The Rodian’s skin was an unnatural, almost slate grey. It looked dry and flaky. And she couldn’t be sure, but it looked like his eyes were covered in a thin, glossy film. If his entire body hadn’t been trembling and shaking, Lydie might have been able to tell.
“Is there anything that can be done for him?” she asked the nurse sitting on the other side of the bed. The best she could do so far was hold the Rodian’s spasming hand.
The Twi’lek nurse shook her head. “It won’t be long now. Draknahr Syndrome acts fast at this stage.” Her voice was very quiet. This entire wing of the Iziz Public Clinic was very quiet.
Draknahr Syndrome was dehabilitating. It was deadly. And it could only be contracted by aliens. Eli Fennut was very clearly human.
Lydie rested her hands on the back of the transport seat in front of her and her chin on her hands. She was no doctor, but passing Advanced Healing Techniques required more than a cursory knowledge of scrapes and scabs. She knew enough about Draknahr Syndrome to know that it could explain away a sudden twitch. But it couldn’t explain the sudden surge of dark side energy in a room of Jedi children.
So, Eli Fennut had lied. Politicians and their campaigns stretched the truth as a rule, but it was usually about the candidate and his promises, not their campaign manager’s health. And usually not in a negative direction.
Why lie? To hide the truth. Why hide it? Because it’s something he doesn’t want me to know. She had seen him jolt and grip Myleah’s hand so tightly her skin went white. If he had been trying to hurt her, he hadn’t made much of an effort to hide it. Up until now, he’d seemed calm, calculating, and in control of whatever situation presented itself. The Eli Fennut she had observed would tell you to your face if he was about to stab you in the back.
The transport shuddered as it came to a stop. Lydie rose from her seat, brushing a strand of hair behind her horn absently as she exited. The Iziz Enclave wasn’t very large, and she didn’t have to pay much attention to where her feet were leading her.
And none of it explained the presence of the dark side. Whatever Aishie thought of her, Lydie wasn’t a Sith. Myleah, Ganesh, and Ollie were children. Aves Domrus was kind-hearted. Eli Fennut did not have the Force. And even if he did, would it have felt as powerful as it had? Would it have felt almost…familiar?
A giggle stopped her from nearly tripping over Fae and Ilia, sitting across from each other in an aisle in the enclave’s meager archives.
"No," Fae giggled, leaning in conspiratorially to Ilia as they continued some conversation Lydie hadn't heard the beginning of. "They only eat really big ones!" She threw her hands up in dramatic gesture. Ilia jumped a little and leaned back into the shelf, but the small smile stayed on her face.
Azen was in his usual position: standing over a heavy looking tome with a frown on his face. He glanced up at the girls, a semblance of a smile cracking under his knotted brow before he met Lydie's gaze. "Did you have any luck at the hospital?"
“Some,” Lydie replied, carefully stepping around the girls. “Eli Fennut doesn’t have Draknahr Syndrome. I don’t know if that makes my luck good or bad.”
Azen’s eyebrows lifted thoughtfully, and he carefully marked the page before exhaling and closing the book.
"I haven't found much,” he told her, resting an elbow on the nearby shelf. "All the records seem to indicate is that Eli Fennut is a campaign manager with a clean record for his services," He frowned as if he had forgotten something, reaching past the large book he had been looking at for a datapad and holding it out to Lydie. "There was one small discrepancy I could not account for." Lines formed in his brow. "I'm not sure how much help it will be."
Lydie smiled. “I’ll take any help I can find.”
The corners of Azen’s mouth lifted, a tentative mirror of her own. "Eli Fennut took a short leave to Dxun a few months ago. There is no justifiable impetus on public record. I am not sure if that is a lead to your mission, considering the unskilled level of record keeping at the enclave, not to mention the archaic system."
Dxun…what could possibly be on Dxun that would tempt Eli Fennut? He didn’t seem to enjoy children, animals, dirt, anything that could tarnish his image. Mandalorians are pretty good at making things messy--
No. Neither Eli Fennut nor Aves Domrus had made any major statements on the Mandalorians. Besides, the Mandalorians had their own candidate, and didn’t seem to care that he was doing dismally in the polls. But what else was there on Dxun, besides Mandalorians and jungle and ancient Sith tombs--
For a moment, Lydie folded her arms, letting one hand lift to slowly rub her neck, remembering the last time she had been in an ancient Sith tomb on Dxun. Trapped inside yourself, fighting the darkness, wondering who belonged and who didn’t…
“Was he injured when he returned? Was there any kind of visit to a clinic or a hospital?”
"Nothing that would have required medical attention. The hospital seems to keep immaculate records." He sounded almost impressed.
It appeared that, unlike Lydie, Eli Fennut’s trip to Dxun hadn’t included being possessed by a Sith ghost. Among other things.
Maybe this was all nothing. Maybe he had just gone to see it for himself, so he would be informed for the upcoming election. Some of the more adventurous on Onderon chose Dxun as hunting grounds or a vacation spot.
She reached across the table for Azen’s arm, squeezing it and smiling at him as a form of thanks. “Anything else I should know?”
"Nothing relevant to your investigation.” The tentative smile tightened into a straight, impassive line. “However, Ollie was invited to the Galian shoreline with Knight Rappertunie and Jin."
Lydie couldn’t think of a reason for that other than to have fun. It was a nice thought. “Is he going?” she asked, glancing up at Azen.
