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.

 

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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.”

Tea Time

It seemed an annoyance to her, washing those windows. It wasn’t that she was bothered with being tasked to wipe them down. No, it was that no matter how much she had cleaned them, they always seemed to be dirty. Perhaps a small smudge here or there, or even a fleck of dirt that had- somehow, managed to escape the perceptive eye of the woman seeking to end its intrusion.

The glass may have seemed clean and pure, but the more she looked, the more she could pick out each and every hindrance on a clear picture to the beauty of God’s realm. Julianni’s eyes gazed past the focus of the glass for a moment and centered on just that.

It was a clear day, the sun high in the sky and just enough clouds to delicately drape a comforting, cool blanket across the lands. She never ceased to be amazed at these scenes, and never once did she forget to thank God for His hand in creating them. Mountains sculpted in the distance rose and fell, trees stood sprinkled across the vast area, and light strokes of lakes and rivers were a canvas that all should appreciate, she thought.

Her eyes slowly drifted back to the glass, hand carefully wiping more at the small imperfections she found. It was a slow process, and one she knew would never be completely finished. However, she did what she could, finally stopping once she realized it was time to prepare tea. After taking one last, appreciative glance to the outside through the cleaned, yet imperfect glass, she made her way to the kitchens.

Now at the age of nineteen, the child whom was once fearful of her Lord had grown into a young woman that looked forward to serving him. Be it serving tea, cleaning the manor, or simply sitting by while he would recite the Scriptures, she could truly think of no other place she would rather be than fulfilling her purpose to God.

With these thoughts in mind, Julianni retrieved the ornate tea set from within the cabinets and put on some hot water. It was not until she collected the tea leaves that she felt the presence behind her. The moment she turned, her heart sank, and for a moment she was fearful that her expression had as well. Her head lowered quickly, eyes set to the ground, and she took a small breath in. The woman’s bow was stiff, and she was sure that the man before her would notice. However, there was nothing to be done now except to wait.

The steps he took were slow and deliberate, each one drawn out as if to only lengthen the process of his approach. Paired with his heavy stride were the sound of long nails clicking across the marble floor, and a low growl began to emit. Chills ran down the woman’s spine, fear of the slaver hound emitting like a soundless beacon. She knew that they were part of God’s creation too, but she knew how vicious the beasts could be, and had seen it for herself. Never once did she wish to be in a position to be near them like she was now.

“Oh, he doesn’t frighten you, does he? Come now, he won’t hurt you,” the man spoke.

She could hear the smirk on his face, and his own voice was enough to cause her to shrink deeply. You see, there was a difference between a man who spoke confidently like Lord Degario, and a man who spoke with his desire to only control.

The man continued. “That is, unless I tell him to. But, I have no reason to tell him that, do I? You’re not going to make me tell him to do that, are you?”

Julianni knew this man, but up until now, had thankfully not known him well. None other than Lord Degario’s son and heir, Dominius Degario had a reputation. She had heard of his targeting of the female slaves and his acts that would dishonour the family name. It was of course unsurprising that he had never been caught, and with his years of practice, he had known just what he could and couldn’t do that may get him found out. The thought of it all disgusted her, knowing how hard Lord Degario had worked to continue the family’s reputation of honourable and God-serving Holders. Nevertheless, she nodded, knowing full well that any disrespect aimed at him could be deadly.

With the wave of his hand, the slaver hound quieted and moved to sit in the doorway, its ears perked up, awaiting whatever command would be given by its Master. Dominus then stepped closer to Julianni, raising his hand to pick up a strand of her hair.

“You must have heard of me. How proud a moment this is for me. I’ve heard about you, but have been…occupied as of late. You’re the mixed one, correct?”

Her head gave a slow nod, her body shifting ever so slightly to pull away. Though it was a subtle gesture, the man was a predator, noticing such minute movements and reveling in the discomfort he caused.

“That’s what I thought. I’ve not had a mixed one before,” he said under his breath, then removing his hand back to his side. “Tell me, you serve God faithfully, do you not? I’ve heard you’ve taken quite well to your teachings.”

Again she nodded, though raised her chin somewhat; there was no denying that her love- and fear- of God was true.

“Mm, then we both stand to benefit, don’t we.” His body shifted a bit more towards her, and he took a deep breath in almost as if taking in her scent. Her eyes shut and she internally cringed.  

“After tea, you will go to my chambers. There we will see if you do, unquestionably, or not. I sincerely hope you do not disappoint me.”

