Paneau, capital city of Dalon
It had been several years since all of the Rys'tihns and Natiyrs had shared a meal together, and Cordira quickly understood why she only remembered so few of these family gatherings throughout her childhood. Though they had all grown up together under the same roof, there was only so much twelve individuals could have in common besides their relation to each other. It was even more difficult to make such a large table in the Grand Banquet Hall seem like an intimate setting for close, personal discussion. Cordira felt like she was merely present for a meeting of royal dignitaries, not a casual dinner with her family.
Derek sat to her left and had kept her engaged for the majority of the meal, but her focus had been slowly waning. Most of the attention had been on the returning Jedi Academy students, her sisters Aruun and Arlen, and the two younger Rys'tihns, Kaylina and Kyren, as they took turns sharing their experiences and progress. Aruun, Arlen, and Kaylina sat at the end of the table, and they were quick to resume ceaselessly chatting among themselves once they could. They were in the same year of their studies and had become exceptionally tight knit friends since none of them had been able to come home for more than five years. The nineteen-year-old girls had been at the Academy since they were eight, and they were close to graduating and taking their Knighthood trials, a subject they continued to discuss with each other as the night wore on. Sitting to Cordira's right were the two youngest, eighteen-year-old Kyren and his younger cousin Wil. Kyren could hardly keep up with the plethora of questions Wil continued to excitedly throw his way, mostly involving the construction of his new lightsaber. It had been more than ten years since Cordira had seen Kyren, and she almost couldn't believe how much he resembled his mother; his jet black hair and emerald green eyes made him appear to be the Jedi Master's brother rather than her son.
Seated at the head of the table, Koril maintained a quiet conversation with Derek, while next to him, Elena and her daughter Dirani shared a lighthearted joke. Cordira's parents Rech and Mand, on Dirani's other side, spoke with each other, occasionally chiming in with Academy advice for their twin daughters and Kaylina beside them. All eleven voices going at once maintained a dull din that Cordira was beginning to tune out as a faint foreboding feeling settled in the back of her mind, warning her that something wasn't right...
Though her gaze had been transfixed on the table in front of her, she looked up to see everyone's attention suddenly locked on her. Her breath froze in her chest as the room's silence lingered, but she wasn't sure why all talk had ceased. Had she said something, done something she wasn't aware of when she thought she had been forgotten?
"Are you going to answer your sister's question?"
Her mother's tone was confused and somewhat offended, but a hint of worry kept her voice gentle and devoid of much edge. The expectant gazes were boring into her, though feeling Derek's hand on her arm, concealed below the table, eased her anxiety somewhat. She looked to her sisters, unsure which one had spoken to her, and thankfully Aruun repeated herself without appearing upset.
"How are things going with your guard?"
Glancing briefly at Koril to her left, she released a shaky breath before returning to Aruun. "They're going well. I have twelve trained to the level I want, and two more will be joining them soon. We haven't had a real...test yet, and hopefully we never do, but I'm confident in their skills and dedication."
Directly opposite her, Dirani turned to Elena, maintaining a blatantly loud volume so she could be well heard by all. "Mom, isn't it against the rules for Jedi to get involved with politics?"
An icy chill gripped Cordira to her core, and she was sure Derek could feel her trembling. For years, Dirani had found a number of ways to get under Cordira's skin, often antagonizing her without any provocation. She hadn't yet been so bold as to do so in front of their entire family, though, and even Elena was surprised by the thinly disguised aggression and struggled to answer.
"Well, yes - I mean..."
"My guards aren't Jedi," Cordira corrected Dirani, somehow keeping an even tone. "They're Force-sensitives I've trained in combat, self-defense, and a few essential Force skills. They're little more than Elite Guards with some extra abilities on the side."
Rolling her eyes, Dirani looked unconvinced. "Sounds to me like they're extra unnecessary."
"That's enough, Dirani."
Though appreciative of Koril's stern intervention, Cordira couldn't let it become apparent in her expression. She had to uphold an appearance of strength, especially against Dirani. "It's alright, High Commander. You know I've fielded harsher accusations than that in the past year. The only thing that matters is that King Verojec understands what my guards are, what they're capable of, and he trusts them completely. I don't need anyone else's approval."
Another lengthy silence hung over the table as Cordira and Dirani locked gazes defiantly, but a gentle squeeze on Cordira's arm reminded her that Derek was still at her side, supporting her. Feeling her strength waning, she looked down as Kaylina spoke up cautiously.
"Why don't we all take a break before dessert..."
