Nilien was twirling slowly, admiring the way the red of her skirt now exactly matched the red of Ember’s fur, when M. Sirin returned with a stack of books.

“This is everything you’ll need for your classes.” She handed the pile to Nilien. “I’m sure Lorque will help you get caught up in anything you find yourself behind in.”

Nilien glanced at the titles. The ones on the top of the pile, at least, were subjects she recognized. “I’ll do my best to catch up quickly.”

“The teachers will be happy to help you, too,” M. Lowit assured her. “Although if you’re already interested in the Battle of Theristole, I doubt you’ll be at much of a disadvantage in my class.”

“Thank you for all your help.” Nilien was pretty sure she was going to love her History class, at least. “I should get these back to my room. Unless there’s anything else, Administrator Sirin…?”

“You are outfitted. That is the extent of my need for you at the moment.” M. Sirin made a gentle shooing gesture in Nilien’s direction. “Do try not to damage the books or your uniform.”

“Yes, Administrator Sirin.” Nilien made sure Ember was following her and headed back out into the hallways.

“The books aren’t too heavy,” she commented to Ember when they were away from the office. “Maybe we should explore a little bit on the way back.”

Can you carry both your books and me? Ember lolled its mouth at Nilien in what she thought was meant to be a grin. This castle is large and I may get tired.

“If I have to, yes, although you might have to do some balancing.” She took a left where she was pretty sure she had come from the right before. “It really is quite large. And quite old-seeming.”

The woman with the snake carries her familiar everywhere, Ember pointed out. It was walking back and forth in front of Nilien, threatening to trip her. She took another turn without paying much attention to the way she was going. And the brightly-colored man’s bird rode on his shoulder.

“The snake is wrap-able and the bird can perch. You don’t see Lorque carrying River wrapped around her shoulders like a shawl, do you?” The doors in this hallway were all closed, and at least one of them looked locked. Nilien took another turn, back towards where she thought the Dining Hall should be.

I could perch. I am smaller and more svelte than River. I would make a much better shawl.

“You’d look ridiculous.” The hallway ended in a narrow stairway upwards. Nilien took it, trying not to drop her books or trip on a very-underfoot Ember. “Oh fine.” She sat down on the top step. “Here. You can try it.”

Thank you. There is far too much walking in this place. Ember jumped up on to the pile of books and rested its paws on her shoulder, looking over her shoulder.

“I have noticed that, yes.” Nilien managed to stand up with some effort. “Oof. You’re not light, you know.”

That is the books. Now… where are we going?

Nilien looked around. “I…” She glanced back down the stairs and then back and forth down the three-way hallway. “I have absolutely no idea.”

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