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The Ultimatum

((OOC: Thanks again to Sakala for okaying this RP to be adjusted and published!))

Time had become meaningless. No longer had she known what day it was, thanks to the continued “gift” of Drop Sakala had arranged for her. In a way, it was an escape. The physical distress she felt without it was growing increasingly unbearable: food and water had barely been provided, her body slowly eating away at itself and weakening. Julianni hated to admit it, but she was beginning to look forward to each time a rag with the substance was brought to her.

Even now, she felt the effects of her last dose weening. The swirls and twists of beautiful images grew dim, and the feeling of hunger was inching its way back. Her mind cleared bit by bit, reality setting in to press a weight of hopelessness upon her that could almost take her breath away.

She had failed God, and this was her punishment.

It was increasingly obvious that the very action she took of leaving the Degario family had been her test. What kind of person would leave the service of their Holder? She had effectively betrayed them, and in turn, God. Sakala was right: she was a traitor. The more she thought about it, the more she knew that she deserved every bit of suffering taking place.

The Wrath of God is Immense. His Justice is Swift and Decisive. His Tolerance is Limited.

The sound of the lock clicking brought her out of her thoughts, and she weakly pushed herself to sit up against the wall. Her blindfold and bindings still remained, but she could still hear, and the extra steps that came with whomever was present was not normal.

“Morning. You look like a ball of sunshine today Julianni.”

This was no an ordinary visit. “Sakala,” she said with a hint of concern laced in her voice.

“That would be me,” he replied. His steps came to a stop into the center of the room as he spoke. “Ready for another day of excitement? I have something new for you today.”

It was difficult, but she pressed herself as straight as she could against the wall. “Whatever you have planned, it won’t change anything,” she croaked out.

“No, you are right. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun before you expire. Though that would be a shame with all your new wealth of…experiences.” There was a small pause before he spoke again. “Hungry?”

Her bound hands clenched behind her. “I won’t fall for your tricks. No more of those rags. No…no more.”

As enticing as Drop had been, it was only further pushing aside the suffering that God had apparently planned for her. If she were to be true to Him, then she needed to face His Justice head on.

“No rags this time. Like I said, something new before I ship you off to your old pious friend,” Sakala answered. More shuffling of feet was heard, Julianni’s head sluggishly moving towards the noise. “You have a friend Julianni. It would seem you’re not alone after all.”

It took a few moments for her to realize who he could possibly mean. Memories were slowly becoming a garbled mess of reality and what she’d experienced with the drug. Finally, the memory of the other guard who was captured with her crawled into the forefront of her mind. “…Inu-haan?”

The sound of Sakala chuckling overtook the room. “Yes. Though he can’t reply, he looks like he’s swimming in his own head right now.”

Julianni shook her head, furrowing her brows under the blindfold. When she spoke again, her voice teetered on the edge of pleading, though anger began to seep from her tone as well. “Why are you doing this? He was one of your own, Sakala. Just leave him be.”

To know that this poor man was at Sakala’s mercy was infuriating. He trained them. Lived with them. Stood by them as brothers in arms. Her jaw clenched tightly the more she thought about it.

She could hear the shuffling of leathers again, one from the direction of the center in the room, and the other heading towards her. With some rough jerks, her hands were untied from behind her, then bound instead in front of her. Soon after, she felt her blindfold being tugged off, followed by the sight of blinding light. Though it was dark in the cell, it was still all she could to focus for some time.

Sakala was crouched down onto a knee in front of the Internal Watch guard, Miran Inu. His head canted. “Hear that, Inu? We’re friends.” He gave the man a friendly tap, causing Inu to lose balance and fall over. A Guri guard was off to the side, likely the one that had rebound her hands and taken off her blindfold. His arms were folded, a threatening and gruff demeanor.

When she finally was able to focus on the figures in the room, she saw Sakala turn, unholstering a sidearm. Her heart skipped a beat briefly when she saw the weapon. In a strange turn of events, the man slid it across the floor towards her.

“You have a few options here Jules.. can I call you Jules?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “The obvious choice that will come to your mind is to shoot me. Unwise, but revenge is often sweet to forfeit logic. Though you’d only cause me a temporary death…your friends…theirs would be much more final.”

The more she thought about this course of action, the more she felt she should have expected it. She knew there was no point in killing Sakala; God would deal with him when the time was right. “I have no interest in killing you,” she said calmly. Perhaps too calmly.

“You can ignore the weapon,” he continued, “Go on to live a merry life with that religious nut. But your friends would likely bear a fate worse then death. Or, you can rise to the occasion and listen to what I have to offer.”

He smiled, clasping his hands behind his back as he looked at Julianni. “Kill your friend Inu. I’ll let you go and everyone else. Just like that, no strings attached. No living out what horrors others have in store for you.”

She almost appeared disgusted as she looked straight at Sakala, a rare instance making eye contact.”If you think for a second that I can’t read through your words, then you don’t know me very well. You plan to kill them regardless. That is what you mean by ‘letting go’, isn’t it?”

His head shook. “You’re wrong. I’m a man of my word. I’ll release all of them, even throw in a shuttle to send you on your way.”

Julianni knew that there was something else there. Something wasn’t adding up, and anyone who trusted this man had either ended up dead, or worse. Nevertheless, if he was being truthful, the others could be released from whatever hardships they were enduring.

Perhaps there was even a selfish element to her thought process. Deep down, she dreaded the idea of being back under Dominius’ hold. She swallowed hard, glancing to Inu, then back to Sakala. “You’re asking me to kill an innocent man.”

“You’re Caldari are you not? Think of the greater good,” he replied with a smirk.

Was she really? Her gaze turned away from him, her eyes lowering. She didn’t even know what to say to that.

“You haven’t much time. His highness will be here soon enough. I cannot tell if Inu’s fate seems worse, Blood Raiders do all sorts of things before they bleed you,” Sakala nonchalantly said.

Looking up again, worry took over her expression. “What do you mean, Blood Raiders?”

“I cater to all corners of the cluster. This prospective buyer is just that.” There was a small shrug. “Granted this all could have been avoided if you tried to convince I-RED to accept my offer.”

She looked back at Inu as she weighed the options. It made little sense that Sakala would ask her to kill him, really. In the event Julianni did die, she wouldn’t remember doing it. Finally, the dawn of realization hit her and the part that didn’t add up finally did. “He knows something, doesn’t he,” she said more as a statement than a question.

It made sense. Everything was set up so perfectly for the missions to fail. Sakala had an inside man. Or, perhaps, many of them.

“I don’t like people who double cross me.” He tilted his head down, his gaze conveying anger.