For so long, she had thought that perhaps God would have spared her from such a fate that she had heard from the other women. That perhaps she had done well to please Him. But with Dominius’ words, there was no denying the trials she was to face.

The Degario heir left the room, but Julianni had hardly even noticed. Her mind was filled with fear and, for the first time in her life, worry of the future. Until now, she had trusted fully in what God had planned. With her future now left in the hands of this predator, however, she found herself questioning just what it was she was supposed to do or how to handle the situation.

But it didn’t matter. The tea wasn’t going to wait for her to think things over, and it was more important than her petty concerns.

 

 

The cloth dragged across the glass by a shaky hand, and a soft squeak escaped from beneath it. It sounded clean, but she knew it wasn’t. There were still smudges. There was still dirt. If she could scrub it hard enough, maybe it would go away.

But it never did.

Julianni’s mind drifted back to the memory of yesterday. She could still hear the sound of the bed chamber door closing, that foreboding echo of finality. Still she felt Dominius’ hardened grip on her body, ceaseless in its power over her. A feeling of nausea rose up and threatened to overpower her just as he had. Her eyes closed, and after some time, she opened them again, continuing to clean.

She didn’t know quite what to do about the situation. If she were to speak to Lord Degario about it, would he even believe her? And if he did, would havoc wreak on the family’s respected name? There were few options to weigh. Eventually, she came to the determination that perhaps it was indeed a trial that God had given her. She would need to endure.

The bruises would be easy to hide, as Dominius knew just where he should and should not leave them; Julianni was not the first, and she certainly wouldn’t be the last. With a deep breath, she said a soft prayer and swore to place her trust in God. After all, her purpose was to serve Him unquestionably. Her thoughts drifted back to her work and she focused more clearly on the pane of glass before her.

She understood it now. No matter how hard she tried to clean it, there was grime left behind. It would never go away, and forever would it be tainted despite the best efforts to wash away the filth. It was both beautiful and sad. The woman swallowed hard, holding back her tears, then stood.

It was time to prepare tea.

Foundation

The early morning sun rose, its rays peeking through the large windows to lightly grace the golden decadence of the Degario manor. The shimmering of the beautiful metal lined within the marble walkways and pillars was certainly a sight to behold for those not used to such a lifestyle. However, there was hardly ever a chance to truly appreciate the hard work put behind the manor’s construction, and there were few who even wanted. This morning- this unimportant and quite normal beginning of the day, was quite different.

Though the sun had only just awoke from its temporary slumber, the rest of the manor was already awake and moving; morning prayers had been recited and preparations for breakfast were almost complete. The elaborately designed halls were still, the only sound dancing across in an echo through the area being a soft, yet quick patter of light steps. It continued for a time until a young girl emerged from around the corner, face set with purpose.

The age of ten is an innocent one, and in places like the Federation, children may be expected to simply discover themselves and their place in the world. A true childhood, full of imagination, open-minded knowledge, and freedom. Such a normal life paves way to creativity and individuality, after all. There were no chains holding them in place, and there were no strings controlling where they would be placed, how they acted, and who they became.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps seen as a blessing), the Degario noble family was not in the Federation. Long had this family had a Holder, the title passed down as per tradition from generation to generation within the Amarr Empire. Considered honourable and deserving of high respect, the Degarios were traditional in their teachings and held true to the calling of the Reclaiming and the Scripture.

At the age of ten, this child was deeply indoctrinated with the Scriptures. She did not dream of flying into the stars. Her mind did not dip into the beauty of self-discovery. Instead, her thoughts from day to day revolved around her duty to the family, behaving well, and above all else, God.

She embraced it, for she knew no better.

Within the grasp of her small, delicate hands, was a set of bed sheets to be changed. It was a routine she knew well, to have clean bed sheets placed each morning, and the morning duty she had been designated at the time. Tied up in a small bun, her brown hair bobbed with each quickened step she took. Similarly brown eyes kept a gaze forward along her path, yet low enough not to be offensive to the family. Once reaching the main wing of the manor, she gave pause at noticing none other than Lord Degario himself standing before one of the tall pillars. His hands were clasped behind his back, his chin raised in a regal, powerful stance.

She had seen him before, of course, but no matter how many times she had been in his presence, she always felt herself become incredibly intimidated. This was a man that demanded respect, and he was a man who could destroy you if you but said the wrong word. She had heard the stories.

