Yours Truly, Dominius

“Sir? I have movement.”

“What do you mean, you have movement?”

“Wait, it’s gone.”

“Gone? What was it to begin with?”

“I don’t know, sir, I just had an alert of movement in the treeline. Near the wall- Look! There it is again! What was that?”

Yalin leaned towards the screen, his eyes squinting. There was movement, alright, but he couldn’t tell just what it was. Something in the trees, for sure. Birds? Butterflies? The oasis was known to have a bit of wildlife in the area, after all.

“Turn it to thermal sensors.” Better to be safe than sorry, he thought to himself as the young man at the controls pressed the appropriate buttons.

Yalin frowned deeply at what the reveal was, and the face of the young Civire at the screen went white. “S-sir…”

“Where is Avala-haani?”

“One moment…” Though it was a brief pause, it felt like ages. “She’s in her garden. Outside,” he finally replied, looking to his commanding officer.

“Get her a message to get inside immediately.” Yalin’s hand went to his ear piece. “Mazaki-haan, we have a situation here. I have slaver hounds at the Avala estate.”

The flight to Julianni’s home didn’t take long. Shiran Mazaki’s ship bursting through the atmosphere and speeding towards the coordinates was certain to turn some heads, but it didn’t matter. Yalin knew that time was of the essence, and he was certain by Shiran’s piloting that he was just as aware.

Now above the oasis, the glint of a reflection caught Yalin’s eye from the window near the seat he was strapped into. Was that a vehicle? His hand went to his earpiece again. “Mazaki-haan, I have a vehicle bearing approximately 45 degrees East. No movement.”

“I’ll check it out. You get to Avala. Keep your eyes open and watch the trees.”

“Copy that.”

The ship made it’s landing, a hard jolt from the rough landing jarring Yalin slightly. As quickly as he could, his hands fumbled with the straps at his shoulders, then reached for his pistol. Safety off.

He moved slowly, yet had just enough urgency in his step not to waste time searching for the woman. Whispering, he switched his comms to the emergency frequency of the home. “Director Avala, this is Yalin-haan. I’m on your property and am making my way to you for extraction. Please confirm your location.”

The answer was not quite what he expected, but it certainly helped pinpoint where he believed the woman was. A single shot of a pistol rang out from near the home. Muffled. She had to be inside.

His pace quickened, finding the gate to the estate still locked. A quick fix, of course, once the security system was overridden with the Internal Watch codes. The gate swung open, and the man pressed on with determination into the grounds proper.

Another shot.

“Avala-haani, I’m on my way to you. Respond.”

Still no response.

And then, he saw the blood.

A trail of droplets led towards the front door, a bloody print of a palm smearing itself across it. He cringed and raised his weapon, kicking the door open.

He jumped at the sight at first, firing his pistol into the beast that lay on the ground. But it was already dead, it seemed, a hole blown through the hound’s eye.

The room itself was a mess, furniture flung about the area with crimson spatters of life essence in what would surely have been a Blood Raider’s dream. He shuddered.

It was then that he heard the whimpering. Was it one of the hounds? No, it was a person. It had to be. Cautiously, doing his best not to slip on the blood, he found himself following the trail up to what was some sort of room with a circular window.

More blood decorated what he believed was once a prayer room of sorts. Smoke was rising into the air, a candle having began to catch fire of a rug towards the side. Yalin coughed, raising his arm to his mouth.

His eyes caught the second hound, dead as well. This one seemed to be laying over top of who he could hardly recognize as Director Julianni Avala.

Most of her body appeared to have been mauled by the creatures. Bite marks adorned her bare arms and legs. Even one looked to be around the woman’s neck. A pistol lay in her hand, gripped firmly as if it was all that kept her present.

“Director…” Yalin said softly, then turned his attention back to his earpiece. “I have Director Avala. Repeat, I have Director Avala. I need immediate medical response and evac at the IRV-Jussho’s location.”

“Copy that, we’re almost there.”

He nodded and put away his pistol, dropping down to his knees to put pressure on the woman’s neck wound. “Mazaki-haan, what’s your status.”

“In pursuit of a suspect. Get Avala safe, then meet at my coordinates. Mazaki out.”

