The soft whir of the auto-engraver filled the room as the device scraped away the surface of a cube made of pale blue alther. As the heavy blades ground away at the stone-like material, fine particles of alther rose up into the air, visible in the late afternoon light streaming in through the dust-covered windows. Every once in a while, the device would get choked over with dust, and it would issue a long, ear-piercing beep that echoed through the room. Whenever that happened, it was Tavia’s job to drop whatever she was doing and go wipe down the cube before putting it back in its support before starting the device again.
Alvis had shown her to how to operate it before returning to his own work, not even realizing it was the first thing he’d ever bothered to teach her. Though Tavia was a null-aura and struggled to use most devices, she could use some that weren’t intended to need an aura to activate — the auto-engraver included.
Though it was easy for her to forget when constantly surrounded by Martials and Althiests, too most people, auras were nothing more than a part of themselves they thought about only rarely. Regulating Althier was a natural thing, like breathing, and other than a few, small devices like voxes that needed to receive power from their user through an aura, the average person didn’t need to pay their aura much mind.
Most devices were hooked into the Althier supply of the building, receiving their power directly from the spell-sets incorporated into every modern building that worked to gather Althier at all times. Such externally-powered devices were easy to use and conveient, but couldn’t be used if they were removed from their power supply. That was why Taiva could use some, though any that required an aura to trigger something or to serve as a method of identification, like the locks in the dorms, were still beyond her abilites.
In a sense, if Tavia had been born in any other family, her lack of an aura might not have been so egregious. For the Renegardes though, it was a stain on the family name, a mistake that should never have happened. If she had been born in a normal family though, there was a good chance the hospital bills and medical care would have been too much to bear. The burden that was Tavia could only be carried by a family as rich and powerful as the one she currently belonged to. It was an irony that left her feeling bitter to her core.
Lost in thought, she didn’t notice the device had begun beeping until Alvis looked up at her and coughed in a not at all subtle manner. His dark eyes glared at her and then at the engraver, before looking back down at a pile of papers he was digging through.
Tavia sighed and set the broom she was using to sweep away the ever-increasing dust against the wall, and made her way over to the engraver. With a press of a button, the beeping stopped, and she was able to pry the cube free.
As she dusted it off, she took a look at the cube again. She’d realized recently that Alvis liked working with cubes; the shape of a device was mostly determined by function, but when the conduit itself was just being used as a vessel for a spell, the shape could be determined by prefrence. Most of Tavia’s teachers tended to use spheres in their demonstrations, but the cube was nice and practical. At least it didn’t roll of the counter when she set it down.
This particular cube seemed rather familiar though, and Tavia turned it around in her hands, examining it with more focus. On all six sides were familiar looking spell-sets, closely resembling the ones she’d seen only the day before.
“I thought you gave up on this?” Tavia asked as she fitted the cube back in its slot.
Alvis actually responded for once, looking over at her with confusion on his face.
“You recognized it?” he asked.
Tavia’s hand slammed down on the button with more strength than she’d intended, and after a stutter, the device whirred to life and began scratching away at the alther once more.
“Careful with that,” he said. “It’s the only one we have.”
“Well? What’s it for again? Stabilizing auras?” she asked, trying not to let her annoyance show through.
Alvis’s brows dipped, but he then turned to away from his work to face Tavia with a serious expression.
“Right, that’s the idea, but I’m no where near close to getting it to work.”
“What does ‘stabilizing’ even mean,” she asked. “It’s not like auras just explode or anything, right?”
She knew for sure her words were nonsense, but Alvis was actually focusing on her, and maybe if she dragged the conversation on long enough, he’d actually teach her something without meaning to.
“No, they don’t explode or —” he sighed, rubbing the back of his head. “Most auras are just fine,” he continued. “For the average person, there isn’t even a need to think about your aura. For those who intend on using magic of course, things are different, but that’s not what this is about either.”
He paused, and his gaze fell on the cube, but the expression in his eyes wasn’t pride at seeing his work take shape or frustration at it not doing what he wanted. If she had to guess, he seemed almost sad, but she simply couldn’t see Alvis being someone who would get so emotional.
“There are some people who just need a little bit more help than others,” he finally said.
One of those people was standing right before him. The cube might not be of any benefit to her, but if he would just help her learn more about being an Artificer, she was certain she’d be able to catch up to the rest of her classmates. It was clear Alvis’s thoughts were elsewhere. Even as he stared at the cube, it was as if he was seeing something else.