With her work done for the day, and tentative plans set between Melora and the Schwann siblings to meet up at the museum the day after next, Tavia took her sister back to the dorm, ready for what was sure to be a difficult conversation. Melora was twitchy as Tavia opened the door and let her in, looking as if she was going to start spitting out her real reason for her visit at any moment, but as she took a seat on the couch in silence and continued to hold her tongue, it seemed the conversation wasn’t going to be over that simply.

It wasn’t that Tavia didn’t want to meet with her sister, but there was no doubting what Melora wanted to ask, and she’d prefer if they just got that topic over and done with. Unfortunately, it seemed Melora felt differently, because the first thing she said had nothing to do with the obvious reason she’d come.

Melora sat on the couch like she was going to be leaping out of it at any moment, her back tense and her gaze constantly shifting about the room. Every time her gaze settled on Evos standing against the wall on the far side of the table, she would pause and a small scowl appear on her face before she continued looking around.

After a minute or two, she settled down and finally turned to Tavia who was standing before the couch, trying not to look frustrated.

“Who is he?” she asked, pointing at Evos behind her as if he was animal or some kind of strange piece of room decor.

Evos had, as a matter of course, followed Tavia as soon as she’d left the laboratory. He hadn’t said anything about Melora, and Melora hadn’t said anything either, probably hoping he’d make himself scarce without her needing to. Unfortunately for Melora, Evos’s stiff expression as he stared at the table before him, was enough for Tavia to understand there was no chasing him away.

“Evos is a friend,” Tavia said. “We met this last summer and he’s… helping me with some of my courses.”

“He can come back later, can’t he?” Melora asked.

Tavia looked towards Evos, but he was stubbornly ignoring her gaze. As long as Evos was in his human form, they couldn’t share any kind of thoughts or feelings, so he didn’t know exactly what was going through her mind, but he ought to be able to make an educated guess or two.

“It’s fine,” Tavia said. “I don’t imagine this is going to take long, is it?”

Melora’s shoulders rose as if she wanted to argue back, but then they slumped down and the fight in her eyes died.

“I plan on enrolling in Avel’lier next year,” she said, looking away as she avoided Tavia’s eyes.

Tavia stared at her sister, taking a moment to process the shocking annoucement before she responded. Though they were close in age, Melora was still two years younger. She shouldn’t have been looking at entering a university for at least another year. There was no reason for her to skip a year of schooling other than for the sake of her reputation— or rather, the family’s reputation— was this supposed to be Septia’s way of trying to make up for disappointment that was Tavia’s very existence?

“Did she push you to get in earlier?” Tavia asked.

Melora stared back at Tavia as if she didn’t quite understand, but then she shook her head.

“This summer I spent the entire time at the estate up near the Scarver Wastes. Erent and Dad both took me out hunting a few times, and considering I can already hunt a Scarver, there’s really no reason to delay my enrollment.”

Martials were different from others. They didn’t need scholastic achievements or knowledge. They had to do some studying, Avel’lier wasn’t going to let a bunch of foolish warriors sully their prestige, but in the end, what mattered for a Martial was their prowess with weapon in hand. As long as Melora had the skill, she’d be able to get in.

And she certainly had it. Even with the Ageless Sword by her side, Tavia would never be publicly recognized as a Martial, but she still knew her way around a sword. The Renegardes were, first and foremost, a house that raised Knights, the pinnacle of Martials, and even the black sheep of the family had been taught basic techniques as a child. That was why Tavia could understand just how skilled Melora really was. Despite her small stature and timid looks, Melora was a beast in combat, using a delicate combination of enhancement spells to allow her to dominate any who stood against her. Only Erent and their parents were able to defeat her, the other members of their extended family had long ago conceded defeat to Melora.

“But there’s also no reason to rush, right?” Tavia said. “You aren’t… like me. It’s not like you can’t—”

“It’s what I want, all right?” she said, cutting off Tavia’s words as if she couldn’t bear to hear them.

Tavia sighed and nodded. There wasn’t any need to argue about it. It really was Melora’s decision, and there was still plenty of time before that decision was final.

“Oh, have you talked to Erent recently?” Melora asked, as if she had just remembered something.

Even though she’d promised Izak she would, Tavia still hadn’t been able to bring herself to do so. There wasn’t any good reason for her reluctance. It’s not like this black feeling caught in her chest would help alleviate the pain of the Demis who suffered to create the device, and trying to avoid using it was only making her own life harder.

“Not… lately.”

Melora wrinkled her nose, and then shrugged.

“You should, he’s been really frustrated the last few weeks, ever since you stopped answering your vox.”

Melora’s gaze turned sharp and cold, and she stared at Tavia her gaze silently demanding an explanation.


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