Avona rapped her nails on the jut of crystal at the center of Ruby Hall. She, Chax and Camy were gathered around it as they awaited the arrival of Ela and Berry. Bad enough that Berry had developed a habit of being late to Council Meetings, but worse that Ela had joined her in this show of disrespect.
Chax had cautioned her against assuming control of the Council, but the prospect grew more appealing with each passing day. Furthermore, the unpleasant possibility that Ela was conspiring against her in some drifted through her head. That would be a problem.
Avona had grown accustomed to getting her way over the years, and she had no intention of letting that change. She turned to Chax, prepared to command him to open an investigation, but was spared the need by Ela's arrival at that moment.
"Welcome, Director Dishad," Avona said softly as Ela approached the center. She chased the greeting with as sweet a smile as she could muster given her frustration. "A pleasure to have you join us."
"Thank you, Director Lorian," Ela said, her smile not as sweet and with no trace of the usual mirth her voice held.
Avona stopped rapping her nails. Part of her hoped Ela would become a problem. She felt she would rather enjoy dealing with it.
"That leaves us waiting on Director Nashyne, once again," Camy stated, keeping at bay the silence that lingered in the room like an ambush predator slinking in the shadows.
"I don't believe she will be joining us," Ela said.
This elicited raised eyebrows from Camy and Avona, while Chax remained passive as usual.
"Why is that?" Avona asked when no explanation was forthcoming.
"The Director had asked me to meet with her today," Ela replied, looking Avona in the eye. "When I arrived at her quarters, she was so deep in the Pattern that I could not rouse her from her Interface physically. I was eventually able to reach her, by overwhelming her with thoughtsends. She was quite disoriented from the ordeal."
Avona couldn't be sure, but she thought she caught the hint of a wry smile on Ela's lips as the Director added, "I'll let her know you were concerned for her."
Avona could have laughed were she in different company. She was concerned, extremely concerned, but not for Berry's health. A far more serious issue was that Berry might actually find something she shouldn't.
She would speak with Chax on how best to handle the wayward Director.
"Thank you," Avona said with a demure dip of her head. "We shall proceed without Director Nashyne. Please, summon Head Cataloguer Po. I would like us to have update from him."
She'd almost said she wanted an update, without including everyone else. Ela would probably have complied, but Chax would have just as likely had something to say about it later. She reminded herself that he was second in command of the Avol Heraz, and just looking out for her.
"It is done," Ela replied a moment later.
When Etash Po arrived, Ela announced him.
"Greetings, and welcome, Head Cataloguer," Avona said softly. "We are pleased you could join us. The Council would like an update on your progress."
"Of course," Etash said with a nod. "You'll be pleased to hear I've completed everyone whose names start with 'A' and 'B', and have just started on 'C'."
She had hoped he would be finished, actually, and was not at all pleased to hear he had just started on 'C'.
"You've had five days, and you've only just begun on 'C'?"
He looked to Ela and back, and she noted with satisfaction that he looked a little flustered. She hid her amusement, but again considered that it would be much easier if she didn't have to.
"The majority of the population are 'A' and 'B' names, Director," Etash said with his hands out to his sides. "'A' alone has more than 'C', 'D' and 'E' combined."
"Very well," she said, and she almost winced when she realized how like Azad she must have sounded as the words left her lips.
"Tell me where to find the record, and I can begin looking over what you have so far."
She sensed Chax shift at her side, and she realized she'd only included herself.
Indeed, a lot easier if she didn't have to control herself. Of course, she'd always had to, but not like this. The stakes were never this high.
"Yes, certainly," he said as he looked at each of them in turn. "I'm sure you will find it very enlightening."
Avona was certain that his behavior was intended to be a slight against her for once again not including the others, but under the circumstances let it pass. After all, it was her mistake.
After Etash had been dismissed, the meeting carried on for a little while longer with the usual administrative duties, and then adjourned. She wasted no time in returning to her quarters.
