Chapter 4

“Professor Vaudelle’s office is just down this hall. Now, when you come back, it helps if you use landmarks. See, here’s this door with the stripes of stone and metal in it.” Professor Hestinger pointed out a doorway. “That used to be Professor Marein’s office, and nobody wants to change it, so it stays that way. It helps tell you which way you’re going, though. And then here’s the old archway with the tiny gargoyles carved into it. It’s a little out of place back here, so it’s easy to recognize. And here’s Professor Vaudelle’s office.” He knocked on what looked like a plain, ordinary door.

“Hestinger! Come on in. And who’s the student?” A clear, high, cheerful-sounding voice came through the door as if it wasn’t there.

“Ah, Vaudelle.” Professor Hestinger smiled at the door. Nilien looked at him and wondered if he’d gone batty, or if this was normal here, talking to doors. “This is Nilien. She has some matters of magic sight to discuss with you.” He swung the door open to reveal an office crowded with bookshelves and covered with papers and books, centered on a short woman with broad curves, a broader smile and a pair of wire-framed spectacles perched on her upturned nose. “Nilien.” He patted her shoulder. “This is Professor Vaudelle. I leave you in her capable hands, and I look forward to working with you again tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Professor.” Nilien smiled up at him. She had finally found the black stone just before their session ended, which had left her with a small feeling of triumph and a sense that maybe this wasn’t going to be awful after all. It wasn’t the sort of thing her classmates could do — but if she could get started, she could get there. “I look forward to it.”

“Good. Rune magic should be fun, after all. Good luck with the rest of your classes.” He left, closing the door behind him and leaving Nilien with Professor Vaudelle.

The professor ran a sharp, assessing gaze over Nilien. “So, dear, you’re our new student? Here, have a seat.” She cleared off a chair by sweeping the papers stacked on it into a basket and shoving that basket under another chair.

“I am.” Nilien sat down and Ember leaped into her lap. “And this is Ember, my familiar.”

“A Wild Rune, very interesting. And you’re working with Hestinger on basic magic?”

“I— yes, I am.” Nilien’s cheeks flushed and she looked away. Was everyone going to know?

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, dear. This is a difficult situation you’re in, but we’re all here to help you. That’s our job.”

Nilien smiled uncertainly at Professor Vaudelle. “Actually, Professor, speaking of that…”

“Yes, dear? I imagine Hestinger didn’t bring you all the way down here to pick out a treatise to read, at least not this early in your studies, did he? And it’s unlikely he’s testing your ability to not get lost in this place; he’s not the sort to do that.”

“He pointed out landmarks…” Professor Vaudelle’s logic was leaving Nilien a little lost. “So I don’t think he was trying to get me lost. No, he said you might be able to help with something about magic sight.”

“Well, I am quite good at it.” She smiled as if that was nothing surprising. “So Hestinger has you working on magic sight already? You must be moving along quite well. It’s quite a useful magic, you know.”

“Ah, well.” Nilien ducked her head. “It was an accident. I was trying to find the black pebble in a bowl full of white ones…”

“Oh, yes. That’s a good exercise. And you accidentally saw magic signatures instead? Very nice. Magic sight will get you very far in life and while having it show up so early doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be talented, we can hope, now, can’t we? So you could see your runic Mark, and Hestiger’s, then…?” she prompted.

“And Ember and Professor Hestinger’s familiars were glowing, too.” She petted Ember between the ears. The fox, in turn, seemed bored, looking off at the corner of the room and not commenting. “And, ah. There was a faint mark on my back.” She gestured uncertainly around the chair, trying to point at the right place on her spine.

“On your back, hrrm? Interesting. Candle-hopper?”

From a basket Nilien had thought contained more papers, a forest-green rooster head emerged. It blinked sleepily at the room and then hopped down, fluffing its wings.

“Very good, very good. Now, let’s see.” She pushed her glasses up her nose while the rooster walked a circle around Nilien’s chair. “Ah, there we go. Interesting.” She got up from her chair and followed Candle-hopper in a circle around the chair.

