Special thanks goes out to DNAinsw from the Robin and Starfire Shrine, who offered a most wonderfully insightful and helpful review of the past six chapters, highlighting both the good and not-so-good. My favorite line would definitely have to be the opening, in grading for creativity:
"Needs dictate I must deduct one point for it being an episode rewrite. Needs can go blow themselves."
You knew it would come eventually. The final chapter. I worked almost nonstop for a long time to try and put this thing together. And by nonstop, I mean basically the free time I had in between jobs & activities. Special thanks go out to all of you who have reviewed—especially multiple reviewers—and added this story to their favorites list, which just gives me more publicity. I'm in sheer awe of the number of positive responses I've gotten for the past six chapters; definitely the most for a single story of mine yet!
All your questions about the story will finally be answered in this final chapter, including: who was the mysterious figure in chapter 3? Will there be a wedding? Is it BB/Rae or Rae/Ryand'r? Is it Star/Rob or Star/Ta'ragn? What's going to happen to Tameran now that the Queen is dead? Who will be returning to Earth at the end of the chapter? And, once and for all, just whose side IS Blackfire on!
1) Once again, I openly admit my inferiority when it comes to battle scenes. Especially those of the sword. My own weapon of choice is the bo staff, which is why I always have an easier time writing out Robin's fights, but it took many hours of rewatching Rurouni Kenshin –and- Samurai Champloo before I was able to write out a semi-decent swordfight. And even then…it's pretty obvious that I skirted my way around it. –hangs head in shame–
2) As of right now, there is NO sequel planned for this story. The end of this chapter is the end of this story. The only way you'll get a continuation is if you decide to write one yourself. I'm also sad to say that this will be my last Teen Titans fic, if not forever, than for a good while.
3) Upon the completion of this story, I will be changing my penname. I've been known by DragonBlond for years now, and felt it was time for a change.
Beast Boy ran. He ran until his muscles burned and his veins pumped battery acid. Then he ran some more.
In the back of his mind, he could almost sense Ryand'r's presence not far behind. Whether the Tameranian had come along for the same reason as he, or simply to offer backup, he wasn't certain. In fact, the thought barely registered in his brain at that time. All he could focus on at that moment was finding the Galangal home base. Finding Raven.
What felt like an eternity passed by in the span of less than ten minutes; the looming darkness left them all but completely blinded as to where they were going, but Beast Boy simply followed his other instincts while Ryand'r followed him. It wasn't long before both boys stormed through what looked like the main gate, entering the main hallway. Mere candlelight illuminated the path ahead, casting long shadows. The archways and wall patterns looked new, if a bit dusty, yet were hard to make out in the darkness
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Ryand'r called out, his voice echoing off the cathedral-like ceiling. Not a single guard had come to greet them, leaving him to suspect that the building had either been abandoned, or deemed unworthy of protection.
Beast Boy never responded, and they wandered around in silence for a moment, observing the emptiness. Their path led them to an adjacent room, thrice the size of the hallway and thrice as vacant. It was a flicker of candlelight that caughtRyand'r's eyes, drawing his attention to a small pool of darkness on the floor. He bent down for a closer look.
"What is it?" Beast Boy asked, noticing his companion's actions.
"Blood," the Tameranian ran his fingers lightly over the surface, then brought them to eye-level, rubbing them against one another. "Dried. Days old, if not longer. Couldn't possible be Raven's."
He stood up, wiping his fingers on his pants briefly before turning to Beast Boy. Much to his surprise, however, the changeling was standing absolutely still, eyes closed and brows furrowed together as if in deep concentration. Confusion taking over, he tilted one head to the side in question.
"What are you—"
"Shh!" Beast Boy hissed, "I need to concentrate…"
Ryand'r obeyed, though still uncertain and more than a little lost, and settled for observing the boy closely, as if trying to figure out what he was doing. An immeasurable silence passed between the two. Neither so much as moved an inch from their respective places.
Come on, Beast Boy mentally berated himself, concentrate…ears of a dog—no—bat…ears of a bat…
Suddenly, his eyes snapped open in trumph, and he took off down one of the side corridors. "Come on, dude! This way!" he called over his shoulder, "I know where Raven is!"
Shrugging, Ryand'r resigned and simply followed after him.
The passages weren't overly simple, yet somehow Beast Boy made every turn and pass as if he knew the entire building by heart. Twice, Ryand'r called out, asking if the boy had ever been there before, just to be certain. Less than half a minute later, they arrived at a wooden door, open just enough for them to see inside. Beyond the doorway, there was a small, circular holding cell. And on the floor, there was a familiar figured cloaked in blue.