“I need to get you out of the house. Just bear with me. Can you put your hands here?” He reached for her hand with the pistol, prying it out and guiding her hands to her neck. “Put pressure. I’m going to lift you, alright? We need to get out. There’s a fire.”

He didn’t even wait to see her acknowledgement, nor stopped lifting her over his shoulders when she cried out from pain.

“Arriving now on the vessel’s location. Standing by for extraction.”

Yalin sighed thankfully as he carried her out to safety. Ancestors, let the person who did this be caught, he thought.

WHAM.

THUMP.

A groan.

“P-please…stop…”

And so Mazaki stopped, lowering his stun baton. “Stay where you are,” he told the Ni-kunni man curled into a ball in the sand. He had sure fought back, but ultimately, Shiran was able to overtake the snake-like man. Shiran wiped a bit of blood from the corner of his lip.

Retracting the stun baton, panting slightly, he pulled the electronic manacles from his pocket, approaching. “You are hereby to be in the custody of the Internal Watch for questioning rega-”

And then, a sharp jolt at his leg. The man had actually pulled a knife. The Ni-kunni man retracted the blade, then quickly plunged it into Shiran’s stomach, dropping the Calmatar to the ground. More stabs came, despite Shiran’s fighting back, the stun baton slowly becoming less of a weapon each moment.

As the darkness began to overtake him, Shiran Mazaki looked up at his murderer, coughing out blood. “Bastard.”

Then, darkness.

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Pique

Dominius waved his hand to the tear-stricken female servant within the room, then began buttoning up his shirt. “Go clean yourself up,” he ordered the frail and battered woman. “Oh, and tell Khaihraz I wish to see him.” And of course, she obediently left, nothing to keep her dignity in place but the small tablecloth wrapped around her body.

He smiled.

His jacket was pulled on, adjusted carefully, then he began working at fixing his perfect brown hair. A prideful grin appeared as he looked into the mirror to ensure he looked as immaculate as possible.

Then, a knock at his door.

“Enter,” he commanded.

In stepped his faithful servant Khaihraz, looking prepared to do whatever was asked of him. “You wished to see my, my Lord?”

Dominius turned on his heel and flashed that prideful grin. “I did! It’s high time we bring our results to light, I believe. Get him on the comms.”

“Of course, Lord Degario. At once.”

The Ni-kunni servant quickly moved to the holo-display to the side of the master chambers, pressing his fingers to the touchscreen with quick succession.

Lord Degario, now confident his appearance was up to par, took a seat at his lounge chair, waiting as patiently as any man of his stature could.

And it wasn’t long before the hooded figure appeared on the screen. “Lord Degario. I take it you have some news?” His voice gruff, yet demanding.

“I do. We have the location of her home, among other things.”

The hooded figure nodded, then looked away as if he was about to disconnect.

“Heh, you can wait. I have a plan in mind to send her a message,” Dominius forced. He was beginning to grow offended that this man would simply toss the information to the side.

“No, you have a plan to be patient. As far as we know, she’s not told anyone yet. Do not commit any action like an angry child would, Dominius.”

Oh, and how the anger did start in. He could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks, to his mind. A frown appeared. “Do you forget what she said in her me-”

“Do you take me for a fool?” Came the interrupting remark.

Dominius began to see red. The nerve of this man, why he would have him killed on the spot were he part of his Holding. “Do not forget who helps fund you and your activities,” he spat. “I could withdraw at any time.”

“Then do so. I do not need your funds to do what needs done. My Faith does not need your funding. It would still remain strong and I would continue His Work without the petty offerings of some child.”

The Holder’s fist slammed onto the table. “You think you can speak to me in such a way? I will not allow it.”

The hooded figure snorted. “You already have.” And then, he disconnected.

Dominius was left speechless. He knew he couldn’t simply withdraw his support. His plans would be ruined. Everything he’d done thus far would be for nothing. He was seething, though, wanting nothing more than to take his anger out on something.

He looked to Khaihraz, who was smart enough to know not to have said anything thus far. The snake-like servant simply awaited an order.

Drawing a breath through his nostrils, Lord Degario spoke with all the tones of a man that had something to prove. “I will not let this woman get away with speaking to me as she did. And one day, I will not let him, either,” he sneered. “For now, focus on her. Send her a message.”