“I thought that signatures didn’t mind obstruction?” Nilien put forth the question cautiously.

“They don’t, they don’t. I can see it from over in my chair, but I cannot squint at it very well from over there. Ah.” She chuckled and straightened up, standing directly behind Nilien. “That’s interesting.”

“What is it?” Nilien squirmed and twisted to try to look the professor in the face, nearly dropping Ember out of her lap.

Careful! Ember complained before putting its head back down.

“It’s likely nothing to worry about. It’s a tracking mark, that’s all, so that the person who placed it can find you. Useful if you get lost a lot.”

Nilien bit her lip. She looked down at Ember, who turned to look at her. “A tracking mark? So whoever put it on me, no matter where I am, they can find me?”

“That’s the idea. Sometimes students do things like that as a prank, dear. It’s probably nothing to worry about.”

“Nothing,” Nilien repeated numbly.

You do not think it is nothing, do you? Ember’s ears raked back.

“No, I —” she turned to look at Professor Vaudelle. “Could it be, I mean, might it have been done by the assassin, professor?”

“I’m sorry? The what?” The professor stared at her. “I assure you, dear, whatever stories your fellow students have been filling your head with, Reinmonte does not have assassins.”

Nobody’s trying to assassinate the school, Ember pointed out.

Didn’t she know? Nilien twisted further around in the chair, one hand on Ember, until she could look straight up at the professor. This left her half-kneeling on the plush chair. “Professor Vaudelle…” How was she supposed to tell her?

“Yes, dear? Oh, here, sit down properly and I’ll come back around. Is there someone you think may be pulling an unkind prank on you? I know it must be hard, being a Wild Rune and coming into school late as you did.”

Nilien turned back around as Professor Vaudelle took her seat again; on her lap, Ember rearranged itself until it was looking straight at the professor. “It’s not that, it’s more that — well, I was told someone tried to kill me. I don’t remember, but that’s how I ended up with Ember, as far as I know. I thought — well, I thought someone would have told people,” she admitted in a small voice.

“Oh. Oh my. Someone tried to — to kill you? And you don’t know who, of course not. Not if you don’t remember it. Oh.” The professor furrowed her brow and stared at Nilien’s midriff. “Now that does add another aspect to this, indeed. Well, yes. The mark would allow whoever placed it on you to know where you were. It’s not horribly strong, which means they might have planned on being in the school, which,” she grimaced, “makes me quite unhappy. Now, let me see. I can remove that mark, but I would suggest you get in the habit of checking for such, especially if you plan on wandering the hallways too much.”

“But how could it have gotten there in the first place?”

“Oh, well, that’s not all that hard. As I said, students do it for pranks sometimes. Sometimes they do so with Professor Chevlin; he’s so bad at being on time to class, they say, that they just want to know how long they have until he shows up.” She spread out her fingers, steepling the tips against each other. “Now. Let’s get that pesky tracker off of you, and then we’ll walk through checking for such things a couple times before I send you on your way.”

“Can I learn how to remove it myself, Professor?” Nilien concentrated on her sight and managed to see the mark again. “I mean, if I find more, I don’t want to have to come back here and bother you every time…”

“We can certainly try to teach you, at least. All right. If you don’t already have magic sight up, pull it up.” The professor waited until Nilien nodded. “Very good. Now, like everything in runic magic, it’s a matter of focusing your power, but what I find helps here is if you think about erasing the lines. So you’re going to take the trace apart one line at a time. You see how the lines work here? So we’ll start with this curve, and imagine it gone, and so on down the whole thing. Understand?”

“Yes, professor.” Nilien buried her hands in Ember’s fur and concentrated. Nothing happened. She tried again, and again, but the tracking spell remained stubbornly on her back. “It won’t go away,” she sighed. Was everything in magic going to be this hard? She’d never catch up at this rate.