Beast Boy was at the unconscious girl's side first. "Raven?" he gently shook her, "Are you okay?"
A moan escaped her, and she began to stir. It quickly became clear, however, that she was too weak to even lift her own body weight, so Beast Boy moved to help her to a sitting position with her back against the wall. Raven's eyes cracked open to acknowledge his presence, before she closed them and tilted her head wearily to one side. Even in the dim lighting, it was easy to see how pale—more so than usual—she was, unnaturally ivory skin glistening with perspiration.
"See if you can find some kind of med kit around here," Beast Boy lifted his head to address Ryand'r, whom had remained lurking in the doorway. Raven showed no other outward signs of injury, but he wasn't taking any chances. "I'll stay with her."
The Tameranian nodded and disappeared into the darkness, leaving the two Titans in an uncomfortable silence. For a time, the only sound that could be heard was Raven's labored breathing. The humidity in the room was intense, and Beast Boy could feel the condensation on the wall seeping through his uniform. Worried that she would suffer from heat exhaustion, he managed to wordlessly coax the girl into removing her thick cloak, and tried to ignore the skin-tight leotard she was left wearing. He'd seen it on her nearly every day since they'd met, though for some reason, was more aware than ever of exactly how the costume clung to her figure.
"Beast…Boy…?" she murmured softly without lifting her head, so quietly he almost didn't hear it.
"It's okay, Raven," he assured her, pushing the cloak and his hormone-induced thoughts aside. "I'm here."
Normally, Beast Boy would have taken the crack as an insult. But for the moment, he chuckled softly at her weak attempt at humor. It proved she hadn't lost her sense of humor, at least…or what little sense of humor she had to begin with.
Raven lifted her head just enough to look him in the eye. "How did you…find me?"
"With my amazing talent and unrivaled skill, of course," he grinned, anticipating the eye-roll that followed, before giving a proper answer. "I tuned my hearing to follow the frequency of your heartbeat, and it led me right to you."
Raven's lips twitched slightly into what amost could have been considered a smile. "Since when…did you get…so clever?"
He was about to retort, when she suddenly inhaled sharply, wincing in pain as her arms wrapped around her stomach. Not sure of what else to do, Beast Boy sat down beside her, allowing the girl to learn against him for support. She did so, resting her forehead against his shoulder. He pulled his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, and neither commented on their closeness.
"Why haven't you just healed yourself?" he asked her gently. "I've seen you deal with way worse than this."
"Physical…not magical," she murmured into his shoulder, and tried to shift her position but found the movement too painful to do so. "Put a spell…drained…source…can't heal…"
"Shh, easy girl," he interrupted, "Don't strain yourself any more than necessary. Especially trying to explain something we both know I probably won't understand anyway."
He could feel her smile softly against him, and another lengthy pause occurred between them. Beast Boy was starting to wonder where Ryand'r had disappeared to, when it dawned on him that he probably hadn't the faintest idea of where to find anything in the building. It had been the enemy base, after all. He was just about to suggest to Raven that he go look for their mission companion, when:
He glanced down at her. "For what?"
"For…what I said…and…slapping you. We were both…acting childish…and I—"
"Hey, hey, remember what I said? We'll talk about that later," he interrupted her once again, offering up a grin even though he knew she couldn't see it at that moment. Something inside told him that his was the real Raven speaking, and not Timid, which made the apology even more heartening. Raven never apologized to him for anything. "For now, let's get you all fixed up so you can start yelling at me for being such an ass again, all right?"
And though he couldn't see it at that moment, he could sense her expression on Raven's face uncharacteristically mirroring his own.
"Ta'ragn!" Starfire gasped.
"Ka'ragos," the Galangal prince hissed.
"Koriand'r, Komiand'r, Luand'r…and I didn't quite catch the boy's name," Ka'ragos motioned to each as he casually rattled off the names of those present, both conscious and otherwise, before shrugging. An unusually crazed look gleamed in his eye, and a cocky smirk tugged at his lips. "Looks like everybody's all here. Now it's a party."
With a sudden burst of speed and force, he swung his sword to push Ta'ragn off to the side, breaking their deadlock.Ta'ragn was quick to regain composure, skidding backwards a few feet before standing upright, dust and mud flying into the air, just in time to block a series of swings and thrusts sent his way. He tired to retaliate, but Ka'ragos established his upper hand from the start, and the prince was one the defensive from the moment he had first blocked that fatal blow.
