The Shields had cordoned off the area surrounding RIOAR. Wearing gray and red uniforms, they patrolled the outer edges of the glowing dome, keeping a careful distance from the slowly encroaching malevolent energy. A crowd of onlookers had gathered to gawk at the sight, voxes in hand as they shared every moment on the corvex. Even what looked to be a few news teams, jostling about in the crowd as they fought for the best spot to record from. They were kept at bay by the shields, most of whom were focused around the side entrance that had been serving as the only way in and out of the institute.

They got out of the convei on the opposite side of the street, standing back, away from the crowd, just watching the chaos for a moment. Because the dome was expanding slowly, there wasn't much fear in the crowd, but the excited voices of those watching filled the air with worry and concern. It was an unfamiliar magic, and those who knew people trapped inside the dome were shouting at the Shields, demanding answers.

The building itself was shrouded in the red glow, almost hidden by the intense energy that had swallowed it. There was no way to tell what was happening beneath that dome of corrupted Althier. The flickering light was mesmerizing, but after a moment, Tavia tore her gaze away. Her stomach was twisting, and her skin burned. The Althier in this area was thick and choking.
Unlike Tavia, Evos seemed more concerned with the gathered crowd. They were a motley mix of all ages, pushing up against the limits set by the Shields in a desperate attempt to see whatever they could make out.

"An audience," Evos muttered as he watched the crowd with her. "Why are they here?"

"It's something strange to see," she said. "They don't know how dangerous it is."

"How are we supposed to get in?" Evos asked. "They're so many people."

"If we go around to the front of the building, there probably won't be as many people there," she said.

Tavia led Evos around to the front of the building. To her dismay, there were still several Shields here, guarding the entrance. Why did they have to be so good at their jobs? At least there were fewer of them on this side, and no news crews or spectators. If they were going to find a way in, it would have to be here.

She kept her distance from the building. If the Shields noticed her, they didn't seem to mind her presence. She would need a way to get in, and until she figured that part out, it was best not to make them suspicious.

Evos was looking around, his gaze more focused on the surroundings streets and buildings than RIOAR itself. A small frown of concentration flickered across his face.

"What are you looking for?" Tavia asked.

"He should be able to get us in," Evos murmured.

"He?" Who was Evos talking abo—? Oh, right. "You want Ikarios to help?"

"He should be around here." He turned to look straight at Tavia, the expression in his eyes as honest as his words. "After all, there's no way for him to get in without you."

"Are you sure he'll really be here?" she asked. "I did tell him I wasn't coming."

Evos grumbled something too quiet to make out. It sounded disgruntled though, so it was probably something about how Ikarios was going to be here anyway. What was his problem with Ikarios anyway?

"There's no need to be rude, I'm right here," Ikarios said from behind Tavia.

His voice was close—too close—and she jumped forward a step before spinning around to face him. He was staring at her with blank expression.

"I thought you weren't coming," he said.

"My friend is trapped in there," Tavia replied. "I can't just leave him."

"Well, whatever your reason is, you've come, and that's all I care about," he said with a smirk. "You're ready, I suppose?"

She and Evos nodded, and then Evos reached out and grabbed Tavia's hand. A moment later, she was holding the Ageless Sword in her right hand, and in the next moment, the coat she had worn in the Warden's hideout appeared on her body again. She scowled down at the sword; it was a little disorientating for him to change like that without any warning. His response was simply a bubble of amusement in the back of her mind.

Tavia glanced over at the Shields. She pulled the hood of the coat up, hiding her face in the shadows it cast. The hood was light, but secure, and even after giving her head a good shake, it didn't fall down.

"Embarrassed they'll see you?" Ikarios asked.

"Unlike some people, I'm not interested in becoming a wanted criminal," she replied.

"A criminal by human standards," Ikarios said with a shrug. "To the Demis, I might be called a hero."

"Well then, hero, why don't you lead the way?"

She gestured toward the Shields with the sword. Ikarios looked in their direction, and a grin spread across his face. Without another word, he strutted up to a quartet of Shields nearest them, and waved them down. As the small group stopped before Ikarios, one of the bent over to match Ikarios.

"You can't come this way," he said. "It isn't safe, and where are your parents?"

The man frowned as he stared into Ikarios's eyes, as if just noticing the endless darkness they held.

"Oh, is that so?" Ikarios asked. "I need to pass through here anyway."

"Hey, isn't that the kid we've been looking for?" One of the other Shields asked. She was peering at Ikarios's face. "He was with the people who attacked RIOAR the other day."

The man who had initially spoken stood back up and took a step back. He drew the sword he carried around his waist.

"Are you the cause of this mess?" the man asked as he brandished his sword.

His comrades quickly moved to support him, drawing their weapons and grimoires, as they leveled both Ikarios and Tavia with looks of loathing.

"Not at all," Ikarios replied, holding his hand out wide to show he was unarmed.

Tavia wasn't sure if he was actually wearing any weapons at all, but she really hoped he had brought something with which to protect himself. She barely had the confidence that she would be able to fight Dieos, and protecting Ikarios was not included in that faint belief.

"But my friend and I do have some business with the ones who are causing this," Ikarios said. "Don't you think you could let us pass?"

It was hard to say what was more appalling. Ikarios calling her his "friend," even if it was snide, or the casual way he was chatting up the already on alert Shields. Both made her sick, and to make matters worse, he was just making the four Shields more upset with every word that came out of his cheeky little mouth.

The man snarled, but before he could do anything more than make a slightly menacing gesture, Ikarios held up his hand, palm facing toward the man.

"It's time to go to sleep," Ikarios said.

The man's eyes glossed over, as if struck by a sudden daze, and he sank to his knees before collapsing face first on the pavement. His chest was moving with the slow and steady rhythm of deep sleep.

"What did you—?" the woman began, but as soon as Ikarios looked at her, she also collapsed.

A moment later, the two remaining Shields had fallen to the ground. As Ikarios had said, they were asleep. It wasn't the same, deathly sleep Izak was in, but rather a natural one.

"Come on," Ikarios said, looking back over his shoulder at Tavia. "Let's get moving."


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