“It’s all right, it’s all right. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself here; removing the tracking spells is a bit more tricky that placing them, and, after all, it’s your first day. Here.” The professor was quiet for a moment, and the tracking mark vanished. “There. Now, if you get another tracking spell, you know how to look for it — don’t forget your feet and your head! — and you can come back and we’ll practice removing it again, all right?”

She really didn’t want to get another tracking spell. Even if it was another student, there were people who clearly didn’t want her here. “I’ll do that. You don’t mind me stopping in?”

“Not at all, dear. If I’m not here, there are a couple other professors who could help you. Professor Chevlin, for one. And I understand this must be very distressing for you, but have no fear. Reinmonte is a very safe place, and we will take very good care of you here.”

“Isn’t —” the tracking spell was already gone; she should have thought of this before. “Isn’t there any way to track the spell back to the person who placed it? Maybe if there’s another one, we could look for something? It’s just…”

“Of course, yes. We don’t want someone like that wandering around the school, and we certainly don’t want you to be in any danger.” Professor Vaudelle frowned. “Now, let me see…”

Ember looked up at her. I can find them.

“What?” Nilien stared at Ember. “Did you just say…?”

I can find the person that marked you. Ember yawned. All you had to do was ask.

Nilien stared down at Ember. “I’m sorry, you can what?

I can find the person that marked you, Ember repeated patiently. I got the spell’s spoor before the teacher removed it. It’s not difficult.

Nilien blinked at her familiar. “You can — I didn’t know you could do that!”

You didn’t ask. Ember yawned again and put its head down, tail over its nose.

Nilien looked up at Professor Vaudelle. “Ember says that it can find the person who put the tracking mark on me. I didn’t know familiars could do magic.”

You thought it was all for you? Ember opened one eye at Nilien. How selfish.

“All familiars can do magic, yes,” the Professor explained, “although it is very limited. Each familiar can do one specific thing. In Ember’s case, it appears that that is magic tracking, which could be very handy here indeed.”

“So — it has magic?” She glared at Ember. “Really, ‘I didn’t ask?’”

You didn’t ask, Ember repeated. And you have much to learn today. You didn’t need extra information.

“Oh… you!” She huffed out a frustrated breath. “So this is a common familiar ability?” She looked up at Professor Vaudelle.

“The ability? Not necessarily. But familiars having powers is.”

“I guess I probably missed that in a class I didn’t take,” she sighed. “How am I ever going to catch up?”

“With diligence and effort.” Professor Vaudelle’s smile was small and sad. “And with the help of any and all professors, as needed. Don’t feel too bad about Ember not telling you, dear. Candle-hopper didn’t tell me anything at all for months and months. And I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated that this skill of your familiar’s would have come in handy quite so soon. Besides.” She aimed a sharp look at Ember. “Maybe it’s worried its powers aren’t good enough.”

Ember lifted its head and stared at the professor, its ears back, its mouth open. Did she say I thought I wasn’t good enough?

Nilien managed to stifle her giggle enough to pat Ember’s head and reassure it. “I’m sure you misheard.”

I do not “mishear.” I have very good hearing.

“Of course you didn’t mishear.” Professor Vaudelle smirked at the fox. “And of course I can’t hear you. But your expression says it all, doesn’t it? So if you’re not worried about your power, maybe you should be a little more forthcoming, mmm?”

This woman is unbearable. Ember huffed audibly and hopped down onto the floor. Worried. Me! Of course I’m not worried. What would I be worried about? Worried! It turned to look at Nilien. Well? Are you coming or not? We’re going to go track down this magical-tracking-spell person of yours.

Nilien glanced at the professor just in time to catch a wide, amused smile on her face. “I’m coming.”

“Now Nilien,” Professor Vaudelle frowned, “if there really is someone here who wants to harm you, you should let the adults handle it. We don’t want you to be hurt; Reinmonte is meant to be a safe place to learn, not a place to get into more danger.”

