This wasn't what he planned. This wasn't what he planned at all.
Koril Rys'tihn sat alone amid dozens and dozens of crates and boxes in his father's spacious Coruscant apartment.
Now it was his apartment.
The shock of it all had worn off, but the emptiness and fear left behind was really what continued to eat at him.
It had been almost four weeks since the worst catastrophe he had witnessed in his life had claimed so many lives, including those of the people he was closest to. During his duties as the Banarecc family's personal royal pilot, he had come to greatly admire and respect Paneau's Queen Tascit. She was truly selfless in every way, a quality not often seen among the ruling elite. She, of course, had married into the Crown, but she was still a refreshingly courteous royal. The news of her death was hard to take, one of the first confirmed casualties in a long list.
Veon didn't deserve her, he thought, though instantly ashamed for it. It wasn't his place to judge. Koril had also come to greatly admire Paneau's King, as well, but after his treasonous governor removals, Koril struggled to come to terms with it. How could such a well-meaning, concerned ruler have made such a poor error in judgment? Such a poor error that it took the lives of his wife, his daughter, and 2500 other innocent Paneau citizens? Maybe that was unfair. Veon didn't plant the disintegrating devices. Veon didn't set them at the bases of the building supports and release their destructive power. That was someone else's horrible plan. Even if Fremley, the former Head of Security turned enemy of the Crown, had executed his plan in protest of what Veon had done...
No, Koril reasoned. Veon wouldn't have negotiated with such a corrupted man. Fremley was going to destroy the Palace, anyway; it didn't matter what his 'motive' was.
Horrible as that thought was, Koril felt a little better. Surely if Veon had known what was going to happen to his Palace, to his citizens, and to his family, he would've done something. Right?
Really, the only way to know would be to talk to Veon himself...but the newly formed Council of Governors made sure that would be as difficult as possible. Barely a week after the Queen was buried, Veon was arrested and escorted off the planet before anyone knew what was happening, or more accurately, before anyone could protest. Veon was the easiest target after being destroyed by his guilt and grief, Koril surmised. Maybe if others hadn't been in the same state of shock, they could have come to his aid.
Would I have tried?
Koril shook the thought from his head as he rubbed his face. That terrible day had been playing over and over in his mind and in his dreams ever since, and he even still suffered with a headache from his month-old injury. He couldn't remember much before or after he was hit by the falling debris inside the demolished Palace, but the images that stuck in his mind were of the time he spent aboard a transport among hundreds of wounded being removed to another medical center. He partially lost his eyesight due to his severe concussion, but what he was able to see was devastating: people he knew and worked for, all in the same or worse shape than he.
His physical pain, he could ignore, but emotional trauma continued to pile on top of everything else. First the total casualty count, then the specific casualties...and finally the discovery of his father's deception and death. That final blow had struck him harder than everything else combined. Not only had his father lied to him outright, he was involved in the Governor removals, and had died in the Palace collapse as a consequence of his involvement.
That was why Koril sat, staring at the enormous amounts of boxes and crates in the silent apartment.
His close relationships with both his father and King Veon forced him to leave the planet, much like his Jedi friends Rech and Mand Natiyr had been forced to leave. He at least had the chance to pack up everything at his home, the Rys'tihn Manor, which amounted to much more than he anticipated. The apartment was crammed full, and he hardly had any clue where to start sorting.
But he had to start somewhere. He stood up from the front foyer bench he had been sitting on for hours and aimlessly glanced about the chaotic room. The crates had no markings to distinguish their contents, so he arbitrarily turned to one nearby and cracked the lid open.
His father's old Royal Navy uniforms. They were carelessly tossed together, and he honestly couldn't remember if he himself had packed them so carelessly, or if Kaydee, their family protocol droid, had helped with this crate. Even if he had wanted to sort them and more respectfully fold them inside the dusty crate, he found himself frozen, locked in overwhelming memories of his father. Award ceremonies. Promotions. His own graduation from the flight academy.
