I stood up to cross the room, and the Jedi left the bar. I followed him outside, then down a passage. He could have vanished at any moment, but he stayed just within sight. It became obvious he was leading me somewhere.

Soon we were alone in a small chamber. It wasn’t seclusion he was looking for; it was privacy. He turned to me and asked, “May I help you?”

“I’d like to ask you about Tondel Moss.”

“You are a bounty hunter, looking for his killer, perhaps?”

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

“I see. And you think I had something to do with it?”

“I don’t think anything, yet.”

“That is an excellent place to start,” Kuni doled out philosophically. “I am Kuni Matahlin of the Jedi Order. I came here to talk to Tondel, but he was dead when I arrived at our rendezvous. His murderer, I presume, ran away before I could get a look at whoever it was.”

It was a lot to tell me straight away. “I make no assumptions,” I restated. “There was, however, a lightsaber in his skull.”

“Quite damning evidence, I’m afraid.” Kuni raised a finger, “And very obvious, don’t you think?”

“You were with the body when I arrived.”

“I was, yes.”

“Where is your weapon?” I had heard stories about Jedi and their connection to their swords.

“Right here,” he lifted the cylindrical hilt. It had been in his other hand the whole time. “The blade is green, in case you’re wondering.”

I wasn’t, but it occurred to me that that was important. I pulled the murder weapon from my jacket. “Then who does this belong to?”

“May I?” Kuni asked as he took the hilt from my hand. He looked at it intensely for a moment before declaring, “I don’t think this was made by a Jedi.”

“Why not?”

“The weight feels,” Kuni searched for the word, “wrong, somehow—like it is out of balance. The crystal is synthetic, and the design… A Jedi makes his weapon as part of his training. This looks like a copy of a Jedi weapon, rather than the genuine article.”

“Do you think it is a Sith, trying to frame the Jedi?”

“The Sith seem to be the only logical explanation.” He tucked the murder weapon into his robes. I did not protest; I knew what I needed to about it.

“It doesn’t take a Sith to wield a lightsaber.”

“That’s true,” Kuni admitted. “It actually did not look like a Sith Warrior’s handiwork.”

“How do you mean?”

“It was brutal enough but too imprecise. Whoever did this caught Tondel by surprise, and then hacked a large hole in his face.”

“You’re saying a Sith would have more finesse when committing murder?”

“If a Sith Warrior had ambushed a gladiator,” he explained, “there would have been one clean stroke, probably to the chest.”

In that light, Tondel Moss’ wounds were savage, unplanned—emotional. Rather than allow Kuni to lecture me about the Force, I suggested another possibility, “Would a Sith disguise his style?”

“A Sith Warrior?” he pondered. “No. His pride would prevent him from doing so. It is one of the failings of the Dark Side. An Imperial Agent, however—an agent would disguise himself as a dancing girl if it would help him achieve his mission.”

Imperial Agents were expert spies dedicated to the Sith Empire. Using a resource like that to murder a second string gladiator didn’t add up. “How are they involved, then?”

“Tondel was convinced that the Sith Empire has agents infiltrating the games. He claimed he had evidence that some of his matches were rigged without his knowledge.”

“Why would they care about games?” I wondered aloud. “A few gamblers lose some money, so what?” I might have been one of them.

“There is more to these games than gambling and blood sport.” Kuni was putting on his teaching cap. “A great amount of the conflict between the Republic and the Empire happens here. Politics, influence, even the allegiance of whole systems can be swayed by the outcome of a tournament.”

“How do you mean?”

“Not so long ago, the Empire infiltrated the games, and saw to it that a mandalorian who was loyal to the Sith made a very impressive showing in the games. He became an undefeated champion, and claimed a title ‘The New Mandalore’.” There was that name again. “He enjoyed wild celebrity on his home world, and with it, tremendous influence amongst his people.”

“Naturally, he repaid his benefactors.”

“Exactly,” Kuni declared. “The Mandalore system and its people were loyal to the Sith Empire for a generation because of what happened in a gladiatorial arena.”

“And Tondel Moss thought the same thing was happening again.” Pieces seemed to be falling into place. “But if people know they were responsible before, why would they try the same thing again?”

“Being found out doesn’t make the Sith plan any less effective. With another ‘New Mandalore’ rising through the ranks, we suspected it might just be a little bit of history repeating. Tondel got word to the order that he had proof of just that.”

