Chapter 6

“Pendant?” Lorque came over, staring at the drawer as if it held an answer. “What pendant?”

“Before I left my old school, I found this pendant with my things. It was something like a brass coin, but it was covered with runes, like the mark on my hand. Actually, the mark on my hand was one of the runes on it. I was going to ask someone to read it for me, but then I got a little bit distracted by everything here and forgot all about it. Except now – now it’s not here anymore.” She began pulling everything out of her drawer and stacking it on top of the dresser, shaking each piece in turn.

“Maybe it fell down under something?” Riva offered. “Winter-blue, can you look under the dresser?”

The otter, who was still looking rather abashed, scampered over to the dresser and managed to wedge itself underneath. It came out with one stocking and then, a moment later, a mouthful of change, but no pendant.

“I wondered where that stocking went!” Lorque took it from Winter-blue happily. “But, ah, no pendant?”

“Winter-blue says that maybe a good dusting is in order,” Riva translated, “but no pendant.”

Ember, in turn, had ducked under the bed. There are more socks under here. Does Lorque do target practice with them? If so, she needs to improve her aim a bit.

“No pendant. Some more stockings,” Nilien added, as Ember came out from under the bed with a mouthful of stockings. River, in turn, had a tie and nothing else.

Nilien checked the rest of her drawers, just in case, but there was nothing to be found. “I’m starting to doubt it was ever actually here,” she muttered.

I saw it. I told you it was probably dangerous. It was there. Ember nuzzled her hand. If I saw it, it must be real.

“Ember saw it,” she repeated quietly. “Ember has faith in its own eyes, which – I guess I do, too. Ember has good eyes.”

“So.” Riva frowned as if she was piecing it together one brick at a time. “Someone left a pendant with Rune marks on it in your old room. And then, a while later – probably while you were out getting a tree dropped on you? – someone took that pendant out of your room. And you hadn’t told anyone about it? Did you look at it for tracking spells?”

“No.” Nilien looked down at her feet. “I really should have.”

“You’ve had a lot on your mind,” Lorque soothed. “New school, new classes, magic – it’s understandable that it slipped your mind. We’ll figure it out.”

“But I-”

A knock at the door interrupted her. Riva, being closest, opened the door; Administrator Siren, with Bother wrapped around her neck, stood there holding an envelope. “Nilien? You have a letter.”

“A letter?” Nilien bounced up, only to be reminded suddenly that her ankle was not healed yet, just improved. She moved more carefully over to the door. “I wonder who might have sent me a letter? I asked my brothers to write, but they never do…” She took the letter. “Thank you, Administrator Sirin.”

“Of course, dear.” The administrator nodded politely; on her shoulder, Bother mirrored the gestured. She turned, and they both left.

“I wonder who it’s from?” The handwriting on the front was not that of either of her brothers; it was too tidy, the letters too wide and cheerful. “Oh! I think this is from – yes, it is.” She slid her finger under the seal – lavender in color and in design – and opened the letter. “It’s Larisse; I went to school with her before I came here.” She sat back down on the bed.

“Didn’t you say Ember could track things?” Riva asked. “Not the letter,” she clarified. “But you said that it tracked the tracking spell. And I read in a book about tracking and magical items – they ought to have some sort of magical residue, shouldn’t they?”

Dear Nilien, the letter read, Things have been very exciting here! You would not believe the adventures we have been having, and all because of you!

Nilien looked up. “Ember did track the tracking spell,” she agreed. She wasn’t really sure how she felt about Riva’s books, all things considered. “That was looking for the person who made the spell, though.”

There have been detectives on the campus, looking everywhere for clues! They are investigating the attack on you, like a real crime! They say that they will find the person who poisoned you and “they will pay to fullest.” It is all very serious, and they do not like to answer questions, but Danette says that they spent two hours searching your room for anything that the attacker might have left behind. They looked disappointed when they left, she says….

“Well, do you think it could look for a pendant, then? Someone has to have made the magic on the pendant. And if someone’s still trying to hurt you, they have to be around here somewhere.”

Nilien looked up from the letter again. “I don’t know. Ember? Do you think you could?”

Ember looked at her, ears raking back against its head. That’s not the sort of thing a familiar normally does, you know, it informed her haughtily. I am better served keeping an eye on you and keeping you from being lost, or from having trees fall on you, or from being alone with strange boys who want to take you into forbidden places.

Nilien’s cheeks heated up. “That’s not what…! So,” she cleared her throat, “can you do it?”

Ember looked away. I don’t know. Its mental tone and expression were still very haughty. And furthermore, I don’t care to find out.

“Oh, come on, Ember,” Nilien coaxed. “I’m sure you could try. Listen, Larisse – you remember Larisse, right?”

