Qi’ra walked through the silent crowd, approaching the Imperial officers with her heart pounding. She hadn’t been around the agents of the Empire very often but whenever she was in their presence there was a coldness to them that was always disconcerting.
The way they looked at you, with their frosty gazes, it was almost as if they could see into your very soul, rooting out whatever proof they needed to throw you into one of their high-security Imperial prisons.
One of the Imperial officers, a stout man not much taller than herself with blond hair perfectly trimmed as he took off his hat, approached her in turn, a warm smile on his face.
With his hand outstretched he said, “You must be Qi’ra.”
She shook his hand, maintaining her cordial expression. “I am. And you are?”
He bowed curtly. “Captain Peer. I’ve arrived under Moff Arnim’s orders. He was the one who sent for the coaxium and he sent me to personally congratulate you for your bravery.”
Her eyebrows rose. “So he knew about the mishap?”
Peer’s smile widened. “Yes. He was very…how should I say it…ticked off at first but when he heard the coaxium was retrieved and that you had personally handled those wretched rebels, well, he wanted to express his profound gratitude.”
She smiled. “Well, that’s a relief. It sure is a shame that he couldn’t express his gratitude in person though.”
Peer’s smile slightly tightened. “He is a busy man.”
She nodded. “I’m sure.”
With the tenseness leaving the air, the party suddenly began to resume, as if everyone in the area had released their pent-up breaths. As the other Imperial officers started to mill about, mingling with the partygoers, Captain Peer moved closer to Qi’ra.
“Is there somewhere where we can talk privately?” he whispered in her ear.
Her mood shifted. She knew this visit from The Empire was more complicated than that of one wanting to present a genuine, personal thank-you note. She nodded.
She led him through the crowd toward the winding stairs that led to another level in the yacht. She could feel T-38 and Nienye’s eyes following her and as she located the cyborg bodyguard she slyly nodded at her, reassuring her that everything was fine, as she took the captain up the stairs, lifting the small train of her strapless black dress as she climbed the steps.
There were a few people mingling atop the second level who, as she passed by them with the Imperial officer trailing her, gave her suspicious stares. She led him toward the door at the end of the level where they entered a small empty room.
It was where Dryden Vos used to conduct his most personal business, often using this space to chat with people one on one or, if he was angry, dispose of them personally. The female guards, resplendent in their black armor lined with gold, nodded at her as she approached and opened the door, allowing her to step into the fancy space.
The room was lined with dark brown walls gilded with gold finishings and golden light that imbued the room with an esteemed glow. There wasn’t much furniture; just two metal chairs with golden legs and a counter filled with glasses and ingredients to make a drink.
And that’s what she did. She headed over to the counter, poured two glasses of Tsiki Munara Juice; a sweet but very strong fermented drink made out of Munara berries found locally on Polaris, before walking over to the Captain, handing him the beverage. He thanked her and as she sat down, crossing her legs, she regarded him closely.
“Tell me, Captain, why are you really here?”
He smiled, swirling the beverage in his hand. “Moff Arnim is high in the ranks of the Empire, high enough where he possesses direct ties to The Emperor, and he wants to make a bold move. There is a system not far from his own, the Noad System, and many important and often rare resources can be found throughout the planets there. Moff Arnim wants to claim this system as his own but he is finding opposition at the hands of a few senators.”
Qi’ra’s jaw clenched. The petty problems of the galaxy’s elite. It was annoying.
“So what does this have to do with me or Crimson Dawn?”
The Captain neared her, gazing at her with particular urgency. “He needs you to stand alongside him on Coruscant. Help him win this political battle. With what you just did to the rebels, the Crimson Dawn has been solidified as a force to be reckoned with in the galaxy. Your presence will quell any hint of rebellion from the senators and Moff Arnim can claim this system as his own, which will ultimately help The Empire’s growth.”
Qi’ra sipped her drink. “I see. I am flattered by this offer but what can this do for Crimson Dawn?”
“The biggest scores, the largest smuggling operations, the best news on everything that’s going on in the galaxy, Moff Arnim has ties to it all and if you help him he’ll help you. Crimson Dawn, under your leadership, under this potential partnership, could grow to be as influential and mighty as the very Empire itself.”
Qi’ra’s eyes widened. The thought of so much power and to be the leader over that power was staggering, to say the least. But what made this thought even more inviting was the clear idea that as her power and standing in the galaxy grew, Maul’s influence would dissipate and before long, she could eliminate him from the equation and take over Crimson Dawn as her own. The prospect of such an endeavor brought a smile to her face.
“And when does he need me to be in Coruscant?” she asked.
“As soon as possible,” the captain responded.
She stood, walking over to him and clinking his glass. “Then it’s settled. I”ll do as your Moff has requested.”
The captain seemed relieved. “Good. I have a Star Destroyer sitting in orbit awaiting your arrival.”
As he turned and left the room Qi’ra’s eyes were still agleam with the prospect of eliminating Maul. Of watching him cower before her feet, begging for mercy as she stood over him victorious.
“You thought I was weak,” she would say to him. “That I would have to remain in your shadow forever. Well, you thought wrong.”
With that last comment, she would drive her sword through his heart and watch with immense satisfaction as he died on her blade.
She downed the rest of her drink, a smile still painting her face in an expression of devious joy. Yes, Crimson Dawn would be hers and this was beginning of that reality.
Maul was meditating when he felt a tremor in the Force. His yellow eyes flashed open, his chest heaved for breath, and his spine tingled with the sense of danger.
In his mind’s eye, he could see Qi’ra, could hear her voice, could sense her hatred for him rolling off of her like a tidal wave. That hate was what drew him toward her. Like an apprentice, he had molded her, using that hate to fuel her power. But in doing so, he knew he was forging his greatest enemy. Knowing this, he would have to snuff her out before she became too dangerous.
And there was only one person he could trust to do it.
“Nienye,” he whispered to himself.