So It Begins

Dominius,

First of all, know that I am sending this out of respect for the real Lord of that Holding. Your father and his father before him, and so on and so forth, built the very foundation on which you stand, both in physical form and reputation. I give you this message in hopes that you listen and make the right decision.

I will not be responding to you, and I will be placing you on my black list of communications after this message is sent. Your continued correspondence is not simply to keep in touch, nor is it an effort to strengthen relations with I-RED as you have claimed. It is harassment.

This is the day that I remove you from my life completely. You do not control me anymore, Dominius. I am no longer within your grip, and haven’t been for years.

In the event that you have a sincere desire for diplomatic communications, you will speak with no one but our Executor, who has been made aware of my decision. No one else.

I know what you are, Dominius. Do not push me.

“That disrespectful wench. That mutt has no right to speak to me that way. I made her. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t be in the position she’s in.”

His hands were clenched tight into fists, sitting in that comfortable leather chair adorned with gold. Dominius felt his anger building the more he talked about it, face reddened and eyes flickering with violence.

“I should have killed her when I had the chance.”

His screen at the desk in front of him gave a small flash, his conversation partner waving a hand.

“Calm yourself.” A pause from the hooded figure, then a small sigh. “She knows?”

“That’s what she says,” Dominius snapped, annoyed that the man even had to ask after reading the letter.

“And this concerns you? These…passive threats of an old slave?”

Rage swelled further, leaving the Holder with veins protruding from his neck. “You think it shouldn’t? Her words have much more weight than they did when she was at my Holding.”

“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have made her the way she was,” the man snapped back. His anger was much more patient. Eerily calm, even. Practiced.

In a way, Dominius was almost afraid of it. But then again, he knew that he was in control. No one else.

Silence rang between the two, and the current Lord Degario began to grow impatient. Just what was the holding the old man up? Was he not concerned? The man’s clenched hands tightened further, threatening to draw blood.

“This has an easy solution.”

Dominius’ eye twitched. “Does it, now?” The sarcasm was dripping in his voice, thick enough that he hoped it drowned the old man.

All it took was more silence and Dominius knew he struck a nerve. Good, he thought. But the silence prolonged and he soon realized that he was facing punishment for his behaviour. Another eye-twitch, then a frustrated breath was pushed out from him. “I await your wisdom,” he relented.

“You need to learn about her now. Find out what details you can. But not yourself, of course. You have that servant, don’t you? What’s it’s name…Khaihraz?”

“That is correct.”

“Send him. Really, my boy, in all the years we’ve spoken to each other, I thought you were smarter than this.”

Of course he was smart. He knew it, and this old man knew it. But this had apparently just slipped his mind. He was busy, after all. That must have been what it was. His head raised, chin as well in a confident pose. “Perhaps I’ll do that. He’s not been out for that kind of duty in some time, anyway. It’s time he gets some practice.”

“Good. Now, next time you have a problem like this, don’t pester me for an answer when you already have it right in front of your nose, boy.”

And just like that, the feed was cut. Dominius scowled, grinding his teeth. How dare he. Once his anger subsided enough to allow him to speak, he called out to the dark-skinned man who sulked in the corner nearby.

“You heard what was said. See to it you don’t disappoint me.”

Home Sweet Home

The ride through the desert sand was enough to put Julianni to sleep. Sunlight beat down heavily to produce an uncomfortable heat, but winds within the area were always quick to bring a balance to the otherwise unlikable temperatures. The vehicle itself was…little to be desired. A hover-car, of course, but the engine gave off this puttering sound as if it wanted nothing more than to lay down and die.

But it didn’t matter. She was away right now, and no one knew her. The woman was without a name to many of these people she’d interacted with on this planet, instead someone who simply wanted privacy. An expensive privacy, that is. To this day, she still felt entirely uncomfortable about the cost of the bill for the private property, the furniture, and everything else in between. But over and over she’d been told it would be worth it. “A capsuleer simply couldn’t get by without these things,” the realtor had told her. She didn’t believe a word the man said, but she also wanted the entire ordeal to be over with. Worse came to worse, she could rent the place out to someone who needed it.

