With their game finished, Derek leaned back from the table, rolling his eyes playfully at the smug grin on Cordira's face.
"Bragging isn't funny."
Her grin only broadened. "Neither is losing."
"Maybe I let you win," he teased. "Wouldn't want you to be sore about it this whole week."
With a laugh, Cordira had begun to respond, probably to challenge him to another game, but Dirani interrupted her, skipping back up to the table from the corridor as she tossed her long, shimmering white hair behind her importantly.
"Hey, Cordira! Can I ask you a question?"
Immediately Cordira's expression fell, anticipating Dirani's thinly veiled aggression. "Okay."
Dirani's sour attitude toward Cordira was a relatively new development, and Derek couldn't figure it out. Cordira was constantly on the defensive against Dirani's attacks, and as far as he knew, there hadn't been any one incident that had started it.
Despite her faint smile, her tone was anything but kind. "Have you ever actually been to Coruscant?"
Cordira nodded carefully. "Yes. My grandparents live there."
"But you don't live there. You weren't born there. You were born on Paneau. Why do you try to make it sound like you're Coruscanti when you're not?"
Derek narrowed his eyes. "Knock it off, Dirani."
"What?" she feigned innocence as she continued to skip around the table, avoiding his reach. "I'm just curious. She grew up with us, but none of us have an accent. Does she think she's better than us?"
Though he didn't know how, Cordira managed to stay calm. "I'm not better than anyone. This is just how I've always talked."
Unimpressed, Dirani snorted indignantly. "Sounds fake to me." Before either of them could protest again, she made a dramatic gesture as she walked away, adopting an intentionally exaggerated Coruscanti accent. "I'm going to go sit with Lieutenant Wip on the bridge."
Derek only watched his sister leave for a brief moment, more concerned instead for Cordira and how Dirani's antics had hurt her. She didn't move or even breathe for a long time, but when she finally looked to him, he gave her a reassuring smile.
"You shouldn't let her get to you," he soothed. "She's probably just more jealous than anything."
Unconvinced, Cordira gave a short, weak laugh. "Jealous? Of me and my 'fake' accent?"
"I know it's not fake, and I've always liked it. Makes you...unique. You stand out."
She rolled her eyes. "Like I need something else to make me stand out. My hair does a good enough job of that."
Her bright, fire-red hair did seem to command attention wherever they went, even in the hallways of the Dalon Provincial Academy they had both attended since they were young. He had always adored her vibrant hair, though, and no matter how many times he had told her so, she still hated it just the same. When her expression fell even further in their silence, he softened his voice.
"What is it?"
She held his gaze for a lengthy moment before she let go of a weary, reluctant sigh, unwilling to answer him. He gave her another confident smile to ease her fears, and once she checked around the open room to be sure they wouldn't be overheard, she mustered up the courage to speak.
"...I know where my accent came from now. But I've never told anyone, not even my parents. Especially not my parents."
Keenly interested, he leaned a little closer to her, closing the distance between them over the table. "You know your secret's safe with me. I won't tell a soul."
She still seemed hesitant, but another encouraging smile from him eventually won her over.
"Do you remember when we learned about the most recent Banarecc Royals in school last year?"
He nodded. "Yeah, Mom told me she and Dad were really good friends with King Veon and Queen Tascit. Your parents were, too. They both died a while ago, though."
Cordira agreed, continuing slowly as if she didn't believe her own words. "The whole time we were studying them, I felt like I already knew Queen Tascit. She was...familiar, but I didn't know why for the longest time. When I was really little, I remember always having a friend with me when my parents were gone, which was...a lot. She was an older woman, but she was so kind, encouraging, helpful... She even taught me the first Force skills I ever learned, years before my mom tried to show me how to do anything.
"I used to think that I had made her up, that I had just been imagining her when I was lonely, but when I saw those holos of Queen Tascit in class...I realized it was her, her Force Ghost that had kept me company when no one else was around. And I remember her voice very clearly - calm, soothing...and Coruscanti." She paused, breathing lightly. "I got my accent from her."
Derek could only stare in awe. "A Force Ghost? That's amazing! She appeared to you all the time?"
Not expecting his enthusiastic reaction, she shrugged shyly. "Yeah, like she was...attached to me for some reason. I'm not sure why."
"Well, didn't she die in the Dalon Palace collapse? You were born that same day...maybe even at the exact same moment."
Cordira looked stunned, as if she hadn't even considered what could have connected her to Paneau's former queen. She seemed haunted and even slightly disturbed by it, but he reached up and gently gripped her shoulder, grinning broadly to lift her spirits.
"Cordira, that is so special. Do you know how rare it is that a Jedi can do that? And for her to have stayed with you for so long...she must have really wanted to be sure you were okay."
Her shoulders hunched with her insecurity. "So...it's not weird?"
"No, it's not weird. I was named for the Jedi Master who saved my life, but," he added with a laugh, "he doesn't bother to visit me. You're lucky."
Finally able to, she giggled, as well, feeling better with his assurances, and he felt better, too. He was glad that he could help her forget Dirani's unwarranted hostility; her laughter was just an added bonus.