Is every crate going to be like this?
He shut its lid and mindlessly lifted it, maneuvering through the living area, which was also packed with crates, and set it down in the master bedroom. Only a few smaller crates had been placed in this far room, and he figured he'd move his father's personal belongings back there. There they'd be out of the way until later, where he wouldn't have to constantly look at them until he needed to.
The next crate he opened contained comm equipment from their main communications room. He'd leave that for Kaydee to sort through. She'd know better than he which units were salvageable or not. She was more like his father's secretary than anyone else on his staff, spending most of her time in the comm room when he wasn't hosting officials or dignitaries.
After his father's death, Kaydee was the only family he had left, if you could call a protocol droid family. She would have been there with him, sorting and organizing, if he hadn't sent her to stay with Elena. He needed time to himself, and he knew Kaydee; she would feel the need to fill the silence with something, and that something would be her idle chatter.
Boots. Badges. Statues. Weapons.
He hoped Kaydee wasn't burdening Elena too much. He could tell the independent Jedi Knight didn't care for droids, but if Kaydee was with her, he could easily contact her through the droid's internal comm...provided it was still working. Kaydee was an old droid; she had served in his grandfather's home, as well as in numerous generations before that. Needless to say, she was in constant need of repair. He hadn't even thought to check her internal comm before sending her.
Only one way to find out.
The comm room in the apartment was tucked away behind a solid wall of crates. At least he'll get some upper body strength back after all this. Except for all the crates, his father's apartment was just the way Merli'il had left it just weeks ago, all systems running like he had stepped out for lunch and planned to be back later in the day.
He's not coming back.
He still had yet to convince himself. His father was gone, but he still didn't believe it. He wasn't even supposed to be in the same system that day; he wasn't supposed to be there.
Koril closed his eyes, trying to calm his racing mind, and released a long, heavy sigh before sending a preliminary call to Kaydee. Depending on how far away she was, it could be hours before she'd return his message. As far as he knew, the three Jedi were still on Coruscant after relocating to the city-planet as he had, but considering their line of work and the state of the galaxy...they could have been sent off anywhere at any time.
And she's not going to wait for you to pull yourself together, Koril.
He hung his head dejectedly. Just after arriving on Coruscant with his borrowed cargo hauler full of the crates from his home, Koril met Elena at her small apartment she had been set up in near the Jedi Temple. He hadn't arrived much later than the three, perhaps just a day, but thankfully he was easily able to contact Rech and Mand to find out where Elena was staying. After going on a brief walk with her out near the Temple grounds, he had bared his soul to her, how he felt in light of all that had happened.
It would take him a great deal of time to recover from his losses, he admitted, and she deserved someone...better. Someone more like her. Someone who would compliment her, not be a burden. She is destined for great things, he told her, while he is just a simple pilot. He concluded by saying that he loved her, but he wanted her to be happy, no matter what that meant for him.
Her response was less than heartfelt. She didn't even seem to acknowledge his admission of his love for her. So what now?
She had been hard to read from the start. She seemed so heavily guarded, refusing to outwardly invest any kind of emotion in him, though later Rech furtively told him otherwise. But she had small ways of showing that she had at least some feelings for him. She would occasionally give him a smile that, while small, was genuine. Whenever they traveled together, either with the Banareccs or with Rech and Mand, she kept near him, but not overly so. And even during the chaotic shuffling of injured Dalonans after the Palace collapse, when he was rendered partially and later completely blind as a result of his concussion, she constantly stayed at his side, almost protectively. She sought him out when he had holed up in the Manor following the funerals.
He half felt that her insecurity was his fault. Maybe he was sending mixed signals. Maybe he wasn't sending enough. Or too many?
It had been a few weeks since their talk, but he had been busy shortly after, traveling back and forth between Coruscant and Paneau, towing his ship and fighter, as well as making the final preparations to sell the Manor. He had, however, tried to contact Elena on several occasions while he was in transit. He had left messages, but they were never returned. On his last return to the city-planet, he heard that the Jedi had found a missing Master, but he never found out who all had been involved. He also heard that Mand had been injured in some kind of training accident. Maybe Elena had been busy, too, and just never got the chance to return Kaydee if she had indeed decided to move on.
