With her arms crossed over her chest, Elena paced about in the Dalon Main Spaceport control center, surrounded by more than twenty Royal Guards and Royal Navy officers. Though not pacing with her, Kaydee remained close by her side, silent for the most part, but she had become more vocal in the past few minutes, as had some of the officers nearby.
"Mistress Elena," Kaydee pleaded kindly, "do sit down for a moment. You haven't rested for nearly three hours now."
"I'm fine, Kaydee," Elena responded tonelessly. "I'll rest when he gets back."
Kaydee stepped forward to protest further, but Commander Brent Jax, Koril's closest friend, stepped up instead, gripping her shoulders gently. He began to speak, but his expression changed suddenly, even more concerned.
"Elena, are you cold? You're shivering."
Elena shook her head, sure it was just her anxiety. Glad to finally hear somebody in the room not address her as "m'lady", she sighed a little, looking up at Brent.
"Shouldn't we have heard something by now?"
Though Brent had shrugged and begun to respond to her question, she suddenly felt...distanced, as if she had partially been taken from the control room and transported elsewhere. She still saw Brent speaking to her, but she heard nothing he said. She felt her entire body turn ice cold abruptly, then a widespread, intense pain gripped her, doubling her over. Her arms crossed over her stomach, but the pain came from somewhere else, from someone else...
"Get a medic up here!" she finally heard as Brent ordered the others. Elena opened her eyes to find herself lying curled up on her side on a bench, surrounded by a handful of officers and Brent knelt beside her. She had to fight to gather enough breath to speak.
"No...no, I'm okay... It's not me." Calming her breathing as the pain subsided, she swallowed dryly and met Brent's gaze. "It's Koril. Something's happened to him."
It had happened before, months ago when Koril had suffered a brutal Force Lightning attack. Through their developing bond in the Force, she had somehow felt that he had been gravely wounded, though she hadn't been able to discern it at the time. As they had grown closer, only days away from their wedding, their bond seemed to have intensified, and she knew for sure that he was in danger.
Brent still looked greatly concerned for her, though, and just as he was about to ask her a question, a young officer at the sensor station behind them spoke up, cautiously excited.
"Incoming craft, Commander, from the lead Star Destroyer. It's a small shuttle, but it's not broadcasting any codes."
Brent looked back. "Where is it heading?"
"Its current flight path will bring it here, Commander. Orders?"
"Have the Edgepoint Squadron escort it down to landing pad 4-A2K. I want a team with me to meet it when it lands."
Sitting up, Elena ignored the protests of the officers around her and gripped Brent's arm, meeting his gaze intently. "I'm coming with you."
Though he seemed to disagree at first, he nodded eventually, standing as he gave orders to the remaining officers in the control center. He extended a hand to Elena, and surprising herself, she took it, standing with him as he kept a supportive hand at her elbow.
Five Royal Guards silently followed her and Brent from the center, piling into a turbolift to the ground floor. A pair of landspeeders met them as they exited the center, and as they sped toward the landing pad, Elena saw the shuttle they were racing to meet approaching the city in a rapid descent.
Her heart fluttered as she recognized the people she sensed on board, and hardly before the landspeeder had even come to a stop at the shuttle, she had already hopped out of it. Running around to its back side, she was relieved to see her friends step down its ramp as Brent and the Royal Guards caught up.
"Elena!" Mand said as she embraced her tightly. Elena looked between her and Kihara, standing beside her, looking them over for any obvious injuries.
"Are you alright? Why did they release both of you?"
Mand blinked, looking confused. "They didn't release us, we had to escape."
Elena furrowed her brows. "I don't understand."
"We had some help." Mand turned her head to the shuttle, where Elena was shocked to see Rech stepping down its ramp. He gave her a calm nod as he took his place beside Mand, but he remained silent. Her delight at seeing her friend was quickly diminished as she looked at the three, realization making her expression grim.
"If you escaped...then where's Koril?"
Their faces all fell simultaneously, and Kihara was the first to speak up cautiously. "Koril was up there?"
Elena nodded, and just as she was about to explain, Brent's commlink beeped behind them. He answered it, then looked up to the sky, and everyone present followed suit. Even though the sun was beginning to set, the four Star Destroyers in orbit above were gleaming brightly, easily seen in the darkening sky as unobstructed sunlight reflected off their hulls. Numerous other large ships slowly appeared, though, and surrounded the Destroyers, and both Mand and Brent spoke at the same time.
"The New Republic is here."
Far from relieved, though, Elena felt a sinking feeling grip her, and her fears were confirmed as she watched the four Destroyers disappear in a flash, jumping to hyperspace in four separate directions. The New Republic cruisers remained in place, though, but their presence no longer relaxed her. She stood numbly, staring at the space where the Destroyers had just been. It wasn't until Mand's tight grip on her shoulders that she looked back down and met her friend's gaze.
"We have to find him," Elena said determinedly. "We have to find him."