“Is that why you’re going after I-RED?” She glanced up briefly. “They couldn’t give you what you wanted, right?” A small pause, then she pushed again. “What was it, Sakala?”

He answered smoothly, not even skipping a beat. “The only interest I have in I-RED is their ISK. Granted, while there are a few of my ex-co workers who I have a grudge against, in the end this is just business as usual.”

Looking to the gun, her head shook while she spoke. “I don’t trust you. For all I know, you have explosives set in a shuttle for us. Or you’ve already killed the others. Or poisoned them. If this is just…business, then you have nothing to gain from this deal except for this man not being able to double cross you further.”

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I had nothing to gain from it, Jules.”

“Others will talk. You won’t get away with this.”

His reply was just as fluid, another shrug complimenting it. “Let them talk. I’ve always wanted to be famous.”

Whatever the situation was or his reasoning, Julianni knew that some part of this was a bluff. Even more so, she knew that this was a situation that she may be able to turn around. Perhaps not immediately, but in time. She may not have been good at combat, nor one who enjoyed the idea of flying with the intent of kill, but she did have one specialty that she’d learned for many years.

Her eyes squeezed shut. “I won’t do it,” she said barely above a whisper. “I won’t play your games, and I won’t do what you want. Unlike your lackeys here, I am not a tool for you to use.” She opened her eyes again, watching Inu in his drug-induced haze. At least when he was killed, he’d be somewhat out of it.

“What will you do when they all realize how expendable they are to you?” she said weakly, beginning her own games.

Sakala glanced to the other Guri in the room then back to Julianni. “They’ve seen what happens when they act out of line.” He moved up to the sidearm and bent down to pick it up. While taking a knee he locked his gaze with Julianni. “Maybe I’ll show some mercy and ensure Inu here gets a proper death since you’re to weak to do it yourself.”

Her eyes locked right back with Sakala, though she struggled to hold it. Regardless of the confidence she felt about turning the tables, he was still an extremely intimidating man. As she spoke, the shakiness of her voice steadied itself, letting the words flow through as smoothly as she possibly could. “I’m not the one who’s weak. You are. And one day, your lackeys will see through that. When that day comes, Sakala, I will pray for you. Because I doubt they will show you mercy.”

The man holstered the sidearm and stood. “You think honor and respect keep people in line?” He moved to loom over the hazed Inu. “You’re wrong.” Moving down he placed his knee to pin Inu’s chest. “Money helps, but fear?” His hands grasped around Inu’s throat and squeezed tightly, continuing to speak. “Fear is what reigns over all else in this twisted world Julianni. Something we both understand all to well.”

Regardless of what Inu may have done to help Sakala, he was still a life, and a life given by God was a precious thing. Even more so since he’d not been a capsuleer. She attempted to stand, hobbing at first, then dropping down to a crawl on her knees as quickly as she could muster. She at least had to try.

Slowly, the other Guri in the room stood in front of Julianni to block her way. Her eyes moved to Sakala, viewing him watch Inu make his last throes. All Julianni could do now was continue her own weaving.

Looking to the Guri in front of her, she whispered. “Fear can be overcome. And when it is, that is when you prosper the most.”

He smirked, giving pause for a brief moment before kicking the woman down. She coughed out, dropping fully to the ground to curl into a ball. Though it was brief, perhaps, she knew that the pause the Guri had was enough to let the seed of doubt be planted. All that needed to happen now was for it to be watered by Sakala’s own actions.

It was worth every bit of pain.

Sakala stood, wiping his hands on Inu’s shirt. “Get her ready for transit. It’s time to get our payment my friend.” He turned for the door. “Even immortals like us cannot overcome our deepest fears. For we all come to fear ourselves.” He walked out without looking back to the woman now being lifted over the other Guri’s shoulder.

What little bit of struggling she could manage was of course useless, but she fought back nevertheless. Perhaps it was simply instinct. Though, in the deep recesses of her mind, she feared coming face to face with Dominius. Sakala was right again. Glancing back towards the room, her eyes locked onto the dead body of Inu.

She began to mouth a small prayer, then stopped herself. Who was she, of all people, to pray for the dead man? She’d been the cause for it. Even with whatever sins he’d committed, she was the factor that lead to his death. Sakala may have been the tool, but in her mind, Julianni could have stopped it. Was her attempt to turn the tables on Sakala worth Inu and the others’ lives?

Sakala’s voice echoed down the corridor, bringing words that almost made her envy Inu’s position.

“Give her the Crash this time. Careful of the dosage though, she’s weak. Just give her a nice taste,”

 

Go Ask Alice

((OOC: Many thanks to Tyrukko Sakala for permission to use our RP for this blog!))

 

A few days had gone by, Julianni had suspected, since the trap had been sprung. There had been little given to her in way of food and water, and her bed had been the hard, metal flooring that encompassed the empty cell. While it was an uncomfortable setting, she knew she could endure. There were worse things, after all.

Her blindfold had since been tightened, ensuring her inability to see. However, her hearing made up for it, and she was beginning to grow accustomed to the darkness and silence of the cell. Each time someone had come to enter it, she’d been acutely aware, snapping out of her broken sleep. This time was no different.

Julianni’s mind flickered into alertness, focusing towards the steps that echoed in the barren room. They were different than the others, these ones with more purpose. Perhaps even professional in a sense, if footsteps could be described as such. Regardless of who it was, she had already made the decision previously to try to lay a trap of her own. Letting her body relax, she slowed her breathing to be as barely noticeable as possible, hoping that maybe whomever it was would think she was dead.

There was a new sound that she couldn’t quite figure out at first. A metal scrape, a small adjustment, then what she thought to be a settling of leather clothing, perhaps. Then, silence. Her mind processed the noises carefully, finally coming to the conclusion that whomever had entered had likely brought a chair and sat down. Though the silence rang true, the hairs on the back of her neck led her to believe that they were still present. The next thing she heard confirmed her conclusion.

“Good morning,” Sakala’s voice echoed in the chamber, followed by another settling of leather fabrics. “Sleep well?”

She kept silent and still, almost even ceasing her breathing in hopes he’d be foolish enough to step over and check on her.

“Hungry?”

Julianni’s hearing picked up on the man biting into some sort of crisp bit of food. An apple, she was guessing. The thought of a fresh apple was certainly enticing, but she continued to keep quiet and motionless.

There was the tiniest of thuds, then she felt something small bump into her side. “Be a shame to let it go to waste,” he stated. “Sure as hell tastes better then that paste they’ve been feeding you.”

