Tavia was sitting on the couch, Evos beside her, watching foreign illusory on the vid-screen when Audri returned to the dorm. Tavia knew just enough Terrisian to understand most of it, but Evos seemed to be following the dialogue without any issues. She hadn’t realized he spoke Terrisan as well as Marquestian — actually, she didn’t really know all that much about him. Considering the contents, Tavia was bit surpirsed Evos was watching it with such interest. The illusory was based on the events of the war with Terris two hundred years ago, and though they hadn’t made any mention of the Grand Hero so far, she had to wonder if the events were ones he remembered from his time at the Grand Hero’s side.
Though she’d tried to do some studying after Melora left, her thoughts were too disorganized for her to string more than a few in a row. Evos had been silent for the most part, muttering a few comments here and there, but he didn’t say anything about Melora or whether or not he was interested in visiting the museum himself.
As Audri entered, Tavia looked back over her shoulder to watch her kick her shoes off and hang up her bag on a hook near the door. Audri’s face was flushed, and her hair still damp from her after-practice shower, but she seemed just as energetic as ever as she hurried over to the kitchen to make herself something to eat.
“How… how was your practice?” Tavia asked.
The illusory hadn’t proven to be a very good distraction, so maybe having a conversation partner that wasn’t Evos would. She wasn’t well-versed in starting conversations though, so her opening came out hesitant and quiet.
Audri looked up from slicing some bread, her blue eyes wide and her mouth agape. She met Tavia’s gaze for a moment, and then nodded.
“It was… good,” Audri said. She returned to her sandwich making, but didn’t stop talking. “Easy though, we have our first match of the year in a few weeks, and it seems the squadron hardly even needs me.”
As if Tavia had opened the floodgates with her simple question, Audri began sharing her thoughts and opinions on her team’s practices and skills. She spoke in a rush, half-ranting at times and Tavia could hardly keep up with her speed. It was all she could do to give a nod or affirmation every once in a while. As Audri finished making her sandwich, she moved around to take a seat on the couch on the other side of Evos, falling onto the soft cushions as she took a bite out of the simple meal. Her gaze turned to the vid-screen, but there was no interest in her expression, and after swallowing the gulping bite she had taken, she turned to Tavia.
“So what happened?” Audri asked.
She didn’t sound concerned, mostly just curious, but the way she focused on Tavia and captured her gaze, made Tavia squirm and look away.
“Nothing,” Tavia said, “my sister visited. She says she’s enrolling next year.”
Audri took another bite, chewing it silently before she responded.
“Isn’t she too young?”
“It’ll be a year early, but Melora is one of the best Martials I’ve ever seen, she can do it.”
Audri made an inaudible “oh” with her mouth and continued chewing. It seemed she was thinking about something, so Tavia didn’t say anything more. After a few minutes of silence, Tavia stood and Evos hurried to follow her. Audri looked up at them both as she swallowed her final mouthful.
“If she’s that good, I’d love to get a chance to fight her,” she said.
Audri nodded, her hair swaying as she smiled.
“Sure, I think it’d be fun, don’t you?”
Tavia returned an expression that was more a grimace than a smile, which only made Audri smile even wider. Honestly speaking, Melora would probably leap at a chance to duel Audri. She was just as muscle-headed and addicted to fights as any Martial, but Tavia wasn’t about to arrange a fight between her roommate and her little sister. That didn’t mean they couldn’t meet though.
“I might be meeting up with her in a couple days to go to a museum. You can come if you want,” she said.
If Audri came along, her presence would be enough to distract Melora from pestering Tavia about going home. She still wasn’t really planning on going, but if Audri said she’d come along, Tavia might seriously consider it.
Audri’s expression lit up at the invitation for just a moment before it turned dark and her smile changed to a scowl.
“I wish I could,” she said. “I have somewhere to go this weekend.”
Her scowl faded, but a frown remained. There were no classes for most students on the weekends, and though Tavia wasn’t intimately aware of Audri’s daily going-ons, she did at least know her roommate’s class schedule. Audri didn’t have anything on the weekends, but maybe her squadron was practicing.
“I’m helping my dad with something at his work,” she added after a moment.
Helping her father? Audri’s father was the head of the Shields in Edelheiss. Unlike the Knights who were tasked with slaying Scarvers, the Shields were responsible for the protection of the people. Most were Martials, though a few Althiests belonged to their ranks as well.
