Qatayef

  • 2 cups (8½ oz/ 240g) all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon (3/8oz/ 12g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (1/4oz/ 8g) powdered milk (dried milk powder)
  • 1 teaspoons (4g) instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1¾ cups (425ml) warm water

Julianni knew the recipe well. The dough itself was rather simple, after all, and she had made it often in her years of servitude. Whisk together the dried ingredients. Add the warm water slowly. Continue whisking vigorously until the loose and pourable batter is formed. Like pancakes.

It was in this process of preparation that she found her thoughts drifting.

For a week, she’d been in charge of handling I-RED matters. The Executor’s words were still quite prominent in her mind. “I’ll be gone on a business matter for a week. I trust you can handle things.”

It was no request.

Julianni had done what she could. Delegation, instruction, decision making- though most things were ran by the directors, the final decisions had come down to her. Each day, she felt shoulder bear more and more weight. How the Executor managed to handle it all was unknowing to her. She’d hardly had enough time to deal with diplomatic and financial duties than to lead the alliance.

Cover the bowl of dough. Let rise until slightly bubbly and has risen.

The woman went to work on the filling, tossing the hazelnuts, pine nuts, and golden raisins within the sugary butter she’d melted together previously.

Then, there was Utari. The worry she felt over his situation weighed on her as well. What decisions would he be making? Would he take the step to help himself? She was trying to support him, but there was only so much she could do. With the choices he’d made in the past and the choices he would have to make in the future, she certainly didn’t envy him. All she could do now was be there for him, even if there was a small part of her that felt frustrated. She had no right to feel that way, she’d told herself over and over. And so she buried that feeling deep within, an unintentional seed of doubt. Whether or not there would be darkened waters to nourish it was unknown.

Heat the oil. Stir the batter. Two tablespoons per cake. Let bubble, then set each one off to the side for filling later.

As if matters weren’t stressful enough, Julianni felt the overwhelming, oppressive sense of eyes watching her each time she’d gone to the market. Chills would run down her spine each time, trickling across her skin like a snake that was slowly wrapping itself around her body. She couldn’t tell what was worse: never being able to find who was watching, or that the watchful eyes knew exactly where she’d be. She’d played it smart, of course, changing up her schedule, routes, even skipping the city proper some days.

But the eyes always found her.

Add a heaping tablespoon of filling to each cake. Fold. Seal. Set aside.

With the knowledge of her home’s predecessor being a drug dealer, she knew that this could be more dangerous than normal. At the same time, what harm could they possibly do? She was a capsuleer. She could live and die, then do it all over again and again.

Her eyes began to drift to the pistol resting with her silken wrap. Could she do it? Would she really be able to take a life again? Julianni’s eyes furrowed. If she was in danger, she may possibly need to.

Drop each cake into the fry oil. Fry for two to four minutes per side or until deep golden brown. Dip in light glaze. Let rest. Garnish with coconut flakes. Serve.

No longer were the days she could remain passive. Not with her position, not with her home’s history, and not with her own history. She needed to change. Her next stage of metamorphosis.

Her fingers slipped around the pistol’s grip and she made her way outside for target practice.

Grocery Shopping

Khaihraz stepped off the shuttle and took in a breath of satisfaction. He truly hated flying, hated the closed off compartments meant for people to sit in. The forced interaction with people around who smelled of filth was intolerable. But here, on this planet, everything felt much better.

It reminded him of his home, the powerful desert winds and intense, dry heat. Even the architecture was a gentle memory of where he came from, its stonework battered and broken in many places, yet still standing. Yes, this was much better than that disgusting shuttle, indeed.

The sounds of conversation in every which direction was a comfort as well. Bargaining merchants and customers, camel-like creatures chortling their annoying noises, children running and playing through the streets- all of it was loud and distracting enough that he knew no one would give his appearance, being a newcomer, a second thought.

He traveled along the busy crowd, dipping and weaving in what was like a dance with the natives to the planet. A smile rest at his face. Oh, how he loved the smell of the market. The cooking foods- (was that shawarma?), the strong spices, the perfumes and incense of jasmine were all overwhelmingly pleasant. He was almost jealous that he couldn’t live here, himself. But he knew what he was really there for, and it certainly wasn’t browsing for spices.

