Under normal circumstances, Mand was sure she would have been nervously shaking. But even a full day of rest after the confrontation with Rech and her father, she still had yet to regain her energy. She was at least able to maintain her posture as she sat, having to divert more concentration to it than usual. The Jedi committee sitting in front of her, four Masters she had never met before, watched her carefully with even gazes as they continued their solemn questioning in the small, dim room.
"And how did you find your way into Tarthos Industries center?" a Zabrak male asked from her left.
"I felt my father's presence in the central tower, and once I got close enough, I found several staircases and walkways on the building's exterior that took me up to an unguarded, open door. I stepped in and met both Rech and Morden there."
A green Twi'lek woman, the most vocal and apparent leader of the group, pressed further. "You sensed your father, but not your husband?"
Mand drew in a slow breath and released it shakily, still saddened by the painful memory. "Just after we were taken from the platform by the two Nerezzas, they somehow forced Rech to...sever our deep connection. After that I could no longer sense him."
"So what was your purpose in seeking out Mr. Tarthos?"
Doing her best to subdue her irritation with the direction the questioning had gone, Mand leveled a focused gaze on the four and spoke pointedly. "My father was behind my kidnapping and subjection to experimentation five years ago. Jedi Master Aalon Noor uncovered what had transpired during my disappearance, and because of his persistence, I owed him my life and my daughter's life. Master Noor, as you know, was killed by a student of my father's, and my friends, Jedi Knight Elena-May Lyran and Paneau native Koril Rys'tihn risked their lives, as well, confronting the other students. Morden Tarthos has caused me and those close to me nothing but pain, and I wanted an end to it. I knew he had the intent to turn Rech against me, and I had to save my husband, just as he had saved me."
"You set out to kill your father, then," the Twi'lek erroneously surmised, and Mand realized what they were trying to find in her answers.
"No," she said quietly as she softened her expression. "No, that was not my original intent. I wanted to make a deal with him...take me instead of Rech so he couldn't hurt my family anymore. But I never got the chance to offer, and I knew I had to stop him when he was preparing to attack my friends."
An older human man in the middle spoke up sympathetically for the first time. "He was going to kill your friends?"
Mand swallowed as she nodded. "One of them." She desperately hoped they wouldn't press it further; Elena may not want it known to the Order just yet...
Thankfully, the Zabrak continued. "Describe how you were able to defeat this man, who was so powerful, as you said earlier."
Mand nodded and described the exchange between herself and Morden, both attempting to convince Rech of the truth. Her explanation of the necessity of Rech's powerful response seemed to please the Zabrak and the human masters, but the Twi'lek and a Kiffar woman remained stoic. When she began detailing her efforts to hide herself in the Force in order to catch Morden off guard, however, all four faces grew dim. Still, she finished her account, making sure to emphasize his ill-intent and her desire to protect her friends.
A few of the Masters nodded, considering her story, but the Twi'lek continued unrelentingly.
"You plan to return to Paneau, correct?"
Though she was taken aback by the sudden change in topic, Mand nodded cautiously. "Yes."
"Without your husband?"
Tiring, Mand closed her eyes momentarily before she returned the challenging Master's gaze. "He will return when he's ready; he has his own demons to face. As much as I want to help him...there's only so much I can do. He knows that I love him, and that I believe in him. It's up to him to decide if he can forgive himself."
With that, the Masters turned to each other and seemed to agree after a brief silence, returning to face her. "Please have a seat outside," the Twi'lek said shortly. "We will bring you our decision momentarily."
Again Mand nodded and began to stand up, but the half hour discussion had weakened her substantially. She tried to steady herself on the chair she had just left, but even her arms buckled. Before she could react, a strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her, and she felt another hand under her elbow. She finally lifted her head up to encounter Strone Lithess's Chiss glowing red eyes and Amina Kanomin's concerned yet kind smile, both Jedi Masters reaching out to help her. Smiling as best she could, she regained her footing and drew in a deep breath, relieved to see familiar faces.
