Apocalypsa stood within Darth Umbral’s volcanic fortress, Torian at her side. A repulsorlift sled before them held the body of Roth Luxel, the red and green lights blinking from the band on his forehead shimmering on his skin. Above him stood Darth Umbral herself, deep blue eyes staring down at the unconscious man.
“I trust you completed your task with little difficulty?” Umbral arched a slender eyebrow at the Mandalorian couple, moving to sit behind the massive desk in the center of the room.
Apoc chuckled wryly. “Could have done that in my sleep.” She watched as Malavai Quinn entered the room, bearing a small, hand-held scanner. He approached Luxel, waving the sensor wand over the man’s sleeping body.
“I should be able to wake him up shortly, my lord.” The Imperial captain nodded at the hulking form of Lieutenant Pierce, who stepped out of the shadows to grip the handles of the sled, pushing it toward the door at the far side of the room.
It closed behind the men as they stepped through, and Umbral’s pale fingers began to drum out a rhythmic cadence on the desktop. “You realize,” she began, a tiny smile curling the corner of her lips. “That I cannot pay you the two million credit bounty without knowledge of Luxel’s mental state.”
A tiny flash of anger sparked through Apoc’s mind. The Sith Lord chuckled quietly. “Now, now, Mandalorian,” she chided softly. “I am a woman of my word. The transfer of one million credits into your account took place as your starship landed here.”
Her fingers ceased their incessant drumming, reaching out instead to grasp a datapad that lay on the desk. “Once the Captain has woken Luxel and performed an examination and tested his cognitive ability, the other half of your payment will be delivered.” She tapped a few keys on the datapad, then looked up at Apoc. “Assuming his mind is intact, that is.”
“Fine.” Apoc ground out the words from behind clenched teeth. “Don’t suppose I have much of a choice.”
“True,” Umbral’s smile was cold. “You do not.” She laid the datapad back on the desk. “However, there is opportunity here. You performed your mission adequately, and I will likely have need of your services again in the future.”
Apoc carefully kept a sneer from her face. “I’m a busy woman, and I’m at nobody’s beck and call.”
Umbral stood, planting her fists on the desk as she leaned over its surface. “Mind yourself, Mandalorian. I am the Emperor’s Wrath.”
Apocalypsa raised an eyebrow. “Look, I don’t care if you are
the Emperor.” Her emerald gaze locked with the Sith lord’s blue one. The flame-haired woman’s anger was palpable, hanging in the air between them like a curtain. “I answer only to Mand’alor.
If you want to hire me, you’ll have to get in line.”
The tense feeling in the air evaporated as Umbral began to laugh, her head falling back as she nearly dissolved into a fit of giggles. Apocalypsa and Torian stared at each other, then at the Sith Lord, wondering if she had finally lost her mind.
“Oh, that’s good.” Umbral’s laughter died off, leaving that cold smile on her full lips. “You will need such defiance to complete the missions I will give you in the future.”
Apoc shook her head. The Sith Lord was obviously not going to take no for an answer. Waving her hand dismissively at the Mandalorians, Umbral’s expression suddenly shifted into boredom. “Be gone, the both of you.” She abruptly turned, and left the room.
Torian’s hand gripped Apoc’s arm as they walked through the dark fortress, their steps echoing in the empty corridors. “What a strange woman.” He chuckled at Apoc’s exasperated expression.
“I’m not sure strange even begins to cover it.” She sighed as they reached the Flameshrike
, making their way up the boarding ramp into the cargo hold. “Can you get us out of here? I want to check on Layne.”
“Sure.” He left her side, disappearing through the archway that led to the Flameshrike
’s bridge. Striding toward the starship’s small medical bay, Apoc stood in the doorway for a moment, watching Layne as he lay on the small cot within, reading from a datapad in his hand. A thick bandage covered his abdomen, and he lowered the datapad as he noticed Apoc’s presence.
“Hey,” he said, slowly pushing himself to a sitting position. “How’d it go?” He grimaced at Apoc’s wry laugh. “That bad, huh?”
“Not bad, just… odd.” She stepped into the room, lowering herself into a chair next to his cot. “You feeling alright?”
“Yeah. Well,” he frowned slightly. “Little pain here and there but I guess that’s to be expected.”
“You did get shot.” She gestured toward the bandage. “Thanks, by the way.”
“For what?” He cocked his head to the side.
“You know what for.” She smiled at him, and he returned it with one of his own. “That couldn’t have been easy, shooting your sister.”
“It wasn’t.” He shrugged slightly. “But watching you die would have been harder.”
They sat in comfortable silence a while, listening to the sound of the Flameshrike
’s engines as they made their way through and beyond the smoky atmosphere. A slight lurch indicated their entrance into hyperspace, and shortly thereafter, Torian entered the medbay, leaning on the doorframe.
“Tell him yet?” Layne furrowed his brow at the tall man’s words, glancing between Torian and Apocalypsa.
“Tell me what?” His pale blue eyes narrowed as Apoc smiled. “What is it?”
“Well, Layne,” she began, leaning forward in her chair and clasping her hands before her. “We have a little surprise.” She grinned at him, her pearly white teeth flashing from between her darkly tattooed lips. “Clan Cadera is being reformed.”
“What? How?” Layne frowned. “I thought – “
Apoc held her hand up and he fell silent. “After Jicoln defected, the clan fell into Mand’alor’
s disfavor. Most went along with the traitor. Others, like Torian,” she gestured at the tall blond man in the doorway, “did not. Because of Torian’s loyalty, Mand’alor
has agreed to dissolve what remains of Clan Cadera. Those who have stayed with Mand’alor
will be absorbed into both his own clan, and Clan Fett.”
Layne remained silent, digesting the information as Apocalypsa spoke. “However, Clan Cadera will continue to exist, with Torian and I as the head.” She glanced over at her husband, who shot her one of his brilliant smiles. “On the surface, we will continue to act as Mand’alor’
s enforcers. Our true mission, though, will be to hunt down those Mandalorians who followed Jicoln, and those who have gone into the arms of the Republic.”
As Apoc leaned back in her chair, Layne let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “What about me?” He frowned slightly. “I’m not a Mandalorian.”
Both Apoc and Torian chuckled, and the emerald-eyed warrior reached out, laying her hand on Layne’s arm. “Layne,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “I’m so proud of you. You’ve come a long way since we first met. The entire time I’ve known you, you’ve kept to your code of honor as best you know how, and you seek to learn everything that you can, to be the best that you can.”
She looked over at Torian, who stepped to her side, placing his hand on her shoulder as she continued to speak. “Layne, you are
a Mandalorian. And we would be proud to have you as the first new member of Clan Cadera.”
Layne’s pale blue eyes widened, his expression one of joyful shock. “Really?” He looked back and forth between the two Mandalorians in front of him.
“Yes, really.” Apoc’s smile sent a surge of pride through Layne’s soul. She tightened her grip on his arm, her voice taking on a formal tone. “Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'ad
, Layne Cadera. I know you as my child.” The words of the Mandalorian adoption vow were echoed by Torian, who reached out with his other hand to clap Layne on the back softly.
The young Mandalorian opened his mouth, but no words came out. He sat there for a long moment, basking in the warm feeling of acceptance and friendship that washed over him. Finally, his lips lifted in a mischievous grin as he looked to Apocalypsa. Innocently, he asked, “Am I supposed to call you Mother now?”
Her horrified expression prompted laughter from both Layne and Torian. The sound rang throughout the starship, filling it with their merriment. Apoc’s emerald eyes narrowed dangerously, though her voice shook with her own laughter.
“I’m going to kill you both.”