This planet held the key to his salvation. The key to his freedom. And no matter what it took, he would find her.

He found himself within the alley designated by his contact, then leaned against the wall, waiting. Of course, it didn’t take long for his presence to be noted, and soon a large, burly man approached. Dressed in neutral colours, a longer robe, the man’s hand outstretched. One chip was given in return for another, and then he was gone. It was the best kind of business, no words needing spoken. Khaihraz smiled, then plugged the data chip into the pad he kept in his pocket.

The words flashed on the screen clear as day.

Approx. 06:00-08:00, 18:00-19:00, days vary. Hover car from West.

His brow raised. From the West? A hover car? She couldn’t have been too far, if that were the case. He checked the time on his data pad.

18:23

He would never admit to anyone that his heart gave a jump. Would he actually see her? Khaihraz’s eyes scanned the crowd, searching aimlessly for her. It was a large market, but he knew her face. There was no way he’d miss her, provided she was actually there.

It felt like hours to the man, his methodical wanderings leading him to the places he knew were popular. Meats. Vegetables. Next, the spices.

And there she was.

He knew her form before she even turned to speak to the merchant. It was much more frail than he’d seen in the pictures, but he knew it was her. Clothing a vibrant orange colour, it hung loosely off her body. She certainly fit in with the other women here, that’s for sure. When she turned, he noticed her face looked as it always had; his heart pounded in his chest.

The man would not approach, of course. That was not part of the plan. No, he would wait. This was all he needed for now, anyway. And so, he began to turn to leave.

The moment he did, though, he paused, noting the man at Julianni’s side; he did not belong. Khaihraz watched carefully, taking in every detail of the man’s that he could; his face; his mannerisms; his treatment of Julianni; his hand at the small of her back. Khaihraz felt an anger brewing.

A significant other. “Most interesting,” he said to himself quietly.

The more he watched, the more he noted Julianni and the man begin looking around. He frowned. They were more perceptive than he realized. But it was no matter, he still had the information he needed. Without another thought, he turned down the market walkways.

Things would need to change, he knew. While they’d accounting for potential friends and acquaintances, they certainly hadn’t thought she’d be with someone. What if he stayed at the house? Khaihraz frowned, knowing full well he needed to figure out a way to fix this.

As he boarded that travel shuttle again, he pulled up his datapad to send a quick message to his contact.

Kredits for info on the man.

Wandering Star

It had become one of her favourite parts of her estate as of late, the prayer room. Each morning, the sun would rise just right as to shine through the circular window, like arms outreached to offer a comforting embrace. Warm. Gentle. Grounded. It was something Julianni had cherished on the mornings she had been at home.

Home.

Not long ago, she purchased the property, but it still had grown on her. She knew the subtle sounds it made, the twists and turns the halls and rooms had provided. Most of all, she felt it was hers.

But not today.

Today, the sun was just that: a star within the sky that only rose because of the turn of the planet. No warm embrace to be offered, no comfort in the sight of such beauty.

This day, Julianni’s home stood as a simple building, its walls and foundation built because someone had ordered it, and she had just so happened to purchase it later on. There stood no other meaning.

So much laid itself to rest heavily upon her shoulders. The weight crushed her, pushing her under. And all the while, it was invisible. She could smile, and no one would have to know that each breath she took felt as if she were suffocating. A laugh could work its way from her lungs, and most would never be able to tell that blackened waters were drowning her.

There were perhaps one or two people that knew, that saw and heard Julianni’s gasping breaths for air. But to reach out for help was something she couldn’t do completely, for they were drowning, too. They needed more air than she did. They deserved it more. And so she would do her best to prop them up.

Such was her purpose, wasn’t it? Lord Degario had once told her to be that pillar; to the Faithful, she should be nothing less. No matter how many cracks that formed in the marble, they had to be filled with gold: hopeful smiles, encouragement, words of advice, and Faith. No one needed the knowledge that the very gold filling the cracks was also slowly destroying the stonework, threatening to consume it until there was nothing but the false material left. The pillar would stand until another took its place.

