As Tavia opened the door to Alvis’s lab the next day, she ignored the heavy weight of eyes glaring into her back. After their conversation the day before, Evos had refused to let Tavia go to the lab alone, but that didn’t mean Alvis would let him in. He’d followed her all the way here, but now that it had come down to it, he was going to have to wait outside.

She’d told him to go wait on a nearby bench, but he’d ignored her suggestion, waiting near the door as if he was ready to burst in at the slightest sign of trouble. He was twitchier than normal, and it was wearing on Tavia’s nerves.

As she entered the room, she took a moment to look at the mess waiting for her. Melora was supposed to be coming by today at some unspecified time, and though holding it in her hand still made her feel guilty, Tavia was checking her vox every few minutes to make sure she didn’t miss a message from her sister.

The senior Artificer was at the far end of the room, staring at the glowing screen of a console. He didn’t react to her entering, though she was sure he knew she had arrived. Compared to how it had been only the day before, Alvis’s mess had expanded, spilling off the tables and onto the floor below. How could it have expanded this much in less than a day? How much time did Alvis actually spend here?

“I need you to straighten everything up in here,” he said after a minute without looking in her direction.

“I just cleaned a few days ago,” she said. “Can’t you look after yourself even a little?”

Alvis didn’t react, and Tavia moved her focus to the console screen, hoping to understand what it was that had him so focused, but what little of the screen she could make out from across the room she couldn’t understand. If she had to make a guess, it looked like he was simulating spell-sets. She hadn’t learned enough to really understand what she was looking at, but from the way the circles were joined together, it seemed to be a compound spell-set, definitely well beyond her level.

“If you bothered to show me how to do things, I might be able to help you with more than just maid duty,” Tavia said.

“I’m not your teacher,” Alvis replied. “I don’t have the time to waste pretending to be one.”

“I’m just asking for a little bit of help. It’s not like I want you to replace them. Don’t you want more help?”

Alvis’s shoulders rose and he turned away from the console to stare at Tavia. His dark eyes were narrowed in anger, and he took a step away from the console.

“Listen here, you’re useless,” Alvis said. “I don’t know what Jaiden was thinking when he recruited you, but you’re more a hindrance than a help. I was doing just fine without you, and I will continue to do so.”

“Jaiden didn’t—”

“I don’t care what Jaiden told you,” Alvis said. “If you want to keep your place on this squadron, you’ll do what I say. If you don’t, I’ll have you removed, and I’m pretty sure you only got into Avel’lier because of the squadron.”

A warm flash of anger surged through Tavia’s body, but despite her rage, she bit back the words trying to rip free of her throat. It was just as Alvis said, and the man was enough of ass she was convinced he would do exactly what he threatened. Though Tavia was officially enrolled in the university, until she reached her third year, that enrollment was dependent on her having a position on the 14th squadron. If she was kicked, the university could also choose to have her enrollment revoked.

She wasn’t certain if they would do so, but she also didn’t have any reason to believe they wouldn’t. If they could rid themselves of the null-aura, why wouldn’t they?

Tavia’s hands curled into fists as her gaze fell to the floor coated with alther dust and rejected blueprints. Did she have any other choice? Quit school and go back to where her mother would be waiting with a smug smile and an “I told you so?” There was no way she was going to take that option.

“Fine,” Tavia said. “I’ll clean your pigsty.”

Annoyance flashed across Alvis’s face, but then he shrugged and turned back to the console. Tavia glared daggers at his back for a full minute before a sigh escaped her lips and she turned his attention to her assigned “job.” Grabbing the only trash bin, bafflingly empty considering the state of the room, she began gathering up the scattered waste in an effort to make a dent in Alvis’s disaster of a lab.

She was making decent progress, having managed to sweep away most of the gritty dust on the floor when her broom struck something solid and sent it skittering across the hard floor. She bent down to grab the culprit, coming back up with a device the shape of a perfect cube. It fit snug in her hands, and despite the dust coating it and the spell-sets engraved along all six sides, she thought she recognized it.

“Weren’t you working on this last week?” she asked, waving the cube about as she tried to grab Alvis’s attention.

Alvis looked back at her, but as soon as he spotted the cube in her hand he just shook his head.

“It’s just garbage,” he said. “Doesn’t do a thing it was supposed to do.”

Tavia turned the cube over in her hands, her fingers running along the spell-sets as she tried her best to decipher them. A few of the sets seemed to share the same symbol at their cores, the reversed diamonds she had recently learned represented auras. Sadly, that meager amount of knowledge didn’t tell her what the cube was supposed to do regarding auras. In the hands of someone else, it might have been possible to activate the device and see what the spell-sets did based on what happened, but in Tavia’s hands it was nothing more than an intricately carved rock.

“What’s it not doing that it’s supposed to?” she asked.

“It’s intended to… stabilize auras,” he said. “But right now, all I can get it to do is show the state of the aura it’s synced too.”

A note from GracelessLiar

Nothing much to say today, so I'll just say thank you to all my readers!

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