“I’ll be all right, professor.” Feeling a little guilty, Nilien added on a fib, “besides, it’s probably just another student pulling a prank, right? If I bring in a teacher for something like that, it will only make it worse.”

“You can go look,” the professor relented, “but if it turns out that it’s not another student, do come find me or one of the other teachers. Don’t try to take on another adult by yourself. Understand?”

“Yes, professor. I’ll be careful.”

Are you coming or not? Ember was standing by the door, looking impatiently between the door and Nilien.

“I’m coming. Thank you for all your help, Professor. I really appreciate it.” She followed Ember before it could run off without her — and before the professor could tell her not to go.

You’d think you didn’t want to find this person, the way you were dawdling, Ember complained, as it trotted down the hallway. They were going further away from the classrooms, deeper into places she hadn’t been before.

“I don’t want to get in trouble, either,” she countered. “I mean, I just got here. I don’t want the professors annoyed at me because I went running off on my own.”

You’re not on your own. You’re with me. Now shush. We want to sneak up on them so they don’t know we’re tracking them.

“All…” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “All right.”

Ember’s route took them around the corner and down a short set of steps. Nilien could hear people talking nearby, but so far, she saw nobody. They passed what looked like a small study room with nobody in it and a supply closet left open. “Are you sure…”

Shush!

Nilien fell quiet. Lorque was going to be looking for her and she was nowhere near the classrooms. And Ember was leading her further into the school. It was going to be hard not to get in trouble this time — and what if it really was the assassin?

There. The fox stopped just before another doorway. In there.

Nilien peeked in. There were a few students in the room, talking in a group. She looked down at Ember.

Them, in the green skirt. That’s where the magic came from.

Nilien looked down at Ember, then back at the room. The green-skirted one was obvious, right in the middle of the group.

Well, Professor Vaudelle had only said to come back if it was an adult. These were clearly all students. Nilien stepped into the room, Ember on her heels.

“Excuse me?” It took no acting ability to sound lost and nervous. “I’m sorry, but I’m lost.”

“Lost?” The one in a chocolate-brown skirt and tie turned around to stare at Nilien. She — no, he, Nilien thought — raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Really?”

“Really. I’m sorry,” she repeated. “My familiar decided it wanted to wander off, and by the time I found it—” She scooped up Ember and ignored the imprecations it was muttering in her mind. “Well, I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know how to get back. I’m Nilien,” she offered. “And this is Ember.”

The one in green turned around and looked them over, along with a boy in mustard-yellow. “Hi, Nilien.” He, at least, gave her a smile. “So you got turned around?”

“I don’t see how,” the brown-skirted boy scoffed. “I mean, everything’s nice straight hallways. And it’s not like she’s new.

“Well, yeah. Come on, Tarin, she’s the Wild Rune.” The one in mustard rolled his eyes. “Red skirt, red fox — right?”

Nilien cleared her throat. “That’s right, yes. I’m, ah. I’m new. And I’m a Wild Rune.”

“No wonder you got lost.” He didn’t quite sound sympathetic, but at least he wasn’t blaming her. “I’m Chason, by the way, and these are Tarin and Heldira. Is this your first day?”

“Yes.” Nilien looked down at Ember uncertainly. The fox, in turn, was still giving her a dirty look. “Well, you didn’t have to get us lost,” she muttered, loud enough to be heard. It did not improve Ember’s expression, but it did get Heldira to laugh at her.

“Oh, come on, you’ve at least got to learn to control your familiar. That’s just one of the basics of being a Rune.”

“Well,” Nilien retorted, “when I’ve been a Rune for more than three days, maybe I can pick that up.” She glared at Ember, even though it really wasn’t the fox’s fault.

Chason snorted. “She’s got you there, Heldira. Besides, I remember what your little Nephrite was like when you first got her. It’s not like you can talk about bratty familiars or anything.”

“Like yours was any better! Maple-leaf there nearly took my hand off once! And Tarin’s familiar just glared at everyone every time we went out to the stable.”