He ran a hand through his hair and glanced at the console. Still no reply from Kaydee, but he had gotten a short message from the Paneau Consulate. He crossed his arms over his chest as he read it.
He was to expect two delegates from the Consul later that afternoon. They probably needed to sort out their records regarding Merli'il and his estate, he surmised. Great. He'd only have a few precious hours to make the apartment suitable for hosting dignitaries. He looked back into the main living room and stared blankly.
He had a long way to go.
Just minutes before the Consulate delegates were to arrive, Koril was still shoving crates into storage rooms and other unused bedrooms. He at least organized the crates a bit as he shuffled them around, separating personal effects from decor and statues to display. Thankfully the heavier crates had repulsorlifts that made moving them much less taxing. Deciding that the bulk of the clutter had been resolved and that the rest could be dealt with later, he returned to the comm room and checked the console.
Kaydee still hadn't replied. Frustrated, he ran diagnostic checks on the receiver system and transmitter codes. When they came back negative for problems, he began to worry. Had something happened to them? Or was Kaydee just not aware that her comm was faulty?
He readjusted the transmission coordinates to that of the Natiyrs' home, where Rech and Mand were staying. Maybe they knew where Elena and Kaydee were.
"Natiyr Residence," came Rech's voice over the comm. Koril had prepared to speak first with one of Rech's parents, so he was glad to be able to drop the formalities, at least somewhat.
"Hey, Rech, it's Koril, sorry to bother you..."
"Koril! How are you?"
He laughed a little, not expecting such an enthusiastic response from Rech. "I'm doing alright, it's been a while." It had been two weeks since he had moved to the city-planet, but he had very little progress to show for it. Without thinking, he lied.
"I've finally made sense of all my father's belongings; it took longer than I thought it would." He paused briefly and quickly decided to divert attention from himself. "How's Mand? I heard something happened..."
"She's doing better. I'd have her come over here but I think she just went to lay down. That's good you've got everything sorted out." Koril mentally winced. Why had he said that? It'll take him another two weeks to really get things sorted...
"Oh! Elena's here, too," Rech continued. Glad to once again redirect Rech's attention, Koril continued, smiling without realizing it.
"Good," he said with relief. She's okay. "That's actually what I needed to contact you about. Is Kaydee with her, too?"
"Yeah, she is."
"Okay. I'm sorry I've had to bother you, but I couldn't reach her otherwise for some reason. I don't want to interrupt anything, but can you have Elena contact me when she's available?"
"Thanks, Rech." Though he was in a remote, enclosed room, Koril heard a few commanding knocks at the front door. The delegates. "Sorry I have to make this short, but I've a meeting to get to. Tell Mand I say hi."
"I'll tell her. Keep in touch."
"I will." Koril quickly cut the transmission and locked the station, an old habit his father had drilled into him in his youth. The apartment was far from pristine...but surely the delegates had known Merli'il and would be sympathetic to Koril's workload.
He quickly pulled on his jacket, part of his deep purple royal pilot uniform, and just snapped the last button at his neck before pressing the panel to open the door.
Before he realized what was happening, two men dressed all in black and concealed by identical black helmets pressed two blasters into his chest and forced him backwards into the foyer before they shut the door behind them. The shorter of the two seemed to be in the lead, making the first aggressive moves. Koril brought his hands up slowly, hardly able to think as the two held their blasters on him.
"Credits...are on my desk..."
"Shut up," the shorter one quickly replied, his digitalized voice menacingly sounding from his helmet's speakers. "You received a transmission from your father."
Koril blinked. "My father's dead."
The shorter one leveled his blaster at Koril's face. "Doesn't matter, you got one from him."
