Evos was in place. He said he would take care of the distraction itself once Tavia turned off the lights. What he was planning to do, she didn't know. He had just smiled, held a finger to his lips and left, sneaking out of the lab and back down the hall out of sight of the two Wardens.
There were three paths to the stairs. She was on the path that approached from the right, and Evos intended on causing some sort of commotion in the left most path and then making his way down the middle path to meet up with Tavia. He had seemed confident, but she wasn't so sure it would work the way he wanted it to.
Evos had said to give him two minutes before turning out the lights. Tavia used her vox to keep an eye on the time; she may not have been able to make calls out, or even connect to the corvex, but at the very least, the time was displaying properly at the top of the screen.
At the two-minute mark, she reached up to the box and grabbed the alther slab itself. Her fingers curled around the edges of the warm slab and she pried it free. As soon as the spell-set was removed, the lights above her head shut off, followed by the lights in the halls and presumably the nearby labs. In the darkness, the cyan glow of Althier still lighting the engravings on the slab illuminated her hands, but it was slowly draining away, the Althier leaking from the engravings like tears. Tavia took in a sharp breath and dropped the spell-set to the ground where it landed with a dull thunk. The Althier, oozed out onto the floor where it pooled, a glowing, viscous mess that began to slowly evaporate. Tavia checked her hands—if normal Althier was toxic, then liquefied Althier, a heavily condensed form of Althier, was even worse. Even just a small drop would cause severe burns.
There were probably easier—better— ways to stop the spell-set, but any thing else would have required an aura, so it simply wasn't an option. Tearing it out of the system had been Tavia's only real choice. It wasn't elegant, but it worked, and right now, that was all she needed.
She turned back to the door, which they had left open just in case the door didn't open automatically once the the power to the door stopped, and she stepped out into the hallway.
The only lights on were the exit lights, their dim light cast the hallway in shades of blue. She hadn't realized they had their own supply of Althier, but they didn't throw enough light to see by. The small windows lining the walls were a bigger issue; they didn't let in a lot of light, but it might be enough for her to be seen by if she got too close.
Tavia crept down the hallway, towards the stairs, wincing at every footsteps that seemed to echo through the hall. The men were muttering to each other, too quiet for her to hear. She paused in the darkness nearby, waiting.
A thunderous crash of something heavy and metal skittering across the hard floor came from the leftmost hallway. The sound threw echoes, reverberating until it was hard to tell just where the sound had come from and what exactly it was.
"What the void was that?" one of the men asked.
The same question was running through Tavia's mind. What had Evos done to make so much noise?
"Better check it out," the other man said. "Who knows what Ikarios'll do if we let something slip by?"
She heard receding footsteps, heading away from her and into the hallway. She took a few steps forward, peering into the darkness, but it wasn't like she could make out anything in the little amount of light streaming through the windows.
Had Evos made it away in time? He was supposed to meet her at the stairs, so she wouldn't know until she got there and either found him, or didn't.
Moving with slow, deliberate steps, she made her way to the stairs, hoping the men wouldn't return immediately. The distraction would only give them a minute at most, and Tavia didn't even think they would get that much.
She found the stairs and stopped before descending. Where was Evos? She could hear the men in the distance. They weren't that far away, and Tavia could hear them talking and grumbling about their discovery—a metal trash bin that had been thrown down the hallway. She grimaced. It wouldn't take long before they realized it was just to lure them away.
Tavia looked down at the stairs and then back down the dark hallway. She couldn't see anything no matter how hard she squinted. There was some light coming up from the bottom of the stairs. It would seem the ground floor lights hadn't been affected when Tavia destroyed the spell-set, but it wasn't enough light to see anything by up here.
"Let's go," Evos said from right beside her.
Tavia choked back a startled gasp. When had he gotten that close? She hadn't even heard his footsteps. She looked over in his direction, but she could barely see him in the darkness, just a darker shadow that was moving ever so slightly.
"Yeah," she whispered back.
They began to descend the stairs, Tavia leading the way with Evos just a step behind. Only a few steps down though, she heard a familiar chiming noise. It was so unexpected it took her a moment to realize the sound was coming from the vox in her pocket.
Tavia froze and then pulled the vox from her pocket. Izak's name flashed across the screen, she hadn't been able to connect to him earlier, but now it looked like his call was able to get through just fine. Tavia silenced the ringing and shoved the vox back into her pocket just as she heard the voices of the two men.
"What was that? Sounded like a vox," one of them said.
"Shit, get back to the stairs," the other replied.
"We need to run," Tavia said.
She didn't wait for Evos to reply. She ran, taking the steps three at a time. She could hear Evos following behind her, and behind him, a pair of running footsteps chasing them. They shouted after Evos and her, demanding they stop, but of course she wasn't going to listen.
Tavia reached the ground floor, Evos just a beat behind her. Several hallways broke off from the stairwell, and Tavia paused long enough to see where the exit signs were leading her. There was no time for stealth now, and no time to get lost.
She glanced back, and she could see the two Wardens on the stairs.
"This way," she said as she pointed Evos down the right-hand hallway.
He nodded and they both raced down the hall, following the signs. Tavia only hoped they didn't run into any other Wardens.
Following the signs led them straight to a door. Windows on either side of the door showed a view of the street outside. The exit.
"Stop right there!" one of the men shouted behind them.
There was no way she was going to listen to him. Who in their right mind would?
Tavia reached the door, slapped her hand on the panel. The door began to slide open. Tavia looked behind her, meeting the eyes of one of her pursuers. The Martial was still chasing them, but the Althiest had stopped a short distance away. He held his grimoire before him in hand, the book open to some point near the middle. His free hand rest on the open pages; it shimmered with a red aura, and even from this distance Tavia could see the light of Althier following the intricate designs on the alther-laced pages.
She didn't know what kind of spell the Althiest was casting, and she didn't want to stick around to find out.
The door finally opened enough for Tavia to slip through, and she grabbed Evos's arm and dragged him behind her. Ignoring his confused protests, she continued to drag him out of the doorway and away from the building. She looked behind her just in time to see some kind of brilliant light shooting through the door. She dropped to the ground, pulling Evos down with her. The light shot over their heads and exploded against the building across the street in a mess of smoke and cyan light.
Tavia sat up and looked back at the two Wardens, but just before the men stepped out of the building, the shrill sound of sirens tore through the air. The two men's faces paled and they turned back into the building. Tavia stayed where she was, her chest heaving and her heart pounding with adrenaline from the chase. That had been far too close for comfort. She looked back, over her shoulder at the wall the Altheist's attack had struck. The wall belonged to a small cafe sitting at the base of a skytower, and it was scorched black and smoking, a divot dug into the brick work. She shivered and looked toward the source of the sirens that had caused the Wardens to retreat.
Large conveis filled with heavily armed Shields were surrounding the building, as the armed men, Martials and Althiests alike, flooded out of the vehicles, she sighed in relief. The Shields had finally arrived.