Climbing down a ladder balancing a fox was obviously not something Nilien had done before, and she found it was a tricky proposition. Doing so without going so slow as to risk Benoir catching up with her was even trickier.

She made it to the bottom of the ladder without falling — her biggest fear — or running her head into Benoir’s shoe — her second worry — and stepped aside so he could finish the climb, while Caprice fluttered down as if demonstrating the advantages of avian familiars. She took the opportunity to put Ember back on the floor, ignoring its complaints and the show-off bird.

The bottom of the ladder-tube held another door. Nilien waited, pretending at patience, until Benoir coaxed Caprice back onto his shoulder and opened the door. “And here’s our secret. Go ahead, it’s safe.”

The air hit Nilien before she stepped through: warm, moist, fragrant; it was like stepping into her family’s conservatory.

Once through the door, it was obvious why: she was standing in a garden of some sort. Despite being somewhere deep in the castle, there was light streaming in from above, and all over the place, plants were blooming, overflowing their pots, draping from hanging baskets. In some cases, they swayed as if in a breeze.

Headmaster Narite had said that Reinmonte was known for its gardens. Looking around, Nilien wondered if he’d heard of this place.
“This is the garden. Well, obviously, it’s only one of many gardens, but it’s the one we have the passage to. There are a few plants here that bird familiars really love to snack on, for one.” Benoir grinned. “See? Isn’t this worth the climb?”

“It’s amazing.” Nilien leaned in carefully to smell a flower the size of her splayed hand and the color of a cloudless sky. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Some of these plants only grow with help from Runic magic. Other ones are a little bit magic themselves. This one,” he gestured with a short, careful movement, “is just very painful, covered in prickers, so stay away from it.”

The plant in question was nearly as tall as she was, with several branchlike protrusions, but it was in its own pot, quite a distance from the path. Nilien gave it wide berth. “I know I keep saying this, but wow. And the sky…?”

“It’s magic. It lets the sun in, but keeps the room a consistent temperature. Just like a conservatory, except that it’s surrounded by stone on all six sides. Here.” Benoir plucked a tiny, dainty white blossom from a plant. It turned fuschia in his hand and then, when he passed it to her, turned red, the same shade as Ember. “Isn’t that neat? It settles into one color eventually, but if a whole bunch of Runes walk by the bush, sometimes it looks like a rainbow.”

“It’s wonderful.” She tucked the flower behind her ear. “This place is marvelous. This whole school is amazing. Thank you so much for showing it to me.”

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