Koril stared blankly. What was he talking about? "I haven't gotten any transmissions, other than one from the Consulate." He tried to not look panicked, but all his weapons were packed away...except... "You can look for yourself."
Koril indicated the comm room behind him, and before he had turned back around, the shorter one had grabbed him by his jacket collar and turned his wrist to tighten it around Koril's neck, forcefully shoving him towards the room with the blaster digging into Koril's back.
The taller one stepped in front and got to the comm room first, already searching through its records by the time Koril could see into the room.
Koril coughed, struggling to breathe normally against his constrained collar. The shorter one behind him only tightened his grip and pressed the nose of the blaster harder into his back. Koril had been roughed up before; he was even a trained bodyguard, but these two simply confused him more than anything. How could he get a transmission from his dead father?
The taller one at the console began to stand up, shaking his head. Koril felt the other release him just before he shoved him forward, keeping his aim on Koril as he stood next to the other. Just briefly, Koril caught a glimpse of something that really threw him. The taller one still had a hand extended to the controls, and his sleeve was slightly raised, revealing a small black tattoo that consisted of characters of Paneau's ancient language that existed before the planet's adoption of Basic. Koril wracked his memory, trying to remember the translations he had learned back in his early childhood...
J...aa...L? Another a...
Jaala. It took a moment to register that it was a name, followed closely by the realization that...Jaala was his aunt, his father's sister, who had died years ago and had left behind two teenage boys. Her orphaned boys, Zane and Remo, had disappeared just after her death. Koril recalled his father telling him that Zane had been particularly close to her and was the most upset by her death, but the Rys'tihns lost track of the two. Was he facing his two lost cousins?
He spoke without thinking, without meaning to, looking at the taller one with the tattoo.
He had no time to react. A bright flash engulfed his sight and went black just as instantaneously.
A sharp, burning pain was the first thing to register through the darkness. It took him a second to realize that his lungs were aching, and another to realize that he was coughing and gasping. His head was pounding, but as his coughing began to ease, he opened his eyes to find a middle-aged human woman knelt over him, with her eyes tightly shut and her hand on his forehead.
He must've made some noise or movement that startled her; she retracted her hand and opened her bright blue eyes, looking down at him concernedly and speaking softly.
"Take it easy, Mr. Rys'tihn. I'm a Jedi, I'm here to help you."
Why did a Jedi need to help him? What had happened?
The two men with blasters...
He fumbled the words. "There...there were two..."
The woman shook her head gently, tucking her golden brown curly hair behind an ear. "It's alright, they've long since left." Though she sounded confident, she repeatedly kept glancing behind her. Koril turned his head to look and saw what was making her nervous. He was lying on the floor in the comm room, but just across the hall was another room with a large transparisteel window that had been shattered. The Jedi saw him looking.
"Were they dressed in black? Black helmets?"
Koril nodded. His head still ached, and wincing or any facial movement fiercely burned just above his left eye...
"You've a nasty blaster burn on your forehead, here. You're lucky it wasn't worse." She extended her hand again and carefully placed it at his temple. Strangely he felt the burning shift to a cool tingling and the rest of the throbbing faded for the most part. Finally able to focus, he tried to piece together what had just happened. The two men entered and demanded a transmission from his father; he took them to the comm room, and he recognized one as his long-lost cousin Zane Scorne. That bright flash he saw just before everything went black must have been their reaction to his identification of Zane: a blaster bolt to the head. It came from...Remo...? Remo's weapon? The Jedi interrupted his thoughts as she sat back, adjusting her deep crimson tunic.
"I am Jedi Master Amina Kanomin. I was sent as part of a team to warn you of these two. I must have arrived just after they did; I heard the blaster shot, but I couldn't get inside quickly enough. By the time I got to you, they had already left." She looked at him, considering the expression on his face. "...Do you know who they are?"
Koril hesitated, but nodded, struggling to find his voice again. "I think so. Zane...and Remo Scorne."
Amina's expression remained the same, heavily contemplative for several moments before he spoke up, continuing.