One by one, each chair was slowly vacated until she and Derek were the last remaining. Though he stayed silent at her side, she already knew what he was going to say before he spoke.
"I'm alright, Derek," she told him softly, meeting his gaze with a subtle smile. "You haven't seen your brother and sister in a long time. You should go talk to them."
Despite being unconvinced, Derek gave a weak sigh, knowing he couldn't argue with her. She would continue to deflect, intent on keeping his attention on anything but her as she had done for years. Rather than draw out her anger with a lengthy argument, he ceded and stood from her after a few moments, stepping over to Kaylina and Kyren who were excitedly chatting with their parents. Her own parents were in turn locked in conversation with her sisters, so, confident that she would be forgotten for the time being, she left the table, as well, retreating into one of the small, darkened side parlors to escape for a while.
A multi-colored window near the back of the room immediately caught her eye and eased her stress, as it turned the serene landscape outside the Rys'tihn Manor a number of interesting shades in the waning light of dusk. She remembered playing in the field with Derek when they were young children, chasing each other for hours and making up all sorts of wild games to keep themselves occupied while their parents were away. Of course, the nannies Kollie and Raen were always nearby and tended to them as needed, but as far back as she could remember, she and Derek had been closer than playmates. They were connected much more deeply than that, mostly because of how they had come to need each other's companionship as they had grown up in a unique atmosphere with atypical families...
"Your little 'poor me' act is so juvenile."
From the doorway behind her, Dirani's voice sliced through her thoughts like a lightsaber blade, leaving a trail of white hot pain and anger behind. Though she had expected Dirani to follow her, Cordira took in a slow breath and kept her back to her, unwilling to give her the satisfaction of a reaction.
"Leave me alone, Dirani."
But she persisted as she always did, approaching her further in the dim room. "You know, the only reason you were allowed to form your 'guard' was because everyone just felt sorry for you. The Jedi didn't want you, and the New Republic couldn't hire you as a pilot, even if they wanted to. What else were you going to do with yourself?"
Finally turning to face her, Cordira kept her expression neutral as she studied Dirani's face. Under her pure white, long locks were intense hazel eyes and a stony, unwavering stare; everything Cordira could read, even in the Force, communicated that Dirani believed what she was saying was true. It only sank her further into despair, though she fought to conceal it.
"I know you can tell that I'm not," Dirani returned with a smirk. "Everyone else thinks you're too fragile to be told the truth...even Derek."
Cordira narrowed her eyes, the first response she visibly allowed. She knew that was false; Derek had always supported her and confided everything in her...
"That's right," Dirani continued in a light mocking tone. "He still hasn't told you the real reason he didn't go to the Jedi Academy. He doesn't think you'll be able to handle it."
"What are you talking about? He didn't get invited, either."
"Oh, he was invited," she returned with an edge. "But he chose not to go...because of you."
Stunned, Cordira couldn't feel her heart beating for several long moments. She wasn't even sure if she had heard Dirani correctly as they both stood in silence, but Dirani watched her closely for her reaction. She didn't want to believe it; she had to be living some kind of dream, and it was only getting worse.
Tired of waiting, Dirani crossed her arms over her chest for emphasis. "You heard me. He wouldn't go if you couldn't, so at nine years old, he made the worst decision of his life. My mother still hasn't forgiven him for it...nor has she forgiven you."
She could hardly find the strength to speak. "I didn't ask him to do that..."
"Doesn't matter. You're the reason my parents can barely stand to talk to each other anymore. They couldn't agree on whether to make him go or not, and they've only fought about it since. So we've all had to watch while my exceptionally talented brother, who was named for a Jedi Master who died to protect him before he was born, has been stuck here wasting his life all these years because of you, because of what you are -"
Unable to stand anymore of her enmity, something snapped, and Cordira bit back with as much malice as she could muster. "So what's your excuse? Didn't want your younger siblings to show you up at every skill, every day?"
Before Cordira could react, Dirani threw her hand forward and landed a sudden, powerful Force Push squarely in her stomach, lifting her off her feet and driving her backwards hard against the wall. Her arms outstretched reflexively to brace herself, she struck a delicate display vase just beside her, shattering it instantly as it deeply slashed her left forearm. Off balance and dazed, she fell to her knees and slumped back to the wall, already feeling blood tricking down her arm.
"What is going on - Cordira!"
Derek's footsteps ran up to her side and his arms wrapped around her, but she pulled away as she looked up at him, meeting his gaze with a mix of fear and anguish that appeared to confuse him.
"Is it true?" she breathed, but he was more interested in her wound.