Even if he was the Shield chief, was it normal for a university student to be helping with their work? Audri didn’t seemed to think it was a big deal though, so maybe it was normal. After all, Melora had tagged along with Erent, joining the Knights on a few hunts.
“I’m helping him with some research on the Ageless Sword,” Audri said. “Sorting documents and reports, that kind of thing.”
Evos’s shoulders stiffened and he took in a sharp breath.
“Why the Ageless Sword?” he asked. Audri looked up at Evos, tilting her head to the side, and he asked again. “Why are you researching the Ageless Sword?”
“Well, it’s not really research I guess,” she replied with an awkward shrug of her shoulders.
“Remember how that terrorist group, the Wardens, attacked the Royal Institute during the summer?”
Tavia nodded. She was intimately aware, she’d been there after all—as had Audri— but Audri didn’t remember any of that.
“Well, the Ageless Sword was in the building at that time, but it disappeared after the attack. No one is really sure where it went, but we think the Wardens might have taken it,” she continued. “Or, maybe someone else who has a connection to the Wardens.”
“Why do you think that?” Tavia asked as a chill ran down her back.
A connection to the Wardens, well, technically, she fit that description. If Audri had any reason to suspect Tavia though, she wouldn’t be sharing this information with her, right? That would be a foolish thing to do, and Audri’s memories had all been erased. She hadn’t even been aware of Tavia’s existence until they met here in the dorms.
“Just a hunch, really,” Audri said. “My dad thinks it’s too much of a coincidence for the sword to have been taken by someone else at the same time, and we have one sighting of something we think was the sword from the night the building itself collapsed. Whoever had it was with the person we think is the ringleader of the Wardens.”
“Oh,” Tavia muttered. She looked back at Evos, but he was looking at the ground, his skin even paler than normal.
“They’ve been more active ever since then as well,” Audri said. “Active enough the public is really starting to pay attention to them.”
“Do… you know what the Wardens want?” Tavia asked.
Tavia knew. She just wasn’t sure if Audri or the Shields knew. If Audri knew the goal of the Wardens, to rescue and protect Demis from the Artificers, then that would mean she also knew about Demis themselves, or at least, the Shields did.
“No, the task force in charge of them hasn’t been able to figure it out yet,” she said. “They don’t make demands and they don’t send out any kind of propaganda, so it’s hard to understand the reasons behind their attacks.”
That was because Ikarios was deliberately hiding the existence of Demis. Maybe he feared their situation would only grow more dire if the general public knew about the existence of Demis. If people knew non-human immortal beings were hiding in plain sight— that they could take over the body and mind of an unwitting victim at any time and use magic that defied logic— the reaction was sure to be fierce. At least, that was the only conclusion Tavia had been able to come to. Why else go through all the trouble to hide themselves and the horrible things done to them in the name of advancement? The current situation of the Demis was far from enviable, but the consequences of exposure could be far worse.
“Anyway, the Ageless Sword is considered a national treasure, so the Shields are working extra hard to find it,” Audri’s gaze moved back to Evos for a moment, but Evos wouldn’t looked at her..
Tavia faced Evos and grimaced, careful to hide her expression from Audri. She tiltled her head toward the door, and Evos, shambled his way across the room, lost in thought.
“I’m…going to walk Evos out,” Tavia said, and Audri shrugged in reply as she turned her focus to the vid-screen.
Tavia urged Evos out into the hallway, and after following him, closed the door tight behind her.
“The Shields?” Tavia groaned. “And of all people, Audri is involved?”
Tavia put a hand to her head, how many times had Tavia returned to the dorm carrying Evos as the Ageless Sword while Audri was present? A dozen? More? Had Audri really payed attention to it? Tavia had told her once it was just something she needed for class, something to practice on, but if Audri knew what the Ageless Sword looked like, would that be enough to fool her?
“We’re going to have to be more careful,” Evos said.
“Well, it’s not like you can just walk into my bedroom and never leave, even Audri might take issue with that.”
If Evos never left, that would cause problems of its own. She hadn’t really thought she’d be able to pull the wool over Audri’s eyes forever, but at least a few months more would have been nice while she figured out a solution.
Tavia groaned, for now, she’d just have to find a cloth or something to wrap the Ageless Sword up in. That shouldn’t be too suspect, but it probably wasn’t going to be a long term solution.
More importantly, if the Shields really thought the person with the sword was on the side of the Wardens, she was going to have to be extra careful to avoid interacting with Ikarios or any of his hooded minions.
She was going to have to make sure she stayed far, far away.