"They kept asking me about a transmission they think I got from my father."
"Did they find it?"
"No, I never got anything from him." He thought for a second, then added, "My father's been dead for a month."
"I know," Amina said simply. She glanced back behind herself again, but spoke quickly when she turned back and read his expression.
"Oh, don't worry; I've blocked anyone from seeing inside here through that window. I'm just thinking..." She trailed off but watched him carefully for a few moments. "Mr. Rys'tihn," she began slowly, "...I don't think they would've left you alive had they known you weren't dead."
Koril opened his mouth to ask what she meant, but she continued before he could form any words. "They've killed at least 40 other Paneau citizens living here on Coruscant that we know of, and right now there's no pattern to the murders... You said you know who they are. Did they think you knew?"
Koril nodded. "I think that's why they shot me. I...said one of their names without thinking."
"Well, you're lucky whoever did shoot you hasn't learned to control his battle rage. When I got to you, you weren't breathing. The bolt must have rendered you unconscious, then your fall knocked the wind out of you." She looked away, locking her gaze on something out of his line of vision. "They've got to think you're dead... I can't think of any reason why they'd leave a witness who could identify them."
Tired of lying on the floor, Koril sat up, gingerly touching his left temple. The skin was tender but thankfully no longer burning; the bolt's path ran diagonally from his eyebrow to his hairline. He glanced sideways at the Jedi still kneeling at his side. She was watching him carefully, genuinely interested in his condition. He thought for a moment, looking up at the comm room equipment in front of him that was still lit up and running.
"So they think they killed me... What does that mean for me?"
Amina sighed and got to her feet, putting her hands on her hips as she slowly paced about the room in thought.
Koril watched her for a second before he, too, stood, though he found his legs less cooperative than usual. Amina quickly grabbed his elbow and steadied him, and as he finally stood straight, he noticed how much he towered over the petite Jedi. She smiled at him briefly, apparently glad to see him well, but it quickly faded as she stepped back and prepared to answer his question.
"I'm afraid it means...that you'll have to be dead to everyone else, too."
Koril stared at her for a long minute. Everyone else? There wasn't much of an 'everyone else' for him to worry about. His pilot buddies had been assimilated into smaller squadrons about his scattered home planet and had been hard to keep track of, the officials he had worked under for so many years were mostly all killed in the Palace collapse, his last surviving family member had also died in the Palace...the only people left were Elena, Rech and Mand.
He turned, wrestling with his true thoughts on the matter. He didn't want to hurt Elena. He loved her...but did she love him? How would she react to the news? Maybe she wouldn't react at all, glad to at least have the chance to move on without having to face him. Or would it tear her up and break her, moving her close to or into the Dark Side of the Force? Was she that susceptible? Was it that easy? Though he really didn't have a concrete grasp on the dichotomy of her Force nature, he didn't want to be responsible for that. He stared at the floor.
"No," he said quietly. "There has to be another way."
To his surprise, the Jedi did seem to consider his plea, if only because of the heartfelt emotion with which he said it. But she once again shook her head, almost hesitating to argue the point.
"We don't know if the Scornes are the only ones out there. We can't risk it getting back to them. You are our best shot at stopping them. Because they think you're eliminated, they'll be less likely to change their tactics."
Her argument made sense, but it still felt wrong to him. What would happen to him after the Scornes were caught? What if it took years, and the friends he had, the few who really did care about him, had already moved on? What was he to do then?
The Jedi seemed to be reading his thoughts. "We'll tell your Jedi friends soon enough. I'll make sure they're taken care of."
"Where will I stay."
"In the Jedi Temple."
Koril looked at Amina, idly wondering if she were joking. The Jedi Master stood confidently, her expression betraying no false conviction. She really believed she could pull this off.
He sighed. As much as he didn't want to cause his few remaining friends further pain...the Scornes needed to be stopped. With a heavy heart, he glanced about the half-organized apartment.
At least he wouldn't be leaving much to be repacked.