It wasn't long before he had acquired six new flesh wounds. Three on his sword-bearing arm, two across the chest, and one on his right thigh from a low swing that had brushed off his blade too soon. The latest one went the deepest, causingTa'ragn to hiss in pain. Clutching the now-bloody limb, he took a step back and fell to one knee, using his sword for support.
Ka'ragos smiled wider at the small victory, and there was no doubt to any present that whatever sanity he once possessed had left him. Indeed, there was a faint aura of red surrounding him—a practically visible glow—that pulsated dangerously with every step he took. His eyes, blood-red to being with, darkened to an ugly shade of maroon as he stared down his prey.
Everything had happened so fast, the non-Galangal onlookers barely had time to register what they had just witnessed. As if in mocking, the Tameranian moon chose that moment to break through the clouds, shedding a harsh light unto the battlefield. Several let out a horrified gasp; blood mixed with the dirt as far as the eye could see, including the bright red—still fresh—pooling around the lifeless body of Luand'r. There were bodies of the dead and unconscious from both sides scattered throughout, and not a single soldier was without injury.
Ta'ragn, himself, looked more than half dead. His soft hair was limp and greasy, his face streaked with dirt, tears, and scratches. The clothes on his back were in disarray, shirt so tattered his frail, yet sill somewhat muscular figure was exposed for all to see. The blood from his wounds glistened, and already several small puddles were forming beneath him in his momentary pause for breath.
Robin stood stupidly, gaping at the display before him. Until that moment, it hadn't quite dawned on him how true the term 'warrior race' held for Galanga and Tameran alike. He had seen his fair share of battle during his short life on Earth, mastered an impressive number of fighting styles, and possessed a natural athletic ability that often placed him at a mantle rivaling those of his comrades with power…
…but right then, he had never felt so human.
A small cry of pain brought the Boy Wonder out of his stupor, and he was at Starfire's side in an instant, kneeling down in an attempt to discourage the girl from her attempts to stand up.
"I must…help him…" she struggled through gritted teeth.
"No. You're too injured," he insisted, pulling her back down to his side. "I won't let you."
Before she could utter further words of protest, Robin's cry rang out as he instinctively pulled them both to the ground, partially shielding her from the onslaught of rocks and dust that flew through the air. The couple turned their heads at once to the dueling Galangals, who were once again engaged in battle.
Ka'ragos shifted to one side, dodging another one of Ta'ragn's downward blows with great ease, and quickly brought his own blade with him, aiming for the prince's throat. It was blocked at the last moment as Ta'ragn quickly spun around and shielded himself with the blunt of his sword. The force was too strong, however, and he was forced to attempt sliding the blade off over his head.
But he leaned back too far, and was forced to his knees to keep from falling.
His enemy saw the opening, and knocked his over the head with the blunt of his sword, not having time to properly position the blade but unwilling to let the opportunity pass. The force alone should have knocked Ta'ragn unconscious, but his will was strong and he remained conscious as he hit the ground, rolling away just in time to avoid receiving a sword through the heart.
"No! Ta!" Starfire cried again, struggling against Robin's firm hold. "Let me go, Robin! I beg of you! I have to help!"
"There's nothing you can do; the fact that I can keep you restrained like this, alone, is proof of how weak you are." Robin blatantly pointed out. "If you can't even fight against me, what could you do in a fight against him?"
The argument succeeded in getting her to sit back down, but she still turned to him with fear-stricken eyes. "You do not understand," she began, "He does not know what he is up against. See for youself!"
Robin followed her gaze to the Galangal that Ta'ragn was fighting. Even from a distance, there was no mistaking the glow encompassing him, which had grown into a fiery aura. But what shocked Robin the most was when he saw the flames darken, until Ka'ragos was literally glowing an iridescent black.
"No…" he whispered in horror, eyes widening beneath the mask.
The duo clashed swords once more, but in his steadily weakening state, Ta'ragn now had to use both hands to keep his enemy at bay. His muscles shook violently in protest, the blood from his wounds steadily flowing in trickles down his body.
"You say I am the demon, Ka'ragos?" he hissed, "But who is the one of us who has resorted to forbidden magiks and deceit to win?"
They parted briefly, and another round of rapid blows was executed before the swords met again.
"You still do not get it, Prince Ta'ragn," Ka'ragos sneered, pushing his opponent back several inches. "My loyalty to Galanga is unwavering. I would gladly damn my own soul for eternity one thousand times over if it means purifying our beloved race of your kind!"
As he raised his sword, preparing to deliver the final blow, his crimson eyes lit up.
"Say hello to the seven hells for me, daemon," he cried out. The glow brightened so intensely, that it almost appeared to the many onlookers as if he now possessed four eyes instead of two, "I'll be waiting!"
