Tavia returned to RIOAR the next day. She wasn't happy she was spending so much time there, but at this point it was a necessary evil. Even if she hadn't needed to find Abram to tell him about her late night visitor, she would have gone anyways to check in on Izak. Abram was still keeping him in the underground lab, and Tavia had been forced to come up with an awkward excuse to explain to his parents why Izak wouldn't be home. Lenore had been uneasy, but Abram was a trusted figure at RIOAR, so Lenore had been put somewhat at ease when Tavia explained he was helping Abram with something.
So now, Tavia found herself in the underground lab once more, this time sitting at a small table in an isolated corner beside the walls, with Evos sitting across from her. Abram had shooed them over there shortly after their arrival, stating he was busy and didn't have time to deal with Tavia at the moment. She had gone to see Izak before letting Abram chase her away, but there was no change in her friend's condition. His face was just as pale as before, and he was showing no sign of waking.
She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but after staring at the black walls of the lab for several minutes, her mind blank, she decided it was a good thing. Not that she was sure it was, but it was better to think that way than the other.
Her empty staring gave her the chance to study the engravings on the walls, which were far more interesting than she had once thought. The engravings ran the length of the walls, covering almost every inch of them in a complicated pattern of loops, spirals, and harsh angles. There were multiple spells engraved on the walls, but they were so interwoven, Tavia couldn't identify the individual spell-sets. The complexity of the spell-sets reminded her of the engravings on the Ageless Sword, though the walls here were a level far beyond the sword, there was something similar in the way the engravings were compressed onto each other.
She reached out her hand and traced a sinuous line that was carved into the wall. A flash of red sparked between her finger and the wall and she pulled her hand back with a jerk as the spark made her hand numb for a moment. Shaking her the feeling back into her hand, she turned a more careful eye on the wall. That scarlet spark had been Althier, but the color was a clear sign whatever Althier lingering in the walls had long been corrupted. Corrupted Althier was rare, it only occurred when something was wrong with the Althier itself, and there were those who believed the voids, the dead-zones where no Althier could be found, were caused by corrupted Althier. What exactly caused corrupted Althier was still a mystery, though countless theories had tried to pinpoint the cause.
"Are you alright?" Evos asked.
His fingers fidgeted on the table, not quite tapping but sliding about in a restless sort of movement. He met her eyes for only a moment before looking away. They hadn't spoken much since the incident the night before. Evos had returned to his sword form almost immediately after Ikarios left, which pretty much curtailed any discussion they might have had.
"I could ask the same about you," Tavia said. "Feeling guilty or something?"
Evos flinched, and that, more than anything he said, or any look he gave her, made Tavia feel bad. Even so, just because she felt bad, that didn't mean she was ready to just drop the subject.
"I didn't mean to hide it from you," he replied. "But there was never really a good chance to talk about it."
"I'm pretty sure any time would have been better than Ikarios telling me and getting a good laugh because I didn't know," she retorted.
"And when would that point have been? You didn't even know what a Demi was until two days ago. Was I supposed to just pipe up and say, 'Oh by the way, I know we were just talking about these two really dangerous Demis, but I'm a Demi too. Oh, but I'm a nice Demi'?" He was bitter, and the scowl on this face was the darkest expression she had seen on him yet.
His fingers stopped their awkward twitching, and he clenched them into a fist as he looked away.
"And you think me being told by one of those 'dangerous Demis' was better?" she asked. "You wanted me to trust you. How am I supposed to do that now?"
"I'm the same...person I was before," Evos said. "You just have a new way of looking at me. I'm still on your side, that hasn't changed. And it won't ever change."
Tavia didn't reply. If she did, it would only hurt Evos. She didn't want to hurt him, but that didn't mean she could trust him. A person could spout all the kind words they wanted, but that didn't mean they were any less likely to stab you in the back. The people most likely to betray you were the ones you trusted the most.
"I don't know what I can say to make you trust me," Evos said.
He looked down at the table, but Tavia didn't miss the hurt on his face. She shrugged. She had no choice but to rely on him, so maybe talking about trust was pointless. It didn't matter if he was trustworthy; if Tavia wanted to get Savin back, she would have to work with him. She was useless without him.
Footsteps nearby made them both look up. Abram was approaching, carrying a small, black case in his hands. Evos wiped the scowl off his face and stilled his hands. Tavia just watched the man walk towards them with a small frown. His pale-blue coat was stained and ragged, and the shirt and vest underneath were in no better state. He was unshaven, and there were dark circles under his eyes.
Abram set the case down on the table with a soft clunk. It sounded heavy, as if it was full.
"Now, what was so urgent you had to disturb me in the middle of my work?" he asked.
His words were cool and clipped, and his shoulders stiff. He stood perfectly still, staring down at Tavia as if he had a world of more important matters to attend to. Right, he was an Artificer too; there was nothing more important to him than his work, probably not even his son.
His imperious tone was irksome, but Tavia explained anyway, leaving out the issue of Evos in her retelling.
"And you agreed?" Abram asked.
He had sat down beside Evos at some point during the retelling, and Evos had promptly shifted his chair slightly away from Abram, trying to make it look as subtle as possible. Abram either didn't notice, or didn't care.
"That seems rash, though from what I know of you, not unexpected," Abram said.
Tavia frowned. He could say what he wanted, but he wasn't sharing any better ideas.
"It's the best chance we have," she replied. "And...he didn't seem to be lying."
"Oh, so you believe him?" Evos muttered.
Abram raised a single eyebrow at the comment, but despite the interest on his face, he kept the conversation on track.
"I suppose it might be easier to find Savin this way," he said. "And, perhaps we can use this meeting to our advantage."
"You mean beyond simply finding out where he is?" Tavia asked.
Abram nodded and then reached forward, grabbing the case. He clicked open the lock and lifted the lid. Inside was thick foam padding, with several vials encased within the it. Abram's fingers dithered over the vials before finally selecting one and handing it to Tavia.
"Is this the serum you were talking about?" she asked as she took the vial.
It was filled with a shimmering liquid that shifted between cyan and scarlet depending on how the light struck it. Tavia turned the vial in her fingers, watching as the colors changed.
"I finally finished it," Abram said.
A self-satisfied smile appeared on his face as he watched Tavia handle the vial.
"How does it work?" she asked.
"It's designed to react to an aura," he said. "All it needs is contact with bare skin."
There were other vials in the case, and from what Tavia could see of them, they were all glowing with different combinations of colors, though they all contained a trace of cyan light pulsing within.
"What are those?" Tavia asked.
Abram looked down at the vials in the case, and then snapped the lid closed.
"Just some failures," he said with a shake of his head. "They aren't important."
His gaze locked onto the vial in Tavia's hand. Another smile crossed his face, but instead of pride, the twist of this lips was desperate. The smile lingered.
"This is the only one that matters. With this, I can bring him back."