She was beginning to believe he’d called her bluff. And really, what would she even have done if he’d believed her and got within reach? Strangle him? She’d already killed one man, and the thought of that alone was eating away at her. Not to mention, Sakala was far too cunning. It was no wonder he wasn’t biting the bait she’d set.

On top of it all, he was right. What little bit she’d been fed thus far had hardly been appealing in the slightest. In fact, she had even questioned just what it had been and its nutritional value. At least this could possibly give her a bit more energy and hopefully hydration. Cautiously, she reached out to where she felt the food hitting her side, her cloth-bound hands patting the ground in a pitiful attempt to find it.

“A little to the left.”

She could hear the amusement in his voice, and almost see the smirk on his lips in her mind. It was infuriating, but again, there was little she could do. With his instruction, she adjusted her search and managed to bump her hand into it. As she brought it closer to her face, she could smell its scent, confirming that it was indeed an apple. It was turned carefully in her bound hands until she knew there was a place he hadn’t bit into, and finally she took a small, cautious bite.

“I wouldn’t do anything to it that will harm you. The point is to keep you alive after all.”

“I gathered as much,” she answered softly. “Otherwise there would be no blindfold.” She continued eating the fruit, still careful, but her hunger was getting the better of her. He remained, of course, and she knew that this was no simple matter of him giving her better food.

She spoke up again, keeping as much of a neutral tone as she could; anger would do little here. “So what is it you’re after, Sakala? Money? Revenge? A traitor like you would have a good reason, I hope.”

Julianni heard him chuckle as he answered. “Traitor. Don’t wound me by placing me with those types. In reality I’m just an ambitious businessman. I mean if I’m a traitor, aren’t you? You did abandon your people and faith to live with money grubbing Caldari.”

Already, he had hit a sore spot. She knew this was going to be a difficult talk. He knew her details, and she didn’t know his. There was no way to get the upper hand in this scenario from her side, and so she decided to get what information she could. Setting the apple to the side, she pushed herself up to sit on the floor and face where he was speaking from.

Without answering his question, she instead posed one right back. “You were a part of the Internal Watch. Why leave? Of all places, why turn to the Guristas?”

“The Guristas gave me what I desired. Something I realized the Caldari could not.”

While it may have been a rather concealed answer, it was enough to give her room to work with in her mind and, when she made it out, to investigate. Before she could think more into it or pose another question, he spoke again.

“You want to get out of this cell and back to your friends?”

The question took her by surprise and of course made her incredibly suspicious. “I have a sincere doubt of your sincerity in that question. After all, you’re an ambitious businessman,” she said.

His answer was abrupt and demanding. “Answer the question.”

She hesitated, unsure of just what exactly he was playing at. “I do. But I think you already know that, just as I know that it won’t be so easy.” And it was true. Why would he have arranged such a thing so elaborately only to end it so quickly? Money? It was a gamble.

“For you, no. Probably not.” The sound of leathers were heard again. She couldn’t quite tell what he was doing, but the sound stopped and he went still again. “But if you work with me, we can make it easy.”

Beneath her blindfold, her brows furrowed in disbelief. To think that he’d even suggest such a thing made her incredulous. “You’re asking me to work with you. You have given us so many twists and turns and killed so many of our people in I-RED. Do you really believe I’d have any reason to trust you in that? And why would you even want to help? Those very people you trained are the very people you’ve killed. Your own men that were under you at one point, Captain Hikan included.”

Sakala replied cooly, not skipping a beat. “Because I enjoy it when business moves smoothly. Besides, you only have two choices. Want to know whats behind door number one?”

The fact he’d had no reaction sickened her. The idea that he’d trained those people, then turned around and killed them or gave the order to was…infuriating to say the least. Her response was just as cool as his was, bordering on the edges of disgust. “I’m listening.”

“Are you? You clearly don’t want to work with me, which has me thinking you’re not listening. That will change once you know that a certain Amarr fellow is willing to pay a moderate amount of ISK for your ransom.”

His words were like a brick to the face, her stomach sank and fear crept its way up her spine. It couldn’t be, she thought. Silence rang clear in the room and her mind began it’s usual workings. Maybe it was Lord Ibrahim? After all, she knew that his name had come up a few times. But it didn’t add up. There would be no reason.

“Willing to work with me now? Or have I misread something and you really wish to go back to such a wonderful example of an Amarrian Noble?” The more he spoke, the more the dread set in and she knew exactly who he was speaking of. There could be no mistake.

Her voice was faded completely from its neutral demeanor and instead replaced with one of trepidation. “How did he know?”

The man shifted again, his leathers creaking. “Well, things like this happen when certain people gain access to personnel files.”

“You told him?”

“Don’t act surprised. I mean he is the easiest mark for such an exchange. Other avenues can be made easier and more profitable though,” Sakala answered her.

The idea of going back into such a situation with Dominius was horrifying. She’d spoke with him on her birthday and he didn’t outwardly act as if he had any intention of anything, but she knew deep down that he had no good intentions in mind. Julianni swallowed hard and lowered her head, finally speaking up again in a quiet, defeated tone. “What do you have in mind, Sakala? You have my full attention.”

“See I knew you were a smart girl,” he began. “I want you to ask Ishukone-Raata to pay for your ransom. Plead if you must. Them paying a few billion ISK, is worth more than the alternative, no?”

“They won’t, and I wouldn’t expect them to. We do not give in to pirate demands. You should know that better than anyone.” She knew she was right, as they’d seen such situations before. It was perhaps seen as a harsh thing, but to give in to people like this most certainly would tear the organization apart. If not immediately, in due time. All Sakala had to do would be to go public about getting money from them.

“If you don’t want to even try I won’t force you. But that means off to the loving arms of the noble brat.” His leathers creaked again, this time his feet beginning to shuffle; the man was standing.

“A few billion ISK to someone such as yourself, or even one single ISK: it doesn’t matter,” she said as she continued, her head following the noise of his steps. It was as if they were getting closer. “I-RED will not fund you and your activities. Why not ask whomever your employer is if you’re that desperate? And don’t think I don’t know you’re not acting alone. If it were ransom money you were after, you would have done this without sifting through shareholder information. I’ve seen what all you went through. Judging by how basic and ‘smooth’ you like to make things, I find it hard to believe you would have weaved this web all on your own.”

Even if she’d hit the mark, it didn’t seem to stop him. As he got closer, she felt her body tense and what little confidence she had start to dwindle.

“Like I said, you’re a smart girl. So I’ll give you some time to think over what options you have. Now…hold out your hand. Straight out. Palm up.”

It was a strange request, to be sure, but she complied. She actually believed he was going to give her a proper drink of water.In fact, she was praying for it. “Why even give the option?”