She was the enthusiastic one, Ember agreed. Rather loud. But friendly.

“Loud and friendly.” Nilien smirked. “She was, ah, one of my good friends back at my old school,” she told Lorque and Riva. “And here she says that they’re investigating the attack on me, ah, ‘like a real crime.’”

“As far as I know,” Lorque pointed out dryly, “attempted assassination is a real crime.”

“If there was an attempted assassination,” Riva pointed out.

“Wild Runes don’t just come from tripping over their shoelaces,” Lorque countered.

“Thank you.” Nilien frowned at the letter. “I know someone tried to kill me, and I know that someone is still trying to kill me. That part’s pretty clear. Just the specifics…” She read through the letter again. “They searched my room, Ember. They might have been looking for that pendant, you know. It could tell us something about the person who tried to kill me.”

You are not dead, and I am here, and the pendant is gone. Ember looked away from her, ears twitching. Nothing is wrong anymore.

“Did you forget someone trying to kill me today?” Nilien’s voice was rising up, louder and louder. “I wouldn’t call that ‘nothing wrong!’”

“Oh, come on, Ember,” Lorque put in. “You’re not being difficult with Nilien today, are you? After she got hurt wandering around with your plan?”

It was a good point. Nilien gave Lorque a grateful, if thin, smile.

If she hadn’t run- Ember started, and then put its head down on the bed, its paws over its nose. What does the letter say about the pendant?

“Well, it doesn’t say anything about the pendant in general, but they…” She scanned downwards. Larisse had spent three paragraphs on the way the investigators were dressed and one on questions about Nilien’s new uniform. But after that “-they were searching everywhere for clues, it’s just that they spent the most time on my room. Apparently, I left a nice hair-clip there. Larisse will send it when the investigators give it back.”

Then they know there is something to find. Ember looked up at her. I do not know if this is a thing I can do. May I sniff your drawer, where it was?

A fox in her underwear drawer was the least strange thing today. “Yes, of course.”

Ember jumped up into the drawer. A few minutes later, it looked up, its ears flat to its head. It is… somewhere.

“Somewhere.” Nilien stared at Ember. “Really?”

I think… I think it is somewhere in the castle. Ember put both paws over its nose. Or maybe near the castle. My head hurts. I did not know my head could hurt like this.

She patted the familiar between the shoulder blades. “Ember says…” She looked down at her poor fox. “Well, that it’s probably in or near the castle.” The longer she sat, the more her ankle was reminding her what she’d done to it. “I think the best option is a to search methodically. I have a map…” She produced the map Chason had drawn for her. “We can start in one corner and work our way around. Not now, though.” She looked down at her ankle. “I don’t think I can do anything now except lie down.”

“And elevate your ankle. I read it in a book.” Riva wrinkled her nose. “You do get in a lot of trouble. I read that about Wild Runes, too.”

Nilien rolled her eyes at Riva. “I’m a Wild Rune because I was getting in trouble, remember? I’m a Wild Rune because someone tried to kill me — and I guess they haven’t stopped yet. I never got into trouble before that.”

“Well, see then?” Riva smiled. It was friendly, for all of her unhelpful theories. “It’s not that that Wild Runes aren’t getting in trouble, it’s that the book had cause and effect backwards. Anyway, do you think you’re safe looking for pendants all over the castle?”

“So far, when I’ve gotten lost in the castle, I’m mostly run into friendly people who are willing to show me back home. It’s just out on the grounds that things were dangerous. And I can check myself for tracking spells, too.”

“I think we should go with you, too. At least one of us. Maybe we can get Augustin involved and do groups of two.” Riva nodded, as if agreeing with herself. “Once you can get up and moving, that is.”

“We’ll bring you some dinner today,” Lorque decided. “You get some rest, maybe put that ankle up, and maybe Ember will be feeling better, too.” She reached over and patted Ember, who was still hiding its face under its paws. “Then we can come up with a plan. And if we can ask Augustin without getting Istore involved, we will.”

The last thing she needed was Istore involved. “Thank you.” Nilien lay down on her bed, moving around Ember. “Maybe a little nap will help everything feel better.”

“Maybe you’ll have a useful dream,” Riva offered. “Sometimes you’ve forgotten things, I read, but they show up in dreams.”

Nilien woke slowly to the feeling of a tail in her face, the last bits of a dream lingering in her mind.

She couldn’t remember most of her dreams, although she did know, much to her disappointment, that it hadn’t had anything to do with the pendant. (So much for Riva’s reading, she thought, a little unkindly.) There had been something about a mechanical goat of some sort, which had seemed very interesting, but she could not quite put her finger on any details, and there had been a woman covered in flames. Covered, but not looking like she was all that upset by the whole situation, which suggested not burning – or just that Nilien’s dreams had no desire to get messy.

