Tavia explained the situation to Evos, and left him up in the room. He looked as if he wanted to come along, but Tavia didn't want to explain why she was carrying a sword around the house with her, and after she had calmed down a moment, she realized neither Abram nor Ikarios were likely to to just walk up to the front door to be let in, and then wait for a servant to fetch Tavia. And even if they had, only a fool would try to start a fight when Septia was around. There was no need to bring Evos, so she told him to wait in her room.

When Tavia reached the stairs, she could see Septia below in the foyer standing beside the front door. Her refined voice echoed up the stairs; she was trying to convince the guest to head into the sitting room, but as Tavia descended the stairs, she heard him say he didn't intend to stay long.

They both looked up as Tavia approached, and that was when she realized who the guest was, and why Gladis had said the guest was "important."

The third prince of Marquest was standing in their entryway in casual conversation with Septia. When considering Septia was a Duchess, it wasn't as if there was much difference in their standing, but it also wasn't as if the royalty of Marquest made house calls with any kind of regularity. Tavia hesitated before intruding on their conversation. Why was he here? The exam had been canceled; he had no further business with her.

The prince looked back at Septia and said something to her in a voice too quiet to hear. Septia nodded in reply, and left the room. Tavia watched her go. This was going to be a private conversation?

"Ah, Lady Renegarde," the prince said as Tavia reached the ground floor. "I was hoping to see you. I'm sorry to come calling so late, but what I have to discuss isn't something that can wait."

Hearing her formal title from the prince was enough to make Tavia stop and stare. The prince chuckled and shrugged.

"Your...highness," Tavia replied.

"Jaiden is fine," the prince replied with a wave of his hand. "I'd prefer if we dropped the formalities of titles. They aren't really important these days anyway."

The pri—Jaiden smiled at Tavia and then folded his hands behind his back. He was a little older than Tavia, a year or so at most, but he carried himself with the refined air that came from living up to heavy expectations. Impeccably dressed in button up shirt and vest, he didn't look much like a student. His dark hair was cut short, and his blue eyes seemed to smile as they exchanged greetings.

"I suppose you received notice the exam was canceled?" he asked.

Tavia nodded, and Jaiden gave her an awkward smile.

"It would seem the university decided there wasn't enough time before the semester began to initiate another exam," he said with a shrug. "We'll have to deal with being short a member again this year."

Had he come just to tell her this? Was he personally going to every exam-taker to tell them? There was no way that was possible; the official announcement should have been enough. In that case, there had to be another reason he was here.

"And I'm sorry to say this, but even if the exam had been resumed and you had participated, Avel'lier would never consent to you joining the squadron," Jaiden said, his light eyes staring straight into Tavia's.

"Why not?" she asked. "Why would they—?"

"I'm sure you can understand. "Avel'lier will never say it directly, but they would never accept a null-aura entering the Martial program." He delivered the statement as if he was commenting on the weather, not even looking directly at Tavia as he spoke.

She bit her lip and looked away. It wasn't as if the thought had never crossed her mind, the stigma of a null-aura was strong, and hiding it from the university simply wasn't possible. It shouldn't have matter thought, if she was strong enough—if she could prove herself, then there shouldn't have been anything for them to dislike.

"It's a pity," Jaiden said. His eyes met Tavia's, but it was hard to read the emotions lurking in them. "I would have liked to have someone as brave as you on my side."

"Brave?" she asked.

"Did you think no one was watching? It would have been easy to run away in that situation."

Had he just been watching her fight the Scarver?

"Why didn't you help?" Tavia asked.

Jaiden grimaced, holding his hands up and taking a step back.

"I was just barely conscious," he said. "It's amazing you were able to hold on yourself. Maybe it has something to do with your...uniqueness."

That was the politest way of calling her a cripple Tavia had ever heard. Didn't change what it meant though. Tavia did her best not to look bitter, but she wasn't sure how successful she was.

"I looked into you a bit," he said. "Obviously I already knew who you were. Your mother's kept you out of view of the public for the most part, but it isn't as if there's no information about you. You've had an interesting past, but I have to ask: if becoming a Martial is so important, why did you apply for the general course at Avel'lier? You could have chosen a different school; one with less history might have accepted you after seeing you fight."

"Avel'lier is the only school I can apply to. That woman won't let me apply anywhere else, and she has enough pull to get me rejected just about anywhere. I only convinced her to let me apply to Avel'lier because I think she doesn't believe I'll ever make it in. Of course, she just claims all Renegardes go to Avel'lier and to accept less than that would be a stain on the family legacy," Tavia said.

Jaiden's gaze shifted to the hallway. Septia was long out of sight, but his mouth turned down. He probably understood. The third prince—not likely to ever inherit, unless the worst happened, but still expected to hold up the grand tradition of the Knights from the Royal Family.

"Though we don't normally recruit for this position before the semester even begins," Jaiden said. "it's still an acceptable method of enrollment. My team is hurting for more than just Martials and Althiests. We're looking for some junior Artificers to maintain our equipment too. You didn't apply to Avel'lier with the intention of becoming an Artificer, I'm aware, but Alvis, our senior Artificer, expressed interest in you."

An Artificer? Tavia tried to school her expression, tried not to show the disgust boiling in her chest, but Jaiden raised an eyebrow as he stared at her.

"Not so keen on it?" he asked. "Well in that case, how abou—?"

Jaiden froze, not in surprise, but actually as if he was frozen. He was breathing, but otherwise completely still. Tavia waited a moment and then waved her hand in front of his face.

"Hello?" she asked.

There was no response, and a chill ran down her back. Evos was upstairs, if she ran up to get him; would she be able to make it in time?

The front door opened, answering her question. There was no time. Tavia took a deep breath and stepped back, toward the stairs, prepared to run for Evos if the person coming through that door proved to be a danger, but as the door swung open, it revealed a boy in the doorway. His dark eyes locked onto Tavia and he gave a tight frown.

Ikarios entered the house as if it were his own. He looked around, and then paused beside Jaiden. A glower flashed across his face before disappearing, and he turned his attention to Tavia. His expression was cold, and his eyes flashed with a brilliance unmatched by anything Tavia had seen so far.


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