The return trip to RIOAR was taken in silence. By the time they arrived at the institute, Evos had opened his mouth to speak a dozen times, but not once had he actually said anything. Tavia wasn't ignoring him, but she wasn't in the mood to speak either. Her body ached and her head throbbed, and it just wasn't fair.
She got out of the convei, dismissing it as soon as Evos was out, and then turned to head for the institute's side entrance. It would still be a while yet before the main entrance opened, though by now most of the debris from the explosion had been cleared.
"I'm sorry," Evos finally said.
Tavia turned to face him. He was standing near the road, watching her with a small frown.
She looked away, hiding a scowl.
"You don't have anything to apologize for," she said. "It isn't like any of that was your fault."
Evos didn't have anything to say to that, since it really wasn't his fault. After blacking out in the middle of fighting the Scarver, Tavia had woken up sometime later. She was alive, and unharmed, which meant someone had dealt with the Scarver, though she wasn't sure who it was. It wasn't what was important anyway; what mattered was that their examiner had chosen to cancel the rest of the exam. He probably wasn't wrong to do so, but the way he spoke made her wonder if he even planned to reschedule.
"It's—" Well, it wasn't fine. Tavia's failure burned.
She had only gotten this chance in the first place because she had the Ageless Sword. Evos had never protested her decision, but maybe— Had she had just been taking advantage of him? Without the Ageless Sword, she was just a null-aura. Even during that fight, she had done alright, up until the point she lost the sword. After that, she had stood no chance on her own. What if one day Evos decided he didn't want to help her anymore? She'd be back at square one again.
It wasn't an easy thought to swallow. Being able to stand before that Scarver and know she stood at least something of a chance, knowing those around her hadn't seen her as broken, but instead as someone on equal ground, and being able to use a sword like the way she'd been taught her entire life were all things she'd dreamed about. Realities she'd never thought she'd have the chance to experience, but in the end, none of that was her, was it? She was just strong because of the sword, because of Evos.
He had no real reason to stay with her. It wasn't something she wanted to even consider, but reality was harsh, and things didn't always go the way she, or anyone, wanted. She just didn't have the courage to ask him right now.
So instead, she asked the other thing that was bothering her.
"Why didn't the Althier from the Scarver's roar affect me?"
Tavia had pondered it ever since waking. She hadn't lost consciousness because of the Althier, but rather the physical blow that had followed. She had been close enough it should have killed her, or at least badly injured her. Instead, the only injuries she had were bruise spreading down her arm and chest, and the raw feeling that signaled of the beginnings of Althier poisoning from after the Ageless Sword had been knocked from her hands.
Evos shrugged. "Maybe because you're a null-aura?"
"How...does that make sense? Without an aura, it should be easier for me to get Althier poisoning, not harder."
"Auras act as siphons for excess Althier in a person's body, right?" Evos asked, he raised a hand to his chin as he thought. "I'm pretty sure humans need Althier to live, right?"
The question was jarring because it was something so obvious. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Evos was really just a sword. He was so solid, so real. She would have had a hard time believing he wasn't a human, except that she had clearly seen otherwise.
"Yeah, but just a small amount. Without an aura, that Althier can build up, leading to poisoning," she said. She looked away from Evos and added, "That's why null-auras don't normally live too long."
Tavia could see Evos watching her, but after a moment he sighed and shrugged.
"Maybe it was because you were already channeling," he said. "The Althier in your body protected you from the Althier outside, like how water can't flow into something that's already full." He paused and shook his head. "Of course, I'm just speculating about this. Also, I don't think that's a particularly safe way to defend against something like that. The damage caused by the Althier inside your body could be even worse than the attack from the outside. You should probably avoid doing that in the future."
Even if he hadn't said anything, it wasn't as if she planned to go test it. Actually, at this point, she'd much rather avoid any kind of situation where something like that might be a possibility. Tavia sighed. She just wanted to get back to Izak and Audri, and focus on something else. Even the thought of facing down Ikarios was better than dwelling on the disaster that was her afternoon.
Evos was watching her, his expression unreadable. He didn't look as if he intended to say anything more, so Tavia pretended to ignore his stares, heading for the door of the institute.
Abram had stationed the three of them in an unused lab near the entrance to his underground lab. Since Ikarios now knew the location, Abram had felt it best if they waited nearby. It had been a day of doing nothing but sitting around until Tavia had left Izak and Audri to go to the try-outs. Though it had taken her longer to get back than she had expected, they were probably exactly where she had left them, only even more bored than before.
Just before Tavia reached the door, it opened, a blond storm of fury burst through the doorway. She was looking around, her head twisting back and forth and her chest heaving. She spotted Tavia and snarled.
"Did you see them?" she asked as she ran towards Tavia and Evos.
"See who?" Tavia asked.
Why was she out of breath? Had something happened?
"Void take him," Audri spat. "I can't believe I lost them."
"The Wardens?" Evos asked. "They were here?"
Evos grew pale, which was hard to even imagine, but his milky skin turned ice white as the color drained and his jaw clenched with worry. If Audri was here and not inside, then that could only mean the worst had happened.
Audri's hands clenched into fists beneath her gauntlets. She snarled again and then turned on Tavia.
"I called you, Izak called you. Why didn't you answer?" she asked as her shoulders trembled.
Tavia took a step back and looked at RIOAR. No one had followed Audri out of the building, and there wasn't any sign of any trouble inside.
"Something happened," Tavia said. "I was—"
"It doesn't matter," Audri stopped her. "We needed you. I don't know how the Wardens got to the third floor without being seen, but they did, and there were just too many. Why...why did you have to show up now?"
"Audri, what happened?" Tavia asked.
Audri stared at Tavia for a moment, her blue eyes lacking the good humor they normally held.
"They got Savin," she said, looking away.
"Ikarios has Dieos's vessel?" Evos asked.
"We managed to stop most of them before they got into the lab, but Ikarios got past us. Izak followed him while I held off the others, but Ikarios was still able to take Savin," she explained.
"That...is not good," Evos murmured.
The news was bad, but even after having delivered it, Audri was looking away from Tavia. There was more, wasn't there? Something Audri didn't want to say. Tavia's hands clenched into fists and she gritted her teeth. It couldn't be. It couldn't.
"Where—Audri, where is Izak?" Tavia asked.
Audri flinched. She scowled at the ground before looking up at Tavia. Her blue eyes were filled with dark emotions.
"He won't wake up," she said. "We can't...get him to wake up."