It didn’t take long to find her. Lei’s quarters were not far from Tondel’s, physically, but there was a world of difference between them in style. Her doorway wasn’t adorned with the same sandy grease as the rest of the passage, and it didn’t stick when it opened with a quiet swish. Inside, the panels and machinery were disguised by colorful fabrics in a rainbow of decorative skill.

Lei Vera seemed to materialize from the wispy colors in the center of the room. She was tall and curvaceous. Her skin was light with a shade of purple and displayed its smoothness around the nearly translucent material of her attire. Her eyes were bright for the darkness of their violet color. She stood as if she were waiting for me, unsurprised by my appearance in her door.

“And what may I do for you?” she asked. Her voice had a depth and an exotic accent. She wasn’t a native of Geonosis, but she didn’t sound like she was from anywhere nearby, either. I wondered how long she had lived there.

“That is a good question. What is it you do?” I asked, hoping to learn more about her before revealing my purpose.

“I have been known to provide a variety of services.” She seemed to glide toward me. “I’m an attendant by trade. You don’t look like my usual clientele, but my fingers have been known to work a little magic on all sorts.”

“You don’t look like a witch,” I charged. It was a pointless comment; she looked exactly like a witch.

“I’ve been described as ‘bewitching’,” she turned away from me to a small table. There, she poured a drink into a crystalline glass from a matching decanter. “I don’t know that anyone has called me a witch—to my face. But which witch do you want? The one who bewitches, or the one who lays you across hot embers?” She held the drink at her hip level as if she were deciding for whom it was poured.

“Perhaps both,” I suggested.

“Or perhaps neither. You are very good. You want to put me at ease, to let my guard down.” She set the glass on the table. “But we both know why you are here. Shall we drop the pretense, then? You’re some sort of bounty hunter, I presume.”

“Not exactly,” I replied. “But close enough.”

“There is only one person who thinks me a witch, so I know you’ve been talking to Tondel’s,” she chose the next word carefully, “devotee. Which means you are here about Tondel’s death.”

His body was barely cold. “How do you know about that?”

“The arena and the stands are a big place with lots of people. Under all that, down here in the hell, it is very small. Someone called for the droids to clean up his body. I was informed before they went to collect him.”

“Why would they inform you?” I already knew the answer, but I wanted to know what she would say.

“I was his attendant.”

“What, exactly, does that mean?”

“I cooked for him, dressed him, and arranged his life outside the arena,” she explained. “I attended to his needs.”

“His needs?” She was hinting, so I bit.

“His—every—need,” she answered slowly, emphasizing each word. “Tondel was a very needy gladiator. They all are, of course, but Tondel was especially so. He didn’t just need food, a flashy costume, and a variety of companions. He needed reasons. Answers, you might say, to the question ‘why’?”

“And ‘Why not?’ wasn’t good enough?” I asked, not sure what she meant.

“Is it ever?”

“No, I suppose not,” I admitted. Of all the questions I’ve asked, ‘why’ had the widest range of answers. Motives were as unique as fingerprints, but as identical as rising suns. “What, exactly, confounded him?”

“I loved Tondel Moss.” I don’t know why her admission surprised me. “Perhaps I loved him too much, but he was not quite the gladiator he thought himself to be. He wondered why he would lose certain fights, but not others. He was convinced that someone must be poisoning him… trying to rig his key matches.”

It wasn’t without precedent. If a gambler could pull it off, he could win untold money. I admit the thought had occurred to me, on occasion.

“It happened before, you know,” she continued. “The Sith Empire employed such techniques when they stood up the old New Mandalore.”

I had heard of the New Mandalore, but it seemed more recent. It made me think I was missing something. Something obvious.

“When he found a vial made from crystal only found on Dromund Kaas, it convinced him of what he suspected. It made him oddly happy to think that that was the reason. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.”

“What truth?” I asked. Dromund Kaas was the capital of the Sith Empire. I had never been there, but it was the stuff of nightmares for children of the Galactic Republic.

“That it was my vial,” she revealed plainly.

“Your vial?”

“I used it for perfumes. The crystal may be from Dromund Kaas, but you can buy them in any bazaar frequented by border hopping smugglers. As I did some time ago.” She glanced at the crystal glassware on the table. She had a thing for crystals. “I liked the look of it. The crystal matched my hair. He found it near where I prepared his food one day. He was so sure of its purpose that I had to deny knowing anything about it.” She paused in thought for a moment. “Now that Tondel is dead, I suppose I should actually like that vial back. My hair color has changed, but it has sentimental value.”

The vial could have been what Tondel was holding when he died. If so, his killer likely absconded with it. “I didn’t find any vial,” I revealed.

“So you’ve seen his body?” she asked. “Tell me all about it.”

“He had long scratches in his back.” Just because the scratches were in his back didn’t mean that the events were completely consensual. “Like those left by perfectly manicured nails.”

“I can see why you came to me, but I’m afraid I cannot help you there.” She held up her hands at the level of her chest, showing me the ornate painting on her nails. “You see, my nails are groomed. I had them redone this morning. Any of Tondel’s skin under them got there while he was still VERY much alive.” She smiled, either remembering or thinking she had somehow beaten me. “I think you knew that, of course. What I want to know is: how did he die?”

“He was run through with a lightsaber,” I revealed.

“I see.” A look crossed her face. “What color was the blade?”

It struck me as an unusual question for someone without her own suspicions. I lied, “It was red.”

“A Sith blade?” She knitted her eyebrows in a confused look. She seemed to think for a moment before continuing, “Why would The Empire want to murder Tondel? I wonder. Perhaps there was something to his fears after all.”

In my experience, most people specified “The Sith Empire.” Perhaps her ties to Dromund Kaas were not as tangential as she suggested.

“Still,” she continued, “a lightsaber of any color is the weapon of a Jedi Knight, or a Sith Warrior.”

I had a different point of view. “Could not anyone wield a lightsaber?”

“Anyone could turn one on, I suppose.” She cocked her head before continuing, “But to kill a skilled fighter with one? That would take some skill of his own. I do not think just anyone could do so.”

“Unless, of course, they caught him with his pants down,” I thought to myself.

“There has been a Jedi hanging around the pits lately, one with a great interest in Tondel. Perhaps our murderer is trying to hide in plain sight.”


“I think we have taken up enough of each other’s time,” Lei gestured toward the door. “I would appreciate it if you would please leave. I have mourning to do.”

And with that, I found myself in the passageway. She gave me little to go on. Lei Vera was certainly manipulative, but was she a killer? Was she a killer in so physical a way? There was definitely more to her than what she was going to let me know.

She mentioned the New Mandalore. That name was familiar around gladiators. Mandalorians were well known across the galaxy for being great fighters, and many had gotten their starts in the arenas of Geonosis. There was a gladiator on the schedule that had been redubbed as the New New Mandalore, but he wasn’t scheduled to fight Tondell. Looking at the brackets, he would have to lose a few key matches, and Tondell would have had to be undefeated—for a while—before their paths crossed.

The only solid clue I had was the lightsaber. It seemed unlikely that a Jedi would kill a gladiator, but it seemed more unlikely that one would be hanging around the gladiator pits of Geonosis unless he was on a specific mission.


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