She hadn’t found herself completely submerged into the depths of slumber, only taking a sort of catnap. Her sheer headcover was tugged well enough against her left cheek to hide from the driver the fact that her eyes were, in fact, closed. There was little conversation on the way. Julianni had been ensured that the process was anonymous, that she’d not have to worry about people asking who she was, how she could afford such a place, or what her story was. The driver would keep to himself, the movers would be gone when she arrived, and she would have no worries about someone coming to knock on her door. Sure, the employees may wager guesses as to this woman’s status, but there was no definitive answer provided to them. It was none of their business, anyway.

“We’ll be arriving at the oasis momentarily,” the dark-skinned driver stated in what was his first words in hours. Her eyes opened and, sure enough, she could see the green foliage beginning to crop its way up in the distance. At first, dots of green on the horizon, encased by tan hills that acted as a mother’s protective arms. If she hadn’t known that this place was supposed to be here, she would most certainly have guessed it was a mirage. They were very much out of any area of civilization and hot sands had surrounded them for miles upon miles.

But it was real, and the closer they came to the location, the more she could see just how the video viewing of the location hardly did it justice. Trees and bushes were in abundance, enough that even the spring could hardly be seen, much less the home built within. What could be seen of the adobe was its roof and some parts of the wall surrounding it. Built somewhat more elevated, it still seemed to be hidden thanks to its tan colour against the sanded hills that surrounded.

The parting of the foliage was just enough for the hovercar to fit through, and so it did, expertly piloted by her driver. Even he seemed to glance about the scene in awe, as if he’d never seen it this close before. Julianni became so distracted with the beauty unfolding around her that she hardly noticed the vehicle come to a stop. “This is as far as I’ve been permitted to go, Miss…uh…ma’am.”

Her attention turned towards the man, and an awkward smile found itself on her face. “Oh, of course. Thank you for the ride, sir.”

Gracefully slipping out of the car, she bowed lightly before him, (which of course caused him to raise a brow), then moved to the trunk to take out her bags. With an effortless lift, she retrieved them and made her way to the gate that stood guard in front of the building.

Security had already been set up, she’d been told. Cameras upon cameras, key code locks, retinal scans, fingerprint scans, voice recognition…state of the art, of course. She went through the process of verifying her identity, and sure enough, the small gate parted enough for her to fit through. The safeguards were needed, she knew, especially with what had happened in the past. But it was uncomfortable to know that she needed them at all.

To say the home was what she saw in the video tour was accurate, of course, but it was also so much more. Her eyes widened at just how extravagant the place was. Before, it was empty, and it still looked almost too excessive for her taste. But she’d taken the plunge to do something for herself for once. There was also the fact she’d been largely talked into it by both Doctor Aneozomi, and the realtor himself.

Now, however, furniture had been arranged within the building. Julianni silently cringed at just how lavish each room was turning out to be. She didn’t deserve this, no. Not by a long shot. But here it was, and it was here to stay. Her thoughts drifted back to renting the place out. It was certainly a possibility. Maybe even make it into a retreat for I-RED and its allies’ personnel. A getaway of sorts.

But the moment Julianni stepped out through the back door, her heart felt as if it stopped. Nevermind the half-moon swimming pool and the personal hot tub. Nevermind the outdoor bar and the chairs that must have cost more than most baseliners would ever dream to make in three lifetimes. No, what caught the mixed woman’s dark eyes was a small glass observatory off within the shade towards a few large trees. This was not something she had asked for, nor was it on the video tour.

Cautiously, she approached the lightly tinted structure, the click of her heels hardly making a sound on the stone pathway. Within, she could see various congregations of lush desert plants, all in their state of blooming. There were a few other plants that she knew may not necessarily survive in the area, but she guessed that their life was granted by some sort of indoor irrigation system.

