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The silence was broken only by the sounds of their footsteps. If Evos had been, well, present, Tavia might have been able to ask him where they were, but as it was, Ikarios was too far ahead for any kind of conversing, and the two Wardens trailing after Tavia and Audri looked as if they'd rather eat a Scarver than answer Tavia's questions.

Audri was studying their surroundings. There wasn't much to see. What was she so fascinated about? At one point, Audri noticed Tavia watching her and she winked at Tavia before resuming her minute examination of the long hallway.

The hallway did look familiar. Not that Tavia had ever been here before, but the architecture and material reminded her of something. She stared at the walls; there was something engraved on them. Spell-sets just like in—Oh, this place was just like Abram's lab. Were they connected somehow?

She tried to bring up a mental map of the city, but no matter how she looked at it, RIOAR was too far from here for them to be connected. The commercial district where they were now, was in the newer, eastern section of the city, and RIOAR was in the west, near the noble district and Avel'lier. It had taken nearly an hour minutes in a convei to get here from the Renegarde mansion, and from RIOAR it would have only been a little less.

Though she looked closely, even brushing her hand against the wall for a brief moment, there was no sign of corrupted Althier here, but if this place really somehow connected to Abram's lab, Tavia didn't think the possibility was zero.

Eventually the hallway ended in a simple if oddly shaped door. The door looked as if it had been added after everything had been built, sized to fit the hall instead of the other way around. It was tall and wide, wide enough it could almost have been two doors instead of one.

Ikarios opened the door and then ushered Tavia and Audri inside. It opened up onto a room about half the size of Abram's underground lab. The walls were made of the same dark stone, and doors and hallways branched off the room. The room itself was well-lit with lamps hung from the ceiling and walls, and furnished into some kind of living space. It looked something like a common room for a communal living space, tables were set up on one side of the room, and there were even a few people sitting at the tables, eating a late meal. Just like the Wardens escorting Tavia and Audri, these ones were everyday clothing, and they looked no different than a normal group of co-workers or friends having a meal. They looked up, wary and cautious when they saw Tavia and Audri, but relaxed when they saw Ikarios with them. One of the men at the table had eyes that seemed to glow with a golden-green light, but he looked away too quickly for Tavia to really see.

The rest of the room was decorated in a similar fashion, couches and chairs, and even a few vid-screens against the wall gave it a a homey feel she hadn't expected. It felt less like a hide-out and more like a home. Could it be that the Wardens actually lived here?

Ikarios led them through the common room to a door on the far side. Like the first door they had passed through, this one was an awkward shape, as if the opening had never been intended for the door. He opened it and stepped through, letting Tavia and Audri follow. The light in this room was dimmer, and it took Tavia a moment before she was able to really see where she was.

It was a much smaller room, smaller than her bedroom back home. There was only one lamp, hanging from the center of the room, and only one piece of furniture: an occupied wooden chair, simple in construction and design, stood on the far wall opposite the door.

"Savin," Tavia breathed.

The man in the chair jerked at his name. Savin was tied to the chair with thick rope that had been looped several times around his body. He was looking better than he had in Abram's lab, but even so, the ropes were probably overdoing it. Savin looked like he would barely be able to stand, let alone try to escape. His clothes were worn and ragged, and his feet were bare.

"He's awake?" Audri asked.

"I believe Abram was keeping him asleep," Ikarios said, and Tavia nodded. "No reason to keep doing that. He's still drowsy, but yes, he is awake."

"What are you planning with him?" Tavia asked.

Ikarios moved forward and turned to face her. He placed himself before her, as if trying to block her view of Savin. His small stature made that impossible, but though he was shorter than Tavia by a good amount, his confident posture and arrogant smile were enough to make it impossible for Tavia to think of him as a child.

"Considering how you reacted last time, I assume Abram told you something about Demis," Ikarios said. "If not, then I hope Evos did, seeing as how now that you have that sword you're tangled up in our matters anyway."

"What does that mean?" Tavia asked.

Ikarios shook his head. "It's not my job to explain that," he said. "Ask Evos."

He looked at the hilt of the sword sticking out above Tavia's shoulder.

"I'm aware you don't like me," he said. "But this would be much simpler if you would be in a form where you could talk."

Silence, and not even a hint of emotional response. Tavia shook her head, and Ikarios glowered at the sword.

"Well, moving on," Ikarios said. "You've probably realized this, but Demis are very rare. There may be one Demi for every hundred thousand humans or so, though honestly I have no way of confirming that number. If there were very many of us though, I'm sure our existence wouldn't be the well-kept secret that it is, regardless of the method we used to stay hidden."

"But Abram knew about you," Tavia said.

Ikarios nodded. "That's right, and he's not alone. There are others, especially Artificers who know about Demis. That's why the Wardens exist, to protect Demis from people like Abram."

"Protect?" Tavia asked. "From what I've seen, you protect yourself plenty well."

Ikarios scowled and shook his head. "Not all Demis are as powerful as I, or Dieos. Most are really no stronger than a normal human. It has to do with specific abilities, as well as skill at using said abilities, but suffice it to say, most often you wouldn't be able to tell a Demi from a human unless you were told."

"I don't think—" Tavia began.

"Meridian," Ikarios said.

"Sir?"

She and the man had stationed themselves on either side of the door. They were guarding it, though Tavia wasn't sure if it was so she and Audri didn't escape, or if it was to keep Savin from escaping. She glanced at Savin, he was reeling, still pale and half-awake. No, the guards were there to keep Tavia and Audri in line.

"You fought her before," Ikarios said. "Did she seem like a Demi to you?"

"What?" Tavia asked. "No, she was—"

"I am," Meridian said. "I am a Demi. Unlike our leader however, my ability is something easily copied by a device. The only thing that makes me different is that I can cast some magic without needing a device."

Tavia looked back at Meridian. She hadn't used any weird abilities in her fight against Tavia. She had simply been better. Was she really any different from a normal person?

"You said the Wardens protect Demis from people like Abram?" Audri asked. She had been silent during the entire exchange so far, but now there was a grim tone in her voice. "Why would you need protecting?"

Ikarios nodded. "How do you think humans learned magic in the first place? An Artifact is just a substitute for the body of a Demi. And just because humans have advanced so far doesn't mean anything has changed. Any new magic you humans 'discover' is really just something stolen from us."

"Stolen?" Audri asked.

"The Artificers capture Demis and put them through inhumane tests and studies until they learn the Demi's secrets. How to...replicate them," Ikarios said. "The Wardens here are all Demis who have that kind of past. We strive to protect and rescue any Demis currently suffering in their hands, and then we'll make sure they never have to suffer again."

Ikarios's small hands bundled into fists. He looked away from Tavia, his dark eyes locked onto the black walls. What kind of past did he have? What kinds of things had he seen? He took a deep breath and then leveled Tavia with a hungry stare, his black eyes sparkling at the the dim light caught on the silver.

"That's why I want you and Evos to help us," Ikarios said.

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*cue dramatic music*

 

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