The sight beyond the door was both expected, and at the same time unexpected.

“Oh, and how are you today, Tavia?“

The kind voice that greeted her didn’t belong to the owner of the lab. Alvis was standing at the very back of the lab, hunched over something and utterly ignoring her arrival. The one who had greeted her stood a short distance from Alvis, originally watching the Artificer work before looking over at Tavia when she entered.

If the outside of the building had seemed to reflect their poor performance, the inside was a continuation of the condemnation of the 14th’s abilities. The once white walls were covered in random patches of dark stains that seemed to be smoke stains at first glance, but were actually caused by years of alther dust embedding itself in the walls. She’d learned the hard way, no amount of scrubbing would ever see those walls returned to their pristine state. The floor was uneven, and the wooden floorboards peeling up in the corners. As if trying to pin down the unruly floor, someone had pushed tables up against every wall except the one the door stood on. The vast amounts of table space weren’t enough for Alvis though, every inch was covered in a sprawling mess of devices and weapons interspersed with stacks of documents depicting half completed spell-sets. There were four or five engravers, pen like tools meant for carving spell-sets directly into Althier, lying about the room with no particular rhyme or reason, and a large auto-engraver fitted to the wall on the left. He’d even added a set of small tables to the middle of the room, eating up most of the remaining space, and then proceeded to cover that with books and textbooks far too advanced for Tavia to hope to comprehend.

Near the back of the room, Alvis had two consoles running constant simulations of an engraved cube. The hum from the consoles as the devices processed the information fed into them and displayed the results on their screens was at odds with the harsh scratching emanating from Alvis.
After a moment, the sound subsided, and Alvis turned around to face Tavia. His dark eyes watched her as if looking at an uninvited intruder. He was the one who’d called her here though, so his rude looks were unnecessary. His hair was as dark as his eyes, but unlike Tavia, his skin was just as pale as any Marquestian. He was a small statured man, but still had a handful of inches above Tavia in height, though his height did nothing to diminish the way his glare sent a shiver down Tavia’s spine. Alvis was an Artificer through and through, and though Tavia was learning to become one as well, she still didn’t like them.

The other man in the room who’d greeted her had a much more refreshing demeanor, but his warm smile was unnerving in its own way. His hair was a light brown, and his eyes a soft blue that seemed to be smiling even after the expression itself had faded. Though she hadn’t been expecting to see Jaiden here, it wasn’t as if he was an unwelcome guest. He was the captain of their squadron, but, perhaps more importantly, he was also a member of royalty, a prince with a direct, if somewhat distant connection to the throne.

“I’m doing well, Your Highness,” Tavia said, but Jaiden grimaced and shook his head.

“We’ve been through this. No one uses titles at Avel’lier,” Jaiden said. “Too many nobles here, it gets stuffy.”

As he’d said, it wasn’t the first time he’d had to remind her. Maybe it was her mother’s strict lessons coming back to haunt her, but Tavia had a hard time forgoing the titles of other nobles, even though she herself hated it when people addressed her by title. It made her feel insignificant, as if the only thing that mattered was the family standing behind her.

“Why are you here?” Alvis snapped.

Tavia held back an intense urge to groan. Doing so would only annoy Alvis further, and he already had reason enough to not want her around.

“You asked me to come by yesterday, remember?” she asked.

Alvis narrowed his eyes, and then turned away, looking back down at whatever he’d been working on before she entered.

A broad-bladed sword sat on the table. It was a mid-grade green, a shade akin to emeralds. Green alther was considerably durable, but despite that, a thin, barely even hairline, crack ran starting from the tip ran a few inches down the blade itself. It wasn’t much damage, but it would rapidly get worse if left alone.

“Well, I don’t need you now,” Alvis said. “I have to deal with this idiot’s sword instead, and I have a visitor who’ll be here any moment.”

“There’s no need to be so cold,” Jaiden chided the Artificer. “At least I didn’t break it entirely this time.”

Alvis sent a dirty look in Jaiden’s direction.

“How on Ter’vaden did you even manage to put a crack in it?” Alvis growled. “Don’t you think I have enough work dealing with an incompetent assistant already? Or do you think I’m really that bored?”

He turned away from Jaiden and glared instead at the sword. Tavia grimaced and met Jaiden’s gaze, shaking her head. Jaiden frowned, but he kept his mouth shut and just looked on as Alvis grumbled to himself about the stability of blue alther. Rough as he might be, he had a fair point. Jaiden was a Martial, and seemed to have some talent as well, but breaking an alther sword with using only his own strength wasn’t something just anyone could do.

He didn’t look the least bit guilty though. If anything, Jaiden seemed strangely pleased with the result, but he was keeping the small smirk of pleasure from showing whenever Alvis shot a glare his way. Despite Alvis’s attitude, from what Tavia had been able to gather, the pair had been friends since even before entering Avel’lier. How exactly a prince and a commoner had managed to become friends was probably something of a story though.

“Well, if you don’t need me, then should I just come back tomorrow?”

Alvis looked up, and his dark eyes met Tavia’s. His lips pressed together, and then he nodded.

“Come straight here after your classes,” he said. “I need you to straighten up around here again.”

So that really was what he wanted from her. They were a month in, and that was all she’d done— clean up after his messes and get yelled at for her general incompetence.

“I could be more helpful if you just taught me something,” Tavia muttered.

Alvis didn’t bother giving her a response. Jaiden sent a look her way, and then shrugged. She stood there a moment longer, but Alvis had already forgotten about her and turned his focus back to the sword on the table. With a sigh, Tavia waved goodbye to Jaiden, and then turned away.

Before she could open the door, the knob turned and the door creaked outward, revealing a woman in the doorway. Tavia took a step back, moving out of the way as the woman entered without even waiting for a hello from any of them.

Her hair was raven black, sleek and shiny, but cut so short if barely reached her chin. Her skin was olive in complexion, but her face was half-hidden by the sunglasses she wore. Tavia stared at the woman for a moment until a burning itch in her shoulders made her look back. Alvis was glaring her way, the expression in his eyes an easy to decipher threat.

“Why is it always a mess in here?” the woman asked as she looked about the lab, eying the piles of broken alther shoved int he corner and dust clinging to the overhead lights.

“My new assistant was just about to clean up,” Alvis said, a casual nod directing the woman to turn her focus on Tavia.

Tavia flinched as the dark-haired woman turned her attention to her. She stared at Tavia for a long moment, her expression hidden behind the glasses she wore, before holding out her hand.

“Valorie Schwann,” she said in a clipped tone and then jerked a thumb towards Alvis. “I’m this slob’s mother. I guess I should thank you for looking after him.”

Lost for words for just a moment, Tavia reached out and shook the woman’s hand. Valorie gave it a brisk shake, and then tilted her head slightly to the side, waiting for something.

“Ah, um, I’m Tavia Renegarde, a new… Artificer,” her voice grew weaker with every word, but Valorie did nothing more than nod and release Tavia’s hand.

“Sorry, to intrude, but I need a word with my son, would you mind excusing us?”

Tavia sent a glance toward Alvis, only to find him glaring in her direction. Well, if she was being told to get out, she wasn’t about to refuse.

Tavia gave a nod to the woman, and then after a brief farewell to Jaiden, who was watching the entire affair without showing any intentions of leaving himself, she opened the door and stepped through. As the door was swinging closed, she overheard one last thing as Valorie turned back to her son and begin speaking.

“I need to talk to you before I leave for Terris.”

A note from GracelessLiar

New characters and a familiar face! I'm sure we'll be seeing them again soon...


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