Paneau: capital city of Dalon
Royal Forces Security Center
"Darkmyre?" Koril echoed with confusion. "Wasn't that the name of the Dark Jedi that Mand fought, the one that my sister gave her life to take out?"
Rech nodded. "We think they're related. She's after Cordira, she's been hunting her. She followed her to Coruscant and back."
"We talked to Eger," Elena added somberly. "She had personally tortured him, and probably those other passengers they sent back to us. He told us what she looks like, and the descriptions match."
"So why is this Darkmyre woman sending all these pirate attacks and raids, if all she wants is Cordira?"
"We don't know yet, but we need to find Cordira and warn her. She doesn't have any idea this woman's after her."
Koril looked concerned. "Find her? You don't know where she is?"
Irritated and worried, Rech released a frustrated breath. "She's actively blocking me, and probably anyone else trying to find her. She's skilled at hiding herself in the Force, but this Darkmyre woman is powerful and deranged. I need to know that Cordira is safe."
As if on cue, all focus fell on Derek as his mother leveled the question at him directly. "Do you know where Cordira is?"
All he could reply with was a delayed shake of his head, hoping his minimal response would deflect further attention from him. It seemed to work, albeit only briefly.
"Track the Rys'tihn Crest that Derek gave her."
Unable to control the reflex, Derek shot his sister Dirani a look of alarm, betrayed by her innocent suggestion. With little pause, both of his parents turned to him for an explanation he was hardly prepared to give.
"You gave Cordira one of our Crests?"
"They've been dating, haven't they?"
"No, Cordira's been seeing Ethan Redgrave for months."
A look of realization passed over Koril's face. "That's what this is about? You've been upset and depressed about Cordira?"
"No, Dad, that's not - "
"Derek? Sweetheart, why didn't you tell me - "
"He's been like that for days, Mom - "
Derek clenched his jaw. "That's enough, Kyren."
Something seemed to snap in Koril as he turned to Derek directly, leveling a pointed finger at him as all other discussion instantly ceased. "Derek Aalon Rys'tihn, don't you dare get mad at your brother for being concerned about you!"
Derek met his father's intense gaze silently, unable to respond with much more than a weak nod as an apology. He couldn't bear to look at his brother Kyren, though, embarrassed enough at his own impulsive reaction. The entire room remained painfully quiet for a long, tense minute before being broken by a subtle beep from the comm station, yet no one dared to move. Koril hesitated the most, not breaking from his attention on Derek until he turned to press a button on the console. His voice, despite being somewhat soft, cut through the silence with a sharp, hardened edge.
"High Commander," Admiral Cal Jax began with urgency, "we're getting reports from Demmar that the pirates... Sir, they've begun bombing Wray."
Behind him, Derek heard a small gasp escape his mom.
"Bombing? They have craft that are capable of that?"
"It would appear so, sir. And the Concordes have lost three pilots already. Captain Iafix said they've never encountered so many pirates at one time; they're all completely overwhelmed."
Seemingly frozen in place in shock, Koril hardly even breathed as he stood motionless in thought, weighing his options with this new situation that had suddenly become so desperate. The Concordes, along with the Liberas and Valors, had been engaged with the pirates over Demmar for hours already...
"Send the Eclipses to help. If they can't be contained or pushed back...we'll activate everyone else."
"Yes, High Commander," Jax signed off quickly, leaving all attention to fall on Koril once more. The air in the office was so gravid, so tensely silent as everyone present recognized what this new development meant: if the pirates couldn't be stopped over Demmar...they would be coming for Salastryn and Paneau next.
Returning to his company after a brief daze, Koril looked to Rech. "Have you heard from Mand?"
Master Natiyr shook his head reluctantly. "No, nothing yet."
It wasn't what the High Commander wanted to hear, but he sighed and nodded after a moment. "Find Cordira," he mandated with surprising strength, earning an agreement from the Jedi Master. He then turned his attention to his wife, maintaining his authoritative tone. "You and Dirani stay with the Banareccs, and...be ready to get them somewhere safe."