Normally, she would lay down on the hides that made her bed, and remove herself from contact with the Crystifice. This time though, she was eager to explore the record Etash had created.
She sat on the floor and pressed her palms to the pale blue crystal beneath her. It was comfortably warm to the touch, and she could feel the hum of it tingling at her touch.
Tingling with possibilities, she mused.
She was not as skilled with psychometry and the art of Interface as Berry and Ela, or anyone from the Department of Cerebromancy she expected. She could do enough to find what she needed when she needed it, most of the time.
When she couldn't, she made friends.
The record turned out to be a massive purple hexagon, the largest shape she had ever seen in the Pattern. She realized that Etash may well have been working as hard as he could on it after all.
For the first time, it occurred to her that perhaps this was a bad idea.
The record would contain everyone, which meant it would have resonance with everyone. It would be easy to find, even for a novice. Surely, Etash secured it somehow, although she didn't have the knowledge to begin speculating how.
The next time they spoke, she would ask him.
Into the hexagon she went, and after a moment of disorienting, swirling colors found herself looking at three more purple hexagons, each with crisp, sharp borders
Another moment of swirling color passed as she went one layer deeper, and opened onto a sea of neatly organized purple triangles.
Row upon row of them.
Now, it was time to see what the residents of Bron Nasaal were capable of.
What her future army would be capable of.
The first triangle spun as she accessed it, and the voice of Etash Po echoed in her mind.
"Aalon Pik. Male. Guild of Agriculture. Department of Employment. Age seventeen. At baseline plus one, performed as follows: Psychometry, average. See sound, average. Hear light, average."
She moved on to the next one.
And the next one.
She made mental notes on those she believed had potential: photokinesis, empathic manipulation, danger intuition. Most of them were on the below average side, but with the proper training they could improve, she believed.
The sheer number of triangles was daunting, and after listening to over two dozen records, she was shocked to find she had only made it half-way down the first row.
It needed to be done, she reminded herself as she willed herself into the next one.
And the next one.
Until finally, she was nearing the end. She didn't know how long she had been at it. Hours, probably. She would be miserable upon her exit from the Pattern, she was sure, but she was unwilling to let more time pass without action.
Eager to be done with the letter 'A', she entered the next one.
And the next one.
"Arita Jayet. Female. Guild of Scribes. Department of Employment. Age ten. At baseline, performed as follows: Psychometry, incapable. Cerebromantic feedback, above average."
Her mind flashed back to a moment not so long ago and yet a lifetime ago. Azad had abruptly left the council meeting, followed by the rest of them in the prelude to the incident on the Drop Rock.
Ultimately, it had been Azad's natural and illegitimate child, and not Arita, that was responsible for taking out the or-walls. Even so, Cyrus had believed Arita was capable of removing them, and if Cyrus believed it, then Avona did too.
She could kick herself for forgetting about the girl.
Artia could change everything, and needed to be found immediately.
Avona withdrew from the rows of triangles, back and back until she was out of the Pattern.. She maintained her Interface, and submitted her destination to the Crystifice: Take me to the location of Arita Jayet.
When she opened her eyes, the world spun for a moment, and if she hadn't been sitting she might have fallen over. As the world stabilized, she recognized the familiar faceted walls of her own quarters. She leapt to her feet and turned a circle, expecting that somehow Arita was in her room with her.
It didn't take long to eliminate that as a possibility.
Pyschometry, incapable, she heard Etash's voice echo in her mind. It took a moment, but the significance of it settled in as she calmed and collected herself.
Arita couldn't Interface.
Without it, the Crystifice didn't know where she was, and couldn't take her there.
Arita was in Catalogue, though. She knew it.
A satisfied smile played upon her lips.
This time she opened her eyes to a large chamber. It was full of people, all gathered individually and in small crowds around crystalline pillars protruding from the floor and walls. The faintest hints of hushed conversation could be heard, as everyone generally tried to stay quiet to avoid disrupting the concentration of those around them.