A garden, of course, and an indoor one at that. There were two doors, however, to pass through to get inside. The first, tinted glass that sealed shut behind her, then the second which swung open easily. A rush of the scent of the flowering cacti and bushes danced their way into her senses, bringing a smile to her face. What’s more, the garden itself was exactly as how she envisioned one for herself to be- not too large, and with just enough plant life for her to be able to take care of on a busy schedule.

It was what next that caught her eye that drew the breath from her very lips. There, beyond the flowers, bushes, and small amounts of decor, was what she immediately identified as a chrysalis holder meant for butterflies. Within, she could see the large number of butterfly chrysalis within, all looking relatively fresh in their state of metamorphosis. A small datapad lay to the side of the open box, inviting Julianni to take it up to read.

She did so, letting the screen come to life, then began to read the words.

Avala-haani,

They are native to this area. I’m told they emerge after approximately 15 to 20 days. There are people on this planet who know their habits quite well, but I am quite certain you’ll do well in caring for them. The Executor has approved your schedule has been adjusted so that you will have those days to yourself.

Congratulations on your new home. I’ll see you at our next appointment.

Dr. Emiri Aneozomi

Julianni was left speechless.

She felt guilty. After everything, how could she possibly be deserving of any of this? Was she not running away? Hiding like some scared fool in the middle of a desert on an unimportant world? Even with her specifications of a prayer room being built here, was she not pulling further away from God by running instead of facing her trials? How could she possibly accept something like this, much less purchase some home when people had died because of her mistakes?

But there was a small part of her that felt relief. This was a place that had no affiliations with any organization. It was not within I-RED headquarters, it was not a part of the Degario Holding. It was hers.

Her eyes welled up with tears, overcome with the knowledge that she had a place now to call home. Even if every day she felt as if she were caught between two worlds, this place was solace from that. She could feel it within her heart, her hand reaching up to rest at her chest while she let those emotions free.

At least one place, she could finally belong.

Absolution

Five minutes. That’s all the time there was left. When that time was up, Julianni would be face to face with the wife of the man she watched be strangled to death by Sakala. The man that she could have ended herself, and very well should have. The man that wouldn’t have died if she would have been more careful.

For days since she’d returned, she knew she wanted to speak with Inu-haan’s wife. She knew she had to face the woman out of respect of both the husband, as well as for the woman herself. Life was so, so precious. Julianni envied the baseliners. Each and every moment had such a deeper meaning than they did as a capsuleer. Time was limited. Each interaction could have been the last. A smile exchanged between two close friends, a hug linking a mother and their son, a kiss that bound two lovers together- priceless treasures to be held close to the heart, because tomorrow may not have come. The very person each moment was shared with could be whisked away as God willed it. Such was life. Real life.

The woman swallowed hard and wiped a small bead of sweat that had formed at her forehead, hands trembling. Retrieving her hand to peer at the glisten of salty fluid, she frowned upon seeing just how much her hands were shaking.

Some days had been alright. Her body had mostly come to terms with the lack of drugs in her system, thanks to the treatment at the med facility. But there were some days, days with increased stress, that she’d feel the cold sweat, the nausea, and the thought dancing across her mind that maybe, just maybe, it was alright to have one dose, if but to alleviate the symptoms. What would people have said if they saw her like this, after all?

Her thoughts became interrupted at a beeping echoing from her desk. The shadow of a smaller figure looked to stand outside her doorway, giving sign to Julianni that it was time. It was now or never. Lightly pressing her hand to the button at her desk, she stood from her seat and walked around to face the woman fully as she entered.

Inu-haan’s wife was quite beautiful, really. Small in stature, a delicate frame, and some of the most beautiful blue eyes Julianni had seen. Though, while their beauty was unable to be ignored, so too was the look was she was giving Julianni. Anger. Sadness. Blame.

Hate.

It stopped the Ni-kunni-Ealur blooded woman in her tracks briefly, almost even taking her breath away. A moment passed by while Julianni gathered her senses again, standing as Inu-haan’s wife stared her down without a word. To say the bow she gave to the wife was deep would be an understatement, and she kept lowered before the woman as she spoke.