"Come on, dear," Master Kanomin soothed, "let's get you outside."
Master Lithess released his grip as Master Kanomin pulled Mand's arm around her shoulders and led her out of the room, moving slowly to a bench across the hall. Mand laid down under her own power, but of course, the petite Jedi Master helped her every move.
"Thank you," Mand breathed lightly, closing her eyes as Master Kanomin knelt beside her. The interrogation was every bit as thorough as she thought it was going to be, but she hadn't expected to become so exhausted. Perhaps the emotional stress was weighing more heavily on her than she wanted to admit to herself; she whole-heartedly believed that Rech would return...didn't she?
"I still don't understand why you didn't accept our Healers, Mand," Master Kanomin began concernedly. "I hope you're not trying to...punish yourself, or prove some kind of point." She hesitated, putting a hand lightly on Mand's shoulder. "Your daughter needs you healthy."
Turning her head, Mand smiled wanly. "I'll be fine. I need to recover on my own." The energy Elena had shared with her had helped initially, but after a few hours, she felt weaker than she had before. Maybe she was punishing herself, but she'd survive.
Though she still looked at Mand with worry, the Jedi Master instead sighed lightly and sat back on her feet, silent. Mand's smile faded as she returned her gaze to the ceiling, feeling the strain of the silence between them.
As the minutes went on without any sound from the small room, Mand's spirits began to sink. Though she hardly knew Master Kanomin, Mand trusted her...and she had to know.
"What are they going to do to me?"
As Mand met the Jedi Master's gaze, her eyes spoke volumes, though she said nothing. When she finally spoke, her voice was exceptionally quiet, even for the soft-spoken woman. "I do not know."
Again Mand looked to the ceiling, expecting little more from Master Kanomin. She couldn't quite tell if Amina sounded as if she were saddened, already aware of what the Jedi committee had in store for Mand, or if she were genuinely regretful, unable to come up with an answer. Though Mand requested nothing further from her, Master Kanomin continued without hesitation.
"I don't think there was anything I would have done differently myself. But, as it is, the decision is not up to me. You're not a formal Jedi Knight, so I'm not sure what kind of penalty they can levy against you."
Mand nodded, thankful for her honesty. So Master Kanomin feared some kind of "penalty" was going to be their decision, even though Mand had taken a life in the defense of others? Would the same kind of investigation have been launched had a Jedi Master done what she had? What were they deciding to do to a rankless Jedi?
At fifteen, she had been kidnapped by her father's student just as she had begun to reform herself at the Jedi Academy, and she had been unable to continue her formal training after her rescue four years later because of her health issues. After requesting help from Master Skywalker, Master Lithess had recently helped her recover the basics as well as a few more advanced skills. But without the unusual help from Cordira just moments before the confrontation began, Mand would've easily been overpowered by Morden, even though he had said himself that she was the only one who could have stopped him.
After what seemed like an hour, the door finally swept open and the Jedi committee approached her. With Master Kanomin's help, Mand sat up slowly and faced the Jedi Masters, taking in a long breath as the Twi'lek stepped forward with her hands folded in front of her, her face stoic as before.
"Mrs. Natiyr, it is the decision of this committee that until you are evaluated and have completed formal training at this Temple or at the Academy on Yavin IV, you will not be permitted to construct, obtain, or carry a lightsaber. When and where you decide to continue your training is at your discretion. We also require that you keep the Jedi Order informed of your husband's location and progress, as we are quite concerned about his volatile state. Do you understand everything that is expected of you?"
Mand did her best to keep from looking and sounding severely disillusioned. "Yes."
The Twi'lek nodded. "Very well, then. You are free to go." The four Jedi Masters bowed slightly and left without another word, walking back into the Temple's main chambers. Master Lithess walked up to her, and both he and Master Kanomin watched the other four down the hallway.