Khaihraz bowed his head. “How would you like it delivered?”

Dominius glanced off to the side at a statue of one of his most prized slaver hounds. With a nod towards it, then back to Khaihraz, he waved his hand.

“Do it.”

Passenger

“It’s been some time since your last appointment. We’ve both been quite busy, haven’t we,” came the calming voice from the woman across from her.

“It has, and we have. But I could have tried harder to be here. You have my apologies.”

The brow of the psychologist raised, and her head tilted. “There’s no apology needed, Avala-haani.” A pause. That quiet, awkward pause of a person who was picking apart the structure of words presented to them. “We both could have tried harder. Nevertheless,” Emiri Aneozomi began, “I have decided to withdraw the mandatory drug tests you were subjected to. All of them have come back negative thus far, and myself and the Executor have no reason to believe they ever will.”

Julianni nodded her head. She’d expected something like that to come up, and she’d certainly been prepared for it. Lately, reading these people was getting easier and easier. It made her wonder just why she even came to these appointments anymore. “Thank you. Is there anything else?”

Another loft of the doctor’s brow. “There is, if you’ve the time to spare…”

With the way Emiri trailed off, Julianni knew that there was more of a demand there than was spoken. After a small shift in her seat, she laid her hands calmly into her lap and looked towards the doctor, nodding. “I do.”

“Good.” That pause. Julianni’s eye twitched. That damn pause. Why wouldn’t the woman just say what was on her mind? “I’ve noticed a bit of a change in you. More…confidence, perhaps. I’m happy to see it.”

“Thank you again, Aneozomi-haani. I’ve been working towards that, and I’m glad to see it’s noticed,” she confirmed. It was true, of course. The target practice at her home, the beginnings of combat training with Aldrith- both had done wonders to boost her courage thus far.

“Mh, yes. However, I’m concerned. Have you spoke to anyone about what you’ve endured?”

Julianni thought about it. Had she, really? No. No, she hadn’t. Not at length, at least. “Briefly.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to? You’ve not even revealed to myself what’s going on in that head of yours. Not that I am offended, of course. But surely there must be someone you can be open with. You need to be.”

Names began to swim through the sea of Julianni’s increasingly darkened mind.

Zeke.

Luna.

Utari.

Ioannis.

Vince.

Hespyr.

As each name slowly waded through the murky sludge, so too did they sink to the blackened depths. For each person had their own life. Their own problems. Their own worries. Struggles. Heartache. Loss. She knew it, even if they didn’t show it. Who was she to drown them further?

“I am open with God,” was Julianni’s reply, a lie thick like the very dark sludge that was eating away at her mind.

Emiri sighed, then stood and made her way to her desk. “I hope one day that is true, Avala-haani, and that you find someone you are able to speak to without worry. You need to let it all go. I know it affects you, and I’m not the only one to notice.”

“If there are concerns with the quality of my work, I give my word I will try harder.”

“I’m sure you will, but that is not what I meant. Regardless, I have an appointment with someone else. I would like to see you again next month, if that works with your schedule. Otherwise, you know where to find me. I will be here,” the doctor said with a saddened smile.

This time, it was Julianni’s turn to pause. At the very least, she was beginning to wonder if maybe she really did need to let it out. But to whom?

Standing slowly, she bowed to Emiri, then gracefully glided to the door without another word. What else was there to say?

Chrysalis

“-dn’t you agree?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m…” A pause. “Pardon?”

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

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

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

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

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

“And how did that go?”

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

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

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

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

“That’s correct.”

“I see,” came the doctor’s response.

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

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

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

“Later?”

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

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

What would happen?

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

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

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

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

“Also, Julianni?”

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

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

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

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

“I already have.”

 

01001100 01110101 01110010 01101011

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

He was ready.

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

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

After all, his life depended on it.

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

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

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

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

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

The mail pulled up.

And the alert began as a small flash.

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

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

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

 


 

 

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

Miss Avala,

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

May God shine His Light on your path.

Regards and with regret,

Lord Degario

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

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

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

Metamorphosis

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she already knew what it said.

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

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

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

And then:

She picked up the vial.

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.”