In all of its years serving the Rys'tihn Royal Family as a sanctuary away from the bustling capital city, Rech was fairly certain that the Rys'tihn Retreat had never been so full of guests while remaining so painfully silent.
More than two dozen Elite Guards of Paneau's Royal Forces were scattered about the grounds securing the Retreat, although it was probably already the safest location on the entire planet before they had arrived. Rech suspected their placement actually had little to do with providing added security; they were only there for Elena's peace of mind, something that Major Jax had always been keenly in tune with. Their children had all just survived an abduction of sorts, although they had been completely unaware of it thanks to the sedative that had kept them sleeping. Still, Jax anticipated heightened anxiety and made adjustments accordingly, but Rech was no longer worried for the children...but rather for his friend.
Rech sat beside his wife Mand on a plush couch in the private gathering room they had been escorted to, and it seemed like they sat together in silence for an hour before they were finally joined by Koril and Elena. Both Rech and Mand stood to meet them, eager to offer any assistance Koril might need, but Elena was quick to hold up a hand in stern warning, shaking her head sharply to deny their aid. Her eyes were red and bereaved as expected, and Rech could even hear her trembling as she breathed, desperately keeping herself together for Koril's sake. They stepped back as Koril walked on his own, his gaze locked in an unfocused, vacant expression that was devoid of everything they had known their friend to be. He somehow made his way to the other couch and slowly sat, resuming his motionless state that had taken over his demeanor since waking up from the sedative days ago. Elena had to draw in and release several shaky breaths before she took her place beside him, but she at least held tightly to his hand as they sat together. Feeling less than useless, Rech returned with Mand to their couch, enduring the agonizing quiet by watching Koril to be sure he continued breathing...
After what felt like another lengthy hour, Cade Rys'tihn, the elder Ghost Heir who had asked to meet with them, finally stepped into the room, wearing an expression not much unlike his nephew's. He was followed closely by his son Garran, someone Rech was not expecting to see. They had met the young man at seventeen, but after protecting Cordira and the Rys'tihn children from a dangerous mercenary, he had left with Deilia to be her companion in exile. Now twenty-two and sporting a leaner physique and a number of new scars on his face, the years away from Paneau appeared to have been just as difficult on him as Rech assumed the past few days had been.
Elena hadn't been expecting to see him, either, as evidenced by the choking sob she allowed to escape as she stood to embrace him. He returned her hold just as tightly, more concerned about comforting her as she trembled against him, but she stepped back from him after a moment, cupping his face with both of her hands as she looked him over.
"Are you okay?" she asked weakly through sobs she was fighting to contain. "Were you hurt?"
Becoming emotional himself, Garran clenched his jaw to control his conflicted expression before he shook his head. "No...I wasn't hurt."
"Please, sit so we can talk."
Cade's invitation went unheeded for a few moments as Garran recovered his composure, but eventually he sat next to his father as Elena returned to Koril's side, taking up his hand again. Rech watched Koril for any sign that he would so much as acknowledge his uncle's presence...but none came, even as the elder Rys'tihn began to speak.
"I know you're all aware that Deilia...that Deilia died three days ago. I brought you here because I wanted to tell you myself what happened. You deserve to know," he paused with a long breath as he looked directly at Rech and Mand, "...and you deserve to know why."
Rech could only stare back dumbfounded. He thought he and Mand had been invited to this meeting as moral support for Koril and Elena through a difficult time, but a sinking feeling in his stomach was beginning to tell him otherwise. How could he or Mand be linked to whatever had happened to Koril's sister?
"Deilia's exile was...largely self-imposed," Cade continued slowly, his voice low and somber. "She arranged it with another Ghost Heir, but it was made to appear genuine to everyone else, including me. She used the time to heal herself of an illness she had contracted, and to find my son Garran and send him home to me. While he was here, she discovered something very important...a key piece of intel we didn't get in time: someone had hired a mercenary to take Cordira."
Beside him, Mand's hand tightened around his arm, but he sat frozen in fear for where this chain of events was headed.
"She blamed herself for not finding it earlier, so with Garran's help, she focused all her energy on hunting whoever it was that had hired the mercenary in the first place. It took her until last month to track him down, and after doing as much recon and planning as she could on her own, she realized that the only way she'd be certain that she'd stopped him...was to go with him."
Visibly unsettled, Garran crossed his arms over his chest to disguise how much his entire body was trembling. Rech knew it wasn't safe to look at Elena who was even more upset, but Mand wasn't faring much better.
"She did all that...to protect my daughter?" Mand asked breathlessly. "Why? Cordira's not a Rys'tihn... She's not your family. There was no reason that Deilia had to die for her."
"She believed she did."
Taken aback by Cade's bluntness, Mand glanced blankly at Rech as the Rys'tihn explained. "You're aware of The Prophecy, correct? The predictions made thousands of years ago by a Jedi ancestor of the Rys'tihns that have, save for the last few remaining, all been proven true?" Earning a nod from both of them, he continued. "Almost all of the predictions have involved Paneau royalty in some way, so it has fallen to the Ghost Heirs over the years to protect the Legacy of Paneau by making sure things happen as they should. Each of the statements have been dissected and analyzed a hundred different ways through the centuries, but typically the interpretations for the prophecies remaining have stayed the same...except for one.
"Deilia studied The Prophecy like no other Heir I've known. When she wasn't on an active mission, she was on dive after dive, looking at that huge underwater mosaic for hours on end. She seemed to think that we had translated one word incorrectly, and that one word would change the entire meaning of its prophecy. She came to believe that word was 'red', and that the prophecy was talking about Cordira.
