"You're a riot."
The psion shifted in his spot on one of the Shoal docks, glancing behind his shoulder at Sister Dannia. Her arms were crossed in a relaxed fashion, and she was staring at him intently. Her tied orange hair and the strips of golden fabric on her dress reflected the setting sun, red on the horizon. She usually snuck up on him like this whenever he was deep in thought, but she knew better than to interrupt him whenever he was wearing his hood—that meant he was in meditation.
He glanced back at the water at his feet, saying nothing at first. Without even reading her mind, he already knew what she was going to say. But he responded anyway, with a pseudo-curious, "Why do you say that?"
"I don't think even the fishers here in Shoal could stare at water for so long without needing to go to the bathroom," she declared, stepping closer to the dock.
Suddenly the man became conscious of himself and jerked his eyes up to the gigantic fish meteor sticking out of the lake. His dark brown eyes studied its shape. "It wouldn't surprise me, with all these fishers being out of a job for so long. I suppose that's one thing Calagat'cha didn't think about when it crashed here."
Dannia gaped at the man in front of her. It was never like him to say something so strong, much less to speak at all. But she wasn't so taken aback that she couldn't retort back at him. "Varson! I told you, Calagat'cha isn't an evil fish! I know things aren't exactly peaceful right now, but. . . I. . ." She hesitated for a few seconds, half-hoping Varson would interrupt her words and give her time to think of a better argument.
The black-haired man just sat there, however, continuing to watch the water as his feet gently passed through it. Sister Dannia was a priest that worshiped the fish god, Calagat'cha, and she was a bit defensive about it. He had been hardly listening to her, however, as he was wondering about something else. In the past, Shoal had been like a home away from home to him, but after the meteor crashes, he had been careful to keep his distance. He usually had a good reason for visiting whenever he did, but he couldn't decide why he had come back to Shoal that day. There was nothing to be accomplished, no urgent quest he needed to get done. There was another reason lurking in his mind, but he didn't want to admit it.
After these thoughts, the psion abruptly became aware of Dannia. He couldn't even see her, but he felt her despondent eyes on him. When she remained silent, he replied, "Yeah, well, Shoal isn't the only town. Weird things have been happening all over the place."
The priest nodded and muttered in agreement, though it was more a sign of gratitude for his reassurance. Again, an uncomfortable silence fell between them. Dannia had crossed her arms once more, trying to appear interested in staring at the sky; Varson was still fixated on the water. For once, Dannia wished the fish meteor wasn't looming in the background. The silence was itching the woman like a rash, and she couldn't help but try and talk about something.
"How is the child?" she asked.
"She's fine," droned the psion. "She was escorted south of here, to the Oxbow Farm. I'll be on my way there. . ." he paused as he checked his watch. "Right now."
"Your staff isn't fixed, though," Dannia protested. "You'll be traveling to the Four Farms without a staff? What if you run into impits? It's bad enough that you sent a little girl to that dangerous place. . . . "
"Sister Dannia," Varson addressed her sternly. He stood up on the dock, hooded himself, and turned around. "I don't think even the fishers here in Shoal could worry as much as you do."
His friend gave him a somewhat disheartened smile. "Then I'll get to the point: Be careful."
"Fair enough," affirmed Varson. "Tell Enstena I'm sorry I couldn't meet with her today." The discomfort on his face was apparent, even through his dark blue cloak shadowed it. He turned around without any confirmation from Dannia and started on a slow pace, southward. She yelled something to him, probably a loud goodbye. By then he had blended into a crowd of shoppers and was silently approaching the city limits of Shoal.
By the time he had reached the dirt road in the forest, it was already dusk. He walked on, preoccupied with his thoughts. He knew it was pointless to mull over what he already pondered about in Shoal, but it sprang up in his mind regardless. Maybe he should have talked with Dannia about it. But she didn't know Enstena the way he did. And Dannia never really had a problem with sheltering her thoughts.
He could still picture the teacher's face as she questioned him about his goddaughter. It wasn't her usual calm expression. Ever since she found out Varson had been raising a psionically gifted child, she wanted to teach the girl. He had been stalling the whole time, almost trying to ignore the issue. The truth was, he wanted to train the girl himself. Sure, he could have used a little help, but he didn't want to hand her away like the rest of Enstena's students. Enstena was no more of a master to the class than he was.
