The test-chamber for RIOAR was a large indoor arena. White ceiling, white roof, and three white walls. The fourth was solid glass tempered with alther. The Althier running through the alther kept the watchers on the other side safe from the occasional...hiccups that were a given when testing Artifacts. As a side-effect, the Althier in the glass made it glow with a pale bluish light, hardly noticeable at times, but growing to a brilliant cyan whenever something struck the glass. There was a door leading directly from the test-chamber to the observation room, as well as a door opposite the glass wall to enter the test-chamber directly.
Lenore ushered Tavia and Izak into the observation room, holding a finger to her lips to tell them to keep quiet. Tavia didn't need the reminder, but from the way Izak was fidgeting and looking around in wonder, it was probably wise. There were a few others in the room, most standing near the glass and watching the events in the testing area. They all wore the same pale-blue coats as Lenore, and Tavia could hear them muttering to each other.
The observation room wasn't large, but it had enough space for a crowd of ten. A good portion of the room was taken up by a console for reading Althier levels in the testing area, as well as to record the events. There was a woman sitting in a chair in front of the console, but she wasn't paying attention to the readings on the vid-screen, watching instead through the glass as well as if mesmerized.
Tavia couldn't blame her. On the other side of the glass, a young blond woman was darting back and forth, smashing Althier targets that floated in the air, glowing cyan balls of light that disappeared the moment the woman's fists or feet made contact. Her movements were fast even for a Martial. Tavia had grown up in a family that specialized in trainings Martial-Althiests, but the young woman's movements were as fast as any Tavia had seen, and graceful too. She seemed to almost dance across the floor, leaping from the ground to reach orbs high above her head, and then laughing to another target as soon as her feet touched the ground. What spells was she using to maintain that kind of speed? Her hands and feet glinted with a silver-light. A Martial with a silver aura? That was unusual.
The proper term was Martial-Althiest, but since that was a mouthful, no one ever used it. Martials also used magic, but unlike Althiests, who cast their magic from a grimoire, Martials focused on close combat using weapons specially made of alther engraved with spells. It required a type of training utterly different than an Althiest, and many agreed that it was harder to become a Martial than an Althiest, though most Althiests would disagree. Looking at the young woman though, you'd never believe it was difficult—she moved with an ease Tavia could only dream about.
"Who is that?" Izak asked once he was done gaping at his surroundings and had turned his focus onto the young woman.
"Audri Tennen," Lenore said. "She's working for us over the summer. She just turned eighteen and showed up at RIOAR the day after demanding a job."
Lenore's voice was filled with good humor, but Tavia couldn't imagine the situation had been all that amusing. If Audri had just turned eighteen, then she was probably only a few months younger than Izak and Tavia, but her movements weren't those of an untrained teenager.
"She's...incredible" Tavia muttered.
If Tavia didn't know better, she might have thought Audri came from a noble family like her own, one of the ones that had trained Martial-Althiests for generations, but there weren't any noble families with the name of Tennen.
"Apparently her father is the Commander of the Shields. She's probably been training as a Martial for years," Lenore said.
A buzzer rang through the room, and the few targets still remaining in the training area faded. Audri stopped, took a deep breath, and then headed for the exit to the training room.
"What are they testing?" Tavia asked as the Artificers watching the test began to buzz with excitement.
"Hmm, I think it's something to do with silver-auras in Martial use," Lenore said. "It's a tad unusual, but there's evidence to suggest the low output of silver-auras can be compensated for by using specific devices."
The entry door to the observation room slid open, and Audri bounced into the room. Now that she was holding still, Tavia was able to get a better look at the woman. She was tall, several inches taller than Tavia at least. Her hair was golden blond and long, and she had tied it back in a simple tail, but Tavia could see hints of curls at the end. Her skin was pale, with a rosy complexion and brilliant blue eyes.
A playful smiled danced on her lips as she glanced at the Artificers who had moved to the console and were now beginning to argue over data. Her smile changed to curiosity however when she caught sight of Tavia's group.
"Oh, hey Professor Elior," Audri said with a wave.
She inserted herself into their conversation with a simple move toward their group.
"Hello Audri," Lenore replied. "That was quite an impressive feat you showed us. You've gotten even faster than last time I saw you."