“See, though? That’s what I mean. Give her a little slack.” Chason stood up. “Come on, I’ll get you back to your rooms.”

“Thank you.” Nilien waited by the doorway — she might not have really gotten lost, but she didn’t really know which way she was supposed to go, either. “It’s nice of you to take the time.”

“Oh, I know what this place can be like.” Chason gestured down the hall — not the way she’d come. She was never going to figure out her way around. “You spend your first month just trying to be sure you make it to classes on time. But you have people to help you with it, most of the time, right?”

“My roommate.” Nilien nodded. “She’d been a lot of help — Lorque. But then Ember wandered off. And…” Nilien sighed. “I’m not in magic classes with her.” It stung to admit it, but it’s not like it wasn’t the truth.

“Oh? Oh, yeah, that makes sense. What with being a Wild Rune and all. Hey, it could be worse.”

You could be dead, Ember offered. From the set of its tail, Ember was still annoyed with her.

“I survived, right?” Nilien offered tiredly.

“What? Oh, well, there is that. There’s a reason there aren’t that many Wild Runes, and it’s not just because people are kind of stupid about it— I see you’ve encountered that.”

Nilien’s face had twisted up , thinking about Istore’s nasty comments and Riva’s I read a book about it… “I have,” she agreed. “Some people think I’m going to eat them for dinner or something.”

“Well, some people are just silly, and some people are stupid. It’s your call, I guess, whether you want to take the time to figure out if they’re being cruel or just ignorant.” Chason shrugged. “Anyway, so you’re coming in later than everyone, that can’t be fun. And I guess that means you wouldn’t be where the other students are in magic, yeah. But, hey, you can study in the evenings and get caught up, if you work hard, right? And if your familiar doesn’t distract you by getting you lost too often.”

“I seem to be spending a lot of time getting lost.”

That is not my fault, Ember complained.

“Yesterday wasn’t your fault at all,” she answered. She had to keep up her lie, after all, since she couldn’t very well admit that they’d gone there looking for — well, Heldira. Maybe Professor Vaudelle was right and it really had just been a prank.

Except she’d never seen Heldira before — or Chason or their friend Tarin. It didn’t make sense.

Well, even if it had been a strange prank, and even if Chason was the friend of someone who had been going to pull a prank on her, he looked nice enough, and here they were, already almost as her dorm. “I think I recognize this area.”

“Landmarks are good.” Chason smiled. “My first year, I even drew up something like a map.”

“You have a map?” Nilien stopped dead and turned to look at Chason. “You have a map, really?”

“Well, I had something like a map,” he demurred. “It wasn’t to scale and it was missing some things, but it had all the landmarks I used to find my way around. Like these little gremlins here in the carvings. All the archways between areas are a little different. See?” He pointed at the carvings in the archways.

“Do you think I could have a copy? I don’t want to keep asking for help all year…” Of course, this time, she hadn’t actually been lost, but the sentiment was the same — she didn’t want to end up getting in trouble because all of Benoir’s routes involved places she wasn’t supposed to be, for example.

“I don’t have it anymore.” Chason looked genuinely sad about that. “But you know what,” he perked up just as quickly, “I bet I could draw you a new one and have it be even better. I mean, I know more than I did when I drew it, so that’s a good start, right? And then I just have to figure out the landmarks closest to your dorms, so you can always find your way back here.”

Nilien smiled widely. “You’d really do that for me?”

“Well, yes, of course. I mean, it’ll be fun, for one,” he admitted, “and for another, somebody ought to help you out.”

“Lorque’s been a lot of help. My roommate.” She glared at Chason. “And her friend Augustin.” She wasn’t about to say Istore or Riva had been helpful.

He put his hands up. “I didn’t mean nobody had! I just meant that, since I know you’re having trouble, it falls on me to help. So I’ll get that map together for you. Just give me a day or two, all right?”

Mollified, Nilien managed to smile at him. “I can do that. I’ll just try not to wander off too far in the meantime.”

