Nilien looked around the dining hall. She could see a few empty seats off in one corner, where maybe she could eat in peace.

“It’s not like she really feels pain,” Istore protested. “She’s a Weed. They don’t have feelings the same way you and I do.”

Or there was that little group of people, the one with the girl with the teal-green rabbit and the boy with the yellow weasel. They’d seemed friendly enough – curious, she supposed, but not angry. And less likely to call her a Weed.

“Because you’re an expert on Wild Runes now?” Augustin scoffed. “I’m sure you know all about her.”

“Face it,” Riva interrupted, “none of us know anything about Weeds. You know exactly as much as us, Istore, which is rumor and conjecture.”

“But she knows more,” Augustin pointed out. “Come on, Nilien, is it? Tell us about being a Wild Rune.”

“Give the girl a little breathing room.” Lorque waved her hands over the table, as if clearing the air. “She probably wants to eat something, too.”

“Come on, just one question?” Augustin wheedled.

“I can answer something,” Nilien offered. Lorque was trying and Augustin seemed nice. They weren’t Corinne and Larisse, but nobody would be. She’d known those two for years, ever since they first went to boarding school.

Besides, she’d gotten enough glares from other people. If she found another table, there was no assurance it wouldn’t just be another Istore, without another Lorque to act as a buffering presence.

“Does your familiar bite?” Istore sneered.

I’ll bite him, Ember offered.

“Ember hasn’t bitten anyone yet. He doesn’t like being handled by people other than me, though.”

“Neither does Winter-blue.” Riva reached down, and the head of a blue-green otter popped up above the table. “But you’ll have to be sure yours doesn’t go around biting people or stealing their powers. The teachers would look down on that, I’m sure.”

I am not going to— where does she even— that’s ridiculous. Ember hopped into Nilien’s lap to glare at Riva.

“Ember won’t steal anyone’s powers,” Nilen translated.

“Well, does it give you luck?” Augustin repeated.

Nilien looked down at Ember. The fox, in turn, was settling down into her lap. There was food in front of her, and it looked like it might be tasty, but she was suddenly without appetite. “Well, it saved my life. I’d say that’s lucky.”

“Someone tried to kill her,” Lorque hissed in a stage whisper. “That’s what happened. They tried to assassinate her.”

“Clearly they weren’t very good at it.” Istore turned a brow-furrowed expression on Lorque. “But they might try again. Aren’t you worried you’ll end up getting hurt when they do?”

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