Mand stared at the floor silently, struggling to understand their perspective. Her only concern over the past few months had been making herself capable of protecting her family. But how was she to do that without the powerful weapon of the Jedi? Was her preparation and hard work all for nothing? So her father no longer threatened them, but he had not been her only worry.
Master Lithess cast his crimson gaze down on her, devoid of emotion as usual, but his voice was kinder, less harsh than she had expected. "I do not agree with their decision. I would be more than willing to help you complete your training, Mand."
Mand nodded. "Thank you, Master, but I know you already have your hands full with your new apprentice." The day before, Noor's former apprentice, Wes Arosc, was reassigned to Master Lithess, though how well the pairing was going to work, Mand didn't know. She didn't dare ask, either. Master Lithess nodded solemnly but said nothing more.
"There are plenty of Masters who would gladly take you as their apprentice, Mand, myself included, as well," Master Kanomin added kindly. Again, Mand nodded her thanks, slowly standing and preparing to leave.
"Thank you both," she said as she released a long breath, "but I should be with my daughter for now." With a small bow, she left the two Jedi Masters, heading to the hangar to return to Koril's apartment.
Deilia had barely left the stupor of sleep when she realized someone was trying to arouse her. She instantly sat up and blinked her eyes into focus, seeing fellow Ghost Heirs Lalie Ot'rio and Keor Ordeel standing over her with solemn expressions.
"Where's Jorro? Is he going to be okay?" she asked, hardly masking the anxiety in her voice. Both Lalie and Keor nodded, and they stepped back in tandem as Deilia stood from her chair she had fallen asleep in.
"The doctors said the bolt missed his kidney, though it perforated some intestine," Keor answered, adjusting his bandaged shoulder in its sling. "He's lucky he got attention when he did, but they're sure he'll be fine now."
Nodding, Deilia released a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, and just in time. Her uncle Cade and Jolani Trislena approached her, both looking less than pleased with her.
"And just what did you think you two were doing?" Cade asked darkly. Deilia held his gaze defiantly.
"What the rest of you wouldn't. We rescued the Natiyr infant."
Jolani's expression became indignant. "By yourselves?"
"We had help."
"As evidenced by your clean escape, I'm assuming," Cade retorted scathingly. Deilia had to fight her own rising temper, though she did understand their concern. Still, she felt the end result was more important than the lecture, and their assault wasn't going to take back Jorro's injury.
"We accounted for every guard on duty as we made our way through the complex, and just as we were almost to our rendezvous point, one rogue guard surprised us. If Jorro hadn't taken that bolt...I would have. And it would've been worse."
Without awaiting their response, Deilia stepped around them, ignoring their protest behind her as she continued on and passed Finn Gedall and Veolar Banarecc, both silent, on her way into Jorro's room in the private clinic. To her surprise, neither Cade nor Jolani followed her, though she could hear their angered discussion continue with the others. She'd deal with them later; she needed to see Jorro.
Reclined in an angled bed, Jorro slept lightly, but as Deilia sat in a chair beside him, he began to slowly awaken. Deilia smiled at him, and she relaxed as he wanly smiled back at her. His color had improved dramatically since she had last seen him, though he still looked weakened and tired. It was probably the worst he had been injured in his life, but he seemed to be in good spirits.
She must not have maintained her smile. "I'm going to be fine, Deilia, don't worry," Jorro assured her. She immediately nodded.
"They said Ri's okay, too," Jorro continued, and again, Deilia nodded. Jorro's smile only broadened.
"Then we did it."
The look in his eyes, pure pride and fulfillment, was enough to make Deilia cry. But she couldn't, she wouldn't; not in front of him. Instead, she laughed lightly and nodded again, glancing up at the ceiling as if in thought.
"4,719 down, four to go," she joked with a grin. Though she didn't know the exact number of prophecies detailed in the watery cave she called home, she estimated that there had to at least be that many. And since the Ghost Heirs had collectively saved Veon Banarecc and allowed him to in turn save his sovereign, his daughter Ri, one of the five remaining prophecies had been realized.