“Good idea. And keep ahold of your familiar. Well, if you’re set, then, I’ll take my leave. Good luck!”

“Thank you — thank you very much.” She carried Ember off into her room, glad to finally be back home.

Ran off? Ember glared at her.

“I’m sorry, okay?” Lorque was nowhere to be seen, and neither was River. Nilien made sure the door was firmly shut. “I had to come up with something, and ‘I just wandered aimlessly’ was less believable.”

It’s how you got lost last time.

“Only because you were distracting me, which is a little harder to explain. Look, I’m sorry. I just wanted to know who it was.”

And now you know. How do you feel about that?

“She’s — she’s just a student. And Chason seemed nice.”

Lorque is nice. Istore is not.

“I know. I know. I guess I don’t know how I feel about this whole situation yet. Maybe it was just a prank.”

It might have been a prank, Ember agreed slowly, but the attempt on your life was definitely not. And it is possible someone will make another attempt.

Nilien sat down on her bed with a thump and stared down at Ember. “I am not feeling very reassured,” she complained.

I am not here to reassure you. I am here because you wished to live. Has that changed?

“What? No. No, of course not, I still want to live!” It was her turn now to glare at her familiar, who panted at her in amusement, tail swishing. “Why would you even say such a thing?”

Because the biggest concern is not if Istore thinks that you are a Weed. That is a stupid term, made up by foolish people who do not understand what they are really speaking about. You are a Rune. The biggest concern is that someone attempted to kill you. And my tracking is not wrong. The person in the green is the one who put the tracking spell on you. Ember looked pleased with itself. Of course, Ember almost always looked pleased with itself.

“I never said that your tracking was wrong!” She was arguing with a fox. Nilien sighed. She had a feeling she was going to spend far too much of her life arguing with a fox. “Heldira. That’s her name. And her friend Chason seemed nice enough, and Tarin… wasn’t too bad. So maybe it’s just. Maybe it was a prank?” She didn’t know if she was trying to convince herself or Ember. Her familiar did not look convinced, that was sure, and she didn’t really feel any better, so her end goal might have been a moot point.

And if it was? Do you want them to succeed in pulling a prank on you? You want to be able to hold your head high here, do you not? It hopped onto the bed and flopped down, head on her lap, looking up at her.

“Of course I do! It’s— well, it’s not going to be easy. I was known for my good grades in my old school, and here—”

Here, you will be known for catching up very quickly. Ember made it sound very easy. And for not being caught by foolish traps.

“I suppose that’s a goal. Which means i really should practice that magic-sight.” She petted Ember between the ears, as her familiar very clearly was angling for, and focused her magic on her sight.

There was another tracking spell on her back. Nilien huffed out in frustration.

“Let’s see if I can get this thing off,” she complained. It hadn’t worked all that well the first time, but it might do better with practice. “First… Ember, can you get the scent?”

It is the same as before. Ember gave her an unreadable look.

“…Of course it is.” Nilien bit her lip and tried to make the tracking spell go away.

* * * * *

The tracking spell was not going away.

Nilien had tried everything Professor Vaudelle had shown her — six times — and nothing was working. She could see it. She could see exactly where it was, but nothing she could come up with made it vanish

Perhaps we should go visit the professor with the rooster again, Ember suggested. Its ears were back and it looked as worried as Nilien felt.

“We should,” she admitted. “I just don’t want to go back out there and get lost again.”

You did not get lost last time, remember? And this was very near the classrooms. You should be fine, Ember coaxed.

“I wish I could just get it off. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to bother Professor Vaudelle every day, and that’s just ridiculous. Besides, I have homework I need to do.”

Homework is not more important than being safe. Ember bit her hand lightly, more just touching its teeth to her skin. We should visit Professor-with-the-Rooster again.

Nilien was saved having to come with Ember or argue more by the door swinging open. “Nilien! You are in here, good!” Lorque was followed into the room by River, Riva, and Riva’s otter familiar. “When you didn’t show up after class, I was worried that you’d gotten lost again. How were your lessons?”