Suddenly, his body went rigid. The demonic light faded, revealing a wide-eyed expression as the Galangal dropped his sword, fell to his knees, and landed face-down in the bloody ground. Dirt and rock fragments scattered around, peppering his hair and clothing, and the remains of a large boulder landed to his immediate right with a dull thud. All eyes immediately traveled to the spot where he had stood just seconds prior in wordless astonishment.
Blackfire stared down at the unconscious figure with a look of pure hatred. The tears flowed freely from her eyes and mingled with the blood from her cut, which she had yet to wipe away. When she spoke, her words were spat out with such venom that it sent a chill down the spines of all who heard:
"That was for my mother, you bastard."
1 Tameranian Week Later…
As royal k'norfka, Galfore could not have been more proud than at that very moment. Yet, at the same time, he could not remember when he had ever been so disheartened. Still, the aging Tameranian did his best to hide his grief from the public as he stood tall, if battered, before them. His stomach was heavily bandaged, and one eye was swollen shut—he had most likely gone blind in that eye anyway. But Galfore wore his wounds with pride, for they were wounds received fighting for his people.
"My fellow Tameranians, greetings and X'hal's blessing upon you all!" he began with the traditional coronation speech opening. The thousands of people gathered below the balcony let out a brief cheer of admiration. "Though it has come upon us through a most unfortunate occasion, it is my most proud honor to introduce to you all, my beloved little bumgorf for many years, your new High Ruler…Koriand'r-sol!"
"Koriand'r-sol!" the crowd exclaimed in unison, before bursting into applause.
Moving back, his massive frame revealed the young Tameranian as she stepped forward. The applause died down into an awed silence as Starfire came within their line of sight. Most of her cuts and bruises had healed by this time, and her skin seemed to glow with a regal aura. Calm and collected, her manner of dress was very much the same as it had been the night of the festival, with one major difference:
She was wearing her mother's crown.
Galfore gave a paternal smile and briefly hugged the girl before taking a knee, showing his utmost respect. Yet even he could not hide the tears of pride that rimmed his eyes. More than a few pairs of eyes took notice as Blackfire and Ryand'ralso appeared behind her, one sibling on either side. None dared to comment just yet, however, as the Tameranian girl stepped up to the podium and began to speak.
"My fellow Tameranians," she began in English, for the benefit of her Titan friends. A nearby translator relayed the words in Tameranian. "I stand before you this day as High Ruler, a position bestowed upon me though blood inheritance, and one I have willingly accepted. I also stand before you, a daughter and a sister, also bestowed upon me by blood. Roles I have played all my life, from birth. As such, I have asked my brother and sister to stand with me."
She motioned towards the pair. "Komiand'r, who was firstborn and denied her rightful inheritance because of certain traits many deemed worthy of discrimination against." If Blackfire was affected at all by her sister's words, she made no outward appearance of such. "And Ryand'r, our dear baby brother, who is the only one of us to have lived his entire life on Tameran, yet also ineligible because he is male.
"However," she continued, "I am greatly saddened to say that these instances are not the first to plague our blood family. Mother, too, faced many false whispers and harsh judgments since before her coronation. And yet, she loved her people unconditionally, regardless, as a mother loves her child. To her, all of Tameran were her children, though she never once forgot her second role in life as blood mother to my siblings and I…"
Here, she trailed off, and only those closest to her noticed the slight quiver in her voice. Ryand'r took a step forward and placed a comforting hand on his sister's shoulder, wordlessly urging her to continue. Without shedding a single tear, she raised her head high and continued.
"You all are perhaps wondering why I have spoken of such things. It is doubtful that a single soul present here today escaped from the recent war unscathed in one way or another. Yet, what if I were to tell you the initial cause of such horror was the very thing I mentioned seconds earlier?" A low murmur broke out through the crowd. "That everything resulted from little more than a strong desire to dethrone the rightful Galangal heir because a select few deemed him unworthy to rule?"
The murmuring grew louder, as many exclamations of surprise and shock rang out, though all were silenced once more when Starfire held up one hand.
"For so long, we have seen our prejudices as essentially undamaging, believing they cause no outward harm. Now we know how wrong we all are. It is anything but harmless. It is the seed for an irrational hatred, something no one should ever be on the receiving end of.
"Just as our mother saw you all as her family, we must continue her example, and look upon one another as such. For the bond we share may not be one of blood, but of a pride in our race, our people. A pride that should extend to every last Tameranian, no matter what."