With the brief pause, Deilia's expression fell, as did Jorro's. She leaned closer to him, lowering her voice. "That little girl owes you her life."
Jorro held Deilia's gaze, smiling a little as he released a long breath. "She can keep it."
Though she had smiled slightly and had begun to continue, Jorro stopped her.
"And you don't owe me anything either, Deilia."
To her surprise, Jorro's eyes again lit up in pride. It was almost as if something had changed within him, as if he had come to some kind of realization.
"We've always been on the job, but coming here, meeting our agents and informants face to face, rescuing Cordira...for once, it all feels so real." He paused, lowering his voice. "We really are their guardians."
Deilia nodded, though she didn't quite share Jorro's excitement. She had already felt the harsh repercussions of an oversight on her watch, and Jorro had almost been her second mistake. Though he seemed eager to ignore the fact, it wasn't enough to alleviate her guilt.
After the brief silence, she smiled wanly and leaned closer to him. "I at least owe you this much." Before he could ask, she planted a soft kiss on his lips, startling him. As she sat back, Jorro looked stunned. He recovered quickly, though, laughing as he arched his eyebrows.
"Yeah, a little more of that, and I think we'll be even."
Deilia gave him a challenging look. "Don't push your luck."
Jorro laughed again and shifted himself on the bed slightly, but stopped instantly with a pronounced grimace. She put a hand on his arm, but he dismissed her aid, drawing in a long breath.
"You ready to go home?" she asked quietly.
Jorro nodded as he relaxed, his pain subsiding. "Cade said you're not coming back with us, but he wouldn't say why." He searched her eyes as he awaited her response, but Deilia looked away, unsure of how to explain it to him without divulging details. As much as she wanted to tell him, this was something that none of the other Ghost Heirs could help her with.
"He wouldn't say because he couldn't. I didn't tell him why. I have to stay and...monitor someone." Jorro only looked more confused.
"I thought we had local agents and guards for that."
Deilia shook her head. "I'm the one who has to stay. I'm the only one who this person...might trust." With an apologetic look, she silently pleaded for Jorro to drop his next question, and thankfully, he nodded, sighing a little.
"You're sure you don't need any help?"
She nodded, smiling wanly as she stood and kissed him lightly on the forehead, preparing to leave. "I won't be breaking into any offices, so your services won't be needed."
Though his eyes begged her to stay, Jorro said nothing more. He must have understood the resolve in her own expression, and surely he knew her well enough that he couldn't change her mind, she mused. Leaving him with little more than a small smile, Deilia avoided the other Ghost Heirs outside Jorro's room as she made her way to her transport and onto her personal mission at hand.
Veon could count on one hand the number of times he had spent more than a half hour alone with his daughter Ri. In fact, he was quite sure he had only had her to himself just once before, mere hours after she was born.
Her mother Tascit was still recovering from the exertion, and able to divert his duties to others for a few divine minutes, he simply held the newborn in silence, marveling at her tiny features. Though he had two older children, the joy and wonder as he looked down at his little girl overcame him; his son Jec was destined to be king, but he knew that day that something different was in store for Ri, something special. Something even he could not put a finger on. Would she leave her royal lineage behind for the life of a Jedi in the footsteps of her mother? Was she even supposed to remain on Paneau anymore? Even as a five-year-old girl sitting on his lap drawing a small picture of jagged Coruscant skyline, she seemed powerful beyond measure, and he was sure she could have the galaxy at her fingertips if she wanted. There was nothing ordinary about his little Ri, and he had known that from the instant she had been born.
Though the morning hours were waning, his brother Veron still slept in a guest room in the Rys'tihn apartment, where Koril had insisted they all stay to rest after leaving Tarthos Industries Center the day before. Of course all the Ghost Heirs had dispersed immediately despite both Koril's and Veon's attempts to talk with them, but he, Veron, Ri, Mand, and Cordira had all stayed in the spacious apartment. They would be leaving for Paneau soon, once Mand returned from the Jedi Temple and Koril from Elena's. In the meantime, Veon spent the quiet, precious minutes with Ri, stroking her hair as she put the finishing touches on her picture.
