The lobby was still in a state of semi-ruin. The ceiling had collapsed in the explosion a few days earlier, but a temporary roof had been set up to shelter the inside from the summer heat. There was debris scattered about the lobby, much of it shoved to the edges of the room to create a workspace in the middle. The reception desk had been half-crushed beneath the rubble, leaving only part of it still standing. The hallway on the left leading in-wards was blocked off, and only the right-hand passage was viable.

And it was there that Abram stood before them.

"Out of the way," Ikarios said.

Abram smirked, and didn't move.

"I said, move." Ikarios's voice was nothing but a growl, and the silver in his eyes flashed as he watched Abram shrug off the order.

Was he trying to control Abram's mind? Why wasn't it working?

"You didn't think I'd come here unprepared, did you?" Abram asked.

He held up a small vial between his fingers. It was empty save for a small amount of purple liquid at the bottom.

"I've had plenty of time to find a way around your power while you were our guest, and with Dieos around, I was able to realize it," Abram said. "Even asleep, having a Demi of his power around helps with research. Now that he's awake, can you imagine the things we could discover?"

"Do you really only see him as a source of research?" Audri asked. "He's a monster that could destroy the city."

"Dieos is no brute," Abram replied. "He may take control of the city, but only as a conqueror and a ruler, not as a destroyer."

"And you're alright living under his rule?" Tavia asked. "You're alright with being unable to even live a normal life?"

Abram shrugged, looking as unconcerned as he had the day Tavia first met him. They were getting nowhere with this. Abram wasn't willing to back down, and Tavia couldn't either.

"Where's Izak?" she asked.

"Izak?" Abram smiled. "He's right where you left him. Right beside Dieos, at the moment, actually."

With Dieos? They were both in the underground lab? At least that made them easy to find, but they would have to get past Abram first.

Responding to her will to fight, the edge of the Ageless Sword flared.

"Let us pass," Tavia said. She held the sword up in a defensive position.

"I'm not afraid of you," Abram said.

He reached to his back and removed a grimoire from its carry strap. Tavia grimaced. They didn't have time for this. Izak was trapped, alone, with a ruthless Demi who was growing more powerful by the second.

Abram opened his grimoire to a page near the beginning, and placed his hand on the page. Without even looking at the spell on the page, his aura flickered, and he cast the spell.

The room became cold, and kept getting colder. Within moments, the summer heat was gone, and Tavia's breath swirled in the air before her. Frost crept along the ground, stemming from Abram's feet. It coated the ground, making for slippery footing. Audri bounced back and forth on her feet as if testing it.

She frowned, but then nodded, setting into a fighting stance.

"I'll handle Abram," she said. "You and Ikarios go get Izak."

"What?" Tavia asked. "You want to fight him alone? But last time—"

"Last time I wasn't ready, this time I won't be so easy to defeat," Audri replied.

Abram smirked at Audri's words, but he was already turning to another page in his grimoire.

"I'm worried about Izak. And," she looked at Ikarios, "you'll be better off without me, won't you?"

Without waiting for an answer, Audri sprang forward, her gauntlets gleaming as she activated the engravings on them. Her attack was fast, but Abram had already been preparing a spell, and he finished it just in time to defend against her attack.

A pillar of ice rose up from the ground, taking her strike in Abram's place. The ice cracked and then crumbled, the shards melting instantly back into the ice on the ground. Audri took a step back, shaking her hand and wincing.

Was she really going to be alright? Ikarios tugged at Tavia's arm. He tilted his head to the side, gesturing for the open hallway, and Tavia followed with a twinge of guilt and reluctance.

Abram didn't miss their movement. He was still standing in the way, and he sneered at Ikarios and Tavia, turning his next spell towards them.

"Not happening," Audri said the moment Abram looked away from her.

She crouched, and in one fluid movement swept her leg out in an arc, knocking him to the ground. The man let out a yell as he fell, and his hand slipped from the page of his grimoire. He was quick to regain his focus though, and before he even tried to right himself, he began casting his spell once again. Rather than looking at Tavia and Ikarios this time, Abram's gaze was focused on the entrance to the hallway.

"Run," Ikarios said. "He's trying to trap us here."

The exit hallway was only a few feet away, but Abram was a fast caster. Would they make it? Tavia pushed herself, ignoring her body's complaints that it hadn't recovered from breaking the barrier.

There was a small cry, and then Ikarios slipped on the ice. There was no time to wait for him to stand back up. Tavia bent down and grabbed his shirt; he was light, or maybe she was just strong, but she lifted him easily, tossing him over her shoulder.

Ikarios made a disgruntled sound, but he was too wise to struggle. He could complain all he wanted once they were safe.

Tavia glanced over at Abram. His aura was gone; the spell was cast. She looked back to the hallway entrance. A shimmer of silvery ice was beginning to form on the floor, and in just a moment, Tavia knew the ice would rise from the floor, blocking her way. She was only a couple of steps away, but at this rate she wouldn't make it.

The ice slowed. No, it was as if the world itself was moving slower. She even had the time to look back at Audri and Abram as they turned to face each other at barely half their normal speed. Tavia leapt, not understanding what was happening, but thankful she had enough time. Her jump took her over the small amount of ice that had already formed. She landed on the far side, safe in the hallway, and the world returned to its normal speed. The entryway froze over in an instant, emitting a chill that Tavia could feel just by standing beside it.

"What was that?" she asked as she set Ikarios down. "Everything became really slow."

Ikarios looked at Tavia, and then looked around.

"Time isn't stable here," he said. "You're protected from it changing because of the sword and that coat. Though...with that timing—"

He scowled, and though Tavia had a feeling she didn't want him to know his thoughts, she urged him to finish. She wasn't going to be left in the dark anymore.

"I suppose you could consider it an invitation of sorts," he said as he looked down the long hallway. It was silent, and the scarlet light from outside stained the white walls in red, looking like they had been painted in blood.

She shuddered as she thought about what being invited my someone like Dieos meant, but there was one other thing concerning her.

"What about you? Won't this weird time stuff affect you?"

"I'll be fine," Ikarios said. "As long as I can keep contact with at least one mind unaffected by the instability, I can keep myself grounded."

That was a rather large if in his statement. Was he really going to be alright?

"Let's get moving," Ikarios said. "We need to find Dieos and put an end to this before this mess spreads."


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