Much to her dismay, he instead grabbed the knots of her bindings tightly and began to tie a wet rag against the inside of her arm. “Like you, I’m a smart man.” After the rag was affixed against her skin, he stepped back. “Something to help you pass the time,” he explained cryptically as he moved away from her.

“Are you a religious man, Sakala?”

She heard what she assumed was the chair be dragged briefly across the floor and a brief pause from the man. “Winds, God, Ancestors…they mean nothing to me.” Without another word, the man exited and the sound of the door latching reached Julianni’s ears.

Her head slowly shook and she muttered softly to herself as she laid back against the cold ground. “Face the enemy as a solid wall, for Faith is your armor. And through it, the enemy will find no breach. Wrap your arms around the enemy, for Faith is your fire. And with it, burn away his evil.” She shook her arm a bit, confused and concerned as to why the rag had been tied there. There was little she could do to remove it.

It was only when the vivid hallucinations and voices kicked in that the purpose of the rag was revealed. At first, she’d almost thought she’d missed someone coming into the room, or perhaps she was even dreaming. Had she fallen asleep and her blindfold been removed? The twists and shapes of colours made her feel ill, and her thoughts felt just as fluid and erratic as the images she was seeing. What was once a silent room was now filled with whispers and acute, almost overpowering echoes of the finest of sounds.

Nothing else mattered at the time. In fact, Julianni wasn’t even able to piece together anything that had been happening anyway. The strange combination of fear, adrenaline, and confusion melded into her very being. At times it was horrifying. But other times, the ones she hated to admit to herself, it was…invigorating. She felt more alive than she’d ever felt before.

It was in this dark, silent room with senses deprived that Julianni had her first experience with Drop. Only time would tell if it would be her only.

 

In The Web

A warm sensation across Julianni’s skin caused her to stir. It was a pleasant feeling, her body feeling as though it was slowly heating from some unknown coldness that had crept over her. As she opened her eyes, she found herself laying on the ground in the garden of the Degario manor. Confusion beset her as her dark eyes danced across the familiar and comforting scenery. It didn’t feel right, but it didn’t necessarily leave her with a fearful or bad feeling.

She slowly stood, brushing off small bits of grass that had found their way onto her plain clothing and into her hair. A small frown crossed her lips; Lord Degario would be most displeased if he’d learned she’d been napping in the garden. It took a bit of time, but she finally managed to clean herself of debris. Her attention turned towards the sun, letting its beams warm her face. That’s what the sensation was, she thought, and her frown turned into a small smile. Taking in a breath, she noted the strong smell of lavender. But this time, the combination of other flowers coupled with the scent of fresh air overpowered whatever bad memories had been trying to find their way into her mind.

Julianni didn’t let herself get too distracted, however, and soon she moved quickly towards the garden’s labyrinth to exit. She knew the paths well. The dead ends, the twists and turns, and the circles to be made never had phased her. The place was within her memory like a song close to a musician’s heart. Each corner she rounded, she knew she should be getting closer to her destination. However, in the back of her mind, it felt as if she would never reach it.

Time continued for what felt like an eternity. Exhaustion began to overwhelm her, and she felt her feet dragging along in their futile journey. Finally, when it seemed that she would outright collapse, she turned that last corner to the exit. The moment she did, instead of relief, the previous feeling of something not being right developed itself into an outright dread. Her eyes soon confirmed this fact as she looked upon not the Degario manor, but instead a corridor in a station.

The smell of the garden warped itself into one of a sort of metallic origin coupled with dirt and filth that an unclean station would have. Her surroundings had now melded entirely into the place, the comfort of the garden now left far behind. The dread slowly seeped into her very bones, and she knew she had to run. Though it was quite clearly a dream, she couldn’t stop herself from that primal instinct of survival.

All feeling of exhaustion left her as she began to flee down the hall. Like with the labyrinth of the garden, her destination felt unreachable. The hall only stretched and spun, the view of the bridge of a ship barely made out. She could see the other personnel, too. Toroko, Mikar, and the rest of the Internal Watch all were surrounding something. There was no way she could see just what it was, but she knew she had to warn them. They were in danger. It was a trap.

She cried out as loud as she could, but no sound would escape from her lips. Arms waving in the air, she continued running as fast as she possibly could, but it was no use. To her horror, she watched as a brilliant flash erupted from the group’s center, their bodies bursting into an assortment of pieces that could never be placed back together. Julianni screamed out in remorse, her voice now finding its way to carry on the nightmare’s wind.

It echoed softly at first, then began to build its way up to pierce her ears and bring about a pain at the front of her face. Though she covered her ears, it was as if it was instilled into her mind with no escape. A warm trickle of blood began to find its way out of her ears, eyes, and soon enough, her nose. The woman dropped to the ground as a darkness slowly began to envelop her vision, a mixture of blood and tears blurring what little bit she could see. As her surroundings grew darker, a familiar laugh dug its way into her skull and remained there until the nightmare ceased to be, bringing Julianni to consciousness again.

The darkness was still there. Unfortunately, so was the pain, and she groaned out softly from the discomfort of her shattered nose. It could have been a dream, she thought. However, everything felt so much coherent. Real. Memories of what had happened began to find their way back into Julianni’s mind and she grimaced in the darkness of what she guessed to be a blindfold. She tried moving her hands to no avail, seeming to find that they were tightly bound.

Everything finally made sense, and she knew that this scenario was no nightmare. Julianni silently cursed to herself her thoughts now floating towards the others that had been there. Had Toroko and Mikar made it out? And the other Internal Watch members? The mission had been a trap, just as expected. Despite their best efforts to combat it and be prepared, they were still taken by surprise. And now, she could hear that familiar laugh off in the distance elsewhere within…wherever she was. She clenched her teeth, shaking her head.

It was the laugh of Sakala, and now he had the upper hand.

The Plunge

The holo-display flickered to life, a various assortment of windows spreading bit by bit into a crescent pattern for full view. To the left was the typical numerical hell of notifications, stocks, and charts. The right display seemed to be reserved for communications: channels, a secure and controlled video feed, and section for quick access to mails. To the center display was what seemed an area of general workflow, easily adjusted and customized efficiently for what subject needed handled at the time. At this moment, an old mail was pinned to the corner, along with a war history report from CONCORD and Sanxing’s corporation symbol. What was most prominent, however, was highlighted text from a news story.

There have been a number of groups and individuals in the Federation who have called for the prompt resignation of Executor Hinkelmann, and the reinstatement of former Executor John Revenent as well as the rest of former I-RED leadership, including former Vice-Executor Korbin Lavius.