“Thank you for coming to s-”

“Stop.”

As if the woman’s eyes weren’t enough, her voice echoed out with a cold hatred, as if each and every syllable was a stab into Julianni’s ear.

“How did he die?”

Silence. What was she supposed to say? Should she be honest? That he was in such a drug induced haze that he didn’t notice the man squeezing the very breath from his body? That Julianni could have stopped it? Done it herself? That the entire situation should have been called off before the capture? She stood there, bowed and speechless.

“Tell me how he died,” the woman said louder, her voice shaking from the intense wave of emotions.

“He…it…” Again, Julianni found herself struggling. She’d practiced this moment so many times, but nothing could have prepared her for this. “He…died with honour. It w-”

“Don’t you dare talk to me of honour. You have no idea what it means to us. To my people. You have no clue. And you dare say he died with it? Just who are you to say that you…some…some puppet from the Empire would know anything about how we view honour?!”

Julianni squeezed shut her eyes and internally folded within herself. She wanted so bad to console this woman, to help her find peace. But most of all, what she so selfishly wanted, was to be forgiven for causing such a precious life to be taken. She wanted it from this woman, she wanted it from God, and she wanted it from herself. The more the situation unfolded, the more she knew all of these were out of control and likely impossible.

But she had to face her. She had to try.

Her head raised and she straightened from the bow. There was no way she could look this woman in the eyes, no matter how hard she tried. She just couldn’t do it. Dark brown orbs darted to the side at the floor and she began to speak again. “I beg of you, please listen-”

And that’s when it hit her. Quite literally, actually. The hand across her face let out a loud crack that made Julianni’s ears ring and head spin, almost knocking her off her feet.

“You all think you’re invincible, you capsuleers. You think that we’re so expendable. You both were gone. You could have died and made sure he came back instead. You could have taken his place. You would have lived.” Inu-haan’s wife yelled towards Julianni with tears streaming down her face.

“YOU LEFT HIM TO DIE!”

With that, the woman stormed out of the office. Already, a guard was in the way to stop her and try to restrain her, simply doing his job as he likely heard the altercation. Julianni glanced up with tears in her own eyes. “Let her go,” she managed to choke out.

The Internal Watch guard frowned as Inu-haan’s wife struggled in his grip, sobbing her heart out, a sound of true loss. True heartbreak. Finally, after what was likely a consideration of whether or not to second guess one of the directors, he released the woman, allowing her to push past him. He then quickly moved into the office to check on Julianni, hand on his ear as if ready to call for someone. Likely medical.

“Please leave me.”

“…Director Av-”

“Please.” Her back was turned now, arms wrapped around her own body in an attempt to hold back what she knew was coming.

The guard bowed, though Julianni didn’t see it. “I’ll be right outside,” he said, as if it was some sort of comfort.

The moment he left her office, she pressed that same button on her desk to shut and lock the door. And then she crumbled, folding into herself on the floor behind her desk. With her head resting in her arms, she wept tears of her own as quietly as she could.

These were moments that would last. Inu-haan’s wife would die one day, free of the memory of the loss of her beloved husband. But Julianni would still be alive, and she would remember. She would remember the look on Inu-haan’s face when he ceased to be. She would remember his wife’s reaction this day. But most of all, she would remember the pain in her heart she felt to know that she could have prevented all of this.

Lost

Regardless of how many times she’d been instructed to see the alliance psychologist, she could never get used to it. There was a certain anxiety of it to her, not knowing exactly what was appropriate to say. She trusted the woman fully, having known her for a few years now, but still she felt the need to guard her deepest, most troublesome of thoughts.

Her eyes drifted to the reminder flickering on her holo-display within her office, a drawn out exhale passing from her lips.

ATTENTION: MANDATORY APPOINTMENT IN 15 MINUTES.

