The door Benoir opened led them into a long stone-paved hallway lined with arched wooden doors. Nilien recognized the carvings on the door frames; they were almost the same tree-patterns as on the door to her new room.

“This is my hall, I think. Thank you. And with no more trouble, too.” Nilien held out her hands for her books.

Benoir handed back the books. “Having come all this way, I feel as if I might as well get you the last few feet.” He gestured down the hallway. “Besides, I never make it down here.”

“I thought I heard— oh, good.” Lorque’s head appeared from a doorway near the end of the hall. “You found your way back here.” She headed towards them, River ambling along behind her. “Well done.”

“I did get lost along the way,” Nilien admitted. “I place the blame on Ember’s shoulders.”

Of course. Blame the familiar. How thoughtful of you. Ember sat down and stared at Nilien in indignation.

“You distracted me,” she reminded the fox. “I’m sure that’s why we got lost. You were complaining about something, much to everyone’s surprise.”

We got lost because this place is a maze set inside a puzzle box of some sort. Or because you weren’t paying attention. I’m certain it wasn’t my fault. Ember nosed at its own tail, studiously not looking at anyone.

“You didn’t get all that lost,” Benoir assured her. “After all, you ended up in our common room.” He stuck a hand out to Lorque. “I’m Benoir. I think I’ve seen you around before?”

“I’m Lorque.” Lorque shook his hand energetically. “A bird guy, hrrm? How did you end up over with the birds, Nilien? That’s a long way from Sirin’s office.” She gestured vaguely in a few directions, which might have been the aviary and Administrator Sirin’s office. Nilien noted the gestures, but wasn’t sure they’d help.

“I was looking for a way back here. But once I’d taken a few wrong turns, it just seemed more reasonable to keep going,” she admitted. “And then there I was.”

“You’re welcome to get lost in our tower any time.” Benoir bowed, Caprice fluttering on his shoulder to stay balanced. “I’ll try not to get you in too much trouble.”

“Trouble? Already? Now this is a story I want to hear.”

“It’s not a short tale. Maybe I could tell you back in our room?”

“Good idea. And then you can put down that mountain of books.”


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