“And he was dead before he could reveal this proof.”

Kuni nodded, “yes.”

“You saw the killer, but you didn’t chase him?”

“No.” Kuni elaborated, “I thought Tondel might have something for me. That something was more important than a foot race through crowded streets on a potentially hostile planet, no matter how fun a chase might be.”

“Was he holding a vial?” I guessed. “Made from crystal only found on Dromund Kaas?”

“Yes.” Kuni seemed surprised. “How did you know?”

“It belongs to Lei Vera.” It’s tough to surprise a Jedi. I had to be cautious not to feel too full of myself for succeeding at it.

“She’s one of the attendants. Interesting. Is she imperial?”

“She claims she bought it in a bazaar.”

“I suppose that is possible. Whatever is in it smells like a cooking oil.” Kuni paused for a moment, “I am guessing she has an explanation for that too.”

“She says it’s for perfume.”

Kuni let out a stifled chuckle. “It is not very alluring to smell like something to eat. A good perfume for attracting predators, I suppose. It seems more likely it is a poison of some sort. It would be undetectable in the right foods.”

“Don’t poisons kill?”

“Not all of them. Not right away, anyway. Alcohol, technically, is a poison.” He must have smelled it on my breath. “When the Sith were propping up the New Mandalore, the poisons they used were carefully blended to hinder certain gladiators just enough to assure their losses.”

“Could it actually be a cooking oil?” If it were so innocent a substance, why would Lei Vera claim something different?

“It seems like too small a quantity to be useful for that.” Kuni pulled the vial from his robes to show me.

It was small crystalline vessel. Only a drop of liquid rested at the bottom. It was a different crystal from the glasses and decanter in Lei Vera’s quarters, but it was similarly etched. To a casual observation, the vial would have appeared to be part of that set.

“I suppose it could be something added for flavor. Which raises the question: ‘why would Tondel be holding it when he was murdered?’”

“Whatever it is, Tondel believed it was poison,” I explained. It was the one part of Lei’s story I had no reason to doubt. “Have you tasted it?”

“That seems an unwise thing to do, considering that it may be poison.”

“True,” I allowed. “Though, if Tondel was being poisoned to influence the games, it would have been done very carefully. It would have to be one that hindered his fighting so he would lose certain matches, not one that would kill him. Only the exact right poison.”

“And the exact right dose,” Kuni added. “The poisoner would have to have known everything about him. His height, weight, diet, sleep schedule… more than what is on his fight card.”

“All things Lei Vera knew.” Bru had said she attended to several gladiators. Did she have enough access to influence the whole of the games? “Could she have killed him?”

“She would have had plenty of opportunities. Why would she wait until now? Rearranging all of the matches only adds chaos to the Sith plan, if there is one.”

The fight schedule still hadn’t updated. “Your arrival?” I suggested.

“My investigation may have forced her hand. If she killed him, though, why leave the incriminating vial in his hand? It would have been an easy thing to take away.”

“She was rushed?” I remembered, “You said you walked in on the killer.”

“I did, but Tondel had been dead for several minutes when I arrived. Whoever killed Tondel had plenty of time to carve his face apart. If Lei Vera were rushing to conceal a crime, would she not have been quick, and taken the evidence?”

“She claimed to love him.” I supposed another motive, “Anger maybe?”

“What is more likely,” Kuni posited, “that she is an Imperial Agent, influencing the gladiatorial games, or a jilted lover who happens to have an imperial poison vial and a counterfeit lightsaber?”

“If she didn’t kill him, then who did?” I asked the question more to myself than Kuni.

“I am afraid I do not know,” he tried to answer anyway. “An hysterical person with a special anger for Tondel Moss? In any event, that is no longer my concern, now. I must keep an eye on Lei Vera, and discover what I can about the Sith plot.”

“You seem more concerned with the games than the murder.”

“Because I am,” Kuni admitted. “Tondel Moss was one man. If the Sith are corrupting the games to their own ends, it could affect the lives of millions. I am sorry for you if that seems callous, but the stakes are much higher than any one death.”

“Good luck to you, I have a murder to solve.”

Kuni Matahlin vanished before my eyes. He took with him all of the physical evidence, but I knew this case wasn’t about the materials anymore. It was a crime of passion, and those all come down to motive.


Continue to The Killer Reveal