepared to strike at any moment. 

K took out his blaster and held it before him. Devron pulled from somewhere a repeating blaster rifle and Jedi Nay took her lightsaber and ignited it, the violet blade casting a different glow in a room that had previously been dominated by the two reds of the Catherines’ weapons. 

As if a signal passed between them, the two Catherines stopped their movement and looked around the Riddler’s room at the new arrivals, each moving in a manner that was a reflection of the other’s motions. Both smiled, and Jester thought that at once the smiles he saw were both relieved and somewhat amused.

One of them spoke. “How many more of you are there? A few more and we could have a party.”

Jester grinned. “Cool! Can I juggle lightsabers and do special voices for my somewhat burnt rubber chicken?” He lightly flipped his lightsaber in the air. 

Both Catherines looked stunned at his antic, and K smacked Jester around the back of his head, muttering, “Idiot.”

It was Jedi Nay and Devron who spotted what one of the Catherine’s had been willing them to see since their arrival in the Riddler’s room. Over in the corner of the room, near one of the cupboards, lay the Riddler, his body beaten and bruised and seemingly without life within him.

Jedi Nay ran to him, past the two Catherines, and though one of them raised a weapon to strike the Jedi the other blocked it, although it was impossible to tell which woman had moved first. Sparks flashed from the crackling blades of the lightsabers.

Cradling the Riddler’s body in her lap, Jedi Nay reached forth with her Jedi senses to try and detect if the Riddler was still alive. But her abilities were blocked somehow, she could not touch him. She checked for a pulse, and found an extremely weak one. She gasped aloud and breathed, “He’s alive, barely!”

Relief washed over the group, emanating from one of the two Catherine’s. Jester saw that one of them was crying, a single tear falling down a face marred by hatred and anger. Then he looked over at the other and saw a mirror image of the emotion, and Jester realised that still he did not know which was the true Catherine.

Devron knelt down beside the Riddler’s body and shook his head, realising just how old some of these wounds must have been. Understanding struck him suddenly and he knew then that this could not have been the same Riddler who had ordered the decimation of the Royal Forces. As he looked down at his friend’s battered and dehydrated face he realised that this had to be the work of a…

“Sithspawn!” Devron cursed violently as he got to his feet in one movement, Berserker abilities flaring to life as he pointed his blaster at the two women. 

“Both of you”, he cried, “drop your ‘sabers! Now!”

The Catherines seemed to be taken aback, one paling with shock and outrage. “Devron, what are you doing?” She breathed in fear, not wanting to let go of the weapon which was her only defence against Ravage should he choose to attack again.

The other stared at Devron. “Go on, Devron Zal! Kill her. Can’t you see she’s a Sith Lord? She will tempt you, just like all the others have tempted you!”

Devron closed his eyes and double tapped the trigger. There was a scream and everyone in the room shuddered as they heard two bodies hitting the floor

The Catherines seemed to be taken aback, one paling with shock and outrage. “Devron, what are you doing?” She breathed in fear, not wanting to let go of the weapon which was her only defence against Ravage should he choose to attack again.

The other stared at Devron. “Go on, Devron Zal! Kill her. Can’t you see she’s a Sith Lord? She will tempt you, just like all the others have tempted you!”

Devron closed his eyes and double tapped the trigger. There was a scream and everyone in the room shuddered as they heard two bodies hitting the floor.

Catherine sat up, her face contorting in pain, and she stared up at Devron in shock and outrage. “Devron”, she gasped as she got to her feet, “you shot me in the shoulder!”

He managed to look a little embarrassed. “I wanted to make sure you’re not a Sith Lord!”

Catherine spun around, looking to her left at where the body of Darth Ravage should have fallen. “Ravage”, she breathed in confusion, looking around desperately, “Where is he?”

Behind her she suddenly heard the sound of a lightsaber igniting. Catherine turned and brought her hands up in front of her face in a futile attempt to stop the weapon’s descent. She faced her death bravely, knowing that she had no other resources left. She did not have time to call her own weapon back to her hand, she did not have the strength to do that even if she did have time. Catherine looked up at Ravage, her face a mask of anger, and waited.

But Darth Ravage began to slow his strike, as he struggled against an unseen force. Catherine blinked in surprise as both she and the Sith heard a familiar voice in their minds.

‘Ravage. I was once you! You were once me! I will not let you hurt people anymore. I will not let you hurt the woman I love and I will not let you hurt my friends. That is why I am going to kill you, Darth Ravage. I have to. Not because I need to… but because I want to!’

Catherine started as she realised what the Riddler was saying, and her heart leapt. Darth Ravage could not hurt her, Catherine knew that now.