Then, and only then, could it crumble to dust, whipped away into the winds to be forgotten.

The world came back into focus, her reality seeping in.

No matter what it took, how much it hurt, how it may destroy her, she would do it. For them.

A Challenger Appears

Now that a painting had been hung in Julianni’s office, it had felt a little more homey. She didn’t necessarily care if it felt as such, but she couldn’t help but feel as if the small bit of personal touch helped ease her day-to-day stresses.

The painting appeared as scene she had seen before in person, and one she had fallen in love with the moment she saw it. The hills, tricking across the land, complimented the autumn grass, each twist of the brushstroke having been meticulously done as God had when creating it. The waves of the ocean, curled in their white to light blue colours, crashed into the rocky cliff faces dotted in the distance. It was Heavenly. That Lord Iyhr had sent her the painting still warmed her heart; traditional gifts were that much more meaningful.

She smiled.

Her attention flickered back to her display to focus on her task at hand: monthly financials. Julianni let loose a sigh to see the Black Rise information missing. Once again, a technical malfunction was preventing the personnel member’s data from being reached. “I really need to speak with the IT manager about this,” she muttered softly to herself, raising her hand to push aside her hair and rub at her cheek.

An alert: someone was at her office door.

Julianni raised her head and glanced to it, seeing the shadowed outline of a feminine figure that, by all accounts, was rather tall. It was a form she was not familiar with. There were few women she’d met personally that matched the height as this one, save for DUSTers, of course. But it was no matter. Her finger pressed to the access button at the side of her desk and she stood, smoothing out the creases in her skirt.

Once the door opened, the recognition of just who it was happened immediately. While she’d normally have felt at least generally comfortable around the Internal Watch, lately, it seemed the opposite. Especially when she saw the woman’s expression.

It was a cool one, the pursed lips and professional posture that Sheyan Mazaki wore. Obviously, there was something bothering her, and even if Julianni had asked not to be disturbed, she had a feeling it wouldn’t have mattered.

“Mazaki-haani, it’s g-”

The Calmatar entered the room briskly without waiting for anything else to be said. Lithe, yet somewhat broad and athletic with her darkened skin, this woman was a shining example of Caldari and Minmatar stock. The most prominent of her features, however, was the quiet seething the woman was letting bubble beneath the surface.

“…Mazaki-haani?”

Again, there was no response. Julianni’s eyes lowered. What she didn’t see, doing that, was that Sheyan’s eyes flashed as her implants went active. Then, across Julianni’s screen, came a recording of Sakala’s words in what was labeled as the system of Nahyeen.

“Be a dear, when you see Jules next let her know I have a few gifts for her. Well a few bottles if you know what I mean.”

Julianni read over the words, her heart stopping. Had he really…

“Our men didn’t die just so you could go on a drug binge,” Sheyan finally said, her voice full of venom. The toxin that seeped into Julianni’s very heart. “You mean to tell me that after everything that happened, you’re still dealing with that man? No. Not a man. That gaairagi.”

Julianni froze. She didn’t know what to do or what to say. Now, things were public.

“No answer? I should have expected that.” The military officer turned on her heel, giving her back to Julianni. “I’m sure you’ll understand that I have to notify my superiors of what was said, regardless of my opinion on the matter.” The woman paused before the doorway, glancing over her shoulder. “And as far as that goes? You’re no better than Sakala.” With that, the woman left the room before Julianni even had a chance to reply.

Left speechless, Julianni simply stared at that screen. Just what was she supposed to do about this? What could she even have said? Her drug tests had all come back negative. They spoke for themselves. But still…this…was exactly what Sakala was hoping for. She knew it.

Now, she simply had to make the decision of if she was going to sit by and simply do damage control, or decide to play his game right back.

 

Chrysalis

“-dn’t you agree?”

Julianni snapped out of…where-ever she had been and focused on the room. Her appointment, that was right. She glanced back to Doctor Aneozomi and her head gave a nod. “Oh, yes. Frankly, it went much smoother than I thought. I wish you would have been able to attend.”