She had hoped to find Arita alone, if for no other reason than she didn't know what the girl looked like. Even so, picking a ten-year-old girl out of a crowd shouldn't be too difficult, she reasoned.
As she scanned the room, she wondered what a person who couldn't Interface would be doing in a place where people did exactly that.
When she spotted a young girl speaking to Bi Prim, it clicked, and she didn't need her talents to reach the conclusion: a girl who couldn't Interface needed someone to do it for her.
Bi Prim was not much older than Arita, and the two would have had a fair amount in common – possibly even spending a lot of time together in the nursery when they were younger. She would go to someone she trusted, of course, and it didn't hurt that Bi Prim was quite gifted with the talent of psychometry.
Avona knew that well enough first hand.
She watched and waited, and when the two split, she made her way to intercept the young girl.
She was forced to hold back almost immediately, however, as the young girl walked straight up to Etash and began a conversation with him. Avona waited, and after a few minutes, the two of them split and the girl began walking alone again.
Avona went to introduce herself.
Ela looked out across the sea of purple triangles amid the backdrop of black, and she marveled at the scope of the record Etash had put together.
She had entered a couple of the records, and heard Etash dictate a synopsis of the individuals. She was in awe of what the Head Cataloguer had done.
The design was beautiful.
By recording the records in his own voice, Etash had eliminated any resonance with anyone else. To find this, you would have to know it was here, or possibly ask a very specific question regarding Etash Po with just the right words to bring you here.
Even Cyrus would have been impressed, she knew. She started to recall similar projects he had worked on, and then forced herself to stop reminiscing.
She was here for something specific.
In the Council meeting, when Etash had looked at them and said, "I'm sure you will find it every enlightening," he had looked right at her and made eye contact as the words 'you will' left his mouth.
She didn't get the impression it was an accident.
Ela entered a few more of the records, listened to the information collected there.
Her own record wouldn't be available, she knew. Etash had not reached 'E' yet. She wondered what it would say.
"Ela Dishad, Director of Cerebromancy. Female. Age thirty-one. Guild of Scribes. Department of Cerebromancy. At baseline plus four, performed as follows: Psychometry, not quite as good as Berry Nashyne. Telepathic communication, the best by far."
Purple triangles drifted by slowly as Ela moved through the row and gave thought to the elder Director.
After Ela pulled her from the Pattern, which she didn't quite understand how she accomplished that even herself, Berry was murmuring something about a white room full of silver spheres for everyone.
Berry was old, and Ela considered that perhaps her mental faculties were finally giving out.
Etash had completed the 'B' names. She could find Berry's record, and see what the old, no-nonsense Director was truly capable of. She could have probably found out at any time, being the Director of Cerebromancy. It would have involved a lot more work though, as the records filed by the Assessors had resonance with them and the patient only.
Etash had packaged it nice and neat
She could even find what Avona was capable of while she was here.
Her lazy glide through the records came to a halt as the words Etash spoke yesterday came came back to her: Be careful, especially with Avona.
The record did not take long to locate. The triangle spun, and the voice of Etash spoke.
"Avona Lorian, Director of Employment. Female. Age thirty-two. Guild: Physicians. Department: Employment. At baseline plus four, performed as follows: Psychometry, average. Intuitive aptitude with social intuition, above average. Claircognizance, below average."
Ela was aware of Avona's ability to intrinsically know things. Avona made effort to hide it, and it had come up many times over the years, usually to the benefit of everyone.
Avona knew how people worked, and more than that – she knew exactly how to interact with them.
What to say, what to do.
All this time, Ela just believed Avona was gifted with a certain amount of charisma. It had never occurred to her that Avona was using a Cerebromantic talent on her.
Which would have been illegal, except Ela realized the loop hole as soon as she had the thought.