Julianni read, then reread the text over and over. Briefly, she glanced to the right at her mail notification flickering, letting out a small sigh. Her hand reached up to rub at her brow, closing her eyes for a brief moment. At least, it certainly felt like a brief moment, but the next thing she knew, her eyes opened again to find that some ten minutes had passed. Ten minutes wasted.

She stood, tiredly making her way to her tea set and placing her hand to the pot. Cold. Another small sigh escaped her lips and she shook her head. Though it would be another small waste of time, she knew she needed the tea to keep herself awake, and so she began to head out of her office, placing on as much of an alert and normal expression as she could muster.

The moment she opened her office door, she was met with two guards who immediately brought themselves to attention. Her brow raised. They were still here? Nevertheless, she offered a bow of her head and slowly began making her way down the hall to the lounge. As soon as she began to move, one of the guards began to as well, trailing right behind her. She paused, glancing over her shoulder.

“I’m just going to get some hot water,” she said, lifting up the pot of tea as if to show proof of her intention.

The Internal Watch member replied quickly and sternly. “Orders, ma’am.”

“I…er…I know there are orders for security. But…” She stopped herself short, simply shaking her head again. “Nevermind. I apologize.”

It was strange, really. One would think it would make someone feel safe to have such a security detail. However, to Julianni, it felt almost oppressive, especially since it had only increased over the last week. She didn’t believe for one second that I-RED’s enemies would act out against her. While she may have been a director and oversaw a number of things, there was a great deal more that she wasn’t privy to behind closed doors. She’d be useless for significant information.

The only other person that could act out was, as far as she knew, a significant distance away and she was sure he’d never be so foolish as to try anything again. He was smarter than that. No, if he had anything planned…

“Avala-haani?”

Her attention was brought back to focus and she realized her arrival at the lounge. The bartender looked at her with a raised brow, his hands held out for the pot of tea.

“Kalkiihanzu,” she answered, handing him the tea pot and then bowing deeply. “I was lost in my thoughts.”

“I noticed. Maybe you should get some rest. I can prepare some Onitseru Blue instead of your Matigu Green. I think it would do you some good.”

“Oh, no, please. It’s quite alright. I have a few more things to take care of. But I sincerely appreciate the offer,” she replied with a comforting smile.

The bartender smiled back, turning to refill the pot with hot water. “Very well. When you’re ready for rest, just let me know if you’re interested in the Onitseru.” After refilling the pot, he slipped it back across the counter. His eyes moved to the Internal Watch member, offering a dip of his head, but then looked back at Julianni with a small brow raised.

She offered no explanation, instead bowing and taking up the pot. “I’ll certainly do that. Rikaato.” Without another word, she quickly moved to head back to her office, guard in tow.

When she arrived again, the Internal Watch member took his position back up outside her office, ensuring the door was shut behind her. Each time she entered the office, the smell of lavender caused such conflicting emotions. Even though they had since been discarded, the scent wouldn’t disperse. While the memory of the flowers themselves had been a good one, it was now ruined with the affiliation to Dominius. Her stomach twisted, a familiar nausea creeping its way up. Doing what she could to shake it off, Julianni took a deep breath, setting the pot back into it’s place to let the tea steep properly.

Finding herself back at her desk, she took note of a new video request to the right, appearing to be from yet another Internal Watch member. Once accepting the request, the feed connected, showing the guard bowing. “Saisieni, Avala-haani. I’ve been asked to contact you in regards to Isoke-haani’s husband we have in holding. He is demanding to see someone about his wife’s disappearance.”

Julianni nodded, keeping her expression calm. “Very well. Let him know I’ll come down to holding by the day’s end.”

“Yes ma’am,” came the soldier’s reply along with an immediate disconnect.

Once the feed was cut, Julianni’s hand reached to rub at her face lightly, only to be interrupted by another video feed request. She’d initially expected it to be more business, but the name and the CONCORD portrait of Dominius Degario made her sink into her chair. The notification continued to blink until she stood and simply walked away from her desk, heading to her office door again.

The Internal Watch members straightened to attention as they’d done before, and her original escort then turned, ready to follow. She said nothing, and giving no protest; there would be no use. Hall after hall, elevator after elevator, she and the guard traveled through until they found themselves in front of the door to the small chapel.

Much to Julianni’s relief, the guard took up post outside the door without a word, but gave her a small nod. She mustered up as much of a smile as she could in thanks to him, then stepped inside. It was empty, as it generally was around this hour. As the look of relief washed across her face, she moved into a closed off, private prayer room to the side, shutting the door behind her.

It was a comforting place, to be sure, and probably one of the very few places she could take solace in. It was lit by candles, the soft light of flames flickering shadows across a miniature statue devoted to God. Perhaps too simple for those with expensive tastes, but it was all she needed. Slowly, she lowered herself to her knees, linking her fingers and lowering her forehead onto them. Her prayers began softly, reciting as she’d done so many times. For many minutes this went on until finally, they were completed.

Opening her eyes, she looked up to the statue and listened. One would think that a moment of peace and quiet would be cherished. In a life full of duties and busy days, a chance to simply relax and let the mind rest would of course be treasured.

To Julianni, the silence was deafening. It was a moment for her mind to pick apart each and every moment that had happened as of late. But the worst part of all, was the fact that those memories she’d once pushed away were now like a wound reopened, flowing freely with the raw emotions she’d felt from it all. No longer were her prayers in such private rooms a place of comfort. They were now a reminder of what she had to do in the past. Her head lowered and she placed her hands over her face, breaking down into tears.

Happy Birthday

“Of course. And any extra supplies?” Julianni paused in front of her studio’s doorway and chuckled softly. “More coffee? Alright. But you’re alright on the others?” After a brief moment of reply on her conversation partner’s part, she answered. “Very well, Doctor. Please stay safe. Know that you have my prayers.” A moment later, she cut the voice feed from her ear piece and pulled out her datapad, making a small note. After slipping it back away, she entered her code into the studio’s keypad and stepped inside.

The soft lights flickered into being at her arrival, revealing the place that she had called “home” for some time. Though the floors, counters, and other base parts of the place were Caldari in design, decorations and furnishings dotted it that gave it the feel of a well-furnished home in the Amarr Empire. She understood why it was done, and she had appreciated the sentiment when the place was arranged for her, but it was not much of a comfort.

She stepped further into the lifeless studio, carefully slipping out of her heels while making her way to the small kitchen. Once pouring a glass of red wine, she turned to face the place fully, thinking deeply. Despite how the reeducation program had “succeeded” and her continued, unfettered faith in God, she couldn’t help but feel torn. It was as if she was caught between two worlds, not fitting in fully in either.

