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and slid onto the bench next to Iella. She didn't look over at him, but melted against his shoulder and chest as he put an arm around her. "It's going to be okay, Iella, really."

"He never hurt anyone, Corran, never."

"I don't imagine Kirtan Loor would agree, but I'll concede the point."

He felt her chest convulse once, then she looked up at him with red-rimmed brown eyes. "No, you're right." Her mouth made a weak attempt at twisting itself into a smile. "As much as he admired your drive, Corran, Diric really appreciated your sense of humor. He said it marked your resiliency. He thought that as long as you could laugh, especially at yourself, you'd always heal from any trauma."

"He was a wise man." He tightened his embrace a bit. "You know he'd hate to see you like this, to think he was causing you this much pain."

"I know. That hasn't made it any easier, though." She dabbed at tears with a handkerchief. "I keep thinking that if I'd seen something there, I could have prevented what happened. He wouldn't have been a traitor."

"Whoa, wait, Iella, that is not your fault. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, you could have detected or done to help him." Corran shivered and felt his flesh pucker. "I know what Isard did to those she wanted to warp and convert into her puppets. I resisted, I don't know how. It could have been personality or genetics or training or anything.

Tycho and I both proved unsuitable for her—as did a few others, but I think she would have had an easy time of breaking Diric down."

"What?" lella's hissed question carried with it undercurrents of betrayal. She tried to pull away from him, but he held on.

"That's not a strike against Diric, honestly it isn't. Diric was a victim, and you have to know that he resisted her mightily
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