"Don't give me that look," Ikarios said. "I won't hurt either of you as long as you come quietly."
Tavia wasn't sure if he was talking to her or Evos when he said that—maybe both. Evos's expression was just as dark as her own, but Tavia could see anger beneath the tight frown on his face.
"Huh?" A new voice, confused and alarmed, cut through the tension.
Tavia looked in the direction of the voice. Izak and Audri were standing at the far end of the hall, trying to take in the scene before them. Izak caught sight of Tavia still collapsed on the ground at the opposite end of the hall, and his eyes became wide and round. Ikarios was standing over her, and though he was a child, his companions were very obviously armed and dangerous.
"Tavi—" he began before the word was lost in a growl as his gaze shifted to the Wardens.
"Friends of yours?" Ikarios asked as he looked towards the intruders.
How had Izak found her? Tavia had told him she was going into RIOAR, but not where she would be. She hid a smile; he couldn't have had better timing.
"Don't let them interfere," Ikarios ordered.
The two Althiests nodded, but before they could even cast a spell, Audri leaped forward. Silver light wrapped around the gauntlets and greaves she wore, and in a movement too fast for Tavia's dizzy mind to follow, she toppled the closest Althiest with a single strike. The woman collapsed and lay unmoving.
Audri followed up with a kick aimed at the other Althiest's head, but Meridian stepped in, using her blade to redirect Audri's kick away from them both. Though the rapier was made from alther and could withstand a few heavy strikes, it wouldn't be able to block many of Audri's blows.
Meridian pushed the Althiest backwards, forcing her to retreat.
Tavia stood up, groaning as her head pounded along with the movement. Ikarios tore his gaze away from the fight to look at her. He frowned as she and Evos stepped away from the wall and toward him. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, a flash of orange light and the smell of something burning made them all look back at the fight.
Fire danced around Izak. He held his grimoire open, and his red aura flickered around the hand he placed on the pages. The page engraved with the spell he had just used dissolved in sparks of cyan light and Izak turned to the next one. It was normal for Althiests to specialize in one type of magic, and Izak had chosen nature-based spells, though he had only really mastered fire spells so far. The other Althiest was cursing and swearing as she tore the robe she was wearing off and tossed it to the ground, revealing a simple shirt and pair of pants beneath. The robes were smoldering and smoking, flames eating away at the edges.
Audri charged forward again, taking advantage of the confusion.
"Stop!" Ikarios called out.
Audri jerked to a halt mid-stride. Her expression turned to one of confusion, which quickly gave way to panic and fear.
Ikarios looked at Izak. The silver in his eyes flashed.
"You too," he said.
Izak's body became rigid and stiff, and like Audri, Tavia could see the confusion in his eyes. It was the same as what had happened to Daina. Tavia's heart pounded in her chest as she stared at them.
"We're leaving," Ikarios said.
As Meridian picked up her fallen companion, Ikarios turned to look at Tavia.
"Consider this a warning," he said. "If you continue down this path, you'll only end up hurt." He turned his focus to Evos. "If you really intend to help that man, then I'll have to consider you an enemy."
Wasn't it a little late to be giving warnings like that? And why was he so stuck on Evos? Evos was giving Ikarios a dirty look, one that said he didn't care to dignify Ikarios's warning with a response.
Tavia looked over at the frozen figures of Izak and Audri. Ikarios didn't miss her look.
"They aren't going to die," he said. "I'm not interested in turning you into an enemy. You can consider their lives as a gift." He smirked, "I'm not a monster."
"You killed Daina," Tavia replied.
"Daina?" Ikarios frowned. "Oh, that woman." He scowled and shrugged. "She got what she deserved."
Ikarios crossed his arms. Despite his small stature and his youth, his arrogance was enough to make Tavia's shoulders shake, though whether that was fear or anger even she didn't know. Ikarios smiled, his black eyes staring into Tavia's eyes. After a moment, he turned away.
"See you again, Evos," he said over his shoulder.
Unlike Audri and Izak, Tavia could move. Ikarios wasn't holding her body captive, but despite that, she couldn't bring herself to try to stop Ikarios as he led his three followers away. Her goal had been to keep Ikarios from having free rein in the institute, and since he was leaving, wasn't this good enough? With Audri and Izak held hostage like this, there wasn't much she could do anyway. If the unsettled feeling in her chest was anything to go by, Tavia didn't think it was.
As soon as they were gone, Tavia made her way to Izak. His jaw was clenched shut, but he was able to move his eyes, and they were focused on Tavia.
"Are they going to be stuck like this forever?" she asked.
She didn't miss the panic in Izak's eyes, and Evos's answer a moment later didn't help.
"I'm not really sure."
Tavia reached out and grabbed Izak's shoulder, but no matter how hard she shook it, his body didn't budge. She stepped back with a frown. At least they were breathing. Not...like Daina.
Several minutes after Ikarios had disappeared around the corner into the main hallway, Audri gasped and stumbled forward. She regained her balance and looked at her hands, opening and closing them with stiff movements. A moment later, Izak unfroze as well, falling to his knees as the magic gripping him released its hold.
"What was that?" Izak asked as he rubbed his head.
Tavia could still recall the feeling of Ikarios controlling her, the feeling of something foreign in your mind taking over your thoughts and body, and she shuddered as she watched Audri and Izak finally relax.
"I don't really understand it, but I think he can control minds?" Tavia said.
Audri blinked at Tavia.
"Is there an Artifact that can do that?" she asked.
Tavia shrugged. She didn't know for sure, but she was beginning to think that Ikarios was—no, that wasn't possible. Magic could only be performed through an Artifact, there was no getting around that. Even Evos, strange as he was, didn't violate that rule.
"So what was he doing here anyway?" Izak asked as he slipped his grimoire back into the strap on his back. Izak's grimoire was much larger than the ones the Wardens had used. Personal preference, he had told Tavia once.
"Not sure," Tavia replied. "But, since he came here of all places, do you think he was trying to get into that door?"
Tavia pointed to the door at the end of the hallway. It was a large, metal door, heavy and solid looking. A simple access panel beside it glowed with a steady light.
Audri headed straight for the panel and placed her hand on it. She uttered a disappointed noise when the door didn't open, but it shouldn't have been surprising. Most of the labs were locked, allowing access only to those registered on the panel. Even if they wanted to see what was beyond the door, they would just have to sit on their curiosity.
As Audri continued to fiddle with the door and the panel, Izak made his way to Tavia.
"Are you alright?" he asked, he kept his eyes on Tavia, never looking even once at Evos.
"I'm fine," she lied. She actually ached pretty bad.
Not only the Jump, but also channeling the Althier had left her body sore and aching. The channeling in particular made her insides hurt. Was this what using Artifacts was always like? Or did it get better?
Izak didn't call her out on the lie, but Tavia was pretty sure he could tell she was hurt from the way she kept shifting her weight and grimacing.
"Why did you charge in like that?" he asked. "I'm glad you sent a message at least, but that was reckless. You could have been killed."
There wasn't any good way to answer that question. Tavia still hadn't told Izak about Evos, and she wasn't sure she wanted to, but right now was definitely not the right time. She shrugged instead of answering, and he gave her a withering glower.
"Hey," Audri called out. "Look at this."
Tavia looked over at Audri. The door was open, and Audri wore a triumphant smile as she stood before it. The space beyond the doorway was dark, but Audri gestured to the door.
"Time to find out just what is going on," she said.