Nilien wanted to think that the walk to the dorm would be safe, but even though nobody else seemed to believe her, her life seemed increasingly dangerous. “I – yes. I’d like that, please, if it’s not any trouble.”

“Not any trouble at all!” He grinned brightly at her. “And besides, you can navigate by my map, and I can see if it make any sense.”

“Oh.” Nilien found herself smiling. “I see. It’s a test. Well, Professor Chason, let’s see how I do on this quiz, shall we?”

She looked down at the map again, her smile growing into a grin. “Let’s see. So… here, we turn left.”

“Very good, Nilien.” Chason put on a very fake-deep voice. “And then?”

“Well, Professor Chason, we have to get there first. Which will take a bit, as, you see, I’ve got a note from my doctor…”

“Ha. Well then, let’s get to the next intersection.”

They managed to get back to her room that way, moving far more quickly and with less pain than she’d gotten to Professor Vaudelle’s office, making classroom jokes the entire time. “Very good,” Chason said, as they reached her hallway. “Show your work, Nilien?”

“Well, here’s the hallway with those carvings, and here’s my door.” She grinned up at him. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

“Not a problem. Come find me any time you need help getting somewhere – that’s my dorm there, marked on the map.” He pointed it out. “You’ll be fine, though. And I’m glad my scribbles can be helpful.”

“Me, too. Well, I should go tell my roommate what happened – Ember said she was worried…”

“Of course.” He bowed playfully. “I’ll see you later, then.”

Lorque and Riva were waiting for her in the room, both of them looking worried. “Nilien! Nilien, what happened? Ember – well, mimed that you’d fallen over.”

“Well, a tree almost fell on me, and someone was in the woods. Not Heldira, though. Someone Ember didn’t recognize the smell of.” Everything she was wearing was ripped or bloody or both. Since she didn’t think she’d want to stand up again if she sat down, she made her way to the dresser while she talked. “We were in the woods, wandering around waiting to see if Heldira found me, and someone broke a tree so that it nearly landed on me. Ember noticed in time for me to get out—” She would keep telling people that until the fox forgave her for saying that it had gotten her lost “—and then I went running. I fell and got all scraped up, though. Then Thesri and Liltivere helped me back to Professor Vaudelle’s office. What about you guys?”

“Well, we had everything ready to go, and then something happened.” Riva glared at her otter. “And the box opened. There were a couple crickets out, and while we were trying to catch them, well, the whole thing fell over and there were crickets everywhere, all the way down the hall and up the stairs…” Her familiar at least had the grace to look abashed. “So we were still picking up crickets when Ember came to us… What is it?”

Nilien was staring at her drawer of underclothes. She’d put the mysterious pendant there when she unpacked, figuring it was the place where it was least likely to cause questions. But now…

“It’s gone,” she muttered. “The pendant. It’s gone.”


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