"I don't understand, is what true? Let me see your arm, that cut looks pretty bad..."
But she retreated even further from him, covering her gash with her own hand. "You tell me right now... You were supposed to go to the Jedi Academy..."
The look of shock and defeat on his face was somewhat subtle and only lasted a moment before his expression became dark, turning to level his anger at his sister behind them.
"No, don't blame her," Cordira countered, surprising herself though her voice faltered. "You're the one who's been lying to me since we were kids. All this time, you never told me..."
Returning to her, the regret in his eyes was almost unbearable to endure...
"I didn't want you to feel guilty."
Upset and unable to process the lengthy betrayal of trust by her closest friend, she pushed him away with her bloody hand and stood from him, desperate to leave. He reached out to steady her as she wavered, but again, she refused him.
"Cordira, please, you're hurt. Let me explain..."
She shook her head as she walked away briskly, ignoring him and everyone else who had gathered just outside the room. "You had fifteen years to explain. I am not the reason for your problems. All of you Rys'tihns are completely incapable of communicating, and that is not my fault!"
Though she heard her parents call out to her to rebuke her for her behavior, she let the door to the Banquet Hall close behind her, quickly leaving the Manor before anyone could follow her.
Paneau, capital city of Dalon
Though his speeder had brought him to the river's banks as fast as its engines would burn, he was frustrated to find not a soul in sight. It was well into the evening and a humid chill had settled over the water already, but if there was anywhere in the city Cordira would disappear to when she wanted to clear her head, it would be there, where the two of them had often stolen away to in their early teens. At night, the river was always calm and quiet though closely surrounded by the bustling city, and it had become their haven of sorts, an escape from the ever-present nannies and Royal Guards that patrolled the Rys'tihn Manor. After such an upsetting chain of events just an hour earlier, he could understand her desire to disappear, but he had to talk to her.
He looked up and down the water's edge, even across the way to the opposite shore, but he still saw no one. Even after a few minutes of adjustment, his eyes struggled to see much detail in the dark, so he instead closed his eyes and reached out with the Force, searching the area for a familiar presence...
"She's not here, Derek."
Stepping out from behind a dense group of trees near the tide, Cordira's mother Jedi Master Mand Natiyr seemed as concerned as he did as she sighed resignedly. "I thought to look here, too."
He wasn't willing to give up, though, so he wracked his brain for another location to check. "There's a tapcafe near the Dalon Provincial Academy that's open all night; she loves their soori fish soup. I'll try there - "
But Master Natiyr gently cut him off, shaking her head. "Derek...she's gone. She's not on Paneau anymore."
Despite having subconsciously come to that conclusion already, he trusted that she would know better than anyone beyond a doubt. As a result of how she had been created, Cordira and her mother were connected to each other on a different, more direct level, and their signatures in the Force were almost identical. It had been nothing but a nuisance to Cordira over the years, Derek had noticed, but in this instance, he was almost thankful for it.
Master Natiyr looked apologetic. "I'm afraid she's inherited this particular move from me, only I ran away to Paneau, not from it."
Feeling his guilt and anxiety beginning to take over, he released a weak breath. "Master, I am so sorry... This is not how I wanted it to go."
"I know," she answered with genuine sympathy. "Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. I'm not sure if you remember, but...things didn't go over too well when we told her who she was after the Jedi denied her. We weren't prepared to tell her then, but we were forced to." She paused, lowering her gaze for a moment. "Cordira has had to deal with a lot of troubling news over her lifetime. She'll survive it. It'll just take her some time."
"I'm really worried about her..."
Though he hadn't intended to draw her attention to his stained shirt, Master Natiyr glanced at the bloody handprint on his chest. "Her father taught her all the Healing techniques he knows. She can take care of herself."
"That's not what I mean. I'm worried about her state of mind. Something she said earlier today...that her 'fate' is finally catching up with her?"
Without making any other movements, Master Natiyr's eyes widened, and he knew he had concerned her even more. After a few moments, she cast her gaze aside, prompting Derek to continue his plea. "I need to find her and talk to her, so I can try to explain. If she won't listen to my explanation, then I at least want to apologize. I just don't want her to be alone right now."
Looking to him once more, she considered her thoughts a moment before she responded. "I really don't know where else she would go. She grew up here, she hates Coruscant, she won't go anywhere near Hoth or Ord Mantell... The only other places she's been are...not charted."
The daunting nature of his search didn't bother him in the slightest. "I'll find her."
Master Natiyr nodded to accept his assertion, and the small smile she gave him demonstrated her faith in him.