The station wasn’t yet in sight, but it was nearing; the train was slowing and the grade as it climbed up into the mountains was flattening out. Nilien held the fox a little closer to her as she watched the terrain.

Devier looked at her sympathetically. “We’ll be to the train station in just a few minutes. What a grand opportunity this is for you, and born out of such trouble.”

“It is quite an opportunity,” Nilien agreed slowly. “I, oh — that is — I hear they have lovely gardens? And,” she dug for something else to say, “their classes are supposed to be quite intensive. I wonder,” she stroked the fox slowly, concentrating on the way its fur felt beneath her fingers. She’d never petted a live, real fox before, but her fox felt like she’d always imagined one would feel. “I’ve never heard anything about how one learns to be a Rune. Those will have to be quite different from our classes, I’d think.”

The fox’s fur soothed her, and Devier’s kind smile did worlds to steady her. “Well, you’ll be finding out soon, it looks like. Here’s our stop.”

The carriage was waiting for them at the train station. The carriage ride took them over a winding mountain route, across a bridge covering a gorge so deep it took Nilien’s breath away, and through a wooded area so dense it felt as if the carriage was squeezing its way through, although the trees did not brush against them at any point.

They came out of the forest and it was in front of them, a tall stone building with towers and turrets jutting out from its high peaked roof and tall, straight walls. Nilien held her fox close to her until it nipped her fingers and stared as the wrought-iron gates as they opened for the carriage.

A tall and intimidating woman was waiting just inside the gate, dressed in a lovely but rather staid dress in green, olive, and purple plaid. Next to her was a student of about Nilien’s age, with copper hair in long twin braids and dressed in a simple white blouse and a skirt that matched the turquoise of the dog-like creature sitting by her feet.

“Welcome to the Imperial Academy of Runic Sciences at Reinmonte, Nilien.” The woman smiled at Nilien as she exited the carriage. “I am Headmistress Draufer and this is your roommate, Lorque. Lorque can show you to your new dormitory and help you get settled in. We normally do not accept students in the middle of the school year, but, obviously, your situation is exceptional. I strongly suggest you rely on Lorque to aid you in orienting yourself.”

“Welcome to Reinmonte.” Lorque sketched a casual bow.

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