5.2

Editor’s note: The tie yesterday was impossible to choose both, so I flipped a coin.

Nilien waved good-bye to Lorque and Riva and headed down the hall. She’d considered going back upstairs by the teachers’ offices, but she’d been there enough times that she wasn’t sure anyone would believe she was lost. And since she had the stupid tracking spell, at the very least Heldira knew where she’d been.

Ember was still grumbling in her mind, but it had settled down to a few complaints now and then. Nilien did her best to ignore it – how did people with truly difficult familiars manage, she wondered. Did they end up feeling like they were constantly distracted?

Once outside, she started ambling in the opposite direction from the route Benoir had shown her. There was a stone path nearly lost under grass, one that clearly didn’t get much traffic at all, heading off at a sharp angle from the castle towards an open rotunda. She headed that way. The further she was from Heldira’s room, the better chance Lorque and Riva had of getting away with the prank without being caught.

Ember walked in front of her, paused to sniff a flower, wandered off at a right angle to the path for a few minutes, and came back towards her, angling so that somehow it was still in front of her. It repeated this a couple more times as they approached the rotunda, but its commentary on the grass, the state of the path, and the interesting flowers was far more pleasant than its complaining, so Nilien said nothing. They were supposed to be out on a weekend stroll, after all; it made sense that Ember was strolling.

The rotunda looked far less impressive up close than it had from a distance. Nilien noticed that it was still in decent shape, but it was barely big enough to hold two people, or a person and a medium-sized familiar, and vines had started creeping up over the foundation. Three more paths radiated from it, one towards the gate of the school, one off away from the gate, and one more heading even further away from the dormitory wing.

“Opinions?” she asked Ember.

This pavilion smells of… well, it smells interesting. But nobody’s been here in a while. Ember sat on the bench and looked haughty, as if imitating the small stone lions at front and back. I think we should wander further forward. You cannot be “lost” if you’re at the gate to the school, after all, and I do not like the way the other route smells.

Nilien wasn’t sure what Ember was smelling, but so far — grumpy or not — her familiar hadn’t led her astray. She walked forward, following the path, until it seemed to vanish under a thin layer of moss bracketed by broad, ancient trees.

“Are we even still on the school grounds?” She turned in a slow circle. That could be the path off to the left — or it could be over here, where a clearing was brushed in dappled sunlight.

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