The roar of applause and cheers that followed was near deafening as every last Tameranian tried to vocally convey his or her approval of their High Ruler and her coronation speech. Many had known Starfire since childhood, and yet there wasn't a single soul present that was not completely astounded by her presence.
They loved her instantly.
Unblinking and dignified, Starfire remained on the balcony for a few short moments before she and her siblings gracefully retreated back inside. There, the trio was greeted with a number of sad smiles. Pride shone in each of the Titan's eyes at their teammate, yet there was an undeniable tension in the air. No one was quite sure of what to do or say in such a situation, and the siblings and Titans alike found themselves in an equal stalemate.
Raven was the first to act, abruptly standing up and closing the distance between herself and Starfire. A look of mutual understanding passed between the two girls before—much to the surprise of everyone in the room—she enveloped the Tameranian in a brief, comforting hug. The embrace was understandably awkward, but no less meaningful.
As they parted, Raven managed a rare, genuine smile. "Your mother would have been proud, Starfire," she stated simply. "I have no doubt about that."
Starfire's eyes glistened with unshed tears of both happiness and nostalgia as she softly replied, "I thank you, Raven."
The exchange between the two set off a chain reaction among the rest of the Titans and, one by one, they all moved to offer both their condolences and congratulations. Cyborg was first, wrapping his arms around the petite girl in a brotherly fashion before ruffling her hair a bit (much to Ryand'r's amusement). Beast Boy hardly waited for them to separate before morphing into a small puppy and jumping into the girl's arms, enthusiastically licking at her cheek. This earned him a bout of laughter, and the whole room seemed to brighten with her smile.
Robin was last, patiently waiting until Beast Boy was finished. He gave her a hug much like Raven had, without the awkwardness, and they remained like that for several seconds before breaking apart. Even then, however, their hands remained gently clasped as the two shared a smile.
The moment was not to last, however, as a sudden movement caught both their attention, and they simultaneously turned to see Ta'ragn enter the room. His sword-bearing wrist was still heavily bandaged, and it was clear that not all his bruises and cuts had healed yet, but he was looking much better than when they had first brought him into the Tameranian medical ward.
"Ta!" Starfire greeted him warmly. "It is good to see you. Are you, perhaps, feeling better?"
"As well as can be expected, Kori," the Galangal prince answered back with a grin. "It would hardly be considered diplomatic, after all, for a Galangal royal representative to miss out on an ally's coronation speech, wouldn't you agree? Especially one so honest and heartfelt."
She nodded, fighting the tinge of pink that had spread to her cheeks. "I suppose. But tell me, you did not venture here to discuss my public speaking skills. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Actually, I was wondering if I may share a word with you, Your Highness?" Ta'ragn questioned, eyes darting to the many occupants of the room. "Er…in private, if you don't mind?"
"Not at all."
Turning back to Robin, she gave his hand (which, until that moment, neither had realized were still clasped) one last squeeze before following Ta'ragn into an adjacent room.
It had been unofficially used by Luand'r several times during her years as reigning High Ruler, for everything from meeting with political advisors and Green Lanterns, to celebrating her children's birthdays privately with friends and family. Starfire could have not think of a more perfect first meeting for her in that very room than with the Galangal prince.
It was fairly large in size, with a tall ceiling, though not intimidating so. Brilliantly lit, the windows were high up and dyed with tinted glass so that the early morning sun let in a beautiful array of color and light. There were very few chairs currently within access at the moment, though both occupants chose to remain standing.
"Now, then. What is this all about?" Starfire questioned, switching to Tameranian.
Ta'ragn hesitated before responding, "Ka'ragos was officially released into Galangal custody shortly after daybreak." He began darkly. "We were forced to subdue him so that he would no longer hurt himself or others. It is as if he is no longer capable of restraint, or even intelligent thought."
"Yes, I spoke with Raven about that." Starfire spoke sadly.
"The healer?" He questioned, remembering their first encounter.
"I fear healing is merely one of her abilities, and certainly not one which Ka'ragos had absorbed." She closed her eyes for a moment, as if it were painful for her to speak of such things. "I do not pretend to understand the rules of magiks, nor am I at liberty to discuss matters regarding Raven which are private. However, what I can tell you is that whatever spell he used on her, draining her strength and power, a side effect involved him absorbing her…darker side."
"So are you saying he was possessed?"
Starfire shook her head. "It is more complicated than that. Again, I cannot reveal too much without Raven's consent, but I can tell you that such a thing could not have occurred unless he already possessed some evil in his heart. That is what Raven told me, at least." Sighing, the young queen walked a short distance to one of the nearby tables and gently lifted herself to a seated position. "His intentions may have appeared noble in his eyes, but Ka'ragos was far too willing to travel the path of darkness to achieve what he wanted. What he temporarily drained, and consequentially received…was the Source of her power."