"No, it's not me," Audri replied. "It's these Artifacts for sure."
Audri held out her hands. There were silvery gauntlets wrapped around her arms, covering the outer part of her forearms and extending down to cover her knuckles. She was wearing a matching pair of greaves as well.
"That's...an Artifact?" Tavia asked.
"No, no," Lenore waved a hand. "This is just a mass produced device with some customization to it. The Artifact these are originally based on is deep in storage."
Audri frowned. "They won't let me play with the real thing."
Of course they wouldn't. Who in their right mind would entrust a one-of-a-kind Artifact, irreplaceable and priceless, to a teenager? Studying Artifacts was one of the ways new magic was discovered, and devices were then created to emulate them. After all, without an Artifact or device, it was impossible to use magic.
"Silver alther?" Izak asked as he looked at the material the gauntlets had been made from.
"That's an odd choice for a Martial. Don't you all normally like less refined alther?" He glanced at Tavia for confirmation.
Tavia shrugged. Alther was the material of choice for most things involving magic. It handled Althier well, absorbing and retaining the energy that was then used to power the spells engraved on the Artifact or device. Though it had a stone-like composition, alther had the advantage of being malleable, much like metal. Raw alther was black, and the more refined it got, the lighter it became. Refined alther was easier to use, but also more fragile.
"Oh?" Audri said, turning her smile on Tavia. "Are you a Martial too?"
"Ah, no, well," Lenore stuttered before Tavia could find a simple way to respond. "You see; this is Lady Tavia Renegarde."
Tavia bit back a groan. The "Lady" part was unnecessary. No one really cared in this day and age about the nobles, you'd have to be from the royal family at least for people to start worrying about titles. Besides, Audri was a Martial herself, she was sure to recognize Tavia's family name.
"The Renegardes?" Audri asked, stepping back in surprise.
"Yes, and this is my son Izak," Lenore said, but if Audri heard her, she didn't even bother to greet Izak.
"So, does that mean you're related to Duchess Septia Renegarde?" Audri asked, eyes wide and sparkling with adoration.
So Audri was a fan, huh?
"Septia is my mother," Tavia said.
If it was possible for Audri's eyes to get any bigger, they would have bulged. Instead, Audri stepped forward and grabbed Tavia's hand, pulling her into a handshake. Tavia pulled her hand back after only a moment and frowned.
"I'm Audri," she said. "It's an honor to meet a member of a Lyon house, and especially a Renegarde. The Duchess is practically role model."
"Audri is going to be attending Avel'lier this year as well," Lenore said. "Maybe you'll see her there?"
The comment was directed at Izak—at least, that's who Lenore was looking at as she spoke—but Audri took it differently.
"You're going to be at Avel'lier too?" Audri asked, looking at Tavia for an answer.
Tavia shrugged. "Maybe."
"I'm hoping to get into the general studies course for this year," Tavia explained. She immediately regretted saying the words as soon as she saw the confusion on Audri's face.
"General Studies?" Audri asked. "You aren't entering the Martial course?"
"That's..." Tavia began, but she stopped and looked away. "I—"
"Did you register late or something?" Audri asked, rushing to a conclusion all her own. "You could still try to get into one of the combat squads, it's a guaranteed spot in the Martial course. I think most of the try outs are over, but—" she folded her arms and tapped on finger on the bracer of the other arm, "Prince Jaiden is supposed to be looking for someone still. I think his squad is hosting tryouts in a few days."
Audri's eager explanation trampled over Tavia's words, but when she was done, Tavia was still left with no easy way to explain.
"It's not..." Tavia said. "I can't—"
Tavia stepped back, away from Audri and the others. She didn't want to talk about this. Not here, not with Artificers in the room. Her breath caught in her chest, and she felt her heart beginning to pound. Audri watched her with concern, and Izak reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.
"Are you alright?" he asked in a low voice.
"Just... need some air," Tavia said. "I'm going back to the lobby. I'll see you there."
Tavia headed for the door, ignoring Lenore's protest that she shouldn't be walking around without a guide. The door opened as she approached, and as it closed behind once she was through, Tavia heard Audri speaking to Izak in a soft voice.
"Did I do something wrong?"