The expression on Elena's face was difficult to decipher. A hint of fear tugged at the corners of her eyes, but Derek also saw her characteristic determination. She was a veteran of a similar threat to Paneau years ago, as was Koril, and she appeared dedicated to preventing the past from repeating itself.
"Kyren, stay here with me, please," Koril finished his orders, beginning to step away with a nod to dismiss everyone. Master Natiyr was the first to leave, but the rest of the Rys'tihns were more reluctant to move, fixated on Derek and Koril. Though he knew he might regret it, he felt compelled to plead once more now that circumstances had changed.
"Dad, please... Let me fly."
But Koril continued on without a word, intentionally ignoring his oldest son as the youngest followed along just behind him. Confused by the exchange, Elena also tried to elicit a response from him as he passed her, but she, too, was left unanswered. She gave Derek a reticent, worried look before she trailed after Koril to speak with him, and Dirani silently kept up with them all. It left Derek completely alone in the High Commander's office, and he could hardly breathe, locked in such anguished distress.
Everything in his life seemed to be spiraling out of control, and he never would have thought he'd find himself in such a vulnerable, disgraced position. The one thing he had trained and worked his whole life for, flying for Paneau's famed Edgepoint Squadron, had been taken from him. It was a sacrifice he'd made for his closest friend, the woman he'd loved longer than he could remember, and now she was in danger, but there was no way for him to protect her as he had in the past.
His family was right to expect he'd know where Cordira was, though he'd never have admitted it to them. The Rallyes would be taking to the skies for their scheduled rotation within the hour, and that meant she'd be preparing her new X-wing, one that he had helped her procure as she recovered, for its first mission. Though his legs felt heavy as durasteel and he could feel himself trembling with grief, he forced himself to leave, hoping no one would take notice of his departure.
Outer Rim Space: Aurelia
In the quiet of the Aurelia's small med bay, Mand could easily feel the scrutiny of three worried, eager sets of eyes locked on her as she held her hands over the carbonite slab. Removing it from the mine had required...creative thinking, as it was too large to maneuver up the ventilation shaft that had brought the four Jedi down to the freezing chamber. The abandoned mine also had no power, rendering any of the lifts within its tall, spindle-like structure completely useless. At Arlen's suggestion, though, the three Jedi Knights had traveled ahead and created their own entrances and exits in the lift shafts, slicing openings with their lightsaber blades for the carbonite block to travel through.
On their return trip, they saw even less of the facility than they had on their way in, much to Mand's dismay. She had wanted to search the entire mine for any clues the pirates may have left behind, especially anything that might explain their motives, or even tell her who they were. They hadn't seen anything of interest on their first pass, but keenly interested in getting their discovery home, she had allowed them to leave without a second inspection. Instead of returning with information, at least they wouldn't be coming home to Paneau completely empty handed...
Reaching deep within the Force to push her abilities to the limit, Mand relied on the healing and lifeforce instruction she had received from her husband over the years. But even as she continued to concentrate, almost straining to feel some kind of response...the carbonite freezing process seemed to have stumped her. She rocked back from her position on her knees and lowered her hands, releasing a slow breath. Aruun, Arlen, and Kaylina all watched her intently and waited with bated breath for her report, and she hated to disappoint them so.
"I...can't tell much of anything. I'm not sure what kind of state he's in."
Kaylina looked sadly down at her younger cousin Wil, serenely encased in the carbonite slab, before returning to Mand. "Can we please just get him out of the carbonite? If he's still alive, it can't be good for him to stay like this for much longer. We don't know how long he's been in it, and we're still so far from home."
Mand frowned. "I'm not a Healer like their father is."
"I learned a lot from one of the Master Healers at the Academy, Mom," Aruun countered softly. "Dad taught me quite a bit when we were little, too. I think all of us combined could help Wil."