"Are we going to stay at Koril's when we get home, daddy? I like it there."
Ri's innocent question caught Veon off guard, making him realize how little he knew of what had happened in her life in the past few weeks.
"I'm not sure, Ri," Veon answered softly. "He's a busy man."
Ri continued, undaunted. "He has a big house, with lots of rooms to play in. Me and Aiyden and Tegg had fun playing hide-and-seek when we were there. I won almost every time!"
Instantly Veon's thoughts returned to what the bounty hunter Kun Asakura had said about Ri's stealth during their brief exchange in Coruscant's lower levels. Asakura enjoyed almost too much telling Veon of how well the girl had "evaded her pursuers," as if he had figured out her secret and planned to expose her. How long had he held her captive?
"But Tegg left after his mom had her baby. Then Aiyden didn't want to play anymore and he and Ethan and Aunt Vianne went home, too. It was just me and three nannies left when..." Ri suddenly quieted, becoming still. Veon gently turned her on his lap to face him, and found her on the brink of tears, her lower lip trembling.
"I tried to hide, daddy," she finally said quietly. "I'm sorry I cost you so many credits."
Veon wasn't sure how he found the strength to, but he pulled Ri into a tight embrace, fighting off tears himself. Though he had been through nothing but hell in the previous weeks and through his trials thought himself numb to any further pain, his heart seared anew. But this was a different kind of pain, one he was almost happy to feel. As he pulled her back slightly and stared into her precious brown eyes, Veon found himself struggling to contain a smile.
"You, Annari, are more important to me than all the credits in the galaxy, do you understand me?"
Sniffling, Ri nodded, leaning against him with her head just under his chin. He again hugged her tightly, sighing lightly. All the terror she must have gone through in such a short time, from losing her mother and half sister to being kidnapped by a dangerous man, yet her greatest concern was the amount of credits that had secured her freedom. For a five-year-old to have endured the treachery she had and still conduct herself so well was impressive, but reflecting on it, Veon was hardly surprised. She was, after all, the daughter of a brilliant Jedi who hadn't met a challenge she faced without first having multiple plans and ideas to approach with at any angle. Veon didn't expect anything less of his Ri.
But he'd ask her about her experiences later, after she'd had a few weeks to process things and once they had settled back into life on Paneau. She deserved at least that much, the chance to be a normal little girl, and she deserved to have her father with her as he hadn't before. He had a lot of lost time to make up.
Ri still clung to him as he heard a door open at the front of the apartment, though he couldn't see who it was with his back to the entry. With a few quiet steps, Mand strode up beside him, smiling tiredly at him before she glanced over at the cradle on the other side of the table.
"She stayed quiet for you, I hope?" Mand said as she stepped over and checked on the sleeping infant. Veon lifted Ri into his arms and stood, also making his way to the cradle.
"Haven't heard so much as a coo after her second bottle," Veon answered, watching Ri as she looked down at Cordira curiously. Mand reached in and softly stroked the girl's cheek with a finger, smiling up at Veon and Ri again.
"She's still so tired after yesterday, poor girl. Thank you for watching her, Sire." Though still upset by being addressed as such, Veon simply nodded as he set Ri down on the floor, returning her to the table to color as he and Mand walked over to a couch to sit and talk.
Mand released a long breath before finally speaking, leveling a burdened expression at him. "I can't say that I'm surprised. They want me to finish my training before I can carry a lightsaber again."
Veon furrowed his brows. "After you did the galaxy a favor, they're punishing you? Is that how they usually treat their heroes?"
Mand laughed shortly. "I am no hero. I only did what I had to. But...I have a feeling this would have been their decision no matter what the outcome." She sighed and looked out a window into the Coruscant skyline. "They need to make sure I can be contained."
Though he had faced completely different challenges, Veon recognized the look on Mand's face. Accepting the blame though not being at fault cast a depressing burden that Veon knew all too well.