"You're right," Cade paused briefly, "Cordira's not a Rys'tihn. I told Deilia the same thing I don't know how many times, that we Ghost Heirs owed her nothing, but...she never listened to me. She was so convinced, she believed so hard that there was a reason Cordira had to be in Paneau's future, she did almost anything to provide the girl protection, sometimes even more than what we extended to Koril and Elena's children. So when that Kel Dor attacked out of nowhere and very nearly succeeded in kidnapping Cordira... Deilia took it personally. It was her fight to finish."
"Who was it? Who hired the Kel Dor?"
Cade hesitated, straining the silence that much more. "An enemy you've encountered once before... Lucien Darkmyre."
On her feet in an instant, Mand stepped away from the group, folding her arms over her stomach as she shook with uncontrolled breaths. Rech could feel the overwhelming guilt radiating from her even without the Force, making it nearly impossible for him to console her. He stood and enveloped Mand in his arms, doing what he could to at least calm her breathing. Lucien Darkmyre had caused plenty of death and destruction with the Huxnel several years ago on Demmar, but he had most notably rattled Mand after their disastrous encounter. The Dark Jedi had brought back haunting memories of her past she had tried to leave behind, and though she had nearly bested him in a duel, he instead trapped her in layers of debris in a crumbling building. He left Demmar, and unable to follow him, Mand had blamed herself for allowing him to escape. But how did it all come back to him now? Why had he sent the Kel Dor to take Cordira so many years later? After a few moments, Mand stepped back from him and dried tears from her face, turning back to the others once she could take in a breath without gasping.
"Lucien was nothing but vile, and he was extremely dangerous. He almost killed me. Deilia should never have even attempted to approach him alone..."
Garran spoke up weakly. "She wouldn't let me help her."
Mand only felt more guilty. "I didn't... I don't blame you..."
Cade put a hand on his son's shoulder. "Garran..."
Garran simply shook his head. "She never told me, but we were tracking his movements for almost two years before we made one last trip to Coruscant on our way to stop Lucien. I see it now, but I had no idea then that she was saying her final goodbyes. She had made this decision a long time ago...and she only let me stay with her as long as I did so I could bring him back to Paneau with me."
Before anyone could ask what he meant, a nine-year-old boy Rech vaguely recognized as Deilia's son Malin, the Tyro Ghost Heir, stepped into the room, tugging a toddler along behind him. The boy held to Malin's hand with an intense grip that matched his scared, hazel eyes partially hidden under a messy, dark brown mop of hair. It was easy to see the relation between the two half-brothers, and Rech felt his heart sink even further in grief for them both.
"This is Wil," Garran introduced the boy softly, picking him up and holding him in his lap, "Deilia's second son. He's two years old, and he's the reason she wouldn't let me do anything to help her. She knew that no matter what happened to her, she wanted Wil to grow up on Paneau, and she wanted me to be there for him. She shouldn't have taken Lucien alone, but like I said, she had already made her decision, and I wasn't part of it."
The room again fell silent as all gazes turned to Wil, watching the boy cuddled in Garran's hold comfortably. The two were essentially cousins, but it was already apparent that Garran had taken on a father-like role for Wil. Perhaps he felt he owed Deilia that much after what she had done for him in the past, or maybe it simply came naturally to him. Either way, the boy would also have been well cared for by Malin and Cade, or even by the rest of the staff at the Rys'tihn Manor...
"Deilia did what she did because she wanted Cordira to be safe from any threat, Mand," Cade finished calmly, looking at them both. "She believed that your daughter is crucial to Paneau's future, and as many Ghost Heirs have done in the past, she died to protect that future. It's something we Heirs know we might face someday, and Deilia wasn't afraid to."
With their explanation over and no further discussion being made, Cade stood after a few minutes and left with Garran, Malin, and Wil, leaving the two couples alone in the private room in a deafening silence. Mand continued to wrestle with paralyzing guilt, burying her face in Rech's shoulder as he held her tightly. Koril and Elena were still seated on the couch behind him, but with his back to them, Rech didn't believe he was hearing Koril's voice until Mand reacted in surprise, too.
"She gave me a warning..."
Turning to face him, Rech watched his friend closely as a single tear rolled down his cheek though he maintained his unfocused gaze. "When I collapsed, just after we left for Aquilaris... I wasn't sick, it was her way of...preparing me...but I was too worried about everything else going on that I didn't pay enough attention.
"You were right," he breathed, turning his head to look at Elena for the first time in days. "When you told me how I'd feel if she were gone...you were right. I feel...emptiness, and the connection I had to her...it's gone, like it was ripped out of me. Only I didn't think I would feel so much...pain. I would rather suffer through the Huxnel virus again than endure this for the rest of my life..."
Breaking down into grief-stricken tears again, Mand knelt down beside Koril, having to brace herself against the couch for lack of strength. "Koril... I don't know what to say... I don't know what to do! Please, tell me what you want. If you want us to leave, we'll leave. We'll move out of the Manor, we'll move away... Just please, tell me..."
Displaying even more emotion, Koril shook his head as his brows furrowed together in distress. "No...no, you can't leave. You belong at the Manor. Nothing will change that."
But his reassurances only served to intensify Mand's guilt, and she was nearly inconsolable as Koril slowly stood from his seat and pulled her up to her feet to embrace her tightly. The release of emotions from them both filled the room with shared sadness, but it was a small step towards healing, a process Rech feared could take years.