Though obviously concerned, Mand said nothing, releasing a shaky breath. Breaking Mand's grip, Elena turned and faced the Royal Guards, addressing Brent. "Commander Jax, I want the Celestia ready for my departure within the hour."
Surprised but respectful, he nodded. "Of course, M'lady." As he directed the guards back to the landspeeders, Elena returned to her friends, her expression resolute.
"I'm going," she began strongly, "and there's nothing that any of you can do to stop me."
Mand glanced back at the other two, her own expression resigned. She looked back at Elena, nodding. "We won't. We'll come with you."
Looking at the three, Elena nodded and returned to the landspeeders, instructing the officer at the controls to take her and her friends to the Rys'tihn Manor to prepare for their journey.
Though still nursing his chest wound, Horatio drug a long cargo container behind him, glad it at least had repulsors to ease its weight. Still, tugging it along with two good arms was difficult enough, but he needed to move quickly before it was discovered what he had done.
Disabling the targeting systems of the Vandal had been easy enough to do, allowing the shuttle Mand and the others were on to escape while the crew was busy preparing to jump. He hadn't been able to get back to weapons control to reverse it, though, and he knew they'd be hunting him soon. Once they noticed, that is. Hopefully he had at least enough time to get to the hangar.
A group of surly Weequays blocked the hangar's main door, and as Horatio tried to step past them, one shoved a blaster in his chest.
"And where do you think you're going, pretty boy?"
Horatio rolled his eyes and leveled an annoyed look at him. "As flattered as I am, I don't have time to play, Vreej. I've got to get this cargo to Sluis Van once we drop out of hyperspace."
Vreej narrowed his eyes. "What cargo?" Horatio matched his expression.
"I don't know, Vreej, maybe Azira got tired of her bed linens and wanted something with flowers. I don't ask."
The Weequay snarled and shoved Horatio, pushing past him to have the others open the container. "The Admiral has ordered that nothing leave without inspection. Too many prisoners escaping. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
As the guards opened the container to find it full of spare droid parts, Horatio held his hands up in the air mockingly. "Oh, that was me. I confess."
Vreej turned back to Horatio, glaring at him. "Watch it, pretty boy, or I might have to break that dainty face of yours."
"Maybe later," Horatio said with a sardonic grin. "Can I do my job now?"
With a gruff grunt, Vreej and the others moved aside, allowing Horatio to pass. He continued pulling the container into the hangar, dragging it up to a small ship just barely big enough to fit the long box. He sealed the rear ramp and disabled the container's repulsors, allowing it to settle on the ship's floor with a heavy thud. He winced slightly, hoping he hadn't damaged its contents.
Stepping up to the cockpit, he quickly powered up the ship, preparing it for a quick departure. He listened intently for the characteristic slow whine as the Vandal began pulling out of hyperspace. Once the Star Destroyer began to turn, changing its direction before it made another jump, Horatio punched his ship out of the hangar and into free space. He set the coordinates and fired up the hyperdrive, leaving the Destroyer behind.
Heaving a heavy sigh and hanging his head, Horatio felt the release of immense stress as the stars streaked past the viewport. He was free, finally, as he hadn't been for a long time. His relief lasted only momentarily, though, as he glanced back at the container behind him. He had another job to do.
Leaving the cockpit, he walked back over to it and opened it, carelessly tossing the droid parts aside. Once empty, he reached in and released a small latch on the inside that popped with a subtle click, freeing the container's apparent floor from its sides. He carefully pried the panel up, revealing a lower storage compartment. Inside it, Koril Rys'tihn lay motionless, breathing shallowly with his eyes locked open.
Taking in a deep breath, Horatio reached down and grabbed Koril under his shoulders, tugging him up and out of the container onto a padded bench on the ship's wall. After settling him, Horatio looked over the High Commander's roughened uniform and saw where Koril had been injected with the virus. Shaking his head, he ran a hand through his own hair, observing Koril momentarily.
The only movement he knew he was going to see from Azira's latest victim, Horatio watched as Koril's eyes closed. The virus was attacking him, assaulting all of his sensory nerves while it incapacitated his motor nerves. It was designed to induce psychosis from the recurring extreme bouts of pain, allowing Azira to control her captives by offering to give them brief antidotes in exchange for information. But Koril seemed to be completely comatose after the attacks, as if still paralyzed by the virus. Had he been given something different?
As the attack ended, Koril's eyes opened, and Horatio noticed something that troubled him. Black specks were beginning to accumulate in Koril's brown irises, and that couldn't be a good sign. He sighed, and though he wasn't sure if Koril could hear him or not, he spoke anyway.
"You're in for a rough time, buddy."
Less than five minutes since the last attack, Koril's eyes closed again, making Horatio rub his own forehead in concern. More aggressive, different effects... As the attack subsided and Koril's eyes reopened, Horatio saw even more black specks. He was going to have find help for him, and fast.