Abram wasted no time in ordering the evacuation of those present. Annoying and bothersome as Tavia might find him, at least he had his priorities straight. He told the Artificers not to bother with the data, and hurried them out of the lab.
They left with mixed reactions. A couple were eager to leave, checking the hallway with nervous, twitching bobs of their heads, before stepping into the open and racing down the halls. Daina was more reluctant to leave, shooting Abram glares better given to the actual attackers than to the man trying to get her to safety.
Tavia lingered behind Daina and Abram, waiting for her chance to leave the lab. She still needed a guide. Getting lost now wouldn't be a joke, so she watched Daina, hoping the woman wouldn't forget Tavia. Daina stepped out into the hallway and both Abram and Tavia followed, but as Daina turned left, Abram turned right down the hallway. Tavia made to follow Daina, but the moment she realized Abram was going another direction, she paused and looked back.
"Where's he going?" Tavia asked.
Daina paused and turned around. She frowned and looked from Abram's receding back to the lab door. She didn't respond to Tavia's question, and instead returned to the door. Abram had closed it behind him, but Daina only had to place her hand on the panel beside the door to open it again. She reentered the lab without even looking at Tavia.
"Aren't we supposed to be leaving?" Tavia asked.
She didn't follow Daina. Her guide didn't have to be Daina, right? Tavia looked down the hallway, but none of the other Artificers were in sight. They had already turned a corner and disappeared from view. Weren't there other labs on this floor though? Where was everyone else? Exit signs pointing the way to safety glowed on the walls, lit by the natural cyan of Althier. If she followed those signs, she would be able to get out, right?
If Abram was to be believed, someone had attacked the institute with a bomb, but was that the end of the attack or was there more to follow? Would those exit signs lead her to the lobby, and if so, what kind of state was it in?
Tavia gritted her teeth as she followed Daina back into the lab. Waiting out there wasn't getting her anywhere, and maybe she could push Daina to hurry with whatever she was doing, but what really ate at her was something else.
The lobby was the main entrance and exit for the institute. If Izak and Lenore had finished the tour, they'd be waiting for her there. Why hadn't she thought about it before? What if Izak had been in the lobby? What if he thought she was in the lobby? Would he go there and try to and find her? Tavia wouldn't put it past him; even if Lenore tried to stop him, Izak would still try to find her. He was always worrying about Tavia.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her vox. The thin device weighed less than a few sheets of paper, but the screen was hard and stiff. Nearly see through, the device reacted to her touch and an image appeared on the clear screen, listing a series of options. Tavia tapped through them, selecting to call Izak, but when the call tried to connect over the corvex, all she could hear was a low whining noise, and the image on the screen was just a black box. Abram's vox had connected just fine, hadn't it? What was wrong with hers?
She looked up at Daina. The woman was busy fiddling with the console she had been at earlier. Saving data, or maybe trying to finish up something, but this really wasn't the time to be doing that.
"Hey, we need to get out of here," Tavia said as she slipped the vox back into her pocket.
Daina glanced back at Tavia but seemed to consider her words no more than a distraction. She continued her work, hunching her shoulders as if daring Tavia to dry and drag her away. Tavia scowled at the woman's back, and then glanced at the door. It was still open, but there was still no sign of anyone in the hallway.
"Why don't you leave then?" Daina asked.
"I'm not sure which way to go. I don't want to end up back at the lobby," Tavia said. "And everyone else is gone already."
Daina sighed, her stiff shoulders slumping.
"Fine, let me just—" Daina began editing the data on the screen.
Whatever she was doing only took her a few seconds, but it felt like forever to Tavia who tied not to be too antsy as she waited. Finally, Daina turned away from the console, but before she left the room, grabbed the Ageless Sword from the table. These Artificers had been overly worried about that thing. Did they really believe it was the Artifact from legend?
Daina glanced at Tavia and then headed for the door once more. She stepped into the hallway, and Tavia was right behind her, but when Tavia passed through the doorway, she realized the hallway wasn't empty anymore.
A boy stood in the corridor, only a few steps from Daina, but far enough he hadn't been visible from the door. His skin was dark as night, and his long ears tapered to a point. A Terrisian, and a child at that. He looked to be maybe twelve, but probably younger.
Terris was the northern next-door neighbor to Marquest, it wasn't particularly unusual to see a Terrisian in Marquest. Tavia's own grandmother had immigrated here from Terris—but for a child to be here? Even under normal circumstances this was a place a child could just wander about, and this was far from normal circumstances.
Despite the boy's youth the expression on his face was grim and taut. His eyes were dark, all black orbs with no apparent sclera or iris, but flecks of silver floated amid the black, like stars in the night sky. For a moment, Tavia's gaze was trapped on those eyes, on that darkness.
Her gaze was pulled away by the dagger in the boy's hand. It was a simple, steel weapon with no decoration to it, just a deadly edge. It wasn't made of alther, so it wasn't a device of any kind, but it was sharp, and it was covered in blood.
Daina staggered, putting a hand out against the wall and hunching over. The Ageless Sword fell from her other hand to the ground, and when Tavia eyes were drawn to the fallen Artifact, she realized blood, pooling at Daina's feet had fallen along side the sword.
"Daina?" she asked.
The boy's gaze flickered to Tavia, but he gave her nothing more than a cursory look over before returning his gaze to Daina, or rather, to the sword laying on the floor by her feet.
"Hand it over," he said.
He spoke in clear Marquestian, with no sign of a Terrisian accent. His words were clipped and cold. He didn't sound much like a child, and despite the strange situation, he was calm and unbothered by the blood. It was such a jarring sight, the boy and the bloody knife—Tavia knew what she was seeing, but her mind hadn't managed to believe it yet.
Daina made some kind of grunting noise, like she was breathing through her teeth, and then kicked the sword backwards with her foot, towards Tavia. Tavia stared at the sword as it slid across the floor. It stopped when it made contact with her foot, and she looked back up at Daina. The woman was clutching her stomach, her shoulders slumped and she was breathing hard. The pool of blood at her feet was spreading wider and wider with each moment.
The boy snarled, his childish face twisting into an expression better suited for someone far older.
"Stupid!" he snapped.
The silver flecks in his eyes flashed, burning brighter for just a moment. His eyes were like a bottomless darkness, and Tavia shivered. She looked to Daina once more, and Tavia's breath caught in her chest. Daina was frozen; her trembling, her breathing; everything about her had stopped. After a moment, she toppled forward onto the ground, still unmoving. It was like watching a statue crash to the ground, only rather than shatter, when Daina hit the ground, there was only the thud of something soft yet heavy hitting something hard and unyielding.
She still wasn't breathing.
"You—what did you do to her?" Tavia asked.
The boy was staring down at Daina, and at the sound of Tavia's voice, he raised his head and looked straight at her. He tilted his head to the side, and gave her a chilling smile. Tavia shivered as he took a step forward.
"The same thing I'm going to do to you, if you don't hand over that sword."