Maul’s intense gaze averted from Qi’ra long enough to look at the other Crime Syndicate leaders. Qi’ra inwardly sighed with relief, for his stare felt like the intense glare of heat from the sun.
“This is Qi’ra, Dryden Vos’s top lieutenant,” Maul spoke.
The intrigue in the Crime Syndicate leaders’ eyes was apparent as they looked at her. Obviously, her reputation as a ruthless agent of the criminal underworld had spread.
“We are gathered here today because Dryden Vos has been killed by a smuggler he hired,” Maul continued. Each leader grumbled in disgust.
Working with the scum that made up the criminal underworld was sometimes a risky business, for bounty hunters and smugglers could make a name for themselves if they had the chance to brag that they had killed someone of such high importance. It was a scenario they all wished to avoid.
“And that means we need a new head of Crimson Dawn.” Maul’s yellow gaze turned to Qi’ra. “I have faith that you will be the perfect face of this syndicate.”
Qi’ra stood, holding her body erect and her chin high as she said, “I will do my very best to keep everything in order and to abide by your commands.”
Maul smiled, revealing a row of sharp yellow teeth. It was the most frightening thing she had ever witnessed.
“Oh, I know you will.”
With a flick of his hand, a ring appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, floating speedily toward her. It flew into her open palm–an obsidian ring with the Crimson Dawn symbol engraved in gold on its face. As she slid it onto her right index finger her thoughts were filled with the memories of Dryden’s hands and that ring that always adorned the left one. The ring that she had mistaken as mere jewelry was actually a symbol of his allegiance to Crimson Dawn like the brands on her wrist and neck.
Her hands began to quiver as she realized the confirmation of this ring. There was no turning back now. She was the face of Crimson Dawn. She quickly clenched her hands into fists to hide the trembling.
“Thank you…for this honor,” she said, bowing low.
Maul’s eyes narrowed as if he could sense the unauthentic tone in her voice.
She sat, avoiding his gaze. As Maul turned his attention away from her he began to speak about what he wanted The Shadow Council, that was the collection of Crime Syndicates gathered in this room, to achieve.
The meeting went by in a blur. Qi’ra interacted as often as possible to assert authority but it was almost as if she was floating outside of her body watching herself speak.
When the meeting was finished the Crime Syndicate leaders individually rose from their seats to leave the room. When Qi’ra took her turn to leave Maul spoke.
“Stay here, Qi’ra. There is more for us to discuss.”
Her heart hammered in her chest and she felt her forehead begin to perspire but she kept a neutral expression. As they both waited for the other leaders to leave the room she couldn’t stop the race of thoughts streaming through her mind.
Was he getting second thoughts? Was he about to kill her? The fear that had clutched her very being all day was back, washing over her in an immobilizing torrent.
When they were alone Maul rose from his seat, walking slowly over to her. She tried to remain calm but her breaths were shallow and her heartbeat resounded deafeningly in her ears.
“I’ve been watching you for a while, Qi’ra,” he began. “Your abilities and your ruthlessness are…promising to Crimson Dawn.”
“I am grateful that you think that,” she responded. She hated how small her voice sounded.
He stopped at her chair, glaring down at her with those haunting yellow eyes.
“I know you killed Dryden Vos.”
Her eyes widened. Yes, she was about to die. She almost began contemplating attacking him. Who knows? Maybe she would survive.
“And I am pleased by this outcome.”
Her eyebrows creased. Well, that was not the response she was expecting.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
Maul held his hands behind his back, looking toward one of the slit windows with a shake of his head.
“Dryden Vos’s inability to produce results had grown…tiring. I was going to have him taken care of but you acted before I could.” His intense gaze turned back to her. “You’re like me, desperate for power.” He leaned toward her. “But may I remind you, I am more powerful than you will ever be.” His tone turned menacing. “Do not for a moment think you can kill me.”
The fear within her instantly churned into anger. Maul was just like every other person who believed they had power over her; a bully. Lady Proxima, the slave dealer Sarkin Enneb, Dryden Vos, and now Maul. They all believed they claimed dominion over her and she had proved otherwise. Maul would have to be the next in line to discover that fact. But not now.
Now she had to gain power, accelerate her status with the Crimson Dawn, and then one day, she would make Maul regret his words.
She smiled. “I would never think to kill you, Lord Maul.”
His eyes narrowed as he stared at her. She stared right back. When he finally straightened he seemed pleased.
“Good. Now go. Make Crimson Dawn a name that when uttered strikes fear in the hearts of trillions throughout the galaxy.”
She stood, bowing once more, before turning and leaving. When she had entered the room she had been stricken with fear. Now she was leaving emboldened by anger.
Yes, many of the galaxy’s inhabitants would be afraid, but not because of Crimson Dawn, but because of her; Qi’ra. And she was determined to one day make Maul a recipient of that fear.