With a simple thought, the reminder disappeared from the screen to reveal the massive workload that had been left unattended for so long. Some may have found such a prospect stressful. Overwhelming. Julianni, on the other hand, was welcoming of it. What better way was there to draw her focus away from the garbled mess that was her mind.

She stood with her normal grace, much more stable in her movements than she’d been in the past couple weeks. Her body had finally caught up to the recovery that had taken place, save for the weight loss. But that would come in time- her appetite was still returning. In a fluid movement, she crossed her office and exited the door. There was, of course, a guard posted at the door.

“Avala-haani.” A tone with professionalism, but she could hear the concern bordering on pity. Guilt, perhaps. Since her captivity, she’d caught on even more to such subtle sounds. The man straightened to attention, though remained where he stood, knowing full well where she was scheduled to be headed.

She offered a dip of her head and a smile that most certainly would pass as legitimate, turning to the door that stood just down the hall within sight. A strange feeling it was to know the office was so close. It was a comfort to know that if she needed to open up, all she had to do was walk down the hall and knock. There were many that would give anything to have that. Julianni was, however, less comforted by this fact and instead felt unease. It was not the support system she was necessarily comfortable with.

The door slid open once her knuckles gave a light knock, the scent of the office reaching out as if to taunt her. It was lavender.

She made no visible reaction, knowing full-well that the doctor often had flowers in her office during appointments to help put people at ease. A kind gesture, even if the current fragrance instead wrapped itself around Julianni in an oppressive weight.

“Doctor Aneozomi,” she said softly, bowing lightly at the waist to the older woman.

Emiri Aneozomi was already seated across from a couch, which Julianni knew as The Spot to sit.

“Avala-haani. Good to see you again. How have you been since returning to work?” This woman’s tone was harder to catch on to, though it was obviously quite inquisitive.

Julianni lowered herself into The Spot, smoothing the folds over her skirt. “It has been busy. Much was left while I was gone,” she admitted, jumping right into the session. At least it’d be over sooner.

“Too busy? Or are you happy for the fact?”

“The latter.”

Doctor Aneozomi nodded silently as if taking an internal note. She sat with a certain confidence to her that made her seem so open. Julianni expected she was trained to do so, considering her job. After all, who would talk to a psychologist if they appeared closed off? Another question was posed by the doctor, moving the conversation right along.

“I understand you had a meeting with the designated SFRIM diplomat to I-RED. How did that go?”

Julianni considered the question, smiling with a bit more authenticity. “It went well. I had expected a much more tense evening, but Lord Iyhr was quite wonderful to speak with.”

“Wonderful to hear. A nice break away from the workload, even if it was technically business, hm?”

“I think so, yes,” she answered, though there was a hint of hesitation. Rather than question her or give an expression to suggest she expected an answer, Doctor Aneozomi instead patiently waited to see if Julianni expanded on that. Which she did, after a moment of gathering her thoughts.

“I’m having difficulty holding it together, wearing this mask. Acting as if everything is okay.” Her voice was soft as she spoke, her eyes moving to her hands in her laps. When had she begun picking at her nails? “I hear them whisper along the corridors. I see the looks that are given, the tones in their voice.”

“Who?”

Julianni glanced back up and towards the doorway. “The Internal Watch. The ones that know where I was.”

The doctor nodded again studying Julianni passively. “Do you think that by acting as if everything is okay, that they’ll be less concerned? Or that people won’t notice something amiss?”

She considered the questions and almost immediately came back with an answer. “It’s possible. It would at least prevent questions.”

“Do you think you’ve been convincing thus far?”

“I do.”

“And what about convincing yourself?”

Julianni frowned, unable to answer. Had she really been trying to convince herself as well, all this time? If she had, she knew it certainly wasn’t working.

There was a small silence, just long enough for her to process things before the doctor continued.

“Have you been able to find a place of solace? I know you mentioned previously that you are having troubles with prayer at the chapel here.”

