They huddled inside the test-chamber as the barrier Dieos had created fell to pieces. The test chamber shook and groaned as the Althier from the barrier bombarded the room. The Artificers clustered together near the center of the chamber, and Ikarios stood off to one side, near the wall but not leaning against it. Though one of the walls was glass, the room it looked in on didn't have any windows of its own. There was no way to see outside, how was Tavia supposed to tell what the state of the barrier was?
Tavia had collapsed to her knees only a few steps from the door, and she just couldn't gather the willpower to stand again. She set the Ageless Sword on the ground, and the strength from the spells on the sword disappeared, flooding her body with exhaustion. The blade flashed blue, and then Evos was there, kneeling beside her with a hand on her back.
"Are you alright ?" he asked.
Tavia looked up. Audri was only a few feet away. She was staring at Evos, her eyes wide. This was the first time she'd seen him change forms, and she wasn't the only one staring. Several of the Artificers were watching Evos with curiosity burning in their eyes.
"Huh," she said just before the floor shook even harder and she stumbled a few steps forward.
A few more terrifying rumbles shook the room. The back wall cracked, thin lines running up and down it, and Tavia worried the room itself might not last, let alone whatever shielding Audri swore was in place. The lights above them flickered on and off, twisting the shadows of the people in the room into specters that danced across the floor. One last massive shake tossed those few who had remained standing to the ground, and then everything was still and silent. It was several minutes before anyone had the courage to stand.
"Is it over?" Tavia asked.
Evos stood up as Ikarios picked himself off the ground and then made his way towards Tavia.
"It should be," he told her. "Shall we open the door and see?"
There were some nervous murmurs from the Artificers, but Ikarios ignored them. He walked up to the door and placed his hand on the panel next to it. The door wasn't locked on the inside, and it slid open without a fuss. Outside the door was darkness, The lights had gone out leaving the hallways in darkness, but beyond them the pale silver glow of moonlight lit the windows.
There wasn't a hint of red to be seen.
"It looks like you got lucky this time," Ikarios said as he turned to face Tavia.
"That wasn't luck," Audri said, "That was—"
She fell to the ground, deep asleep in an instant. She was followed by the Artificers in the room; one by one they collapsed to the floor, only their soft breathing to show they weren't dead.
"What did you do?" Tavia asked, glaring at Ikarios as Evos helped her stand.
Ikarios looked at the prone bodies on the floor as if they were of no consequence.
"This is as much for their protection as it is for mine," he said. "Humans are better off knowing nothing about Demis, and particularly about Dieos."
"What do you—"
"I'm erasing their memories," Ikarios said.
He turned away from Tavia and faced Audri and the fallen Artificers. He took a moment to look all about the room, as if counting them.
"All of them? Even Audri's and Izak's?" Tavia asked.
"Especially theirs," Ikarios replied. "I don't need them sticking their necks in my business. I can't stop you from telling them again after this, but I wouldn't recommend it."
Ikarios looked at Tavia, as if expecting her to protest. He quirked a smile and then looked away.
"Humans are weak, fragile," he said. "It's better for them not to be involved with my kind."
Maybe he was right. Tavia had Evos with her. Without him, she never would have been able to stand against Dieos. How could she expect anyone else to do something like that? Izak would never let Tavia get involved in something dangerous like this alone, and Audri was reckless enough to jump in head first despite any warnings or danger.
It pained her to admit it, and somewhere in her heart, the cold emptiness of loneliness stirred, but they were better off forgetting. Without the ability to protect themselves from people like Ikarios, it was better that they not even have to worry about that. That probably wasn't her choice to make for them, but regardless, it the resolution she came to. She bit her lip and looked away from Ikarios. He didn't need her permission, but he had waited for it.
There was no flashing of light, no glimmer of an aura. Ikarios's power was nothing if not subtle. It took a few minutes, longer than Tavia had expected, but perhaps erasing memories was more difficult than putting people to sleep. When at long last he turned back around to face Tavia, he gave her a small nod, and then brushed past her.
"I'm leaving," he said. "I need to get out of here before the Shields get brave enough to come inside. I suggest you leave as well."
After sending the Artificers and her friends one last, regretful look, Tavia followed Ikarios out.
She didn't keep pace with him, walking several steps behind him, beside Evos. The building was in tatters. Although the walls were still standing, there were places where the halls were nearly impassable because the upper floors had collapsed onto those below. The windows had all shattered, and the glass littered the floor. It was impossible to avoid crunching the shards underfoot. Like in the test-chamber, the walls in the hallways had cracks running through them, some spreading from the floor to the ceiling, across the ceiling and then disappearing into the corners where the walls and ceiling met. The damage was massive, far beyond the the damage done by the attack that had started all of this.
They didn't see anyone on the way out, a good thing, she hoped. If anyone had ignored, or missed, Audri's announcement, they would have been exposed to that horrible barrage of Althier. It wouldn't have been a pleasant way to go.
They left the building together through the lobby entrance. There raised voices coming from from the other side of the building, a mix of cheering and worried shouts, but no one had blocked the lobby yet, and they were able to sneak out unnoticed. The four Shields who had been standing guard by the lobby were gone.
Ikarios crossed the street and turned away without a word. Tavia waited on the institute side, watching him go. What were they supposed to say to each other? Bid farewell as if they were friends parting for the last time? They weren't friends, and she didn't want to see him again. They had worked together, but that was only because Dieos and Abram had been a bigger threat than Ikarios was.
Tavia watched Ikarios's small figure disappear around a street corner. Ikarios never stopped to look back at her; maybe he knew just as well as she that they weren't, and never would be, comrades of any sort.
"It's all his fault anyway," Tavia muttered as she turned to walk in the opposite direction.