Darth Ravage began to howl as he stopped his strike at Catherine and began to hobble towards the Riddler’s body. Even as his head began to throb he fought against the power that held him and threw Jedi Nay and Devron away from the Riddler’s side. 

Jedi Nay scrambled to her feet, watching in horror as the Riddler used his Dark Jedi powers to disintegrate Darth Ravage’s brain. She ignited her lightsaber and commanded, “Open Fire!”

Those people with rifle or blaster immediately responded, discharging their weapons at the Sith. Darth Ravage was hit innumerable times but did not stop his inexorable charge towards the Riddler. 

Fighting every step of the way, Darth Ravage moved to the Riddler’s side and brought him lightsaber down twice in a stabbing motion. Then the Sith screamed once more in pain and frustration and died, his body falling unnoticed beside the Riddler. No one seemed to care as a last gurgling sound came from Darth Ravage’s throat and he closed his eyes for the last time.

There was a long moment of silence as everyone realised what had happened, then Catherine gave a small cry and moved to the Riddler’s side, falling to the floor at his side and taking up his hand. The others followed her.

Jedi Nay knelt on the floor next to the Riddler and pulled his head into her lap, trying to summon any sort of healing energy to help him. Devron grasped the Riddler’s other hand. Jester stood looking down on the group, weeping as he realised what was going to happen now.

Catherine closed her eyes for a moment, ignoring the pain in her body and making a wish.  When she opened them again, she saw the Riddler open his own deep brown eyes and look up at her.

“Is he dead?” the Riddler asked in a voice choked by disuse.

Catherine nodded, tears in her eyes. She squeezed the Riddler’s hand gently, not knowing what to say. “It is over”, she managed finally, “Darth Ravage is dead.”

Darth Ravage was dead. Of this everyone was certain. K had moved Ravage’s body to a corner out of the way and two medical droids began to clear room so they might be able to save the Riddler’s life.

The Riddler was dying. 

Catherine wept as she looked down at his battered body, knowing that her heart was surely dying as well. But she could say nothing as the Riddler turned to Devron Zal, who had been his second in command. They had been friends and comrades since Devron had first come to the Palace to work as a weapons design specialist, and the Riddler trusted his judgement completely.

The Riddler nodded at the General who looked at him. “Devron, it is to you my friend. I shall pass the Royal Force’s Command to you as it was passed to me.”

Devron shook his head, not knowing how to respond, not wanting to accept the responsibility. “But, Riddler. I’m just a soldier! I’m not worthy.”

The Riddler sighed sadly. “Nor was I. You are the most qualified here and I trust your judgment. You are now, Grand Admiral Devron Zal.”

Overcome by emotion, the new Grand Admiral closed his eyes and cried. 

The Riddler then looked up at Jester, and smiled at his best friend. “Goodbye my friend. May you achieve everything you ever wanted in life. You will become a full Jedi. I promise!”

Then the Riddler turned those eyes to Catherine, and he realised that she was crying. Her blue eyes shone with tears and her face was cut and bruised from her battle. The Riddler smiled at her, bringing forth a fresh stream of tears. “You were my secret love and I have done so ever since the Sith invasion. I’m sorry I never told you sooner. I will be with you always.” He reached up one shaking hand to brush the tears from her eyes.

He looked around the room once more. “Goodbye everyone.”

Then he took a deep breath, and died.

Catherine’s heart froze as she saw the fire in his eyes fade and disappear. The medical droids went into a frenzy, but she knew that it was too late. Too late for everything. “I am sorry”, she whispered to him, holding his hand in her own, “I should have realised sooner. I should have come. It is all my fault.”

There were others in the room, but she did not notice their presence, just as she paid no attention to the pain in her shoulder.

His hair was in his eyes. She brushed it back, looking down at that face that she knew so well, that she loved so much.

But she had realised too late, and now she had nothing. Someone was talking to her, but she did not hear them, ignored them pulling on her clothes, trying to get her away from the body. Away from him.

She was kneeling on the floor next to him, touching his face, wishing for something she could never have. Wishing for a miracle, a dream, a prayer to be answered. But there was nothing. Nothing left.

Leaning up against his body, Catherine curled up into a ball and started to cry. 

The next few days were very troubling for the Domus Prime Head Council. The new Grand Admiral was getting himself acquainted with his new duties. Jester sat around, not really caring about much except missing his friend.

Jedi Nay went about her way, trying to mask her personal loss and grief. Ace followed the new Grand Admiral around most of the time. He sort of became his personal shadow.

K took the loss especially hard. He had made a real connection to the Riddler over the past few months and had become somewhat of a brother to him. He had not been prepared for this kind of loss.

Her Royal Highness pronounced a week of mourning for The Riddler. He was to be decorated with the planet’s highest military honour and to be cremated in the Altar of Freedom.