“I may have, yes. I’ve yet to go, but there’s chapels that accept the public that SFRIM has. I asked both Mister Onzo and Lady Aspenstar about them,” Julianni explained.

“I think it would do you well to worship with them. I know you struggle between paths here, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

She’d heard this before from the doctor, but she didn’t quite believe that Emiri really understood what it meant, being caught between two worlds. Instead of speak that openly, she decided it was best to simply keep it to herself. “I plan on taking some time to go out there and do so. I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to pray with someone else, though. It’s been many years.”

Emiri smiled, reflecting understanding as she spoke. “Take your time, Avala-haani, and let it come naturally. I’m confident that you’ll find what you need to heal.” As she spoke, she moved her gaze towards Julianni’s fingers which had apparently been fidgeting and picking again. Though she made no physical change in stature or expression, Julianni heard that small sigh, just barely touching at the quiet air around them.

“I’m glad you made it a point to attend this appointment, however brief they may be,” she finally said.

Julianni nodded, even dipping her head. “Of course. I realize how important they are.” What she didn’t say, though, is that she also knew that she had no choice in the matter.

“They are. I’m eager to see the progress you make from the unfortunate circumstance you had.” The more Emiri spoke, the more Julianni could pick up that there was something more to what she was saying. Her eyes were still focused on Julianni’s hands. Keeping silent, though of course accepting of the doctor’s words, she listened.

“I’d like you to go for testing today, after this meeting.”

A frown crossed Julianni’s lips, but she was quick to stifle it. “I mean no disrespect, Doctor Aneozomi, but I just had o-”

“You know I have to order them if I have concerns,” Emiri interrupted. “I don’t do it lightly, and it’s to protect you and this alliance. Your position is not one that allows for mistakes, Julianni.”

The silence that proceeded this time was much more uncomfortable. On one hand, Julianni could most certainly understand the worries. But on the other, the lack of trust was almost like a slap in the face.

“I understand.”

Emiri gave a small smile, though it was somewhat forced. “Your decision to remain in that clone is the main worry over all of this. I never got the chance to ask you what your reasoning was behind that. Though, I have my suspicions.”

“If your suspicions have to do with my Faith, then they would be correct.” Her arms folded, both to stop herself from fidgeting with her hands as well as to give a small comfort to herself. “God meant for us to feel suffering when He deems it fit. I realize how easy it would be to put this behind me, physically. But I do not agree that it should be done. He has a plan for all of us. Aneozomi-haani. Pressing a button and diverting from that?” Her head then shook.

“I thought as much,” the doctor said with understanding on her features again. “Each decision we make in life has consequences. I’m glad to see you’re sticking to your ideals. Just remember that just as you have to do your best to accommodate our wishes, so to do we have to accommodate yours. My understanding is that they were moments away from switching your clone, but saw the request you made in your medical file.”

Julianni’s mind flickered back to when she filled out paperwork with the request to medical emergencies and her clone state. To know that, in the end, I-RED had indeed listened to her wishes was a comfort. “You’re right,” she said with a small smile. “Thank you for pointing that out to me. I’ll make my way to the test immediately.”

Emiri stood, making her way to the office door. “Rikaato. I realize how difficult all of this may be, but remember that you have a support system in place, and it’s ready to assist you.”

It was again a small comfort, though there nonetheless. Julianni stood in kind, striding towards the door. “Thank you again,” was all she said, and she could sense that Emiri knew quite well that Julianni had no intention of fully discussing what was on her mind. Though she’d known her for years, and in fact knew much of I-RED for the same time, she felt worlds away.

The farewell was brief, and soon Julianni found herself in the medical office for her mandatory drug test. It would come back negative, of course, proving that despite what stresses she may have been under, she still had not caved. There’d been no reason. Sure, she’d been stressed, having what many would call as a crisis of Faith. But turning to those kinds of substances was not within her mind. At least, not mentally.

Her eyes darted to her fingers once the results of the test had come in. As they trembled, she silently shook her head and began her journey to the bar. She needed a drink.

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.