Persis Solusar ran as fast as she could. The splinters of crushed twigs were driven into the heels of her bare feet with every step, but this did nothing to slow her pace. She had to reach her destination before dawn or all hope was lost.
Like so many others living in Nezamiyeh, she had heard about the Bamarri first seen on the fringes of the city a few weeks earlier. The sighting of just one of these creatures was the rarest sort of miracle, but according to the rumors, there were two of them.
They had emerged from the wilderness together, violet moonlight reflecting off their crystalline bodies. One was much larger than the other, a mark of advanced age among their kind. The smaller one followed along behind it like a child trailing a parent or an elder sibling. The pair made their way to a forest park, where mountain snow had melted down the slope and left behind pools of mineral-rich water at the rocky base. The little Bamarri had submerged itself in one of the pools, while the elder stood guard beside the water, motionless as a statue.
Unfortunately, their proximity to civilization drew a great deal of unwanted attention. Hordes of gawking tourists, most of them offworlders, were drawn by the spectacle of such an exceedingly uncommon event. They flocked to the site, stampeding past security and ignoring the warning signs. The Bamarri standing guard never moved, but if one of the onlookers stepped too close to the pool or made too much noise for its liking, they would find themselves flung away by a powerful invisible force. In a galaxy used to the predations of Jedi and Sith, this telekinetic sorcery was enough to deter the crowds, narrowing them down to a trickle of people that almost seemed to wander into the woods by accident.
But the carelessness and disrespect of tourists was nothing compared to what was to come. That was what spurred Persis on, racing against time to reach the Bamarri before it was too late.
Sightless eyes stared straight ahead as she stumbled, the ground beneath her turning into river-worn pebbles and rocks that dug into the soles of her bloodied feet. The seeress wore long, pale yellow robes that covered her entire body from neck to wrist to ankle, along with a linen veil that left only her face visible. Her spindly brown hands poked out from her sleeves, feeling her way forward until she could stand no longer. She fell to her knees.
“You must leave this place,” she said breathlessly.
The Bamarri standing at the edge of the pool seemed to pay her no mind, continuing to stare straight ahead. Yet Persis felt a sudden explosion of mental imagery and emotion like a thunderclap in her skull. Overwhelming in its scope and impossible to decipher, she clutched at her head and trembled.
“Stop, please!” she cried. “I don’t understand—but you have to believe me—”
A violent force shoved her, knocking her onto her back and silencing the rest of what she wanted to say. Though she couldn’t comprehend the Bamarri’s means of communication, she was left with a distinct imprint of its reaction to the rising volume of her voice. It feared loud noises and vibrations, afraid its crystalline body would shatter if exposed to the right frequency.
“Do you think I would dare to disturb you for no reason?” Persis insisted, keeping her voice level. “I’ve had a vision. A Sith Lord is coming here—coming for you. You have to hide from him. Hurry, you don’t have much time!”
She knew that words like “Sith” and “Jedi” probably held no meaning to a Bamarri. But surely it could read her fear and anguish plainly, just as she could read its emotions.
“Please,” she begged. “Go and find somewhere to hide, while you still can!”
At the sound of footsteps, Persis whirled around. She sensed two people approaching, strangers judging by their Force signatures, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “Stay back!”
“We mean no harm,” a woman’s voice replied. Her accent was foreign and difficult to place. “We heard some commotion and wanted to see what was going on.” The woman took another step forward.
“I said stay back!” Persis hissed. “It’s dangerous for you to be here! A Sith Lord is coming!”
“Oh, forget it, Nefretiri,” a man’s voice interrupted. There was an electronic warble as he turned off the device disguising him. “Persis.”
She hadn’t heard that voice speak her name in over twenty years. Shivers ran down the seeress’ spine at the sound, even as she felt an old wound inside her tear open again. Seeing him in a vision was one thing; standing here before him after all this time, knowing what he intended to do, was quite another.
“Messala,” she said, unable to move as she sensed him moving toward her. The skin on her cheek prickled when he reached out to touch her. His palm was rough and leathery, and his fingers were tipped with sharp claws that grasped at her veil, pulling the cloth back.
“Your hair,” he whispered. “You cut it off.”
“Yes,” she said. His breath warmed her nose, telling her that his face was far too close to hers, but she still couldn’t bring herself to shrink from him. “When I took my orders, and became a mystic.”
His hand moved to the back of her head, stroking the nape of her neck. “I loved your hair,” he murmured, almost mournful. “It was black, and soft…”
Finally, he released her. She exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, and stood her ground. “I called for a force of Academy Guards,” she said. “Whatever you intend to do, you won’t be able to get away with it.”
