From the still-open doorway came an authoritative male voice, speaking flatly unaccented Basic. “It will not stop, Lady Kaliu. The events of the last hour were by a special request I could not refuse, and I am sorry that the… author of them found such measures necessary. My lords Jedi, perhaps you do not understand the current political situation.” The speaker stepped forward, revealing himself to be Baron Nuret, who Nasriel and Sien recognized as one of their father’s trusted counselors.
“My lord Baron,” said Nasriel, a touch of the old fire returning to her voice, “How dare you presume to such an outrage?”
The baron smirked. “I see that it is my lords and lady Jedi and that you do not understand either. Very well. By all means sit down, Lady Kaliu, Lord Sien. This will be a long explanation. As you both know, your older brother Nahari died three weeks ago. Sien will know this well, as he himself escaped only by way of a promise to take up a lowly post in his former home and reveal his identity to nobody. I personally oversaw the instigation of the riot. This planet needs the might of Earl Threeb to hold the throne to be united with the royal family’s right to hold it, and if a radical plan is what it takes to achieve that, well, I will employ a radical plan. The king was very old when he was crowned, and he is now older still and in fact dying. His only son, his only child, is in his thirties. If Lady Orien, as Earl Threeb, were to marry this Prince Velen, the crown would be secure for generations afterwards. Unfortunately, as the lady in question is the youngest child, there were four others to remove before such a plan could possibly be viable. The boys were a problem, because they could claim the title of Earl with the backing of the entire planet. Lady Kaliu was not originally seen as one, because she is a Jedi, and therefore non-political. However, given the current state of Galactic politics, a Jedi Earl would be a very popular proposition. I regret to say that now Lady Kaliu is also an obstacle to the security of the monarchy.”
Sien cried in sudden realization, “You mean to kill me also! You promised you would not.”
“My lord Sien, you also made a promise, which you broke when you decided to talk to the Kenobi boy.”
“It was Orien, wasn’t it?” whispered Nasriel. “The mysterious ‘author’ of the last hour?”
The baron’s insincere smile grew forced. “Yes, the Lady Orien absolutely insisted, claiming as a reason that the Jedi live hard lives and she did not want you to die more easily than your friends will in the years to come. For there is no doubt that many Jedi will die in the Galactic war. I also think she hates you, Lady Kaliu.”
Nasriel did sit down then, dropping abruptly onto the sofa beside Obi-Wan. “Hates me?” she cried in total bewilderment. “How can she hate me when she doesn’t even know me? She was only a baby, barely a year old, when I was sent away to the Temple.”
“Had you forgotten, Kaliu?” Orien herself replied, sauntering forward. “We had three older brothers. The day did not pass when they failed to tell me about sweet, charming, brave, clever, beautiful, hybrid Kaliu. The day did not pass when they failed to remind me how very much I had to live up to in my honorable, courageous sister the Jedi – who, incidentally, also inherited the entire estate on our father’s death because her mother was his first wife. I decided that as I could never be as good and noble – and rich – as my idealized sister, I would be bad and powerful, and the entire Galaxy would reverberate with my name.”
“But why? What did I have that you wanted? I signed everything, absolutely everything I inherited over to Minetz when I was eleven and became a Padawan, and you know that!”
The exquisite seriousness of the Earl’s face was replaced for an instant with an unearthly gleam of ruthlessness. “I needed to know what you were really like. You see, in the valley of the shadow of death, courage is common enough, but in pain… there are no heroes in pain.” She added dully, “You are everything Minetz and Nahari said you were. Tell them so from me, will you not?” When the door slid shut, with a ring of finality to the sound that proclaimed it was locked, Ben thought that the image of Orien’s sad, proud, triumphant face would linger in his mind forever.
All at once, Sien said, “Hush! Listen.”
Obi-Wan was the first to identify the near-silent, malicious hissing. “Gas. We’ll have to get out of here fast.”
Nasriel replied instantly, “Take a deep breath and hold it. Ben and I will handle this – we can talk without talking.” Beckoning her fellow Padawan over to the window, she signed quickly, “Transparisteel. Electrified?” Ben caught the idea at once. If there was an electrical current run through the window, then cutting all the way to any edge would break the circuit and probably bring guards. Tearing a scrap of fabric from her already ragged tunic, Nasriel touched it to the window, where it glowed brightly for a second or two before bursting into flame.
“Electrified,” Ben agreed. He had hung his lightsaber inside his tunic when they arrived, unsure what he was likely to meet, and it had been overlooked by the Baron. Unhooking the saber now, he slashed hastily at the transparisteel, opening a gap just wide enough to climb through. The meter and a half drop barely winded him, and he paused while Obi-Wan helped Nasriel out before jumping down himself.
Nasriel stood below the window, waiting for her brother, but Sien smiled sadly. “I know this poison, Kaliu. Your mixed blood will not spare you from all suffering, but it will save your life. As for your Human friends, such a short exposure will not affect them in the least. I’m already dead. I love you, little sister. Do you remember the poem? ‘Love is not the slave of life, and neither shall death sunder its deep eternity of existence.’ Run, Kaliu. Run – and remember.”
Nasriel whispered, “Oh, Sien…” and turned to follow his last order. She did not see, as Ben did, Sien Threeb resolutely retreating into the room, filling his lungs with the poison in hope for an easier death. She did not see him, fearful but determined, touch one fingertip to the electric glass and shudder involuntarily as the shock raced through him, killing him almost at once. She did not see her brother’s body crumple like a broken doll to the floor.