QI’RA: Chapter Twenty-Three

Maul’s Praise

Qi’ra stood in a long corridor aboard her ship, Night Shade, her hands clasped behind her back. She was now clad in a simple black tunic with matching pants and boots, her gleaming jewelry adding a bit of flair to her outfit. In the room behind her, T-38 was being tended to, and in front of her sat a window displaying the blue streaks of hyperspace.

They were heading back to Polaris, their retrieved cargo of coaxium stowed away in the ship’s belly. That was the good news. The bad news; many of her female-guard personnel had perished in the endeavor and T-38 had almost been yet another number to the casualties. Qi’ra wanted to pretend that she didn’t care, that it was a price worth paying knowing that the mission had indeed been successful, but Qi’ra knew the truth. Her recklessness nearly caused all of their lives and she knew, deep down, this would be the outcome. She had simply chosen Crimson Dawn, and in essence, Maul, over the people who served her every day.

She looked down. I’m becoming a monster, she told herself.

She could see in her mind’s eye the death and destruction they had left behind on the city clustered in the three asteroids; could see the smoke billowing from the burning buildings, could smell the charred bodies and could hear the dying screams of the innocents who had been caught in the crossfire. Yes, she was a monster.

The door to the infirmary slid open behind her and when she turned she found herself gazing upward at a grim Nienye. A strip of black tape covered the scar on his head from where he had been cut. It was the only sign of the battle on him, besides the soot from the fires that still lingered on his dark skin and clothes that he hadn’t changed.

“How is she?” she asked.

Nienye nodded. “She’ll be okay. The medical droids are applying new prosthetics to her body. The other parts weren’t functional after the explosion.”

Qi’ra couldn’t help herself. Tears welled in her eyes as he said “explosion,” for she knew it had almost been the death of the best friend she ever had. She stepped forward and hugged Nienye, using every bit of willpower to keep the tears at bay. She didn’t expect him to hug her back–she had, in fact slapped him not that long ago–but he held did, their equal parts of despair and relief washing over one another like a tidal wave.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she told him.

“I’m relieved you’re okay too, Qi’ra,” he looked down at her, his eyes holding a silent horror, “I was afraid I’d lose you. That I’d lose T-38. Both of you have become like family to me.”

Her cheeks warmed as she quickly ended the embrace. “I feel the same.”

He froze her with his gaze as he gently grabbed her hand. “Please, let’s not do that again.”

She smiled, tightening her grip on his. “I’ll try not to.”

As she suddenly heard approaching footsteps she quickly relinquished her grasp on Nienye’s hand and stepped away from him just as a protocol droid appeared around the corner.

“You are being contacted by Lord Maul, madam,” the protocol droid said.

She and Nienye exchanged nervous glances. “Let’s see what he wants,” she said.

Qi’ra stepped onto a risen dais in an empty circular room that was dimly lit aboard Night Shade, Nienye remaining vigilant by the door. As she came to a full stop a white light traced the grooves in the surface beneath her feet, creating, when it was completed, the sign of Crimson Dawn. In front of her, a hologram flickered, revealing Lord Maul who was sitting, as always, on his dark throne.

At first, he looked as stern as ever and then his lips spread into a rare grin. A shudder coursed down Qi’ra’s spine as she beheld that grin.

“Qi’ra, Qi’ra, Qi’ra, how I mistook your foolishness for brilliance,” he began.

She raised her chin. “Excuse me, my lord?”

“You did it. You retrieved the coaxium despite all of our misgivings. The leaders of the Shadow Council thought you were mad but once again you proved why I appointed you as the new leader of Crimson Dawn. The terror you delivered to the Orbach system with your raid on Sector 647 is spreading throughout the galaxy. The rebels,” he spoke this word with contempt, “now understand the true meaning of fear and our might thanks to you.”

Qi’ra’s jaw clenched. “I am humbled by your praise. I see our raid as a failure more than a victory.”

His eyebrows scrunched. Nienye, who was watching the conversation from his place by the door smiled.

“And how can you see your accomplishment as a failure?”

“Many of my warriors were killed. I went into Sector 647 with no plan, no understanding of what we were dealing with, and more lives were lost that didn’t need to be.”

“Garbage!” he barked. “You retook the coaxium. Do not belittle your achievements. Your blunt display of leadership led the rebels to tasting a true defeat. So what, you lost some of your personnel. I will send an even greater force for you to lead.” He leaned forward as if sharing a secret with her. “War is coming and when it does, you will have to be ready.”

Her eyebrows furrowed. “War, my lord?”

“Something’s stirring within my relationship with the syndicates. I feel the other syndicates are threatening to overrule my leadership with plans of their own, and when this happens, you will lead my armies and destroy every nonbeliever in my cause until they cower at the thought of Crimson Dawn.” He paused before saying with a menacing tone, “Do you understand?”

She knelt, bowing her head. “If the other syndicates are readying for war,” she raised her gaze to him, “then they will feel the point of my blade.”

His savage grin returned. “Good. I look forward to this.”

With that, the hologram flickered out of existence and Qi’ra’s demeanor completely changed. War was coming? The thought was almost sickening. But, she did have to admit, the thought of leading an army against Ziya Rheeves’ insufferable Black Sun syndicate would be fun.

As she stood she found Nienye walking to her. When he stopped before her there was a tenderness in his eyes that she had never seen before and it made her heart pitter-patter.

“For the record, I didn’t think our excursion into Sector 647 was a victory either,” he told her.

She smiled.

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