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.

Advertisements

Breathless

The weight was unbearable. How could she handle it all? How could she do it? Was there even a way? Her eyes squeezed shut as she curled into a ball in the corner of her bedroom.

She had no choice. It was public. Last time something went wrong for him, he drank and drugged himself to death, she told herself. How could she have put him in a position to do that again?

But how could she put herself in such a position?

“He is weakening your will to serve God by placing himself in a position of importance almost more than Him.”

As much as it killed Julianni to think that over, she knew it was possible. She knew it could be true. Perhaps not intentionally, but the more she thought about her recent actions, the more she realized it was happening.

She didn’t want it.

The woman didn’t want to be married. It was too soon. Not only that, but she had so many things to take care of. So did he. But again…how could she say no?

He’d begged her not to leave him. He told her how he had been abandoned before. Could she do that to him? Could she be so ruthless? So selfish?

Tears squeezed out of her already bloodshot eyes and she began to sob.

What could she do to fix this? Was it even possible? She felt as if all the air from her lungs had escaped- as if there was nothing left of her but the husk of body left behind.

She wanted to be there for him, to help him through his troubles; Julianni knew what it was like to be alone. But what was she willing to give up to do that? How much of herself was she willing to sacrifice? Or had she already sacrificed it all?

A clock within her home let loose a soft chime, delicate and soothing in its sound.

And then, solitary silence. So much that it was deafening.

Wandering Star

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

Home.

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

But not today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01001100 01110101 01110010 01101011

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

He was ready.

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

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

After all, his life depended on it.

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

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

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

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

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

The mail pulled up.

And the alert began as a small flash.

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

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

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

 


 

 

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

Miss Avala,

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

May God shine His Light on your path.

Regards and with regret,

Lord Degario

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

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

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

Metamorphosis

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she already knew what it said.

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

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

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

And then:

She picked up the vial.

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.