"I'm sure you could teach them a thing or two, though," Veon said with a small grin, hoping to lift her spirits. "They're probably jealous." Mand turned back to him and smiled, appreciative of the compliment. But despite the remaining questions he had for her, a long silence grew between them. Mand's smile faded, as did his grin, and neither made a sound for what seemed like minutes. Had he offended her? Mand had to know she was just as powerful as the Jedi Masters who had evaluated her, and perhaps that was what had made her upset. Veon had himself seen her raw power years ago when she first arrived on Paneau, single-handedly bringing down her former Imperial commanders. After her four-year disappearance, she seemed to have become even more powerful, wielding that unique shockwave. Did the Jedi Order fear her strength?
But Mand's thoughts followed a completely different path. As no one else had yet to have a serious conversation with him in the past few days, Mand finally asked the question he had nervously been expecting.
"...why did you take the fall?"
Instantly, Veon's gaze wandered over to Ri, who sat quietly at the table, working on a new drawing. For a fleeting moment, he saw Li sitting there instead: five years old, sculpting a small animal out of clay. But he blinked to clear and focus his eyes, and his oldest daughter was gone. Eight-year-old Li was among the 2500 dead in the Dalon Palace collapse, one of the hardest casualties he had to bear. As he continued to watch Ri, he finally found his voice to answer Mand.
"I realized that...if my enemies had decided that the punishment I deserved was all that destruction and death," he said quietly, "...then my people were due the exile of their leader who had failed to protect them."
After a long moment, Veon looked down at his lap to find Mand gripping one of his hands tightly. He looked up at her, meeting her focused gaze.
"Veon," she began shakily, "no wrongdoing in the universe is deserving of taking innocent lives. The only one responsible for what happened is the man who set those sonic charges, no one else."
As much as he wanted to believe her, he felt a small part of him would always carry that guilt, as it had happened on his watch, his duty. His was a burden he had to shoulder for the rest of his life; there was no avoiding it. Still, he nodded a little at Mand for her sake, valuing her friendship.
Mand's expression lightened into a small smile as she continued. "You are a good man. A great man, even, if your children are any evidence."
At that, Veon had to smile. He was exceptionally proud of them, and of Jec especially. His only son had endured so much in so little time, but he still took on his duty as Paneau's new king. And according to reports Veon had heard, Jec was eagerly received by the people and was already seeing success in the few weeks since his crowning. King Verojec was bringing about some desperately needed changes to Paneau.
Veon nodded his thanks and began to ask Mand a question, but stopped when he heard a door open behind them. He turned on the couch to see Koril returning with a blank, unfocused look on his face, Kaydee only steps behind him, and no Elena. Mand gave Koril a friendly greeting and a brief smile, but as if he hadn't heard anything at all, Koril continued on through the main room wordlessly and stepped out onto an outdoor balcony, staring off into the city-planet's skyline.
Simultaneously, Veon and Mand exchanged worried expressions, and they both stood just as Kaydee strode up beside them.
"Oh, dear, I do apologize on Master Koril's behalf, Mistress Mand, your Highness," Kaydee began reproachfully. "I am afraid I do not know what has put him into such a state." Veon nodded to the droid as he followed a few footsteps behind Mand, heading out to the balcony.
"Kaydee, stay with Ri, please."
The droid acknowledged the order with a formal response, but Veon hardly heard it as he stepped outside, his attention focused on Koril. Only once before had he seen his former pilot so distanced, so disconnected...
Mand approached Koril slowly, putting a hand lightly on his shoulder. He remained motionless, even after she began speaking.
"Koril? Are you okay?"
His response was delayed, to the point where Veon thought he wasn't going to respond at all. "Yeah, fine." There was no emotion in his voice, and already, Veon knew what had happened. As if numb, Koril continued on. "Is everyone prepared to leave?"
Mand stepped around to Koril's side, and though she saw his blank expression, she attempted to smile a little for him, trying to get him to be more responsive. "We were just waiting on you and Elena."