"And what is that?" Ta'ragn asked gently.
He knew there was more to her words than what Starfire was willing to share with him, though he chose not to press the matter further. It would take nothing short of personally speaking with this Raven girl to get all the answers, something he knew was unlikely to occur.
A moment passed between the pair before Starfire lifted her head, smiling brightly once more. "But you did not bring me in here with the sole purpose of discussing such depressing matters, did you? Tell me…is there something else troubling you, Ta?"
In spite of himself, he could not help but smile at the girl's insightfulness. "As a matter of fact, princ—no, Your Highness, there is another matter I had hoped to speak with you about." The smile quickly wavered, however, as a bout of nervousness quickly spread across his features. "First, I wish to apologize once more for my embarrassing behavior upon our first meeting."
"You need not apologize, Ta, though I would be happy to accept it if you insist," Starfire smiled warmly at him.
"But it is not just that, Kori," the prince continued, "I am guilty of the very same thing as Ka'ragos was, the same thing you preached against to your people just moments ago. I had labeled Tameranians, misjudged the lot of you. And though it shames me to admit it, a small part of me perhaps did view the Galangal race as superior…when, perhaps, it is the other way around."
Starfire shook her head, her smile unwavering. "No race is superior to another, Ta. There is nothing wrong with holding a special pride for your people, but in the end we are all equals."
Ta'ragn took a step forward, and couldn't help but returning her smile. "Perhaps. But it is also you who I had misjudged the most. I had expected a childish, sheltered palace brat, when in fact, you are anything but. It is easy to see why your people love you. I am truly honored to call you a friend."
"As am I, you." She replied, fighting to keep the blush from rising to her cheeks from all the compliments.
"But…" he continued, moving so that he now stood to her immediate left, not once breaking eye contact,"…it would be an even greater honor to be able to call you 'wife' as well."
Starfire gasped at the sudden declaration, eyes widening in surprise.
"There is no doubt in my mind that you will make a great ruler, but you are still very young. I could help you." He continued on, "I know our previous engagement was merely a political lie, but I would love nothing more in this very moment for it to become something real. You are a wonder, Kori. A woman as strong in spirit as you are physically, with an aura of kindness and purity that radiates so brightly, one can't help but be happy around you. But most of all…you are someone who I would be proud to rule alongside."
"But," she began once finding her voice, "what about—?"
"I would gladly pass up my own throne to be at the side of yours, Kori."
She stared at him for the longest time, eyes meeting with those pools of blue, so new yet so familiar at the same time. And she saw the deepest sincerity in them, knew that he meant every word he said.
After what seemed like an eternity, Starfire finally tore her sight away from the Galangal prince and stood up, taking a few steps forward. Her eyes closed as she tilted her head down, seemingly lost in thought, and when she finally spoke, her voice was soft and distant.
"Had we perhaps met at another time in our lives, nothing might have made me happier to do so. However," she continued, lifting her head and staring into the air before her. "I cannot. For many reasons, each more important the last. Please do not ask me why."
"I understand." Though the prince was disappointed, there was no malice behind his words. Walking over until he stood directly in front of her, he added, "Then, at least, allow me to offer Galangal's assistance and resources to your people. Perhaps we could form an alliance between our worlds; I do believe such a treaty could benefit both our people greatly in the future."
Her eyes glistened, though no tears fell as she smiled up at him. "I think that would be wonderful."
There was another brief pause between them.
"I suppose it was selfish to think I could have you to myself," he murmured softly. "But it would be a lie to say that I have not come to love you in some way."
She trailed off, unsure of what to say. Ta'ragn showed no remorse for her silence. If anything, his gentle smile only widened as he cautiously lifted a hand to gently brush at a few loose strands of hair. Then, tentatively, he leaned down and softly pressed his lips to hers in a brief, chaste kiss. Starfire allowed him to do so, though she did not return it. Could not.
"I'm sorry…" she whispered to him when he pulled away, a tear finally making its way down her cheek.
"Don't be. It's all right." Ta'ragn shook his head lightly. "Never be sorry for following your heart."
Later that day, Titans and Tameranians alike gathered around the royal launch pad so the siblings could see their friends off. Cyborg was already waist-deep in the engines, confirming last-minute details with a few of the local engineers who had assisted him with the repairs. Robin, Starfire, and Blackfire were off to one side, having a casual conversation, which left Raven stuck with Beast Boy and Ryand'r.