Emiri smiled, even going as far as to chuckle. “Oh, those kinds of get-togethers aren’t my thing, Avala-haani. While I understand its meaning, I am certain both the presence of the Executor, the I-RED baseliner personnel, and yourself was more than enough to show our gratitude towards our allies.”

“Of course. But I still think it would have been nice to see you there,” Julianni countered. “Nevertheless, there is always next time.”

“So there is. I’ll keep your thoughts in mind. Now…let’s move on. You are in a relationship now, correct?”

Julianni’s dip of the head confirmed and she sheepishly smiled. “I am. It’s been well so far. I believe it’s that…what do they call it, the ‘honey-moon stage’?” Her nervous chuckle escaped her lips faster than she could stop it.

Doctor Aneozomi gave a simple nod. “That’s what they call it, yes. Do you believe he’s good for you?”

“I’m…” A pause. “Pardon?”

“Is he good for you? Is he aware of what you’ve gone through? Both in the distant and recent past?”

Julianni furrowed her brows. “Er…he’s…aware of many things, yes. Forgive me, Doctor, but…is this necessary?”

The doctor raised a brow, a neutral expression replacing whatever smile she’d worn before. “It is, yes. If you’ve kept things from him, then it will only become a problem later down the road. And I don’t think I need to mention the issues it would have with your work productivity.”

This was something Julianni could never get used to with the Caldari. She understood it, most certainly, but no matter how many times it came up in a topic, it always felt like a low-blow to her. Was work really so important? Or was Faith?

When she spoke, she did so carefully, glancing off to the side. “He is aware of my past, yes. I’ve told him of Dominius, though not in full detail. I’ve also made mention of the…ah…the drug use.”

“And how did that go?”

How did it go? Julianni thought back to the interactions and she nodded. “It went well.”

This session, the doctor’s brow was becoming perpetually raised. “Well? That’s…such a simple word for those issues, Avala-haani.”

She was right, really. Julianni wouldn’t dare tell the doctor about the seemingly lack of concern that was exhibited regarding the drug-use. “It is, and it is the truth,” she said with sincerity.

Doctor Aneozomi frowned softly and her eyes went blank as she used her implants. “Utari Onzo, correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“I see,” came the doctor’s response.

An uncomfortable silence began, the kind where one is most assuredly looking through dirty laundry all the while standing beside someone watching. Julianni’s legs crossed and her shoulders sank somewhat.

“Were you aware of his record of carrying illegal substances?”

Well, she couldn’t very well lie, could she? A small wince came from her and she cleared her throat. “Later, yes.”

“Later?”

“With respect, Doctor, I didn’t go through his record to decide if I was attracted to him or not,” she replied softly. “Only after it was mentioned.”

The discomforting silence began again. This time, it lasted longer, leaving Julianni sitting there in it for at least fifteen minutes. Her palms began to sweat, and the fidgeting with her hands she usually did increased ten-fold.

What would happen?

“The Executor is not concerned with the lack of professionalism here regarding the fact he is a shareholder?”

Now Julianni was beginning to get frustrated. “Respectfully, I believe that is something to discuss with the Executor, if you believe there is a problem.”

“Very well,” the doctor replied. “Before you go, I’d also like you to make a trip to Medical for your testing. It’s been some time since the last one, anyway.”

At this point, Julianni stood in a gracefully swift action and bowed. “As you wish, Aneozomi-haani. I will report there at once.” The woman couldn’t tell if she was grateful for this end of the appointment, or disturbed that she couldn’t come up with good answers to Emiri’s legitimate questions. She turned on her heel and began to leave, heels barely making a noise.

“Also, Julianni?”

She stopped, then turned and glanced off to the side towards the doctor. Julianni could only imagine what would be said next.

“You should find someone willing to support you and guide you. Not potentially lead you down a darker path. Not only will your workload thank you, but I think you’ll find that you yourself will, as well.”

The look on Emiri’s face was not a stern one now, but instead showed of concern. It gave Julianni a small pause in her breath and she turned her head.

