So the Artificer’s of RIOAR called those barbaric acts Demi Research? Such an innocuous name for the things they did. Though Alvis had admitted to his mother’s role in the matter, he himself didn’t seem pleased with the idea.

“Do you know what they… do during that research?” Tavia asked.

Alvis folded his arms across his body, his mouth twitching, and then he nodded.

“I’ve seen it,” he said. “It’s not a pleasant sight.”

Tavia looked up toward Jaiden, the prince was unfazed, but his serious expression told Tavia all she needed to know. Jaiden knew exactly what the research involved, perhaps Alvis had told him at some point?

“Calling it research is a joke, honestly,” Alvis muttered, but his distaste faded after a moment, “but I’m the last person who can deny the results.”

“Is that why he recognized you?” Tavia asked. “They were clearly looking for you, and it seemed like Elijah knew who you were by sight. Why would they go after you though and not an actual researcher?”

Alvis gave a shrug, looking away as he thought.

“Not sure,” he said. “There’s no way of even knowing if we’ve met before, I wouldn’t recognize him if he’d changed vessels in the meantime.”

“Elijah said he could see auras,” she said. She thought back to their brief conversation, trying to dig up more clues. “Does that ring any bells?”

If Elijah was after Alvis because of his mother, then why hadn’t he been more aggressive about capturing Alvis? Instead, it was like he’d only wanted to question Alvis, as if he was trying to keep from drawing too much attention. Kidnapping a student from the Avel’lier campus would cause a citywide stir, one they might be hard pressed to handle even with Ikarios and the illusionist. The illusions might work well enough within the campus ground or in certain areas of the city, but places with large amounts of traffic, like the school gates were set up with wards to dispel any illusions that drew near.

But if their goal was just information, was Alvis really the best person to seek out? Why not find one of the actual Artificers participating in the research? Why hadn’t they just forced Valorie to give them the information while Elijah was speaking to her?

Alvis opened his mouth in immediate denial, but an odd expression crossed his face, and he shut his mouth. He spent a moment looking introspective before he shook his head. Tavia scowled, but Alvis kept his silence.

“Well, either way,” Jaiden said. “I think we can assume he’ll be coming for you again?”

“He made it sound that way,” Alvis said. “But it’s not like I have any information for him.”

“Is there any way to reach out to Valorie?” Jaiden asked. “I’m sure if she knew what was happening, she’d—“

“She’s already in Terris,” Alvis said with a shake of his head. “I tried last night, but the vox wouldn’t connect. Ass-backward rabbits and their tetrad system.”

Tavia frowned at Alvis’s words. Rabbits— the slur stung in her ears, but complaining about it wasn’t going to progress the conversation, besides, Alvis was at least somewhat justified in his annoyance. Though voxes, and by extension the corvex, were ubiquitous in Marquest and several other nations, Terris had developed their own, less efficient system called the tetrad, and it didn’t play well with voxes or the corvex. It had something to do with the way information was compressed and transferred across Althier, but what it all came down to was that Marquestian voxes didn’t work in Terris.

“Well, if she’s there on business, surely the lab has some way to get ahold of her?” Tavia asked. “Can you ask them to pass along a message?”

Alvis grimaced. “I can try, but... I just don’t really trust them.” He shook his head. “I’ll see what I can do, maybe one of her friends would be able to send a message.”

So in other words, they couldn’t rely on his mother coming to the rescue, and if Tavia had to be honest, relying on RIOAR left a bitter taste in her mouth as well. She’d already learned her lesson about trusting the Artificers from that place, a lesson she’d had to learn more than once to get it to stick, it seemed.

“So what happens when he comes back?” Jaiden asked.

“I’m not worried about Elijah,” Tavia said. “He doesn’t look like any kind of a warrior, actually, he looks like he should be in a hospital bed. The one that really worries me is Meridian.”

“Meridian is the one you lost to?” Alvis said, looking to Tavia.

Her face flushed at his words, but even she couldn’t say if it was embarrassment or anger. She nodded either way, and Alvis immediately looked down, muttering to himself as he thought through his options.

“As long as they don’t go after Khristi…” was the only thing Tavia heard before Alvis looked back up. “So then what do you recommend? Go to the Shields and say ‘help there’s a madman after my life because he hates what my mother does for a living?”

“Is that such a bad idea?” Tavia asked.

“The Shields don’t know about Demis, do they?” Evos asked. “Why not tell them?”

“That’s not really an option,” Jaiden said. “besides… they think you stole that sword, don’t they?” He pointed at Evos, and then continued when no one argued. “The bigger issue is that even if we try to tell them, someone is sure to stop us before we even get that far.”

“What do you mean by that?” Tavia asked.

“It’s just that Demis aren’t a secret on accident,” he said, but his words didn’t really clarify anything.

“So if the Shields are no good, then what are we supposed to do?” Tavia asked. “Offer Alvis up to the Wardens on a silver platter?”

“Look, isn’t the answer sitting right in front of you?” he asked. “Why not just have you protect Alvis?”

Huh? Tavia sent a sharp look at Jaiden, almost as deadly as the one Alvis sent his way.

“Void take it, you both are way too alike,” he said, holding back his laughter. “Look, from the story you told me, it’s clear the Wardens were reluctant to attack Tavia. So as long as she’s around, they’ll probably avoid going after you.”

“That won’t work forever,” Alvis said, and Tavia nodded.

They both had classes, and regardless of everything that had happened, Tavia was still busy with studying. Splitting her time between guarding the grumpiest Artificer in history and studying books she could hardly wrap her head around was going to drive her crazy sooner rather than later.

Jaiden pointed a finger at Alvis. “It only needs to work until either you figure out what they want, or until your mother comes back.”

“You want me to trust the girl that got beaten down?” Alvis asked, turning his skeptical gaze on Tavia.

Jaiden turned a startled gaze on Tavia, and then slid his focus onto Evos. For a moment, Evos ignored Jaiden, but eventually his gaze, still directed toward the window, lowered, and he stared pointedly at the floor.

“It was pretty… one sided.”

“So much for the all mighty Ageless Sword,” Alvis snapped.

“You realize this is your life we’re trying to protect,” Tavia snapped back. “Or would you prefer we just left you to the wolves?”

“You have to be honest about your own abilities,” Alvis replied. “If you can’t protect me and get hurt too, isn’t that worse than just me getting hurt?”

“So you’d rather do nothing?”

Tavia was half shouting, and it was only when Evos grabbed her shoulders that she realized she’d jumped up from the stool. She struggled to break free of Evos’s grasp as Alvis grimaced in her direction.

“It isn’t as if you can be with me all the time anyway,” Alvis replied. “I don’t want this to interfere with my work. It’s important I—“

“Can’t you forget that for even a minute?” Tavia asked.

Were his countless projects and half-finished rejects really that much more important than his own safety? Were all Artificers like this? Putting their goals and their research above everything else, including themselves and their families? He was just like Abram, that—

“You don’t even understand the first thing about my work,” Alvis said, his tone rising. “I won’t accept any delays.”

Before Tavia could argue back that he wouldn’t manage any research if Elijah got hold of him, Jaiden held up his hands, trying to placate them. Tavia held her tongue, waiting to see what the prince had to say.

“Calm down. Alvis, you may need to give a bit here, and Tavia, it shouldn’t be a problem to protect him here. You’re with him most afternoons anyway, and when you aren’t able to follow him, I’ll take over.” Jaiden said. “And, if you want, how about I help you get some of that combat experience you need so badly?”

A note from GracelessLiar

This is the second update for today! Make sure you check out the previous chapter in case you didn't see it yet!

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