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The vial sat on her desk in a cup. Tavia had been worried it would roll off the edge and shatter on the ground. Even if the hardwood floors of her room were covered by soft rugs, Tavia wasn't interested in taking any risks. Abram said he didn't have another vial of serum to give her, so it was important she keep it safe.

Abram had insisted she take it with her, refusing to take it back when she tried to hand it over. She thought the precious serum was safer at the lab, but Abram said he didn't know if he would see her again before she met up with Ikarios, and that if she had the chance to use it on Savin, she should.

She sat in her desk chair, resting her head in her arms on the desk, as she watched the colors in the serum dance. The cyan was beautiful, but the scarlet made her stomach roil. It was entrancing either way, and a good distraction from the vox that sat on the desk next to her.

She hadn't been home long before the official announcement that the exam was canceled for good had come through. The message had popped up on the vox, a dreary statement written out in formal language.

"We regret to inform all applicants that at this time, the exams for placement in the 32nd active squadron have been canceled and will not be resumed."

There was more, details regarding the whys and the whats of the matter, but Tavia had thrown the vox aside upon finishing the first sentence. It had slid across the desk, the clear screen blinking at her as the message faded. Evos had watched her read the message, saying nothing, which was wise. Tavia was sure if he had tried to pacify her, she would have taken out these muddy feelings on him, and they were already on rocky enough ground. He kept out of view, standing beside the door to the balcony, and leaning against the glass as he looked out at the garden.

"I don't like this," Evos said after several minutes of silence.

She pulled her vox back towards her, bringing the message open again. Her breath caught, ragged and pained, and then she sighed.

"You don't like what?" she asked.

She moved her head to look at him, not bothering to lift it from the cradle her arms made. Evos had his arms folded across his chest, pulling them tight against his body as he turned away from the garden and looked down at the floor.

"Don't you think this is strange?" he asked. "Why would Abram give you the serum when it's so valuable?"

Tavia lifted her head from the desk. As expected, he wasn't talking about the exam. She shouldn't have been surprised, since that wasn't really the important thing anyway. She frowned at Evos and then looked away, out the window.

"Didn't he explain why? Or weren't you listening?"

Evos straightened his posture and took a step away from window. His brows knit together, and he clenched his jaw.

"You don't find any of this concerning?"

Tavia frowned as she looked at the vial again. Of course she did. Abram had no reason at all to think she was capable. Actually, looking at everything she had done, wouldn't the opposite be the proper conclusion? The only reason he was trusting her was because of Evos, but was being the wielder of a magic sword really enough to convince him she could save his son? Magic sword or not, she was still the one who had to use it.

It was almost as if he didn't care if she failed, but there was no way that was right. Tavia had seen Abram's distress when Savin was taken. He'd looked like a man possessed, as if the guilt from losing his son was crushing down on his shoulders. It was clear he'd worked himself to the bone to get that serum done. That wasn't the look of someone who didn't care. It wasn't the look of someone who would hand his only hope to someone he knew wouldn't succeed.

"See?" Evos said, reading enough of her expression to follow her line of thought. "This whole situation is weird." He stepped forward, away from the balcony door.

"Then what?" Tavia asked. "Are you saying you want to trust Ikarios? He's a murderer, and he tried to kill Izak too."

"No," Evos replied, gritting his teeth for a moment before continuing. "I'm just trying to say things aren't as simple as they seem. I thought you didn't like Artificers."

Tavia's body trembled as Evos's offhand comment stirred the dark feelings she was trying to hold back. Nothing made sense about any of this, but she didn't have much choice in who she could trust.

"They seem pretty simple to me," she muttered. "A Demi like you would rather side with other Demis, I'm sure."

"Would you just stop this?" Evos snarled. He took a step closer, his face twisting as his anger began to seep into his voice.

Tavia's shoulders stiffened. He was the one who'd started this. Why did he get to be angry? She wasn't looking for a fight, not now.

"You're upset, I get that," Evos said. "But that doesn't mean you can just stop thinking about everything else. There are other things going on here."

"Yeah?" Tavia asked. She slid the chair away from desk and stood with deliberate slowness. She left her hands on the desk, hunching over them and looking down as they curled into fists. "And what would a sword like you know about thinking about things? Aren't you just supposed to do what I say?"

Evos opened his mouth and then looked away before closing it. His fingers flexed, clenching into a fist, only to loosen once again a moment later, and his shoulders shook. After a moment, he relaxed, his posture slouching and his expression changing from anger to pain. He looked back up, meeting her gaze, and his silver eyes were full of a sadness she hadn't been prepared to see.

Her eyes widened as the full impact of what she'd said registered in both their minds. She hadn't meant that. She hadn't meant to hurt him like that, to attack him. She was just so tired, and so confused. Just two days ago she hadn't known anything about any of this, but she knew it wasn't fair to take that out on Evos. She had to apologize. She had to say something, anything to break this hostile silence hanging between them.

She turned to face Evos and reached a trembling hand out toward him.

"Evos, I—"

"No," Evos said, his lip curling. "I get it. You just want me to be a sword you can use as you see fit."

The pain in his expression faded away, until all that was left was an icy gaze and a voice just as cold.

"No, that's not what I meant," Tavia said. She crossed one arm across her torso and looked down. "I didn't—"

"Well you don't have to worry," Evos said. "I'll be sure to stay good and quiet from now on."

Blue light flashed through the room, and the Ageless Sword toppled to the ground in the same spot Evos had been standing.

Tavia rushed forward and picked up the sword. She held the heavy blade in both hands.

"Evos, I didn't mean it," she said. "I'm sorry."

There were no feelings stirring in the back of her mind. Evos was as cold and silent as the alther of the blade in her hands.

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