Taleb spun away from Moana, narrowly avoiding the scrape of her claws upon his grass-green scales. A leap back put some distance between them, and the two stood for a moment, breathing hard and eyeing each other.
They began a synchronous orbit around an invisible point between them. Clawed feet clacked against the crystalline floor while their tails twitched. Moana feigned a lunge, but Taleb recognized it for what it was and made no move to react.
After several revolutions Taleb altered his trajectory so that each step closed the gap between them. Moana must have taken notice, for she began to do the same.
With each step they crouched lower, tense like vipers poised to strike.
Taleb pounced first.
Moana sidestepped, then spun around, her leg extended in a roundhouse kick. Taleb was ready, and easily leaned back out of harm's way. Again he sprang for her, claws descending from above to rake at her sky-blue scales.
She let the momentum of her roundhouse carry her into a side-long roll and managed to evade the strike. Prepared to pivot and leap for him as she came out of the roll, Moana found herself forced to retreat instead.
Grass-green and sky-blue became a blur as Taleb pressed the attack with a flurry of claws and fists. Fast and repeatedly he struck, while Moana deflected blow after blow. The relentless assault scored no hits, but forced her to give up ground.
Her sapphire eyes darted about in search of an opening, some moment she could leap to either side. Always they were forced back to Taleb, whose swift attacks worked her frantically, demanding her attention.
Falling back once again, she felt her tail brush against the wall behind her. The realization caused her to tense, and Taleb's emerald green eyes narrowed in anticipation of his victory.
He struck once, twice, a third time. Each blow worked Moana's arms and defenses higher.
A fourth time he came to strike high and fast, and Moana moved to intercept. As she did, Taleb dropped his arms and lunged forward to grab her waist and plant his knee squarely into her exposed abdomen.
Moana doubled over, the wind knocked out in a rush that left her coughing and gasping.
Fluidly, Taleb twirled around behind her and leapt high with a raised fist. He brought it down upon her back as he descended, driving her the rest of the way to the unyielding, crystalline floor with a thud.
A cry of pain escaped her lips as the hard surface dug into her scales. She brought her arms under her to push up, but Taleb's foot landed firmly on her back, forcing her back down while his talons dug slightly into her.
"Oh! She almost had him that time," Berry remarked with an amused twinkle in her eye.
"Almost," Barash agreed with a snort as he ended their shared clairvoyant session of the two Dryn Mar sparring.
"She's certainly closer to beating him than I am to getting access to her water."
Berry let out an exasperated sigh and said, "You must let it go."
"It's been five months since we learned of their ability to produce water," he growled, his thick arms folded over his barrel chest. "Summer is upon us. I need access to it!"
Berry's eyebrows arched.
Barash took a deep breath and said, "That is, my Guild needs access to it."
"I'm sure," she remarked coolly. "May I remind you that you are not the head of your Guild, Director?"
"I know that," he said between gritted teeth. "But she doesn't know about them! She doesn't know what's available here! That leaves it up to me to fight for it!"
He stressed each point by thrusting a pointed finger just over Berry' shoulder.
Berry scoffed. "And what will you do, hmm? Director Ovadius is within his right – a right we bestowed upon him, I might add – as Director of Research and Exploration to withhold access to the Dryn Mar. Be patient and wait, there is nothing else for it. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a class to prepare for."
She turned and made her way out of the small viewing room in Station, the seat of operations for the Department of Law Enforcement.
Barash Katan, the Director of Law Enforcement, chewed on his lip as his mind chewed on her words.
He wasn't sure what he would do, but he knew he needed to do something.
Azad quickly made his way through Catalogue, towards Assessment Cube Two. Over the last several months, he'd noticed something intriguing: Cyrus and Ela were experiencing a near identical shift in their aura. While he strongly suspected he knew what it meant, he had never actually witnessed it before and wanted confirmation.
He was eager for some answers.
He arrived in the Cube to find a man sitting still as a statue on the bench that ringed the Cube. The man wore the robes of the Guild of Physicians and decorated with Department of Education patches. With his wavy, shoulder-length hair and bright brown eyes, he could have passed for Cyrus, if Cyrus were shorter and much thinner. Indeed, Azad realized, it was entirely possible the two shared a parent.
The thought sobered him, and reminded him of the very reasons he desired to bring about a drastic change to how things were done on Bron Nasaal.
The man stood as Azad entered, and the motion was far more fluid than Azad would have suspected possible from the rigid way he sat. "Director Morlan," he said with a nod of his head. "Director Lorian requethted I meet you here."
Azad paused and made a show of looking the young man over. He noticed pitted scar on the youth's left check, and was struck with a memory. "Chax, is it?"
"Yeth," the young man said, and if he was surprised that Azad knew his name he did not show it.
Azad nodded. He had been in the Catalogue the day a nursey class visited, and a young boy stumbled and fell onto one of the slender pillars that littered the place. The crystalline shaft pierced the child's jaw, and he had been rushed off to the physicians. Azad had insisted every effort be made to take care of the child.
Naturally, his insistence was based on the premise that people were a valuable resource and difficult to replace. While true, the real reason was not something he could admit. Just the day before, Zee injured himself in a similar fashion, though not as severely. Seeing Chax injure himself on the Crystifice struck a chord with Azad that day.
