Seven hours had passed since she’d left Tigris in the emergency med station. She feared what she would find, but was hopeful. When the beds were empty on her return, she panicked. The yellow-skinned Twi’lek finally got through to the Zabrak that Tigris had been moved to a different facility where she was recovering from surgery.
The medic looked in awe at the silent healer, and called him, “Master.”
The found the medical center easily enough. Zahira was relieved to see it was staffed with Imperial-trained personnel and that the medical droids weren’t too terribly outdated. She and the healer were shown to the room by an officious droid that objected to having its routine interrupted.
Tigris lay unconscious just as before. Her ribs were wrapped with bandages and the mask on her face breathed for her. A nervous administrator entered the room with a protest half on his lips. Zahira turned him out of the room before he could get two words out, bounced him off a wall and slammed the door behind him.
“That was unnecessary.” The old master chided her. She blinked at him.
He moved to Tigris’ bedside, and laid his hand on her forehead. He closed his eyes and she felt a subtle shift in the room. For the first time, she felt the Force that was in him. It felt unhindered by the weight of passion, but deeper than any emotion she had ever felt. It made her nervous. She backed away unconsciously.
“Her body is whole, and healing.” He rumbled, “But her spirit is wounded.” She watched his hands trace unknown spell-patterns in the air. “A piece of her spirit is within you. Come closer, child of the Feara’kai clan.”
She moved closer, without realizing he had named her. She reached out to touch Tigris and was drawn into his power. “She clings to you, child. Show her that you are still here.” He guided her gently with his voice.
This! This was something Zahira knew. She slipped into Tigris’ mind with practiced ease. The anger was still there; her aura was slightly stronger. She let her own consciousness touch her mind. “Tigris. Come back to me.” something stirred within her, and she understood what the healer meant. When she had held Tigris’ mind in her own, hours ago, she had left a piece of herself behind, and had taken a bit of hers along. Reunited, she felt Tigris reaching out for her.
She willed her thoughts to Tigris. “I’m here. I will never leave you.” The emotion flowed instinctively from her mind, whispered words and memories of the night before.
Zahira felt the Twi’lek’s mind open, the healer’s power leading her spirit from the place beyond sleep. Tigris breathed in on her own, suddenly tense on the bed, then eased back into true sleep. Her mind was calm. Zahira reluctantly returned to herself. The healer bent over Tigris’ body, humming what seemed to be a lullaby. His hands flared with Force power, blue-white and harsh to Zahira’s eyes.
She backed away again, uneasy with the power, driven back by its intensity. The glow encircled the Twi’lek and it was more than the Zabrak could bear. She bolted for the door and walked quickly down the hall. Her hair stood on end and she felt as if every horn on her head was on fire. She feared that power.
When she felt his terrible aura fade, she ventured back into the room. The healer sat calmly at the bedside. Tigris slept and he had removed the ventilation mask from her face. He looked up at her, and she realized that he had also removed his concealing wrappings. He was very old, his fur gone nearly white, his leonine muzzle wizened.
“Bothan?” She stammered. “I thought your kind were–”
He smiled, his timeless eyes sparkled. “Rare. Very rare, indeed.”
“Who are you?” Her voice was quiet, almost reverent.
“I am no one of any importance, child. I am merely a mouse in a sea of sand.”
Zahira inclined her head to him, respectfully. “Then I will call you Master Mouse.”
Three days passed as Tigris regained her strength. Master Mouse spent many long hours talking with her, working with her to ease the mental anguish of her ordeal.
Shiri had lured Tigris out of the ship early that morning under false pretense. She’d hired a bounty hunter to catch and hold her sister. In a childish attempt at revenge, she slipped a slave collar around Tigris’ neck to somehow “prove” that she was no longer a slave. Tigris raged and in her anger, Force-pulled her saber to her hand and plunged it into her own body. Her sister’s betrayal had been more than she could bear. She would rather die than be enslaved again.
When Zahira left the outpost where Shiri had last been seen, it was a pile of smoking rubble.
As a concession to the Bothan, no innocent lives were taken. Unfortunately, the blue Twi’lek was nowhere to be found. As soon as Zahira calmed down, she put a catch-and-release bounty on Shiri to ensure that the girl would be hounded by every would-be hunter after an easy credit. She would never have a moment’s peace until the day she died.
Zahira could now feel Tigris’ presence in the core of her being. She knew when she slept, woke, hungered, or needed company. She felt every emotion as if it were her own, and they shared thoughts as easily as they could speak words. She and Tigris both realized that they were inexorably bound together by the Force. They could never be separated.
Five days after she had taken him from his home, Master Mouse bowed to them both, wrapped his cloth around his face and made ready to go. He refused a speeder ride, saying he preferred to walk alone, to see what he could see.
Tigris and Zahira walked with him to the edge of Mos Ila. He touched Tigris’ face tenderly, then placed his hand on Zahira’s shoulder.
“There is no dark side, Zahira of the Feara’kai. There is no light. There is only flesh and the patterns to which we submit ourselves. If you continue on this pattern, you risk corruption of your spirit. Be a predator, child. Do not become prey.”
Zahira bowed her head to him briefly, but her lips twitched with repressed anger. They watched as he shuffled off across the sand. He raised his hand one last time in farewell. Something twisted inside her, and she vowed she would remember the wizened Bothan’s words. As he turned away, she swore she saw a black shadow detach from the lee of a bluff to join him on his journey.
They walked slowly back to the spaceport and stood where they had begun, almost a week before. Zahira spoke, “Stay with me, Tigris. Be my apprentice. Be my love. Let me show you the way of the Force. I will teach you to be Sith. You will be magnificent.”
“I ain’t no Sith!”Tigris grinned, “I’m a healer, like Master Mouse.” She looked down. “Well, I’m going to be. Unless–” She trailed off. Her thoughts recalled stories she壇 heard at the academy of cruel Masters and sudden deaths. “You’re not going to kill me if I fail, will you?”
She smiled at Tigress, and reached out to caress her cheek. “I have a feeling that you will be the death of me, my apprentice.”
The Twi’lek’s eyes widened. Her thoughts rang in Zahira’s head. I could never hurt you, Zahira-eswo.
Zahira cupped her hand around Tigris’ face and raised her chin. She stared into Tigris’ violet eyes and sent a wave of tender emotion to her. And I could no more harm you than I could cut out my second heart. She kissed her.
They walked into the ship and set course for Dromund Kaas.