A smile then began to creep up onto her lips as she answered softly.

“I already have.”

 

01001100 01110101 01110010 01101011

A roll of the neck. Quiet cracking of fingers. Silence ringing in the air. A breath in of the jasmine incense.

He was ready.

The screen flashed once to its black colour, touch-keys of the holo-desk lighting up to their light cyan tints. Slowly, now. He knew he must be careful. If so much as a small mistake was made, everything could be given away. That would certainly displease the unmistakably arrogant and aggressive Lord. No, there was no room for mistakes here.

His fingers went to work, eyes dancing across the screen with quick movements to help him navigate his way through the dark depths of numbers and letters. Security was increased. Strange, but not unheard of. No matter, he’d do the usual masked key. It was a typical move, really, using the organization’s key instead of a code-name. For all they knew, an employee was being naughty. It would be easy, provided he didn’t trigger an alert, which he knew he’d be able avoid.

After all, his life depended on it.

And there it was, the backdoor access password. The man sat for a second or so, awaiting his program to kick in. When it did, the numbers and letters now flashing through the empty bar in quick succession, he smiled. This was too easy.

A few hours went by as the password took time to be compiled. And what did he do? He sat and watched, arms folded. There was no rest, no eating, nothing. This was his sole purpose right now, and fulfill it, he would. When the beep sounded that the password had been found and accepted, his smile grew to a smirk, then faded. He didn’t have much time.

With the eyes of a hawk, he scanned through various mails. Financials…shareholders…none of this was interesting to him. But the diplomacy and the personal ones? Those…were gold. He glanced to the time. Five minutes before a trigger. That was more than enough.

The man opened one with a title “PRICE OFFER ACCEPTED”. Interesting, he thought. And oh, what it was. This…was better than expected. “A new home for the traitor”, he murmured to himself quietly. “Pity. It looks nice.” Eyes to the time. Two minutes. One more mail.

This one he chose next was in a line of a sender that appeared to come up often. His brow raised at the name, perhaps somewhat familiar to him in some way. Or at least, barely heard of. “Ibrahim Tash-Murkon…hm.”

The mail pulled up.

And the alert began as a small flash.

He immediately aborted the program, pulling the plug. Good luck tracing that, if it was even seen. How long did it flicker? Not even a full second? What a waste. He could have read longer.

But what he had was more than enough. What’s more, he now had an in elsewhere. But the icing on the cake? He still had I-RED’s passcode. And what fun he would have with that, later.

Standing from his seat, he moved towards the doorway to relay the information he’d found to Lord Degario. Tonight, Khaihraz would eat well.

 


 

 

Julianni rubbed at her eyes, glancing to the flowers at her desk. Again, she’d received them, and again, they’d disturbed her just as much. But the letter that came with it, written by hand, was not what she expected.

Miss Avala,

I hope you will forgive me for my transgressions against you. I will comply with your request and hope that, in time, you will see things through my eyes.

May God shine His Light on your path.

Regards and with regret,

Lord Degario

More sweet words, she thought, and possibly little to no sincerity. But still, if it was indeed sincere, then the gesture wasn’t as dark as she’d thought. An apology was one step he’d not taken before, at least not to this point.

It was a stress, perhaps, but not as much as she’d believed.

Her gaze moved back to her screen at a small flicker of light to the corner of the holo-display. Was that a security alert? But just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. The perceptive woman frowned, then shook her head. She’d not slept much the past few days due to the now successful Gala, so she likely had been seeing things. After all, the Internal Watch would ensure to alert her if there was a problem, wouldn’t they?

Metamorphosis

It was a beautiful day, as most of the days at Julianni’s home had been. The heat had evenly applied itself to the oasis, and the wind did its job at cooling off the woman when the temperatures became too much. Now mid-afternoon, she could hardly wait any longer.

For hours, she had stayed within her garden, watching as the chrysalis of each butterfly twisted and turned. One had even cracked, but the beautiful beings had yet to grace Julianni with their full, stunningly vibrant appearance. She was as patient as she could be, sipping lightly at the mug of coffee in her hands. A small smile crept it’s way onto her lips as a thought crossed her mind.