Koril didn't even blink. "Elena's not coming."
Veon closed his eyes and lowered his head, saddened. After everything that had happened...
Strangely holding onto some faint hope, Mand continued her small smile, searching Koril's face. "What do you mean?"
At that, Koril reached into his Royal Navy jacket pocket and retracted his hand, setting two small metallic objects on the balcony's wide railing. Mand's heartfelt gasp confirmed Veon's deduction - Koril had set down a Rys'tihn crest...and a ring.
"I...I don't understand..." Mand finally managed to say. "Why?"
"She said that it wouldn't work, that we'd never be able to be together... I can't leave Paneau, she can't leave the Order. She said neither of us would ever be happy."
"That's not true," Mand responded immediately, though she seemed to be on the brink of tears. "There's still so much to do in Dalon; hadn't she been helping? Master Skywalker knows about her interest in aiding Paneau, he gave her permission to help with the restoration..." Koril gave no response, forcing Mand to continue. "She could request an assignment on a nearby system, or take short assignments with long intervals between them..."
Unchanged, Koril maintained an unfocused gaze out over the balcony's edge, silent and motionless as though he had heard nothing. Bringing a hand to her head in disbelief, Mand turned away from both Koril and Veon. Unsure of how to comfort either, though, Veon remained quiet. Though he hadn't known of Koril and Elena's engagement for long, he hadn't expected such a drastic, sudden change, and Mand seemed even more stunned than he.
"I knew she was upset," Mand said shakily, "but I never thought she'd...do this..."
Finally responsive, Koril turned his head to look at Mand, catching Veon's attention. Though Veon knew the question Koril had on his face, he said nothing, requiring Veon's intervention.
"Why was she upset?" Veon quietly directed at Mand. Expectedly Mand turned to him, but surprised to see Koril looking at her, she froze. From the side, Veon had a hard time reading her expression; she looked almost guilty, as if she were about to lie and regretted it already.
But after she took in a slow breath, her expression became more saddened as she answered. "She saw what happened between Rech and me...how we were used against each other, to hurt the other. She was afraid of that happening to you and her, but I thought I had calmed her..."
Still silent, Koril looked down at his hands gripping the balcony railing. It pained Veon to see him so hurt, but how could he help? It didn't even seem like Mand was getting through to him at all...
Undaunted, however, Mand picked up the ring and crest, then gripped Koril's arm with her other hand. "Please," she began quietly, "don't let go just yet. Let me talk to her; I know exactly what she's thinking. I went through the same thing."
Veon blinked. As far as he knew, she and Rech hadn't broken their engagement before they married; what did she mean?
Again, Koril hardly moved. "She's already gone. Left for an assignment on Ambria a half hour ago."
Mand could hardly speak through her shock. "So...that's it? You're just going to...give up?"
At that, Koril looked at Mand, his expression blank. Though Veon didn't know how, Koril's words were even more devoid of emotion. "I tried to change her mind, I tried everything I could think of...but she already has. I'm going home." Leaving no time for either to counter, Koril turned and walked back into the apartment. "TheCelestia will be ready to leave in ten minutes," he called back as he disappeared around a corner.
Veon looked back at Mand, somewhat surprised to see her more regretful than anything, her eyes focused inside the apartment. He had just begun to ask her why when she answered for him. "I shouldn't have told her...not yet..." Though he was still confused, Mand met his gaze and sighed, having made a decision.
"Cordira and I will stay here. You and your family should return home."
"We'll be fine," she countered immediately. "Rech's parents live here. They'll be able to take care of her while I...try to fix this."
Frustrated, Veon crossed his arms. "What's going on, Mand? What do you know that he doesn't?"
Mand hardly breathed, conflicted and sad. She held his gaze silently for a long moment that was finally broken by the soft cry of her infant daughter inside. She looked down and sighed.
"Keep an eye on him," she said quietly as she stepped around Veon and walked back inside the apartment.