The realization that she had not immediately knelt to him crossed over her, and her eyes widened with fear. As quickly as she could, she dropped to her knees with her head low, awaiting his word as to if she was allowed to continue her duties or not. It felt like an eternity before he spoke, and when he did, she could not help but jump.

“You are the mutt, are you not?”

His voice rang deeply, filled with power and confidence. The echo within the main chamber only intensified the effect, and the child held tight to the sheets, lowering her head further out of both fear and respect. She said nothing at first, confused as to what he meant, and shocked he had even posed a question to her. It was the first time he’d acknowledged her, himself. She could feel his eyes just barely glance over to her as he spoke again.

“I asked you a question, girl. Are you the mixed blood, or aren’t you? Speak.”

The question he asked finally registered, and she answered softly, her head still bowed.

“Yes.”

Just as she could sense his eyes, she could sense his frown. It was even more apparent with his reply.

“Yes, my Lord,” he corrected sternly.

“Y-yes, my Lord.”

There was a slow nod, and then silence. Again, it was as if an age had passed, when he posed another question.

“What name do you go by?”

This time, she was more quick to reply, and even correctly.

“Julianni, my Lord.”

“Julianni. What a strange name,” he mused mostly to himself. “Look up at me.”

It was a strange demand, but she of course complied and did so, looking up just enough for her eyes to rest at where his chin was, as she had been taught. A small smirk grew, the Holder apparently pleased that she at least remembered that much.

“Book of Missions, chapter seventy-one, verse twenty-one.”

Immediately, Julianni quoted what he had demanded, knowing the verse full well and having taken in her teachings solidly.

“Surround yourself with the faithful, Stand together, for there is no strength like it under the heavens.”

Another smirk, but it soon formed into a more relaxed smile as his attention turned to the pillar before him. “Do you see this pillar? Were it not for this pillar, the ceiling of this manor would come crashing down, crushing all who stood by and did not fix it, but let it fall.”

Julianni listened quietly, looking to the pillar. The marble was swirled with flecks of gold, and the more the sun rose, the more it sparkled and shined. Even at the age of ten, Julianni could appreciate the beauty it held.

“What would I need if I built a bigger room, mutt? Speak.”

The nickname didn’t bother her, and even if it did, she wouldn’t dare show a reaction. She thought over his question, letting her eyes drift across the massive room as if to picture such a thing. It didn’t take long for her to answer him, as it was a rather simple conclusion.

“You would need more pillars, my Lord.”

“Precisely. And do you know what kind of work goes into these pillars?” he asked rhetorically, moving his hand from behind him to slowly brush it against the stonework. “More than you can imagine right now, child. Each one is built by hand, carved carefully and with devotion. God demands perfection, and that is why I demand it done without technology. When these pillars are built by hand, there is a certain…appreciation for the work accomplished. Wouldn’t you agree, mutt?”

Julianni thought on his words, slowly nodding. She was a smart girl, and she knew what he was getting at. Nevertheless, she was still confused as to why he was speaking directly to her about it, rather than having it repeated during a sermon. As if he could read, or perhaps even sense her confusion, Lord Degario chuckled lightly. The sound in itself was terrifying, yet strangely comforting. Either he was displeased with her answer and was ready to punish her, or he had some sort of sense of humor she would have never expected.

“Of course you do.” He turned from the pillar, then stepped towards her, his eyes gazing down at her. As she had been taught, her head bowed and her eyes kept to his feet. With his chin raised, he placed his hands back behind him while studying her.

“Book One, chapter one, verse four.”

“In the beginning all things were as one. God parted them and breathed life into his creation, divided the parts and gave each its place, and unto each, bestowed purpose,” she recited softly.

“Good. Your purpose is to become one of these pillars. If God deems you worthy, you will succeed and help hold high the unbroken ceiling of our Faith. If not…well…” He trailed off in an ominous, yet understandable threat; the fate of heretics was a well known one. Her head nodded in understanding.

His own head nodded and he stepped away, heading towards the dining area. “Now get back to your duties, mutt.”

The moment he ordered it, she quickly stood and set off to continue her day. As she worked, she thought over his words. While she had been fearful, there was a deep respect she had gained for Lord Degario. It was true that he was stern, and when a slave stepped out of line, he was quick to reprimand. However, his sincere devotion to the calling of Reclaiming was true, and any man that lived only for God was a man that deserved nothing less than reverence.