Of course, this sounded snooty—even to him—considering she was the woman he had trained with as a boy. Maybe that was why she was so persistent.
Then a troubled, growl-like cry reached his ears, and he finally paid attention to his surroundings. It took him a while to focus on what was happening, his blood rushing in his impatience. When at last he located the source of noise, he found a blonde Beastmaster being harassed by an impit. The elf had fallen on his back and apparently couldn't get up. He frantically thrashed his claws at the beast, barely scraping away anything.
Varson quickly sprinted to the canopy elf. He had dealt with impits before and felt sure he could take care of this one, even without a staff. He came to a sharp stop and kicked dirt on the creature's back. It jerked around to look at the psion. With his attention fixed on the impit, Varson failed to see the fist-sized rock that came soaring at his face. It struck with his right eyebrow. His hands clasped just above his right eye as he winced in pain, cursing under his breath. "Who's doing that!" he bellowed.
"Go away!" the Beastmaster hissed.
Varson mumbled to himself. Why did Dannia always have to be right?
The impit kept advancing toward Varson as the Beastmaster continued to throw painfully accurate stones at his face. The human dodged both blindly in the encumbering darkness. It was clear that the elf found him to be threatening—even more so than an impit—but Varson couldn't tell why.
In his desperation, he then did something he had not done in a long time. After dodging the impit and any projectiles, he turned his back to them and stood perfectly still for a few seconds, closing his eyes and letting his mind explore his surroundings. He sensed the thoughts of the two beings behind him, pinpointing exactly the angle and distance they were from him. It was harder to locate the impit's mind, since the creatures weren't sentient. Time decelerated as the psion could sense the less intelligent creature lunge at him from behind.
Varson pivoted sharply and fell into a crouching stance, exerting a powerful mind blast on the impit. The creature recoiled in midair, and whimpered frantically as it disappeared back into the brush. The man stood back up and adjusted his cloak, eye still throbbing.
The Beastmaster continued to try to throw rocks at him, but this time Varson could properly shield himself against them. The human psionically paused each rock in midair as they were hurled at him, and let them fall to the ground. "You really should stop that."
The elf stopped moving, squinting his eyes at the floating rocks.
"Are you a psion?"
"Yes," the human replied with some relief. "I'm Varson." He kneeled down to inspect the Beastmaster's wounds. There were several burns across his leg, which kept him from putting any weight on it. "What is a Beastmaster like yourself doing here?"
"My pack went on a travel to Four Farms to seek out a scout," said the elf, leaning on his elbows for support. "A band of scarecrows attacked us, so I fled. I haven't seen my kin in about a day." The Beastmaster idly rand his fingers across his fake tail as he talked. ". . . I'm Norem, by the way."
Saying nothing in reply, Varson took off his cloak and tore it into strips to create a temporary splint. He began by tying a strip at both ends of the injury.
Norem's eyes bent in concern. "I'm so sorry. By your hood . . . I thought you were a bandit."
"It's okay," Varson assured.
"No, it's not," choked Norem. "I just wanted some help . . . I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
Then Varson had an epiphany of sorts; suddenly everything Dannia had been stuttering about made sense to him. Was Calagat'cha reaching out for help by sending the spark fish? Was Varson hurting Enstena by ignoring her? His hands paused momentarily as thoughts raced through his head, but he quickly quelled them and spoke to the elf.
"Your pack is probably looking for you, but we can't count on them to be back here before you succumb to your injuries." He finished tying the fabric around Norem's leg and helped the young man up. "Four Farms may be closer, but Shoal has more experienced priests for these kinds of emergencies. I'll take you there."
The Beastmaster groaned as he leaned against Varson for support. "Weren't you on your way to Four Farms, though?"
"Yes," replied the psion. "But I forgot something." He helped the elf trudge back through the dark woods, taking solace in knowing he would soon be talking to Dannia about Calagat'cha's true intentions, telling the craftsmen he also needed a new cloak—and finally, letting Enstena know what he truly thought.
Things were looking up.