An official Caldari citizen, sure; she knew the language, the customs, the history. While she may not have been perfect with it, she took efforts to gain more knowledge every day. She felt close to the others, and nothing would likely change that. But she didn’t belong, and she knew it. Julianni was, by all her belief, an outsider.

Her ties to the Amarr Empire still remained, as well. While no longer under the Degario family, she certainly kept a strong faith, and nothing could come in the way of that. She enjoyed keeping up with the relations between I-RED and its Amarr allies. It was a chance to join with others in Faith. But she didn’t feel as if she belonged there either. In her mind, she was just as much an outsider for not having chosen to return there when she had the chance.

Even with the various people she had met who weren’t even affiliated with I-RED, she felt distant. And the one time she felt herself growing closer, her self-doubt and fears only proved to confirm her perceived misplacement. A cup of tea, a garden visit, a simple bit of correspondence: all of these, while comforting and enjoyable at the time, felt strange to her. She knew she didn’t belong.

It was lonely.

With those thoughts running through her head, she’d hardly noticed that her glass of wine had since been drained. A small sigh escaped her lips and she set it to the counter and replaced her heels. While she’d felt exhausted from the numerous things she’d been understandably assigned to, she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Besides, there were a number of projects she could be working on instead.

Once back in her small office, she strangely grew a bit comforted by the close quarters, simple furnishings, and lack of windows. It was unimpressive, sure, but it was all she really needed. After taking a seat at her desk, she pulled up her holo display and began sifting through the month’s finances. A rather boring task, to be sure, but she was happy to serve.

A small knock came at her open doorway, pulling her out of the depths of numerical hell, and she glanced up to see a strange sight. One of the members of the Internal Watch seemed to be there, a small vase of lavender in one of his hands. She almost did a double-take, recognizing the beautiful flowers from many, many years ago.

After a stiff bow, he spoke. “Apologies for the interruption, Avala-haani. These were sent to you by a Lord Degario for your birthday, it seems.” He smiled somewhat, then placed the vase on the small desk between the two guest chairs. “I was not aware it was your birthday, myself. Happy birthday.”

Julianni’s expression shifted to surprise and she blinked a few times. “What’s the date?”

“The nineteenth.”

“Oh…so it is.” There was a small bit of embarrassment on her part. A birthday, to her, was nothing to pay much attention to, nor had it been something celebrated while she was within the Degario manor. To say this had taken her by surprise would have been an understatement. “Thank you,” she finally said, slowly standing.

“He requested a video conference with you as well, if you’re accepting of it,” the guard continued.

Her further shock was apparent, and as she stood before the vase of lavender from the Degario garden, she felt a certain sense of happiness that she would get the chance to speak with her Holder once again. “Of course. Please, let the connection through. Thank you.”

The Internal Watch member gave another stiff bow, then left, the door shutting behind him. Julianni stooped slightly to smell the lavender, a small comforting memory gracing her with it’s arrival. She heard the connection of her video feed first, turning to immediately bow. Her hair fell past her shoulders and eyes closed for a brief moment. “Lord Degario.”

What was a comforting and anticipated moment soon turned to the exact opposite, however, when the voice that replied was not her Holder.

“The title still is rather new on me, but I must admit it sounds quite wonderful coming from you.”

It was enough to send chills down her spine, freezing her entirely in place.

“Ah, you must not have been aware of my father’s passing. I apologize for breaking it to you in such a way. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see you again, Julianni. We have much to discuss,” Dominius said.

The Beginning of the End

((OOC: Special thanks to John Revenent for allowing me the use of the RP log for this post.))

To say the reeducation program was difficult was an understatement of great proportions. It was not necessarily the classes themselves that Julianni struggled with; her devotion to achieve all that was asked of her was strong enough to push her through what little problems she had. What was difficult for her, was the idea that, (save for attending her classes and reporting in), she was to make decisions on her own.

Despite this struggle, Julianni finally completed the program. She’d been at a stand-still for a few days now, and she couldn’t help but feel anxious about what was supposed to happen. To her, the objective was complete. What was asked of her was finished. She simply didn’t have her next step. As always, she placed her trust in God’s plan, and thankfully was given an answer. However, it came through a most intimidating avenue- a meeting with Taisho Revenent, the Chief Executive Officer of Ishukone-Raata Enforcement Directive.

Julianni felt her heart pound, her nerves threatening to get the better of her. She took in a slow breath, doing what she could to calm herself, then went to knock on the office door, only for it to automatically open. She cleared her throat, her voice finding it’s way out to speak. “Mister Revenent, you wanted to see me?”

The man took a drink from the glass on his desk. Once he set it down his gaze moved to the woman in the doorway. “Please come in.. and it is John.”

She frowned lightly, rather conflicted about the first-name basis. He was the CEO, after all, and the idea that she would simply call him by his first name was direspectful. Her steps led her inside, giving pause by a chair. Once in front of him, she bowed respectfully.

John’s head dipped in a respectful manner in reply. Across his desk, personnel files several in number seemed scattered about, one in particular he appeared to be scrolling through. It didn’t take long for her to notice that it was her own personal history, among other things. “A drink?” He offered, hand in the direction of a liquor cabinet off to the side.

She quickly shook her head. “Ah, no. I appreciate the offer, though.” Her eyes momentarily began to drift towards the cabinet, spotting what looked like rather nice bottle of red wine. As nice as it would have been to have some, she knew how inappropriate it would have been. Julianni’s attention averted back to John.

He shrugged at her decline, then took another drink from his glass. Though there was a grimace, it was largely masked with a smile. “A seat?” He said, gesturing to the empty chair.

At his permission, she took a seat, dipping her head in thanks. There was an awkward silence for a few moments, and she couldn’t help but feel the pressure of the meeting bear down even more. She chewed lightly at her bottom lip, then spoke up again. “…have I done something wrong?”

“Have you?”, came his immediate reply. John picked up the data pad in front of him and seemingly inspected it.

She began to stew over his question, trying to study the actions she had taken to see if they could have been cause for trouble. Throughout her reeducation, she’d never once done anything to merit discipline. In fact, she had largely been like that her whole life. Slowly, her thoughts began to drift towards her life with the Degario family, and what hope she had of there being nothing soon turned into dread.

John looked over the data pad, staring at Julianni. “Well?”

She wanted so bad to dismiss those thoughts. How could he possibly know about Dominius, anyway? “W-well, no I don’t…I don’t think so…” She finally stammered. “It’s…there’s nothing I can think of…”

The older man returned to looking over her profile. “Julianni. Former slave of the Degario Family, Amarr Empire.” His finger scrolled through some more information, and he soon quipped. “Not anymore thanks to the kind people here at Ishukone-Raata. You’ve proven to be a reliable, hard working, and smart individual.” He then paused, shrugging his shoulders. “Or, well, so says Yakaar-haani. Your instructor for the re-education & re-purposing of former slaves.”

