The darkness of the forest was even deeper than it had seemed when a man wearing an the earthy-brown robe had first prodded Tavia to enter it. The heavy branches of the trees blocked what little moonlight there was, and the lights from the pathways quickly faded away, leaving her stumbling blind as she followed Alvis and Evos through the woods, surrounded on all sides by Wardens.
Though they hadn’t introduced themselves, Tavia recognized the robes the people surroudning them wore. She’d seen them before, back when she’d gotten involved with Ikarios when they fought Dieos, but she’d never had the luxury of time to really take note of them The robes were covered in a dark embroidery that glimmered faintly, like there was a current of Althier runnig through them. There were some fabrics, albeit uncommon, that handled Althier well, it was possible they had used one of those to make the symbols on the robes more than just decorative. Tavia couldn’t understand what the spell-sets meant, but Alvis probably did.
Lights in the distance began to appear, shining through the trees and casting long shadows across the ground. The shadows warped and twisted in strange ways, as if they had come up against some sort of force that was restraining them.
“We’re inside an illusion,” Alvis muttered when he noticed Tavia staring at the strange way they danced about. “Sometimes big enough ones cause distortions like this at their edge.”
She grimaced. Illusions could be used for a good many things, displaying images for voxes and vid-screens, playing music or sounds, and of course, their original purpose, for hiding and concealing things.
There was no doubt the Wardens were using the illusion for that last reason. Whatever trouble they were planning, they clearly didn’t want anyone to find out. No doubt that was why they had brought Tavia and Evos along. None of the Wardens had recognized either of them, which meant she probably hadn’t met these ones before. Just how many Wardens were there? They kept the hoods of their robes pulled up, hiding their faces and making it impossible to recognize them.
As they were led further into the forest, the shadows began to behave, straightening out into long spindles of darkness. It was less unnerving, but knowing they were nearing their destination prevented her from relaxing. The Wardens said little, only giving rough directions and commands to continue walking or move faster.
At long last, they stumbled their way through the darkness to a break in the trees. The grove fell away, revealing a small clearing illuminated by floating lights created by magic, and surrounded by the darkness of the trees. The ground was covered in unkempt weeds, and in the middle of the clearing stood a statue of a woman holding a sword. The slender blade made of white marble was held before her, as if she was pointing at an enemy in the distance, and her expression firm and solid. She wore a soldiers garb, but the fine details of her uniform and face were lost, worn down by time and nature.
Although a part of her was curious about why there was a statue here of all places, she was too concerned with the man and woman standing beside the statue to focus on anything else. Though they both wore brown robes, their hoods were down and their faces fully illuminated by the globule like golden lights floating just above the statue.
A jolt ran down her back as Tavia recognized the man as Elijah, the strange Demi from the day before, but it was the woman who sent her stomach twisting into knots. Meridian was a stern faced woman with the air of a soldier. Her physique was hidden behind the robe, but the sword at her side and the fierce look in her maroon eyes were enough to fill Tavia with dread.
She’d fought Meridian once before, a battle that had been entirely one sided. Tavia knew more about the Ageless Sword now than she had at the time, but she wasn’t certain she’d really come all that far in the span of a few weeks.
The more pressing issue however, was that just as Tavia had recognized Meridian, Meridian knew exactly who Tavia, and by extension who Evos, was, and the moment she laid eyes on Tavia, her demeanor changed, becoming like a cobra, coiled and ready to strike.
“You idiots really brought her here?” Meridian snapped as the Wardens ushered their captives forward.
They came to a stop a good ten feet from Elijah and Meridian, but the Wardens who’d been guiding them seemed lost at Meridian’s words. They turned their gaze on Tavia, the only woman among the captives, but only silence followed Meridian’s words. After a moment, Elijah sighed and shook his head, but considering how relaxed he was, it didn’t seem he understood Meridian’s worries either.
“Meridian, if she was a witness, they couldn’t just leave her be,” Elijah said. He then turned his gaze on Tavia, flashing her a warm smile. “We won’t need to harm you if you just stay put,” he said.
“Tavia, you know these people?” Alvis muttered.
“Know is a rather strong word,” she replied in just as quiet a tone. She then raised her voice, “What do you want? Why did you drag us out here?”
At this point, finding out their goals was the best course of action. Until she knew what they were after, fighting back wasn’t the best option. It was unlikely they would jsut let her waltz out of here unharmed, but to her surprise Elijah frowned and shook his head.
“We were only after the Schwann boy,” he said. “You’re just along for the ride, I suppose, but if you—“
“What do you people want? Who the void are you?” Alvis’s alarmed voice cracked on the last word.
He stared in defiance at Elijah, his back arched and fists clenched at his side. Seeing as everyone was focused on him, Tavia took a step toward Evos. He’d been keeping stiff and still, as if trying not to draw any attention to himself. It had been working well enough, but the moment Tavia took a step closer to Evos, Meridian’s anger surged.
“Don’t move,” she snarled, “Take one more step, and regardless of what Elijah wants, I’ll make sure you don’t leave here again.”