Though she wasn't nearly as skilled as she wanted to be to take on a recovery effort like this, her previous experience with the five frozen prisoners led her to believe that the carbonite wasn't beneficial to them at all. If they allowed Wil to thaw, they could keep him stable in the med bay until they got back to Paneau. At least, she hoped they could...
"Okay," she ceded reluctantly, and before she had even begun to instruct the three girls, Kaylina had already taken to the controls, starting the thawing process.
The slab's frame hummed faintly as it warmed, visually seeming to have no effect for what felt like an eternity as they all watched anxiously. It crackled and clicked like ice that was breaking apart, thinning and evaporating to finally reveal Wil underneath the layer of silver. The Jedi were motionless for a few moments, either out of shock or uncertainty that the process had completed, Mand wasn't sure. She was the first to move, reaching her hand in to gently touch Wil's neck. He remained so deathly still...
Despite the frigid temperature of his skin under her fingertips, she could feel his pulse strengthening with every beat as he slowly reanimated. His chest gave a desperate heave, drawing in a deep breath as if it had been his first. The relief Mand felt coursing through her was surprisingly intense; it was as though she had just witnessed her own daughter's revival, despite not having any familial relation to him. Still, she had always held a special place in her heart for the young man...
"Let's get him out of this slab and onto something more comfortable."
Following Aruun's suggestion, the four of them worked together to hoist the seventeen-year-old's limp frame out of the carbonite and onto a nearby bed, carefully settling him as he continued to rouse. He began weakly moving on his own as Mand hovered closely over him, monitoring his breathing intently. As his eyes finally fluttered open, she gazed into their unique, familiar hazel pattern with a kind smile, gently brushing his hair with her fingers to comfort him.
"It's alright, Wil," she soothed softly. "You're safe now."
His eyes remained unfocused, though, tracking side to side weakly in confusion. "...Master Natiyr? I...I can't see you, I can't see anything."
"Shh, easy, easy. It's just a side effect of the carbon freezing. It will go away soon."
As his body began to register what it had just been through, Mand watched Wil's trembling worsen with the passing seconds, worrying her that his condition wasn't as stable as she had hoped. "Arlen, find us some blankets, please. Aruun, tell the helmsman I'll be down here with Wil until we get back to Paneau." The two girls followed their mother's orders obediently, leaving Kaylina behind to talk to her cousin as Mand connected him to the vitals monitors around him.
"Wil, I'm so glad you're okay!"
Though he seemed so weak and was barely clinging to consciousness, he smiled tiredly as he tracked her voice. "Kaylina... I see you now." He found Mand, too, and looked up at her in confusion as he struggled to piece things together with a sluggish mind. "You said carbon freezing... I was in carbonite?"
"Yes, you were aboard a transport that was taken by the pirates a few months ago. Do you remember anything about that?"
He looked perplexed a long moment, willing himself to bring something to recall. "I remember...sitting around...days of nothing going on...a lot of people..." A sudden thought came to him, eliciting a noticeable gasp of worry. "Eger..."
"He's at home now," she countered quickly to calm him. "He was sent back to us, along with four others, and they were all frozen in carbonite, just like you. It's actually how we figured out where you were. Arlen thought to trace the route one of the pirates took, and it led straight an abandoned mine, and to you."
As Arlen returned with blankets and gently draped them over him, the relief on Wil's face was patent, and it made Mand smile wanly for a brief moment. Of course the two distant relatives would find each other in a sea of unfamiliar faces...
"Wil, do you know where the others are?"
He shook his head sadly. "They took me...somewhere else. I never saw anybody again after that."
Though disappointed, she nodded, unwilling to push him further for information while he was still recovering. He continued after a few minutes, though, still sounding so weak. "Master, that woman, Lucidia... She kept asking me about Cordira."
Surprised, Mand blinked. "Cordira? Why?"
"She wanted to know...where she was, how to find her - but - I swear! I didn't tell her anything!"