He continued on, and so she listen quietly, obediently, her fingers beginning to fidget in her lap. “You’re probably asking why that matters or why you are seated here before me. The executor has to have more important matter to address.”

Her response was a small nod, as she did indeed have no idea why he’d have asked for her. It wasn’t long before he went back into his explanation. “You’d be right. Except you see… I don’t care for the kind regards of a instructor who I’ve never met.” With the flick of his wrist, the datapad was tossed into a stack with various others that were scattered across his desk. Julianni jumped, not having expected such an action. The man was intimidating, and she had no idea quite how to react.

John’s fingers laced atop the desk and he looked to Julianni. “So, why are you here?”

The question took her aback, and she began to wonder if maybe there had been a communication. It could have been a mistake. “You…asked me to come to your office,” she answered with utmost seriousness. If she was wrong, she certainly was going to feel quite stupid.

He grumbled in response. “Yes I did. Let me rephrase. Why do you think you are here? If you’re not in trouble what is the reason, hm?”

Julianni’s brows furrowed as she thought things over. The conclusion she came to was an obvious one, but she still felt somewhat unsure. “I received notification that my re-education was completed. I’ve been at a standstill for a few days. Is this concerning a next step?”

“Yes, you’re a free woman. With a few choices ahead of you.” He answered, taking a moment to unlace his fingers and indulge in another drink. “Only a one other who has completed the process has sat in that chair. Meaning you’ve managed to accomplish what many have failed to do. Catch my attention.” He watched her closely, continuing. “The data collected during your training was impressive. Though, that’s just data. I needed proof you’re capable. Capable of handling the impossible, most of all capable of loyalty.” John’s features wore a serious look. “Can you prove that to me?”

She listened with utmost intensity, waiting a few moments before answering, calculating her next words. “With…all due respect…loyalty can not be proven so simply. It is a trait that must be proven over time.” The woman paused, then lowered her head. “Nevertheless, I am at your service. How would you like me to proceed?”

John smirked, then moved to take another drink and emptied the glass. “You’re right. Loyalty is something gained. Not granted. So far I’ve done little to gain any such thing from you. Right?”

Her eyes drifted to watch him drink, then lowered at his question. “It could be seen that way, yes. But considering the decision that was made to place me in the program to begin with…I think that speaks for something. God knows I am very thankful for that,” she answered.

“It does, doesn’t it.” He gave another moment’s pause. “So, Julianni. You have a tough choice ahead of you- a choice that many others have made when being processed through our program. Except…you have one more option then they did.”

Julianni’s brow raised as she listened quietly again, straightening up.

”You are free to go wherever you wish. Back to the Empire with a sizable fund to aid you in your new life. Or you may enter into the service of Ishukone or Ishukone-Raata as a full citizen of the Caldari State.” Another pause. “Or, you can utilize your skills to their full potential and become a capsuleer.”

The first two options didn’t surprise her, as she had known from the beginning of the program that they were available when she successfully completed it. However, the third took her by complete surprise. Was he joking? She couldn’t tell. “…a capsuleer?”

“Indeed.”

“There must be some mistake.”

“Are you implying I’ve made one?”

Julianni’s eyes widened and she quickly shook her head. “Wh-…no. No that’s not what I meant to imply. I meant no disrespect. I simply find it hard to believe that such a thing is possible.”

“Plenty of things are hard to believe, yet they happen. Should you seek to entertain the offer you’ll find out just what I mean.”

She was entirely at a loss. To think that she, of all people, had the capability to become a capsuleer? It was both frightening and exciting. “I…what exactly would I be doing as a capsuleer?”

“That is up to you. But, should you decide that Ishukone-Raata is the place for you after all, you’ll be assigned to our financial department,” he answered.

“Forgive me if this sounds disrespectful, but this sounds…strangely simple.”

“Are you interested?” He asked flatly.

And she honestly felt she was. To think that she had the markers for being a capsuleer, she believed it to be no coincidence. “I…believe so,” she answered cautiously.

“Yes or no.”

Again, she thought things through, once again arriving at the conclusion that the only way this was possible was if it was somehow fate. God’s will.

“I am,” she finally replied.

“We’ll see.” John plucked another data pad from the stack and leaned back in his seat. “I’m going to ask you several questions. These are for my sake, as to be honest I’d like to not unleash another self-involved, mass-murdering, idiot onto the masses.”

Her lips thinned at that statement and she blinked a few times, taking in the blunt, worrisome words. She cleared her throat, answering. “A-as you wish…”

“Do you enjoy killing non-sentient creatures?”

“I’ve never killed one, so I can’t say if I do or do not,” she answered honestly.

Slowly, John looked up over the datapad at her.

“But I don’t mean…I meant that I don’t,” she quickly added, cursing herself inwardly for taking the question far too literal.

“Do you enjoy.. the thought of killing sentient creatures?”

Julianni’s head shook. “I wouldn’t, no. Absolutely not.” Her brows furrowed. “Do people actually answer yes to you on that?”

He looked back to the device, ignoring her question. “Would you kill if you heard god tell you to?”

This was something that she knew was impossible, and so she answered with confidence. “I would not be blessed in such a way to be spoken to by God.”

“Do you hold any prejudice against any faction, state, or person?”

Her thoughts flooded with her hatred of Dominius, but it was her voice that found it’s way out before she had a chance to stop the lie. “No.”

There was a small glance from the man, and she did what she could to focus on something else.

“If you had the chance to enact revenge against your holders would you?”

The look of appall at such an idea was readily apparent on the woman’s face. “Absolutely not. Lord Degario is the reason I have faith. My Holder has helped to lead me to His light. I would never do such a thing.”

John seemed largely unphased by her reaction, trailing his finger down the list of questions. “Have you accepted death?”

“Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Every day people face their end, as He so chooses. When my time comes, then so be it.” That answer she knew for sure she felt confident in, and it reflected in her voice.

“A choice. Merit, Faith, Friendship, or love?”

“Faith.”

“Power or respect.” He asked stating the two as if they were different.

“Respect.”

The datapad was set to the side, and he looked back to her. “You’ll be contacted of my decision in a few hours.”

Taking that as her cue to leave the office, she stood and bowed at the waist. With how quickly the questions came and the seemingly abrupt ending, she appeared somewhat unsure of just what to expect. “Thank you, Mister Revenent. Is there anything else you require of me?”

