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Sneaking back into the house did not work as well as Tavia had hoped it would. She wasn't really trying to be sneaky, but she did want to avoid her mother if at all possible. So she entered the mansion, treading with care in an attempt to make it up the stairs to the second floor, but Septia was waiting for her in the parlor beside the entryway as she had been only two nights before.

It was late, later than usual for Tavia to be returning home, though compared to the last few days, she was actually home earlier. After her declaration in the lab, there had still been some things to discuss. Audri and Evos had tried to talk Tavia out of her decision, while Abram watched with a satisfied smile, but Tavia wouldn't let herself be dissuaded. It had taken time to convince them she was serious. Though honestly, a part of her own self was still reluctant to believe she really meant it.

It was a reckless decision, and she was fully aware it was. She would get Savin back? She didn't even know where to find Ikarios, and even if she did find him, she would have to get through all the other Wardens first. Tavia wasn't sure how many there were, but from the little the Shields had been willing to reveal about the incident at RIOAR, they numbered at least in the tens. That wasn't an amount she could handle on her own, she knew that, but every time she thought of backing down, her throat seized up and the image of Izak, lying on the bed swam before her eyes. What if he never woke up?

It had been a long, tiring day, and so, when Septia stopped her, Tavia wasn't in anywhere near the calm state of mind she needed to deal with her mother. Septia stepped in front of her, her refined posture put to good use as she looked down on Tavia. She stood in Tavia's way, cutting off the path to the stairs and began her interrogation.

"You're just getting back now?" Septia asked.

Tavia hid the Ageless Sword behind her back, but it was a futile action, the sword was too large, and besides, her mother was many things, but stupid was not one of them. Septia must have seen the sword already.

Septia put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips, her dark eyes flashing with anger and disappointment.

"I'm sorry I'm late," Tavia replied with all the sincerity she could muster.

Even to her ears it sounded weak, and just a little sarcastic. It wasn't enough for her mother.

"Is that a sword in your hands?" Septia asked.

Tavia sighed and stopped trying to hide the sword. She looked away and nodded. She felt alarm from Evos. Even he was worried.

"Why do you have a sword?" Septia asked, she titled her head, her tone turning as sharp as the sword she was famous for wielding. "You aren't trying to do anything dangerous, are you?"

"Why would you think that?" Tavia asked. "What kind of mess do you really think I can get into?"

Septia frowned.

"I heard from an associate, about your...attempt at joining a Martial team. You actually signed up and participated." Septia heaved a sigh and looked away. "I didn't hear the details myself, but from what I understand, there was an incident, and you were caught up in it."

Her mouth formed a tight line, and if Tavia didn't know better, she might have thought there was even fear in Septia's eyes. It couldn't be said the woman wasn't good at acting the part of a mother. Who could have told Septia about the failed try-outs though? The woman was well-connected and Tavia's family name was too famous to be ignored. It could have been anyone from the school.

"Sounds like a crazy story," Tavia muttered as she also looked away.

"Octavia," her mother snapped, turning the full force of her anger on her daughter. "Did you take part in a Martial exam?"

"Yes," Tavia replied. She hated when her mother used her full name. "But it doesn't matter anyway, since the exam was canceled."

"Why...why would you even do something so dangerous like that? What if you had gotten hurt?" Septia asked.

"I would think the why would be obvious," Tavia replied. "And I didn't get hurt, so what's the matter?"

"The matter is that you can't do these kinds of things," Septia said. "You know that better than anyone."

Tavia looked away, not wanting to admit her mother was right, but unable to deny it. Her hand tightened around the hilt of the Ageless Sword without realizing it, and until a wave of concern and worry spilled into her mind from Evos, Tavia didn't realize just how hard she was gripping. She relaxed her fingers, and forced her shoulders—raised in a stiff defense—to relax.

Why was she even bothering to argue? It wasn't as if this was going to go anywhere. They'd had this same conversation a hundred times over the last year. Septia would just claim she was concerned about Tavia, even while know Tavia knew in truth she couldn't care less about her daughter. Septia only wanted to be sure Tavia didn't stain the family name.

Tavia headed for the stairs, not caring that her mother was attempting to block them. Septia offered a feeble resistance, especially for a woman who could singlehandedly defeat even the largest of Scarvers. She only stood by and watched as Tavia reached for the banister and put her foot on the first step.

But when it became clear Tavia was just going to ignore Septia, the woman had to add in one last comment.

"I expect you won't be doing anything like this in the future, Tavia," she said. "I don't want to limit your freedom, but if you can't stay out of trouble I may have to."

Tavia bit back a bitter retort about just how ironic that was. At that moment, she just wanted to escape upstairs and shut the door so she didn't have to listen to Septia anymore. As she climbed the stairs in sullen silence, she could feel Septia's dark eyes on her back.

By the time she had reached her room and shut the door behind her, Tavia's shoulders were shaking and she was once again holding the Ageless Sword in a death grip. She looked down at the sword, she raised the sword up, holding it over her head, ready to throw it at the wall. It was all this sword's fault. Getting her hopes up, making her think she might be able to change.

But nothing had changed.

She held that pose for a moment, her feelings tear at inside. Her anger and the pain from her mother's words burned alongside the guilt that had been building within her since she first saw Izak lying on that bed. They rose up like a wave, threatening to overwhelm her, and she sank to her knees, lowering her arm and the sword with it to rest on the carpet. Her chest heaved as her heart pounded, and warmth stung at the corners of her eyes. She was not going to cry now.

There was no reason for it. Crying wasn't going to help anyone, not her, and certainly not Izak.
A warm, soothing feeling whispered in the back of her mind, almost drowned out by the anger, but she clung to that warmth.

She stayed like that for a moment, and when her breathing finally slowed and steadied, she stood. She leaned the Ageless Sword up against the wall. Her siblings both had weapon racks in their rooms, part of the standard décor in a Renegarde bedroom, but the rack in Tavia's room had been removed long ago. To avoid letting her have unreasonable expectations, according to her mother.

The moment Tavia removed her hand from the sword, there was the customary flash of cyan that accompanied Evos changing forms, and he was standing before her with a mournful expression.

"What's that look for?" she asked.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm just fine," Tavia said. She gestured toward the door. "Just another day in the Renegarde household."

"She's just concerned for your well-being," Evos said. "Do you have to be so cold?"

It took Tavia a moment to realize Evos was talking about Septia. She knew he had been listening, but she hadn't thought he would care enough to ask her about it. Concerned? That was how he saw it?

"She's just pretending to care," Tavia replied. "That woman isn't any kind of mother."

Evos opened his mouth but didn't say anything. After a moment, his eyebrows drew together and he closed his mouth. He looked away from Tavia.

"You don't believe me?" Tavia said. "Then how about I tell you how that woman chose to abandon me for the sake of a stupid reputation."

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