Azad noted with approval that Chax stood straight, with his head held high and eyes forward without making direct eye contact. Whatever might be going through the young man's head as Azad studied him in silence, his face remained blank. It would seem that Avona Lorian had not been wrong when Azad inquired about good empaths in her Department.
Azad noticed a badge sewn into Chax's robes. "An Emotion Arbiter?"
"I prefer Counthilor," Chax responded, his expressions and demeanor unchanged.
In the Guild of Physicians, there were many dedicated to healing the body's wounds. Arbiters were a smaller group within the Guild, dedicated to healing emotional wounds. It was odd to see one in the Department of Education, but not impossible certainly.
"Did Director Lorian tell you why I requested you?"
"No," Chax replied. "Only that the matter wath thenthitive, and that I thould not dithcuth it."
"Quite so," said Azad. He moved further into the room, dropped his voice to a whisper and looked Chax in the eye. "I need you to assess the emotional states of someone. Discreetly, of course."
"I can do that," Chax said without hesitation. His bright brown eyes held Azad's, unwavering. After a moment Azad gave an slight nod.
"Good," he said softly. "You will observe Director Ovadius for a single stretch, updating me once half-way through. This is only a courtesy check, as he is a newly appointed Director, and that of a new department as well."
Azad paused briefly before continuing, "Director Katan and I want to make sure he is holding up well enough emotionally, without the added distress of knowing he is being observed. We must use our resources wisely, after all."
"Yeth, of courth. I'll let you know what I find," said Chax, remaining stone-faced.
"I trust you will. Additionally, you are only to observe him in Catalogue, where anyone could reasonably have the opportunity to do so, and where you won't draw attention to yourself."
"Obtherve Director Ovadiuth for ten dayth, only in public, and without letting anyone know. Update you on day five. Am I mithing anything?"
"No," Azad said. "Now, if you'll excuse me."
Azad gave another slight nod, and then departed the room to head towards the Drop Rock exit.
Director Ela Dishad's long, black hair danced playfully in the breeze as she studied the scrawny young girl sitting before her.
The object of Ela's observation, Arita Jayet, sat before her with eyes closed. A slight crease of concentration had taken up residence upon the young girl's brow. The two of them sat cross-legged upon a large boulder. All around them, the Great Courtyard was quiet except for the grass rustling softly with the wind.
It was not a Sun Day, and so they had the place largely to themselves. Those few people also in the Great Courtyard were fairly spread out, and most were meditating and concentrating just as hard as Arita. The girl found it much easier to focus outside, and so Ela and Azad took to sharing lessons with her out here.
Ela preferred teaching within the walls of the Crystifice, where she could observe the Pattern. Outside it was lovely, but there was also a strange emptiness she felt from lack of physical contact with towering, monoclinic structure of pale blue crystal surrounding the Great Courtyard. She realized she was becoming distracted, and shifted her focus back to Arita.
Though Arita's eyelids were closed, her eyes were moving rapidly beneath them. The crease on her brow deepened, her breaths coming faster than before. Ela noted that Arita's knuckles were whitened where she gripped her own knees tightly.
She was certainly trying hard to succeed. Perhaps too hard.
Harder than Ela was trying to succeed at ignoring her feelings for Cyrus, she realized with a frustrated sigh.
She'd managed to come up with excuses for not seeing him outside of the regular meetings of the Directors. Often, that excuse involved Arita. She knew the law, after all, and Cyrus was an empath. She doubted he even needed his talents to see right through her, into her soul, and when he did she would be ruined for something she could not deny, but also could not accept.
Yes, he would see through her like a thin crystal, and she would be just as easily shattered.
Movement from Arita grabbed her attention, and she looked over to see the young girl raise her open hands into the air. Softly, she clapped them together three times, barely making a sound.
A wide smile played across the lips of Ela Dishad. "It worked," she whispered.
Arita's eyes flew open. "Really? It worked?"
"It worked!" Arita shouted with glee. "Woo!"
"Shhhh," Ela scolded, though her giggling betrayed any hint of actual trouble for Arita.
Arita's hand flew to her mouth to stifle her own laughter as she peeked about, but it did not seem as if anyone took heed of her outburst.
"Congratulations," Ela said softly. "You just managed to suppress your Cerebromancy enough to effectively turn it off."
"I can't believe it!" Arita squealed, trying to keep her voice down amidst the excitement. "Azad will be so thrilled! I can't wait to show him."
"He'll be delighted, I'm sure. I know he's been working with you on this for some time. You should be very proud."
Arita beamed, and Ela marveled at the change in the young girl in the last few months. Gone was the shy, timid girl that Ela observed after Arita's first Baseline Assessment. In her place was a blooming flower, lovely and full of life.
"Shall we do it again?"
Arita nodded emphatically, shook the energy out of her hands and then fell into concentration.
Ela focused on the young girl, and forming an arrow of thought in her mind, sent it speeding towards Arita with a message: Arita Jayet, if you receive this then stand up and sit back down twice.
V1.2 10/16/17 – updated prose a bit, corrected some typos
A/N: This is a direct continuation of Shattered Fortress I, not a stand-alone, and will be difficult to follow if you have not read the first story.