“John,” he replied. “And yes, there is one last thing. I may place my trust in you to make the State a better place. Not to give into the temptation of absolute power, not to betray those who look up to the stars with hope and admiration. To be a torch bearer for what is honorable, just and right in our world. Trust is a rarity, worth more than any amount of ISK. Don’t make the mistake in breaking the trust of all those you’ll be leaving behind.”

Her head gave a nod. “I assure you, Mist-…John. I assure you that I have no interest in wealth. All I wish is to be of service. I have no interest in power, either. I simply wish to do my duty.”

“As I said. We will see. Enjoy the next few hours, for they may be the last moments of humanity you’ll have.” He frowned for some reason then rose to gather himself another drink from the cabinet.

It was a strange statement to leave on, and one that felt uncomfortably dark. She frowned slightly, then dipped her head again. “Thank you for your time.” After watching him a moment longer, she then departed the office, wondering just what he meant by that, and what God had in store for her.

 

Answered Prayer

Years went by, the abuse Dominius inflicted having grown steadily like a vine to wrap itself and strangle the woman. So often she felt the emotional suffocation, and even more did she feel herself falling to despair. However, it was through prayer that Julianni found salvation.

The room of prayer was the only place she knew she could withdraw to in order to hide away from the heir. Lord Degario had allowed her confinement in the chamber for small periods of time, and never seemed to question her requests. While it was certainly strange to her that he said nothing against it, she sincerely felt relieved; what would she have even said if he asked her what had been troubling her? She could never lie to him.

Nor could she lie to God.

Only He knew her troubles, and only He could forgive her. From the bottom of her heart, she begged and pleaded for redemption. While the acts committed were not of her choice, she knew for certain it didn’t matter: The Wrath of God is Immense. His Justice is Swift and Decisive. His Tolerance is Limited.

Despite how excruciatingly slow time had passed by, she never gave up hope. Faith to her was more than just a belief. To her, it was placing her full trust in Him, believing that she would one day be forgiven. When her deliverance came, she was still nonetheless shocked.

A meeting had been taking place, but this was not out of the ordinary, of course. Be it matters of diplomacy, business, or religious gatherings, the South wing of the Degario manor always had something planned for the day. Julianni waited patiently down the hall for things to wrap up so she could clear the tables.

The doors finally swung open, a man in what appeared to be formal Caldari attire stepping out. After a final bow to the Lord of the manor, he continued down the hall and spared a small dip of his head towards Julianni, which she returned.

“Mutt,” came Lord Degario’s voice, beckoning her forward. He then turned and stepped back into the meeting room; there was no need to ensure she followed.

Julianni obediently entered the room and bowed her head, standing to the side of the seating area. Much to her dismay, Dominius seemed to be within the room as well, his eyes settling on her with an indifferent, if not disappointed expression.

“Leave us.”

At first, Julianni was confused as to the change of heart. Nevertheless, she began to leave the chamber without question.

“Not you, mutt. You sit there,” Lord Degario stated, gesturing to one of the empty seats. His eyes moved to fix on his son’s, a stern expression that even the most brave of men would falter under. After passing one last glance to Julianni, Dominius exited the chamber keeping his own expression neutral.

Her heart began to sink, praying that the truth hadn’t been revealed. To go this many years without telling Lord Degario was unacceptable, and she knew it. Even if she had kept it a secret to protect the honourable Holder, it was still a secret. She swallowed hard, beginning to speak.

“I apolo-”

His hand held up abruptly to stop her, moving to take a seat at the head of the table. He took his time, leaning back in his chair and studying her quietly for a few moments.

“Book of Missions, chapter five, verse fourteen.”

“Which test reveals more of the soul, the test that a man will take to prove his faith, or the test that finds the man who believed his faith already proven? If you know this answer, then you also know which of these challenges bear the greatest penalty for failure. The gates of paradise will open for you one time only; woe to the soul who dares to knock twice,” she recited clearly, her fingers folding to rest in her lap.

“Good. Tea.”

To Julianni’s surprise, and perhaps worry, his voice was somewhat soft. It was as if he was considering something, or even regretting something. Her brows furrowed, but she kept silent, standing and immediately attending to pouring him a cup of tea from the set on the table.

“An arrangement has been struck between myself and that representative you saw leave this room.” he explained his elbows resting on the arms of the chair. “When you and I are finished with our meeting, you will go to the entry room and find that man. Then you will leave this place with him. Is that understood?”

She paused as she poured the tea, the confusion on her face evident. Never before had she left the manor, and the thought of it honestly frightened her.

“Your time has come, as has the time of many others before you. I have seen your devotion, and I have never once believed it to waver. Your knowledge of the Scriptures, your faith in our God, and your unquestionable loyalty to my family is proof to me that it is indeed the right moment.” He paused again, taking up the cup she had filled. “What do you think of that?”

The look on her face must have been a strange one, as he soon began to chuckle. “You’re not the first that has looked like that. Unsure. Lost. Confused.” Glancing over to her, he gave her one his incredibly rare smiles. “You are not lost. You are simply on the path God has chosen for you, and it takes you elsewhere.”

While she certainly felt unsure and lost, there were other feelings she dare not speak to him. Relief, guilt, and hope were swirling in her mind, mixing like contrasting coloured paint with the emotions he listed out. Her brows furrowed and she sat back down as she thought over just what to say. Nothing came to her mind.

“This is not the first test you have faced, and it will not be the last. What I need to know from you is that you will not lose your faith. That you will be one of the pillars that we have worked so hard to create. When people look on you, I want them to see a successful citizen devoted to God and no one else. Do you understand me?”

“I do,” she finally said, nodding her head slowly. “Lord Dega-”

“Good. Before we part ways, recite to me Book of Missions, chapter thirteen, verse twenty-one.”

“To know the true path, but yet, to never follow it: That is possibly the gravest sin,” she immediately said, her voice growing soft.

“It most certainly is. Remember that when you’re fulfilling your purpose to God.”

Without another word, he stood and moved to the door of the chamber, opening it. Turning back, it was clear he was waiting for her to leave.

It felt like a harsh goodbye, but she knew he was never known for kindness. Moving towards the door, everything felt so surreal. She had no idea what to expect, where she was truly headed, nor what her future would hold. What she did know, however, was that she trusted fully in God, and that her prayers had been answered. She should not question it.

As she passed Lord Degario, he placed his hand on her shoulder, which caused an immediate flinch from the woman. He did not seem surprised. Judging by the look on his face, it only proved to him what he had suspected. Once his hand lowered, he spoke somewhat softer. “Go in His light, Julianni. And do not forsake Him.”