These hours she had watched had also given way to moments of reflection. How far she had come. Once a toy to a power-driven lordling, now a director in a respected organization. At one time wondering just where it was she was supposed to call home, now sitting on her own property, with all the acreage and privacy she could ever want. As she observed the butterflies undergoing their metamorphosis, she couldn’t help but pair it to her own. Even now, with a relationship having appeared over the horizon, she was still undergoing a transformation into something that she prayed was as beautiful as the wings of the creatures before her.

Her patience paid off, that smile only further growing as one of the butterflies pushed its way out of its safe haven. For many moments that followed, one by one, the insects she so cherished appeared before her very eyes. Vivid yellows and black contrasting markings of these desert butterflies were revealed to Julianni and she let out a sigh of awe. The wings twitched. Shook. Fluttered. She knew the process, as she’d seen it before. And each time, it grew more remarkable.

Soon, it would be time to do what it was she always wanted to the moment she laid eyes on them. But for now, they needed to gain their strength, and she had some cleaning to do. For a few more minutes, she sat and watched as the butterflies slowly bat their wings to dry, then she pushed off of the bench to attend to her day’s work.

 


 

The storage room wasn’t as much of a mess as she’d believed. It was just disorganized. If there was one thing she enjoyed doing, it was putting things together. Like a puzzle, each item would have a place, and would fit best with its surrounding pieces. The paintings would be filed away together, the sculptures organized by years and set to one side, the rare fabrics would be sealed away for the most safe of storing. She was doing inventory, really. And she didn’t mind it.

The passing of the original owner of this home was unfortunate, to be sure. But such was the cycle. The art and fabrics that had been left behind by the merchant was…a bit much for the woman. Extravagant, lavish- it didn’t suit her. By placing them in the storage area, at least she was keeping the man’s memory alive instead of just being rid of them. And one day? She felt she’d even pull together an exhibit, perhaps. A charity, maybe. Her mind danced with positive ideas as she moved things one by one to their respective areas.

But it was moving that one statue, that one small carving of a desert snake that proved to shake those thoughts.

The grind of stone gave the woman pause, as did the fact the small statue wouldn’t leave the pedestal it was resting on. Her attention was caught off to the side at movement; no one was here but her, she thought. But her concern was somewhat washed away at the Eastern most wall sliding inward.

Her brow raised, and of course, curiosity got the best of her. Who wouldn’t it have? With a cautious step, she began to proceed to the dark opening of what must have been another room.

No sound came from within, save for the distant eerie whistle of wind. The woman took a deep breath, as if taking a plunge into deep waters, then stepped inside fully, her hand searching for a light switch. It took her a bit of time, but she finally found it, and flipped it to the “on” position. Her dark brown eyes adjusted to the bright, uncomfortable light quickly.

Surrounding her was an assortment of containers. Suitcases, bags, and even filing cabinets were dotted around what she assumed was a panic room of sorts. Surprisingly, each one was empty. Why had this been cleared out, but the art had not? It was strange, to be sure. Even after double checking the various containers, she couldn’t find a single thing. Her head shook side to side, confused. It was at this point she decided that a call to the realtor was wise.

Julianni turned to leave, only to be stopped by the sound of metal rolling across the floor under her feet. Her brow raised and she immediately looked to see just what it was she’d kicked. It seemed the room wasn’t so empty after all. But her raised brow soon fell, as did the rest of her face.

She could see the writing slowly appear. Each and every letter appeared one by one, from the back to the front. It was like it was happening in slow motion.

But she already knew what it said.

She knew the moment she’d seen the first two letters.

As the vial of Drop came to a stop a few inches in front of her, she found herself face to face with one of the most difficult decisions of her life. What was to become of her own metamorphosis? Would her wings be as vibrant as the butterflies she so loved? Would they become colourless and broken? What could it hurt?

Moments seemed like minutes, minutes seemed like hours. She swallowed hard, knowing full well the decision had already been made the moment she saw the label.

And then:

She picked up the vial.