Nilien tested her weight on her ankle and barely managed to stifle a gasp. “…Yes, please. If it’s not out of your way?”

“Oh, come on, I can help you. See, this is where the bigger familiars really come in handy.” Thesri whistled, a high-pitched series of notes that seemed to carry over the field. A moment later, a peach-hued mountain goat came trotting towards them. “It’s not big enough to carry you, but if you lean on Liltivere here and then I’ll support you on the other side.”

Liltivere sounded familiar, but it took Nilien a moment to place where: Mt. Liltivere, the tallest peak in the Empire. “You named your goat after a mountain?” Nilien smiled. “That’s beautiful.”

“Thank you. Yours is…?”

“Ember. It looks a bit like a coal, and I didn’t quite like ‘coal’ as a name.”

“I like it. Hello, Ember.”

Hello. Ember lowered its front half in a good approximation of a bow.

“Hello, Liltivere.” Nilien wasn’t sure she could manage a bow, but she nodded her head politely at the goat. It moved up next to her until she could lean her weight on its back.

Thesri moved around to the other side of her and wrapped an arm around her waist. “You got really messed up. All that from a tree?”

“Well, I ran away,” Nilien defended herself. “And I don’t know the woods very well.”

“Aah. Yeah, I blundered into a thorny berry bush that way once, ended up bleeding in stripes all over what was left of my uniform top. Well, you made it out, whatever happened.” Thesri smiled sympathetically. “Maybe bring friends next time you go wandering. Then, if you hurt yourself, they could help you. Not that I mind! But you made it all the way from the woods without anyone to help you – oh, come now.” The last was to Ember, who was glaring pointedly. “I’m sure you’re great for moral support, but that’s not really what she needs right now, now is it?”

And excuses, Ember muttered. Don’t forget excuses.

“Ember forgives you,” Nilien translated broadly. “And I really do appreciate the help.” Leaning on Liltivere made the moving easier, if no faster; she could put next to no weight on her sore ankle, which made everything feel less horrible.

“I’m glad. It’s no fun to have someone’s familiar mad at you. My roommate’s familiar kept trying to take chunks out of my clothes for my first year here. That was a mess until I got it worked out – and Ember probably has far sharper teeth than my roommate’s familiar.”

This one is clever, Ember agreed.

“Ember’s appeased.” This was a weird little dance, but Nilien was enjoying it. If only it wasn’t for the ankle, and the bruises, and the tree almost falling on her…

“So, who are you going to go see? Prospin is the head of the predator wing; if you really think someone is trying to hurt you, he’s probably a good place to start. Or one of the teachers you know from class?”

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