“They were… interesting.” She looked between Lorque and Riva. “There’s a lot to learn, and so much of seems to be ‘just keep trying until you get it.’”

“There’s a lot of that in the beginning.” Lorque flopped down on her bed and gestured lazily at a chair for Riva. “That’s not why you left, is it? Nobody’s going to think less of you for needing a little more help when you just got here, Nilien!”

“It can’t be easy.” Riva took the chair offered and scooted it closer to the two of them. “Starting in a new school, and then all of this magic to catch up on, too. Everyone knows you’re new, you know. They’re not going to think you can’t keep up with the work.”

Nilien was torn between saying everyone knowing I’m new is half the problem and explaining where she’d been. Ember, who had released her hand when Lorque walked in, took her fingers in its mouth again.

“There’s a tracking spell on me,” she admitted. “There was one on me before, and now there’s another one, after Professor Vaudelle took the first one off of me. And I can’t get it off.”

“How did you get another one? And how did you end up with Professor Vaudelle?”

“Well, I found the tracking spell when Professor Hestinger was teaching me…” Nilien explained the situation to them, up to Ember tracking down the person who had put the spell on her in the first place. “I was hoping Chason was as nice as he seemed,” she concluded, “but his friend did this…”

“Well,” Riva pointed out, “you can’t always judge someone by their friends.”

Nilien wanted to be reassured. She had found Chason quite friendly, and that seemed to be in a bit of short supply here. Still, though…

“It still seems a little strange to me.” She didn’t want to say anything else about people, their friends, and choices, because she didn’t want to sound like she was criticizing Lorque’s choice of companionship, so instead she said, “Professor Vaudelle thought it was just some sort of prank, but she didn’t know about the assassin until I told her. So I’m not sure what it was, although it being another student means it was probably just a bad joke.”

“Well, if it is a prank, eventually, they’re going to have to finish the prank, right?” Riva leaned forward; her otter tumbled out of her lap and landed next to River, who appeared to ignore the other familiar, even as it started using River as a jungle-gym. “It’s not much of a prank to just know where you are. I mean, I suppose if you are having trouble finding your way around, they could position themselves to help you and then — well, be less than helpful and lead you somewhere bad.”

Bad like a forbidden garden? No, Benoir just had no sense when it came to rules, she was pretty sure.

“That doesn’t seem like much of a prank,” she admitted slowly.

I think it would be a very good prank. Ember turned around a few times before settling on the bed, looking down at the other two familiars from a safe perch. Nobody would believe you, because you already get lost. Or you blame your familiar for getting you lost when your familiar found you what you needed.

She petted Ember behind the ears apologetically. “It’s still mad at me because I blamed it for me being lost. I think it’s going to be mad at me for weeks,” she explained. “But — I think you’re right, Riva.” At least Riva hadn’t read this in a book. “If it’s going to be a prank, they probably have more to it. Otherwise, Chason probably would have been in on it and walked me someplace bad today.” That made her glad for more than one reason, but she tried not to let it color her thinking yet. She didn’t know, not yet.

“So whoever set this up — Heldira, you said? – and maybe her friends — they probably have some else up their sleeve.” Lorque leaned in, a smile growing on her face. “We should trap them. We should set a trap. Leave the tracking spell on — they already know where we live, right? — and we’ll set up, hrrm.” She glanced over at Riva. “Do you have any ideas?”

“I’m not quite sure how to trap them,” Riva admitted. “It seems like it would be tricky to fool an older student like that.” She pursed her lips in thought.

“I don’t know,” Lorque mused slowly. “We might have to think about this one for a while.”

I have an idea. Ember tilted its head.

“Ember’s got something,” Nilien translated for the rest of the room.

“Well, let’s hear it. We’re not coming up with anything on our own.” Lorque made an exaggerated shrug as if to point out all the ideas they weren’t having.