"Shh," she calmed him again, stroking the side of his face as he began to work himself up. "It's okay, Wil, she can't hurt you anymore." She smiled again to further ease his distress. "And don't worry about Cordira. If there's anything she's good at, it's hiding from people, especially ones that are looking for her."
Pacified by her assurances, he settled back down on the bed, his breathing slowing with her touch. She leaned back from him slightly to send Kaylina and Arlen away, hoping the young man would rest better without company, and it seemed to help. Within a few minutes, his head rolled to the side peacefully, but an alarm from the monitors just above him startled Mand out of the brief silence - he had stopped breathing.
"Wil? Wil!" She gripped him by his shoulders out of reflex, preparing to begin resuscitation efforts, but as soon as she had jostled him, he awoke almost immediately. He took in a long, deep breath at first, and he seemed confused and somewhat less alert, but the monitors had suddenly quieted and normalized as his eyes found hers again. She waited a few more moments and made sure he remained stable before addressing him, desperately hoping they hadn't made a terrible, impulsive mistake in thawing him before they had returned home...
"Wil? Sweetheart, I need you to stay awake for me, okay?
He whined lightly in protest. "But I'm so tired..."
"I know," she comforted him sympathetically, pausing a moment in thought as she pulled a chair up beside him to sit. She had to come up with some way to keep him engaged and alert... "Why don't you tell me a story? Something funny, or even something crazy. Just tell me as much as you can."
Though he seemed to humor her at first, trying to come up with something to share, he eventually shook his head with frustration. "My mind's still too fuzzy... You should tell me a story instead."
She laughed a bit, amused that he had turned it around onto her, but he had a valid point; the last thing she wanted to do was overwork his recovering mind, especially if he was in such a fragile state. Agreeing after a moment, she settled herself in her chair properly, keeping a hand on his arm as a gentle assurance that she remained at his side. "Alright, but you can't fall asleep on me, even if I bore you to death, promise?"
He grinned, too. "Promise."
"Very well, then. What do you want me to tell you about? How about a story on your uncle Koril? He's been through a number of interesting events. I remember the first time I met him..."
Wil's eyes sharpened dramatically as he spoke, interrupting her. "...tell me about my dad."
Feeling her breath being pulled out of her, Mand froze in place, completely unprepared for the request. She had promised the boy's cousin Garran years ago that they would try to find Wil's father to tell him he had a son...but they had also decided to withhold the man's identity from everyone, including Wil, until the boy was ready...
"Wil," she stammered, "I...I don't..."
"I know you know who he is," he charged weakly, his words leaving him slowly for emphasis. "I know you were close to him, too. You had to be. You have always been so kind to me...and even a bit protective. That's why you're here, rescuing me, and not Aunt Elena. You're not helping me because of my mom...it's because of my dad."
She was hardly capable of a response, so stunned that he had been able to read that much from her during their sparse interactions over the years. She was unwilling to lie to him, though, after the weeks of torture he had likely just endured at the hands of a Dark Jedi who was looking for her daughter. But could she tell him without permission from his family, from Garran? They had planned to prepare Wil together...
"Please, Master. I'll be eighteen in a few months. I need to know."
Unable to refuse him any longer, she bit her lower lip as she finally nodded, releasing a slow breath as she collected her thoughts. "Alright... But you have to promise me one more thing." She paused a moment to be sure she had his complete attention before continuing. "You have to listen to everything I have to say before you make any judgments about him, do you understand?"
Though her request perplexed him slightly, he relaxed his creased forehead and nodded resolutely. "I do."
"Well," she sighed lightly, looking briefly to the floor as she readied herself for the lengthy reveal, "before I can tell you about your father, I have to first tell you about myself. I haven't always been a Jedi Master. In fact...I used to be the very thing we're all fighting against right now. For many years, I had a partner in that, and my first mission without him, my first failure...was what landed me on Paneau so long ago..."