“I think the classrooms are probably the best idea,” Nilien admitted. “If it’s easy to get lost, I should know where they are first.”

“That’s responsible.” Lorque smiled in a way that made it seem like she was teasing Nilien. “All right, classrooms it is. Come on.”

They trouped out of the door, both girls and both familiars, and up a narrow stone staircase to the second floor. They didn’t pass anyone else on the stairs, despite Lorque’s suggestion that they’d run into other Runes.

It was when they stepped out of the arched doorway onto the second floor that it really struck home for Nilien – this was a castle. The ceilings were curved upwards overhead; the walls were carved stone. The whole place looked and felt ancient.

The classrooms had tall, narrow windows that let the evening light in in long slits. They weren’t large rooms and if Nilien squinted, she could imagine an old bedstead where the chalkboard and the teacher’s desk were now.

“This one is where we take History,” Lorque informed her. “Professor Qualique is strict, but you really learn a lot. Just don’t be late.” She shared a look with River. “We were late once. River says it was my fault, but it had to do more with the way River had stopped to sniff another familiar — no, don’t lie! You know you were doing it!”

River looked innocent, although the lolling grin ruined the effect a little bit.

Sniffing, Ember scoffed. You can be assured I will not make you late sniffing. Or pulling pranks. Ember peeked up slyly at Nilien with one eye. Only for important reasons.

“Is there any consideration given for that? If your familiar delays you?” Nilien could see herself being late because of an argument with Ember, given the fox’s personality so far.

“No.” Lorque made a face. “We’re supposed to be able to direct our familiars well enough that such things don’t happen. I don’t know, they might give you a pass because you’re a Wild Rune, but, then again, maybe they’ll be even more firm with you. After all, nobody quite knows how to handle something like you.”

Nilien had opened her mouth before she had a retort fully formed, and was saved — or not — by the sudden tolling of a bell.

“Oh, that’s the dinner bell. Come on, you can sit with me!” She grabbed Nilien’s hand and tugged her out of the classroom.


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