Nilien​ turned her full attention to the headmaster. The Imperial Academy at Reinmonte. “You’re really serious. I’m—” she looked at the fox again, then back at Headmaster Narite. “That’s the best school. The best. I mean, it’s only for people training to be Runes-”

“Which you will now be doing. Perhaps you are going about it in a slightly topsy-turvy manner, but you’re allowed to be a bit out of order, considering everything. So, you’ve heard of the Academy, then?”

“Of course I have!” The fox was looking very pleased with itself. She imagined she was going to hear no end of this, later. “Everyone’s heard of the Academy. This is a good school, yes—” her parents wouldn’t have sent her to a bad school, after all, or even a sub-par one, “—but Reinmonte, it’s the best..”

“I hear they have quite lovely grounds. Their gardens are some of the best in the Empire, and the walk shaded with dwarf elms has been the subject of many lovely paintings.” The Headmaster sighed. “You’re a very lucky girl, Nilien, in more ways than one, especially today.” He patted her hand, and then, rather absently, patted the fox.

“Their academic program is very intensive, isn’t it?”

“As you said, it’s a very good school, and their classes are, thus, quite demanding, of course. But I have faith in you, Nilien. Stay safe, dear, and do your absolute best on your schoolwork, and you should be fine.”

“I will, Headmaster, of course.” Nilien cleared her throat. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to write and tell you all about the gardens.”

“Very good, very good.” He nodded crisply at her. “We’ll get everything arranged, then, and I’ll send your parents in when they arrive.” He left much more calmly than he’d arrived, the door swinging shut behind him.

“Reinmonte,” Nilien mused. “Did you hear that? The Imperial Academy at Reinmonte! Some of the best teachers in the world are there.”

Of course they are. It trains Runes, after all. The fox nuzzled her hand. Scratch me behind the ear, yes, right there. You will do well, there. You’re strong-willed. It nipped her hand very lightly. Not there, over there. You’re very intelligent, and you have me, of course.

Nilien chuckled. She had found the exact spot where the fox wanted scratching and was rewarded by closed-eyes and a happy-looking expression from the creature – from her familiar, she corrected herself. “And I have you. Of course.”

“Nilien?” A few feet away, Nurse Abercom cleared her throat. Nilien hadn’t even heard her come in. “Your friends are here to see you. It’s been quite a day for you, I know,” the woman’s eyes settled on the fox and stayed there, “but they’d like to reassure themselves that you’re alive and fine. Should I allow them to come in, or would you rather I send them away?”

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