He had begun to suggest they go check on their younger siblings who had disappeared, having chased Kaydee into one of the rear holds, but a strange feeling took him over, locking an icy pang of terror in his chest. It had been a long time since he could remember experiencing such a sensation, and he hadn't been more than a year and a half old that first time...
"Derek? What's wrong?"
He could hardly think fast enough. "Go get your dad," he somehow managed to say. "Bring him up to the observation deck, hurry!"
Though she struggled to process his command, she nodded and sprinted for the bridge, just as he took off in the other direction, climbing the spiral staircase as fast as he could.
Forcing his eyes open, Koril Rys'tihn drew in the deepest breaths of his life, seeming to be nearly enough to burst his lungs. He was so disoriented he couldn't even determine that he was no longer standing, but laying flat on his back on the floor. His heart was racing, now that it was beating again, and once his eyes were able to focus, he looked over just in time to see his son frantically running to his side.
"Dad! Dad! Are you okay?"
He reached out to the boy as he landed on his knees beside him, hoping to calm him. "Derek... It's okay," he answered breathlessly. "I'm alright." Getting his bearings back, he began to prop himself up from the floor, but Derek was quick to stop him, pressing his shoulders down.
"No, Dad, don't! Just stay still. Master Natiyr is on his way."
Just relieved to still be alive, he didn't protest, focused instead on Derek who was still so worried. Had his son felt his condition through the Force, the same way his wife did every time he crashed? Even as he stroked the side of Derek's face, affectionately ruffling his sandy brown hair that seemed to be getting lighter every day, Derek remained upset.
"Derek, relax... I'll be okay."
Before Derek could say anything in reply, the sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs from the lower level earned their attention as his friends came racing to his aid. Rech was the first to reach him, taking Derek's place at Koril's side and extending a healing hand to him to begin his work while Mand, Elena, and Cordira gathered all around him.
"Koril, what happened?" Rech asked with quiet intensity, already slowing his heart's rapid pace. Koril could only shake his head.
"I don't know. It felt like my heart stopped... It took my breath away, and I blacked out. Woke up here." He swallowed hard, releasing a heavy, tense breath. "I didn't have any warning, it just hit me."
Knelt at his side opposite Rech, Elena picked up Koril's hand and held it tightly, her grave concern evident in her grip and in her eyes though she was silent and maintained her gaze on Rech.
"How are you feeling now?"
"There's a...tightness, a pressure in my chest, but it's getting better."
Rech closed his eyes to concentrate, lightly placing his hand on Koril's forehead. "Anything else?"
"No." With Rech's healing efforts, Koril could feel his anxiety waning. "I think it scared me more than anything... It's been so long since I've felt anything like this."
"Eight years," Mand needlessly reminded him, her voice distant. He nodded anyway, but as Rech sat back from him, he held his breath as he waited for the Master Healer's report.
"Well, the good news is I can't find anything structurally wrong."
Though initially relieved, Koril took in and released a slow breath. "So what does that mean?"
"It means," Rech continued warily, "the bad news is, it could have been an isolated event that we can't predict or remedy, or it could be a symptom of something worse, like a chemical imbalance that's interfering with your heart's function."
He didn't need the Force to feel the weight of everyone's spirits as they sank in the silence. He sighed after a pause, almost afraid to ask... "What would cause an imbalance?"
"Assuming you haven't had any spiked drinks recently," Rech gave him a pointed look, "it could be any number of things." When Rech glanced over at Elena and held her gaze for a tense moment, Koril knew what he was inferring before he had even said it. "You have been under a lot of...stress recently. That could have easily affected your system."
Elena wouldn't even look him in the eye. "We should go back home."
"No," Koril countered immediately, finally drawing Elena's gaze. She looked down at him incredulously, forcing him to bargain with Rech. "If it's just an imbalance, can't it be fixed with an injection or medication of some kind?"
Despite being wary of getting in the middle of their lengthy, complicated argument, Rech eventually nodded. "If that's even the cause, I'd have to run some tests to determine what we'd need to adjust, but...yes, it could be fixed that way."
But Elena continued to protest. "Koril, this isn't something to just shrug off. There could be something seriously wrong - "
"So we'll make a stop somewhere nearby to have me checked out," he countered, keeping his tone level. "I don't want to ruin everyone's vacation if there's no reason to. I feel fine now."
Though Elena had opened her mouth to continue, she stopped, meeting the faintly disappointed expressions that both Derek and Cordira wore as they stood beside Rech. More than any of their children, the two oldest had been looking forward to their trip, as it was their first chance to travel somewhere other than their homeworld of Paneau and their second home on Coruscant. And Elena knew very well that Koril had always put others' needs ahead of his own; keeping his children happy would be no different. She gave a frustrated sigh before she looked to Rech, reluctantly giving in.
"You'll stay with him?"
Rech nodded. "Have Swip land us on the closest planet with a decent medical center."
With only one more brief glance at him, Elena wordlessly stood from Koril's side, dropping his hand just as swiftly. Mand carefully followed after her, bewildered as the rest of them were, leaving Rech to put a hand on Koril's shoulder sympathetically while Derek and Cordira exchanged worried looks.