"…and the guy responds, 'What? You think I actually asked for a twelve-inch pianist?'" The changeling delivered his punch-line with a flourish, leaving the Tameranian nearly bent over with laughter. He, too, erupted into a fit of hysterics at his own joke, while Raven simply rolled her eyes at the boys.
"Since when did you two become so chummy?" She asked dryly.
"Since…" Beast Boy snorted, "…since we came to an understanding, and found common ground."
"I must admit," Ryand'r added, smirking, in between chuckles, "I never realized how humorous you earthlings could be! Really…the play on words…" he barely managed to get out the sentence before bursting into laugher once more.
"See, Raven? He thinks I'm funny, too!" Beast Boy pointed out proudly. "What do your 'statics' say about that!"
Raven smacked her forehead with one hand, not bothering to correct his word usage, and wandered off towards Cyborg with a low moan. The two could hear her muttering something about how she needed to be around somebody sane ifanybody was to survive the trip home.
"Did we offend her?" Ryand'r sobered up when he noticed the girl leave, smile wavering.
Beast Boy shrugged. "Eh, who knows? She'll get over it. Oh, and by the way," he continued, "Sorry again about how I acted when we first met and all. I forgot that Starfire had to kiss Robin back when she first came to Earth so she'd understand us too. Pretty interesting way to learn a new language if you ask me…"
"Actually," Ryand'r interrupted, blushing slightly. "I had already absorbed the English language from the moment I first shook her hand."
"Wait," Beast Boy did a double take. "You mean…"
His voice trailed off, and he stared at the Tameranian incredulously for a moment. Ryand'r's cheeks had reddened slightly from the admission, though he still managed to look Beast Boy directly in the eye. The changeling blinked a couple of times before his mind absorbed this information.
"…if I were you," he commented weakly, "I wouldn't tell Raven that."
Less than twenty feet away, Starfire gave her friend one last lung-crushing hug farewell, while Robin was doing his absolute best to remain both calm and conscious. Blackfire had to bite her tongue to keep herself from making any taunting remarks in the meantime. Those would be saved for later.
"So how long do you think this new amendment will take to establish itself?" Robin asked as soon as Starfire let go, discreetly taking a huge gulp of air.
"Not long," she replied with a smile. "It will perhaps take longer to train Ryand'r and prepare him. Considering all that has occurred, I do not doubt that he will be accepted more now than he may have in the past, though such a change does not always come without some resistance."
"Well, from what you've told me, Tameran has always been under matriarchal rule until now, right?"
Starfire nodded, though it was Blackfire who spoke up. "Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? Women are the ones who carry children and give birth, and therefore the only ones who can prove their parentage over the next heirs." There was a hint of bitterness behind her voice, and Robin's mind wandered back to the talk he had with Luand'r before her death. "That is why father had to step down. His only connection to the throne was through mother. Only royal blood can rule."
"Sadly, yes." Starfire agreed, before turning back to Robin. "I do not believe it will be more than a few Earth weeks until I am able to return. That is," she continued, glancing at her sister out of the corner of her eye, "unless…"
"Not a chance," Blackfire answered back with a smile and knowing wink. "Do you have any idea how much I would have to give up to become Queen? There's a whole galaxy out there calling my name!"
Starfire chuckled softly, as did Robin, before turning to face one another. "Shall I escort you to the ship?"
"Sure," Robin smiled, and the couple turned back towards Blackfire.
"Hey, I can take a hint," she jokingly held her hands up in defense before waving them off. "Go. I'll see you back at the castle, sis."
With a simultaneous nod, they turned in unison. As she watched them, her smile wavered slightly. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. No one seemed to notice this, however, and the Tameran was just about to head back inside when a voice called to her from behind.
"Is that really the only reason?"
She recognized the voice immediately and turned to face him, but was surprised at the stern look her brother sent her way. Ryand'r had been nothing but smiles the entire day. "What do you mean, brother dearest?"
"What I mean," Ryand'r continued in a low tone. "Is that perhaps guilt may have played a part in your decision?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Ryand'r," she chuckled lightly, "I do not pity you in the slightest. Sister thinks you should be the rightful heir, and I—"
"I'm not talking about me, Komiand'r. I'm talking about what you did. To Sister and Tameran…"
There was a pregnant pause between siblings, and suddenly Blackfire knew exactly what he was talking about. She paled considerably. "But—how—?"