Avona wasn't using the talent on others – she was using it on herself to gain intrinsic knowledge.
Her mind raced back through time, through the many meetings and interactions she had with Avona.
Every gentle smile, demure tilt of the head, and every sweet compliment now were tainted with the knowledge that Avona was manipulating the conversation for her own goals, whatever those might be.
Possibilities of what Avona intended to do raced through her mind, each worse than the one before it.
Uncertainties about what she could, or should, do herself began to mingle with them, and the Pattern began to get fuzzy.
Her eyes fluttered open. She stood in her quarters, palms pressed against her favorite knob of crystal protruding from one wall, just as she had been when she entered the Pattern.
Her troubled mind had lost focus, severing the connection.
She couldn't help but think it wouldn't have happened in a world without Cyrus. Since he left, she had not been sleeping well. The fatigue had made it difficult to concentrate, and even find energy some days
If Barash were still around, she could at least see him. The image of Barash's body seeping the red blood of life onto the pale blue floor of the Crystifice flashed through her mind. Along with it, she recalled Avona's voice shout 'watch out' just before it happened.
It occurred to her that Avona could have shouted a warning only if she knew or saw what was about to happen. Given what Avona's talents included, it was reasonable to conclude it was the former.
A shiver ran down her spine.
She knew what she needed to do, and fell into Interface to do it.
When her eyes opened again, they looked out across the large, open chamber of Catalogue. As she entered Catalogue, she spotted Arita and Etash speaking with each other.
For a moment, she considered if she should include Arita.
The moment passed, however, when the two split up and went their separate ways.
As she slipped into Catalogue, she sent Etash a quick thoughtsend to inform him she had just arrived and wanted to speak with him immediately. She could plainly see when the message reached him, as he stopped dead in his tracks and then began to search the room for her. When he did, he joined her beside a bare nub of a pillar, too short for anyone to use.
"You were right about Avona," she whispered, looking around to make sure no-one was within ear-shot.
With a nod of his head Etash indicated a vacant Assessment Cube, and the two of them secluded themselves within.
"Talk to me," he said. His eyes were searching hers, concern plainly written on his scrunched-up brow.
Her heart was racing. She put her hands to her eyes, her mouth, settled on crossing them in front of her. She knew what she was about to suggest was borderline treason, but if she was right, then Avona was doing no worse.
And if she was wrong… She turned away for a moment, and then turned back, deciding to ignore that possibility. After stealing another glance to make sure no one was approaching the cube, she continued in a hushed tone.
"You're acting quite strange," Etash said slowly.
"We have to get out of here. Cyrus is on the surface, but not to conduct research. He fled, with Azad, Zee, Deena and the Dryn Mar."
Etash's brow scrunched in confusion as the words left her mouth.
"Azad and who? The what? Fled?"
His eyes widened, and he took a cautious step back.
"Please, tell me this isn't Canker Brain."
She pulled her hair in frustration. There was too much to explain, and not enough time.
"Come to the Drop Rock with me tonight, at midnight. You will see for yourself what's going on. Then, you can decide if you want to stay or go."
She expected he would join her, but even if he didn't, she trusted that he would not betray her.
"And no, it's not Canker Brain," she added, just to be sure.
Etash said nothing, just continued to stare at her, as if somehow by looking into her eyes he could read what was going on in her head.
Maybe he could, it occurred to her. After all, Avona had hidden talents.
"Say something," she said, the silence too much to bear.
When he did not, she shook her head and turned to leave.
"Wait," he said, and she stopped. "I'm worried about you. I don't know what's going on, but there's been enough recently to make me think something is. And you, of all people, I have no reason to doubt. I'll be there."
She turned and gave him a nod.
He nodded in return.
With that, she fled from Catalogue. She needed to take care of a couple things before she left, and there wasn't much time.
v1.1 - updated 1/25/18 - not been too happy with the quality of the writing since the first few chapters, so tried to take a little more time with this one.