Of everyone who hurt the most, Catherine took the loss the worst. She had confined herself to her room, not really saying or eating much. Jester went to comfort her when he was not busy and Jedi Nay did the same. They discouraged her form attending the funeral but she would not be swayed from saying goodbye. Although she longed for a miracle, she knew that she had to say goodbye, to close her heart off once more.

Dawn approached on the third day and everyone was to be dressed in Honour Garb. 

The Queen wore a black, flowing, dress and a black head garb. Grand Admiral Devron Zal wore the colours of mourning of the Domus Prime Royal Forces and wore a Black Uniform with a crimson sash and gold shoulder plates. He bore the personal loss with a heavy heart.

The Jester wore the robes of a Jedi Knight. His brown hood hid the tears that rolled down his cheeks.

Jedi Nay wore a brown robe that too had a hood that hid her face and the tears that fell.

Ace Azzameen led the Honour Guard of five hundred soldiers. They all were dressed in Crimson Red and each carried a loud Blaster Rifle. These were used for a Military Salute, not for battle.

K wore a black robe. He chose to show his grief. He was not ashamed of it. 

Catherine stood in front of the group. She wore a black dress and she had her long hair flowing loose down her back. There was an air of calm around her that was belied by the tears that fell down her face in a continuous stream.

When the sun went down, it signaled the beginning of the greatest funeral in Domus Prime history. Hundreds of thousands of people had gathered on the street to say their own farewell to their beloved military leader.

The first wave of honour guards carried the Riddler’s coffin to the carriage, which would be led from the Palace to the Temple of Freedom. The carriage flew at a short height form the ground and moved at about five kilometres per hour. 

About half an hour later, the carriage arrived at its final destination. The Temple was a small building, consisting primarily of one large room, and it was to there that the honour guard took the Riddler’s coffin. The room seemed darker than normal in the fading sunlight, the Altar of Freedom dominating the room. It was on this that the guard gently laid the Riddler’s broken body, and they folded his arms across his chest.

The Riddler’s body had been dressed in his best uniform, snow white with his crimson sash of office and gold shoulder blades. He was wearing his black boots, shined to perfection, and on his belt sat his lightsaber.

Standing in the corner of the Temple, one of the guards lit a torch and walked towards the pyre. All of the Riddler’s closest friends were standing around his body, but the guard walked up to Catherine. Respectfully he bowed to the handmaiden, seeing the tears in her eyes.

He spoke gently as he said, “He would have wanted you to do this.”

Catherine could not breathe, she had no reason to. But she saw the look in the guard’s eyes and stepped forward, taking the torch from him. She stepped up onto the dais, towards his body, and found herself looking into a face so familiar that she could not continue her actions. Catherine turned and handed the torch to another before taking up the Riddler’s hand in her own, noticing how small hers was in comparison.

Catherine took a shaky breath, and whispered to him so that no one else would hear. “You have no idea how much I will miss you. You left before I could ever tell you. I fell in love with you so long ago and I never said anything about it. I was the riddle in your life and only now do I know it. For that I am so sorry. I love you.”

With that, Catherine kissed the Riddler’s hand, and lingered for a moment before folding it back over his chest. She ran her hand over his face, remembering its touch, searing this moment into her memory. 

Then with an inner strength that Catherine never thought she would have at a time like this, she took the torch back from the person who had been holding it and calmly ignited the Riddler’s pyre. 

Flames instantly started to dance over the Riddler’s body, and Catherine’s breath caught in her throat, wishing that she could have the torch back, that she had not done this, that she could have one more instant with him. Flickering red and orange lights illuminated the Temple, and many there were openly crying as they watched the flames consume his body.

Smoke drifted upwards and out of the Temple, and many looking at it thought that it seemed as if a spirit was trying to finally break free, escaping in the form of smoke.

Ace knew that the moment was right and signaled to the honour guard. They all fired their weapons in a twenty shot salute, paying homage to the man who had been their leader for so long.

No one seemed to notice the shudders that wracked Catherine’s body with each shot.

The new Grand Admiral, Devron Zal, wept despite his convictions against crying. Jester did not cry, he merely stared wide-eyed as the flames consumed his best friend.

About twenty minutes later, the Riddler’s body had been reduced to ashes, and the flames died down to almost nothing, leaving the Temple dark and cold.

Everyone seemed suddenly shocked, as they realised that the Riddler truly was gone. They cried silently, none feeling any need to speak, each dealing with their own personal grief. Catherine, unable to bear the pain in her heart any longer, fell to the floor in tears.

And the greatest military leader in the history of Domus Prime was gone forever.

On to Final Notes and About the Authors!

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