"I overheard one of your transmissions a few weeks ago," he answered, voice unnervingly calm and monotonous, "Nothing very incriminating, and I barely gave it a second thought at the time. But I recognized the Galangal's voice when I heard him speak on the battlefield, and the pieces started to fit together. That's when I noticed your fighting style. It was different, fiercer. Almost as if you were taking the war a little too personally. I take it things didn't go as you'd originally hoped?"
With every word he spoke, Blackfire's eyes widened in fear. She darted her head around to see if anyone was listening. When it became clear that all were out of earshot, she managed to find her voice again. "I…I never meant for any of it to happen," she pleaded weakly, "I swear. It seemed so harmless at the time. Never would I have imagined that bastard declaring war on us. I just…"
"Who contacted who first?" her brother wanted to know.
"He contacted me," she muttered. "Apparently, word got around the system about my arrest and Koriand'r's involvement. He thought I might like a little dosage of revenge. I was…mad at her at the time. Blindly so. She has such a life on Earth, adored by citizens and teammates alike. Boy Wonder especially."
"So you were jealous." It was more of a statement than question. "What did you agree to?"
"An arranged marriage, of course. All it took was a few messenger interceptions, something easily done given our positions and ranks. Several Galangals hold a strong dislike for their prince, but the only way to dethrone him with honor would be to arrange for a marriage outside their species. I figured it would be a great way to help them, and get back at my sister by dragging her away from Earth…" she trailed off as a thought occurred. "You haven't told her yet, have you?"
Ryand'r shook his head. "No. And I don't plan to. One, it's not my place…and two, I think she's been through enough already." There was a lengthy pause between the two, before he continued. "Do you know why Ka'ragos wanted Ta'ragn off the Galangal throne?"
"I told you already: because many saw him unfit to rule."
"But do you know why?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but quickly realized she had no response, and merely shook her head.
"Prince Ta'ragn was born with a Galangal birth defect that altered the color of his eyes to something their people believed demonic in nature. That's right; a birth defect." He repeated, hearing her gasp. His eyes narrowed. "Sound familiar?"
"I…" her voice cracked, "had no idea."
Again, there was a pause.
"No, I don't think you did." Ryand'r answered back coolly. "I don't think you had any idea your childish acts of revenge would fuel an act upon another who faces the same prejudices as you have. Or that things would escalate so far. And don't worry, Komiand'r," he continued, "Your secret is safe with me. Knowing you hold responsibility for all those who died—for MOTHER dying—all because of petty jealousy…that should be punishment enough."
With that, her brother and future King abruptly turned and calmly walked away from the launch pad, leaving a speechless Blackfire in his wake. As she watched him go, her vision blurred considerably as tears welled in her eyes, and the young Tameranian did something she hadn't done in years.
After bidding their fellow Titan a temporary farewell, the remaining four sailed away from the planet Tameran with a successful launch and (so far) uneventful flight. Cyborg disappeared into his room after setting the ship to autopilot, claiming he hadn't had a good recharge in days, though Robin still insisted on manning the copilot's chair just the same.
Raven was enjoying the peace and quiet that came with an unconscious Beast Boy, whom had fallen asleep almost immediately after takeoff. Her nose was buried in a Tameranian novel Ryand'r had presented her with as a going-away present. Her knowledge of the language was slim, but there were several hand-written notes and excerpts in English that aided her greatly. It was a fascinating book, telling of many of the planet's legends and historic battles. Many even involved craft-users and sorcery.
A low purr brought the girl out of her thoughts, and she looked up only to glance to her immediate right. Back in his kitten transformation, Beast Boy had curled himself into a tight ball of fur and was nestled up against her leg. Normally, she would have thrown him across the ship for such a thing, but something told her to simply go along with it for once. No harm done, after all…and she did owe him for saving her.
Giving him a quick scratch behind the ears, her gaze then turned towards the navigation area, where Robin sat quietly, arms folded and staring out into the sea of stars. Were it not for the fact that he shifted occasionally in his seat, Raven might have assumed him to be asleep as well.
Placing her book down, she stood up and walked over to her team leader. He greeted her with a slight nod of the head, wordlessly signaling for her to sit in the adjacent chair, which she accepted.
"You okay?" she asked simply. "You've been awful quiet sine takeoff. Even for you."
"I'm fine," he replied, and for once, she could sense the genuine truth behind those words.
A moment of comfortable silence passed between the two, in which Raven used her powers to levitate her book over so she could continue reading it. Opening to the proper page, she gave the boy beside her one last meaningful glance before settling into a comfortable position in her seat for the remainder of the journey.
"Gonna miss her?"
He hesitated before answering with a smile. "No. She won't be gone long enough for me to."