“See?” Messala addressed his female companion, Nefretiri. “We can’t even hide our motives from her. The Force must have sent her a vision of my arrival, albeit not very far in advance. Still, she makes for a pretty good warning system.” Then he turned to Persis again. “I’ve no doubt the Guards will do their very best to stop me—provided they actually show up in time. Until then, let's have a look at these Bamarri I've heard so much about, shall we?”
“I will not let you take them.” To her dismay, Persis could not keep the tears in her eyes out of her voice. “I would die first.”
“Save the martyr claptrap. I never raised a hand against you before, why would I start now?”
“You may have never attacked me, but you betrayed me the moment you fell to the Dark. You betrayed us all, everyone who ever called themselves your friend.”
“No—my ‘betrayal’, as you call it, only revealed that most of my friends weren’t true friends at all.”
As Persis’ lips pulled back in a snarl, Nefretiri gave a sudden cry of pain.
“The Force! What happened to the Force?! I can’t feel it—”
Her screaming was silenced by the Bamarri, who flung her away like a ragdoll with telekinesis. But the Bamarri played no more part in the conflict than that. Persis pulled a dagger from her belt and lunged at Messala—only to be held in place by invisible bindings, unable to move no matter how hard she struggled.
“I may have hurt you,” Messala said. “But I could never kill you.” He plucked the dagger from her shaking hand. “It’s too bad you don’t feel the same way about me.”
At the touch of his palm against her brow, Persis was thrust into a deep slumber. Her body went limp, but didn’t fall as he levitated her.
“She severed your connection to the Force,” Messala explained to Nefretiri. “I should have given you an empyrean gland before coming here. I apologize.”
Groaning, Nefretiri clambered to her feet. “When… when will it come back?”
“Maybe,” Messala muttered under his breath. He carefully laid Persis on the ground, then rose. “We’ll see about restoring it later, after our work here is done.”
He turned his gaze upon the Bamarri and started toward it. A telepathic bombardment stopped him in his tracks, making him wince. It beat at the doors of his mind, demanding answers to its questions.
Messala grit his teeth, refusing to give way. “You don’t need to know what I want,” he said, taking another step forward. For this he was rewarded with the sensation of his limbs being painfully pinned against his sides. The Bamarri held him with the Force, its grip hard enough to bruise. Hard enough to crush him.
Nefretiri leaped with canine grace across the rocks, plunging her own blade into the Bamarri’s chest. Hairline cracks appeared in its crystal torso, emanating outward from the wound. She yanked the sword out with a whooping war cry, and the Bamarri shattered. An explosion of light burst from the ruined remnants of the crystal being, and like a fog the Bamarri’s spirit dissipated when exposed to the open air.
Messala, now freed, shook himself to get the blood flowing again. “Even though I only need the newborn, I wish you hadn’t done that,” he muttered.
“You’re welcome,” she sneered, sheathing her sword. Glancing over to where Persis lay on the ground, Nefretiri frowned. “You and her weren’t just friends, were you?”
Messala said nothing. Approaching the pool, he gazed down at his prize. The water was shallow, and the creature within, he suspected, was much smaller than the magnification of the surface would lead him to believe. He reached in and scooped up the newborn Bamarri. It felt like a bag of rocks, hard and all sharp edges. But there was a consciousness present within the mass of quartz. He could sense its confusion and fear.
“What did she ever have to offer you?” Nefretiri pressed, unwilling to let the subject of Persis go.
“The one thing I wanted most,” Messala replied. Wrapping the Bamarri in his cloak, he started to walk away.
Nefretiri followed him. “Love?”
Messala laughed. “The future. She could see the future—a talent I’ve always lacked and lusted after.” He projected a false warmth into the Force, trying to soothe the Bamarri in his arms. His voice softened even as the content of his words darkened. “I could withstand anything the galaxy threw at me, but not jealousy. That was what pushed me down the path of the Sith in the first place.”
“If that’s the case, why not call yourself the Lord of Jealousy instead of the Lord of Doubt?”
“Because jealousy is pathetic, and no Sith can afford to be pathetic. Coveting another’s gifts, wanting them for yourself—it just goes to show how little faith you have in your own strengths and abilities that you would need to steal them from someone else. No, I don’t think any Sith Lord could go around calling themselves the Lord of Jealousy and still be feared and respected.” He grinned. “Not that my fellow Sith consider me much of anything, mind you. But it's easier for me to instill doubt, making my enemies second guess their friends, family, allies, even themselves. I’m quite good at bringing out their insecurities and convincing them they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”
“Sure,” Nefretiri muttered with a smirk. “You certainly fooled me. For a moment there, I thought you still loved her.”
“Who’s to say I don’t?” he replied without the slightest hesitation. “Perhaps I never stopped.” Seeing the glint of silver armor up ahead, he slowed his pace. “The Guards are coming.”
“So what? We can take them—” But Messala was already bounding through the woods like a startled deer, headed in the opposite direction. Nefretiri growled, then ran after him.