Azen gave a stiff, assenting shrug. "Myleah and Ganesh are also attending. Ollie seemed excited.” It was obvious his yes had been under duress.
“I’m sure they’ll have fun, and with Devn there, they’ll be very well-protected.” Which was just as well. This mission was getting more complicated and mysterious by the second, and bringing her family along was seeming dumber and dumber by the minute.
"Ilia is not going,” Azen added, almost stubbornly. “She’s been invited to spend the night with Fae at the Beastrider camp."
Both girls had quieted down and were looking rather unsubtly in Lydie's direction.
“The Beastriders?” It had been her first stop on Onderon, and a place she didn’t want to return if she could help it. It was dirty, loud, and blunt beyond anything a five-year-old should hear. Her Beastrider escort, while kindly meant, had lurked in the shadows like a hulking hit man ready to strangle her from behind.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” she said hesitantly, trying to keep her voice quiet so the girls wouldn’t hear. The immediate umbrage on Fae’s and the way Ilia’s eyes downcast to the floor told her they hadn’t.
"But, the Matriarch already said yes!” the heir to Lashowe Starshine’s throne insisted. “And Ilia can sleep in my room. It's bigger than Myles'." Her voice was more than a little triumphant. "'An she hasn't seen Sunny yet!"
Sunny was probably just a boma, but who knew where Fae’s room was? And who knew what else the Matriarch would say yes to? If a boma, say, chomped Ilia’s arm off, Lashowe was likely to shrug and calmly explain that the boma had been spooked. No matter how unjustified her fears (or how much she wanted Ilia to have a friend, and not be afraid to make more friends), Lydie was ready to say no.
But then Ilia looked up at her, biting her lower lip. “Please?”
The word was hopeful. The only other time Lydie had heard it was when Ilia was pleading to go home, to not have to face a roomful of expectant Jedi Masters or loud, outgoing children.
She looked at Azen once more, and then smiled, nodding. “Just for one night.”
Ilia smiled back.
"Woo!" Fae cheered. She launched into conspiratorial chatter on all the activities she had planned. Lydie tried to resist listening in.
She folded her arms, stepping around the table and closer to Azen. “Will you take her there? Make sure it’s...” The thought trailed off at the sight of Fae’s perpetually gleeful face across from the equally gleeful glint in her daughter’s eyes.
Azen nodded. "I am sure Ilia is not comfortable riding a Drexl to the camp." He was watching her a little strangely, like her hesitance at allowing Ilia to spend the night at a beastrider fortress was as foreign to him as his fear of losing Ollie’s affection was to her.
“Good.” She shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Maybe we should take them back to Coruscant.”
Azen raised one eyebrow and then glanced down at Ilia and Fae. "Ilia, go back to the rooms with Fae and collect the things you will need to stay over for a night."
Fae gave another triumphant squeal and quickly got up, skipping to the door. Ilia scrambled out from under the shelves, following Fae for a few steps before turning around and hurriedly grabbing a forgotten datapad.
When they were gone, Lydie looked back at Azen. “I don’t want the next riot coming here.”
"It's your mission, Lydie," Azen said plainly, "We can leave whenever you feel it necessary."
But I can’t. There was no more ‘I’, for better or for worse.
“They’re our children.” Both sides of her mouth lifted, tentative. “I’m trying to include you in the decision.”
There was a definite frown on his face now. "Perhaps I find the decision difficult, since it either involves leaving you here by yourself, or staying where our children could possibly be in danger."
"I’ll be fine, Azen.” Compared to her last trip to Onderon, this one was a walk in the park.
The Master of the Archives and father of her children was silent for an almost uncomfortably long moment. “I—“
Both of them looked up at the sudden tap of Acting Interim Master Dustil Onasi’s boots across the floor, approaching them with his hands behind his back and already stubborn look on his face. "Any leads on your investigation, Knight Korr?"
Lydie exchanged a glance with Azen. “A few. I don’t know if Myleah told you what happened the other day, but Eli Fennut’s acting funnier by the minute.”
"She mentioned he was acting odd," Dustil said airily. "Any other leads you might have found?" The you was stressed like Myleah had been doing more work than Lydie had.
“I won’t know if it’s a lead until I see if it leads anywhere,” Lydie said slowly, unfolding her arms.
As if to spite her, Dustil folded his arms in front of him. A thin strip of metal wrist peeked out from his brown robe. "Good conjecture, Knight Korr. Does that happen to mean you have the pre-lead to a lead?"
Had she thought stubborn? More like nerf-headed.
“Eli Fennut took an unexplained trip to Dxun. I’m going there to find out why,” Lydie replied, unblinking. “I shouldn’t be gone longer than a day or so.”
"Great," Dustil said clapping his hands together, he winced and shook out the left one, "I'll book a shuttle for us."
Her eyebrow lifted on its own. “Us?”
"Do you have a issue with that, Knight Korr?" Dustil asked, tonelessly. Azen was watching them both carefully, his long fingers forming a steeple against his mouth.
Just that you’re acting like a pretentious jackass. “Not really, Knight Onasi.”
"I'll go make the accommodations, then. I’ll let you know when the shuttle's ready." Dustil bowed politely and exited in the same imperious way he had entered.
Lydie exhaled and glanced over at Azen. “Any idea what that’s all about?”
Azen's brow was creased in thought. "Any number of reasons. The most probable being the simplest. I would lay my bet on him needing something to occupy his time."
“I would lay mine on him having something to tell me.” Or having had a recent conversation with Aishie Sez.