No matter what Tavia said, Evos remained silent. He refused to change back to his human form so they could talk, and there were no stirring emotions drifting in the back of Tavia's mind to tell her he was listening.
She had brought along the Ageless Sword after testing that she could still channel into the sword and use it. A bit of quiet searching through the well-stocked armory at her house had yielded a baldric that would fit the Ageless Sword, but there hadn't been any scabbard large enough for it. She had threatened and cajoled him, telling Evos she would carry around the Ageless Sword like it was nothing special, just a sword to be toted around on her back. There had been no response. Tavia wasn't even sure if he could hear her.
By the time Tavia arrived at the designated meeting place, she had given up, falling into a sullen silence that matched Evos's.
It was strangely uncomfortable wearing the baldric, the wide leather straps crossing above her shoulder and around her waist were an unfamiliar feeling, and the weight of the Ageless Sword weighed down her spirits as much as Evos's silence. There were also the stairs she was getting from the well-dressed pedestrians walking along the street. It wasn't particularly unusual to wear a sword in Edelheiss, but it was a little uncommon in this section of the city. Coupled with the simple black pants and short sleeved shirt she wore along with the baldric, she looked as ill-fitting among the professionals walking around her as the building she stood before was compared to the skytowers surrounding them.
Ikarios's note had directed Tavia to an old, abandoned building in the middle of the city. It was a decrepit thing, about two stories tall. The windows were shattered and the door covered in paint condemning the building as uninhabitable. The paint was probably unnecessary. She actually couldn't believe it hadn't been torn down. The roof was sagging in, and maybe she was just imagining it, but the roof seemed to be swaying in the breeze that whipped between the two skytowers it was wedged between. The lot it sat on was all dirt and trash and weeds. How had a building like this survived so long in the commercial district of Edelheiss? It was as if it had been forgotten and left to rot.
Maybe that thought wasn't too far off. Even with the directions, Tavia had overlooked the building more than once, walking straight past it twice, only to turn around once she realized she had gone too far. The pedestrians, business people dressed in neat suits on the street, ignored the building entirely, never once even giving it a look even as Tavia entered the dirt lot.
This was a busy street in the heart of downtown Edelheiss. The street was filled with conveis, and it was almost impossible to imagine a worn down building like this being left alone and ignored. Which meant that magic was at work here. It wasn't an illusion, since that wouldn't have caused people to ignore this place so thoroughly. But there weren't any spells Tavia knew of that could force something to be ignored like this.
Which meant it could only be the work of one person. Ikarios.
If he could erase memories and control minds, who was to say this wasn't just an extension of his abilities? If he could do something like this, it would explain why the Wardens had been able to get into RIOAR so easily.
"What kind of hideout is this?" a bright voice asked from behind her.
Tavia's shoulders stiffened and she spun around to stare at Audri. The woman was standing on the sidewalk, hands on her hips and a small smile on her face as she enjoyed Tavia's surprise. She was wearing her gauntlets and greaves, along with a simple all-black outfit consisting of shorts and a shirt that fit snugly against her body. Even at a glance, it was clear she had come ready for a fight.
"What are you doing here?" Tavia asked as Audri stepped off the sidewalk and onto the dirt lot.
"Abram asked me to come," she said. "He said you were being reckless and stupid, but that it was still the best idea we had."
That wasn't a compliment, but Audri hadn't said it to hurt. She was smiling as if proud of Tavia.
"How did you find me?" Tavia asked. "I didn't tell Abram where I was going."
"Oh." Audri's smile faltered and she looked away. "I...uh...followed you."
"Your house," Audri said, and before Tavia could say anything about that, she added, "Where's Evos?"
The bitter guilt that flooded Tavia's mind pushed away all thoughts about asking Audri how she had managed to follow her unnoticed. She looked away as Audri watched.
"Wait, is that him?" Audri asked.
She stepped up close to Tavia, and before she could even try to move away, Audri reached over her shoulder and tapped the sword's hilt. Tavia looked up at Audri's face—it was just a difference of a few inches, but Audri radiated strength, making her look even bigger than she really was.
Tavia nodded, and took a quick step away from Audri.
"What, is he being shy or something?" Audri asked.
"I didn't think you really believed me," Tavia said.
Tavia didn't want to say they were fighting, because that would just lead to more questions. Questions that would only dig up the guilt Tavia was doing her best to ignore.
"What's not to believe?" Audri asked as she looked away from the sword and toward the building. Her smile faded, and her expression softened. "At this point I'd believe just about anything."
Tavia nodded. She understood that feeling.
The door to the abandoned building swung inward, creaking on rusty hinges, and Ikarios stepped out, followed closely by two of his Wardens, Meridian and a man Tavia didn't recognize. Just how big was this group? Though every time she'd seen them before, the Wardens had been wearing robes that covered most of their body, this time they were wearing regular clothing, though like Tavia and Audri, they were the kind of clothes that would be easy to move about in.
"You came," he said, and then he looked at Audri with narrowed eyes, "and you did too. Why?"
"I'm not letting you drag her alone into your hidey-hole. We may never see her again," Audri replied.
Tavia grimaced. She had been trying not to think about that possibility, but it would be a lie to say she hadn't ever thought about it. Audri had crossed her arms and was glaring in Ikarios's direction as if daring him to turn her away.
"I don't intend to harm her," he said.
He smiled, but it wasn't filled with any kind of friendly emotion. It looked more like a wolf baring its fangs.
"You think we'd really believe that after what you did to our friend?" Audri asked.
"To your friend?" Ikarios asked, but then he shook his head. "Fine, come along if that makes you feel better. It isn't as if your presence changes anything."
Ikarios turned back towards the house, signaling with a hand wave towards his two companions. They advanced on Tavia and Audri and fell into step behind them. It felt uncomfortably like being taken prisoner, but the two Wardens made no move to disarm Tavia or Audri.
"Where are we going?" Tavia asked as Ikarios returned to the building.
He paused in the doorway and looked back at them.
"I said I was going to show you where Savin is," he said. "We have a little way to go to get there."
Ikarios said nothing more and disappeared into the building. Audri shrugged at Tavia, and they followed him in, the silent Wardens close behind.
Inside, the building was just as decrepit and musty as the outside. A lopsided desk sat to one side of the room, and a few wooden chairs were toppled to the floor. A thick layer of dust covered everything except for the floor, which was only free of dust in a narrow path that led deeper into the building. They followed Ikarios along the path until they reached another room empty of all furnishings.
"Don't tell me this is your hideout?" Audri asked.
Ikarios looked back at her as if he was disappointed she would even suggest that. He walked to the center of the room and put a hand down on the floor. Althier surged through the room for a moment and the ground shook, causing Tavia to gasp. The Wardens were unfazed, but that was probably only because they were used to the feeling. Audri looked just as ill at ease as Tavia felt.
The floor of the room began to sink, slowly lowering into the ground. The movement was rough and unsteady, but despite the lurching motions, the Wardens maintained their calm appearance. The floor continued to drop until they were deep under the building, only settling after several minutes of the slow movement had passed.
When they reached the bottom, other than the section of floor they had ridden down, everything was made of dark stone. Beyond the wooden floor of the building was a long hallway lit by lamps hung on either side of the walls. Tavia couldn't see the end of the hallway from where she stood.
"We still have a ways to go," Ikarios said as he stepped off the wooden floor and onto the bare stone. "Let's get moving."