We can assume that they have interest in getting you lost. It’s well-established by now that you get lost, even if you do blame your familiar. Ember glared at her.

Nilien ducked her head apologetically. “I said I was sorry!”

Mmph. I’ll forgive you eventually, I suppose. So, we can assume they’d like to find you and get you even more lost, yes?

“It’s a reasonable assumption.” She turned to Lorque and Riva. “Ember suggests we work off the assumption that they want to get me lost. It makes sense, given everything that’s happened.”

So you should “get lost” one more time – finding, of course, something to blame other than your loyal, helpful, faithful familiar this time-

“I said I was sorry!”

And I said Mmmph. The fox gave her a sharp look before getting back to the topic. So, get yourself “lost” in a situation where your friends can be lying in wait. Blame yourself, of course, or some other familiar, or even the castle itself, but wander around looking turned around and confused. If they’re trying to find you out, this would be a perfect time. And then the prank can be enacted.

“That would probably work. Put myself as bait, and wait for them to try to help me ‘find my way home.’” Nilien considered it. It wouldn’t be all that hard to get to a place where she’d seem lost. She might even be lost, considering how turned around this place made her.

Of course it will work. It was my idea, wasn’t it?

“So, go out and ‘get lost?’” Lorque asked. ”And then wait for them to find you?”

“With the tracking spell, it shouldn’t take them long. And then we can turn the prank back on them.”

“But how? That’s the question, isn’t it? What’s the prank?”

That is up to the three of you. I have come up with the plan.

Nilien looked at Lorque and shrugged.

Lorque glanced over at Riva. “Do you have something in mind?”

“I don’t have any ideas yet,” Riva admitted, “but I think I read about this sort of thing in a book, turning pranks on the prankers. It was something about use of small spells to cause, ah, ‘tolerable chaos,’ but…”

“So nothing right now,” Lorque translated, “but you might be able to come up with something later. I-” She appeared to consider it for a moment before shaking her head. “No. I don’t have any ideas either.”

Nilien looked between her friends, then down at Ember, who stretched in what she thought was probably the fox equivalent of a shrug. Certainly the familiar didn’t “say” anything useful.

“I… I’ve heard of a couple different things,” she offered cautiously. “I read about one of them in a book…” She sounded like Riva, didn’t she? Well it wasn’t like other people didn’t read! “It would be hard to do, but it’s a bucket of paint or water balanced over a door, so that when they go through the door, they get drenched.”

“The hard part would be why you were in the room, and finding a room nobody else was going to go into,” Riva mused. “We don’t want to accidentally drench a teacher, for example, or someone’s familiar.”

I do not want to be drenched, Ember agreed. And paint seems a little extreme if all they were doing was tracking you.

“Maybe I really should just get Professor Vaudelle to remove the spell,” Nilien sighed. “It would be easier in the long run.”

“Until the next one,” Lorque pointed out. “This is two in one day. You don’t want to have to keep running back down to the offices every day, do you?”

“We should get her attention with a return prank,” Riva agreed. “That’ll let her know we’re on to her, and then maybe she’ll leave you alone and go on to easier targets.”

“But if we can’t think of anything, then we’re just leading her out into some random place in the school for no reason. That’s not a prank, that’s just asking to cause trouble.” Nilien frowned. “I don’t mind being bait if we’re actually going to do something… hrrm.” She looked down at Ember.

What? Its ears raked back.

“Not you,” she reassured it. “I’m just thinking. There was one time, back in school. Someone was giving one of my old friends trouble, and so we — well, they, I acted as lookout — put crickets in her bed.”

Lorque giggled. “We could do that. I know where we can find some, and then if you lure her out, we can sneak into her room and do that while she’s chasing you down.”

“I’d have to get really ‘lost,’ then,” Nilien mused, “because we wouldn’t want her coming back too soon. I think it could work… as long as it’s really her, and as long as she takes the bait.”

It’s her. Ember gave her a pointed look. I am not wrong about these things.

“Then I guess it’s a plan.”

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