“Is there some sort of spell that lets you wander around covered in flames?” she asked a sleepy Ember.

Ember blinked up at her. There is a torch, or dipping one’s tail – or skirt – in the fireplace – but it’s not recommended.

“You’re so helpful, thank you.”

Ember looked indignant. Perhaps next time I will not yell “tree” when one is falling on you!

“I take it back. You are generally very helpful, and I really appreciate all your help yesterday-”

-and the headache.

“I really do appreciate the headache. I’m sorry you got one trying to find my pendant.”

It wasn’t a good pendant. You are probably better off that it is gone.

“I’d agree, except that it shouldn’t have just vanished from my drawer. Nor should it have just appeared in my drawer back in my old school. I’m worried it has something to do with – with everything.”

Then it is better far from you.

The door opening saved her from having to retort again. Lorque came in, balancing a tray of food.

“You didn’t miss anything exciting at dinner. Istore is going off about something in history class and Augustin spent the whole time arguing with him. It might have been thrilling, if they’d been making any sense at all.”

Nilien pulled herself up as Lorque brought her the tray. “Thanks so much for this.”

“My pleasure. I got out of the argument early, just as they were asking Riva to referee. So.” She picked up one of her school notebooks. “Let’s make a copy of this map that Chason made you, and then we can divide it up into a plan of some sort. Is Ember’s head still hurting?”

“I think Ember is just cranky about the whole thing.” She petted Ember between the ears for a moment before she produced the map, then held the map with one hand while she continued to pet Ember. “All right. I think we ought to start in a corner, maybe here,” she gestured with a thumb at what was probably the top of the school. “And work our way downwards.”

“You know,” Lorque frowned. “It might be easier if we have something more to go on. Like why someone would take it. Or even the markings on it. Do you remember any except your own marking?”

Nilien wracked her brain. “No, I can’t think of anything, except-”

A knock at the door seemed to shake all the thoughts out of her mind. Nilien sighed, and swung her legs off the bed, but Lorque was already on her feet and getting the door.

“Oh, um. Hi.” Lorque stepped out of the way to show Heldira standing in the doorway, wearing a green skirt and tie, of course, and an immensely uncomfortable expression. “Come on in… ah…?”

“Heldira. I came to see your roommate. Nill…?”

“Nilien,” Lorque corrected, just on the edge of politely.

“Nilien. Hi.” Heldira looked at Nilien’s ankle. “Chason said you’d gotten hurt? Something about being off in the woods?”

That… Ember stood up and walked onto Nilien’s lap, nose pointed directly at Heldira. …that is not suspicious at all.

Nilien petted it between the ears, because she couldn’t exactly say that she agreed without being rude. “I fell in the woods. I got a bit turned around,” she sighed, “and then spooked by a falling tree, and I got pretty banged up. But I made it back all right. Ember was a lot of help.” She was pretty sure that’s what she’d told Chason. After a while, what everyone believed and what she told everyone was getting a little complicated.

“Well, I suppose that makes up for it getting you lost the other day.” Heldira shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “But you’re okay? Nothing really banged you up too badly?”

“I’m all right…”

What, does she want to see how you got away so she knows what to do better next time? Ember refused to settle down, no matter how much Nilien petted it. It’s ridiculous. Unless Chason was scolding her, and why would he care what she thinks?

She kept petting Ember. “…I’m all right,” she repeated, “but it wasn’t any fun.”

“Oh, well. Ah. I’m glad that you’re not hurt. And Chason wanted to find out if the map he made you was helping, and if you needed any help with classes or anything?”

She needed help in all her classes, but she wasn’t going to admit that to Heldira. “It’s a really nice map. I haven’t gone anywhere since he helped me get back here, though. But I’m already finding it educational.”

“Well, ah. Good! I remember when he drew the first one. This place really is a bit of a maze. So, well. Glad to hear you’re not too hurt. I’ll go let Chason know.”

Lorque saw her out and shut the door firmly behind her. “That,” she murmured, “was a little bit strange.”

From the sound of Ember’s growl, and a matching noise from under Lorque’s bed, everyone in the room agreed.

“So, she was clearly up to something.” Lorque sat down on Nilien’s bed with Chason’s map and her notebook. “But the question is, what?”

“Hoping to find me alone?” Nilien hazarded. “Or looking to do something to the room if we were at dinner? I should really check for another tracking spell.”

She petted Ember some more, both to calm it down and to focus herself, and studied her whole body with her magic sight. “Nothing. I suppose it would have been pretty obvious if she’d shown up and then poof, I had another tracking spell.”

“She doesn’t know that Ember can track magic, I assume.”

“I don’t know how she would, unless there’s listening spells, and she doesn’t have one of those on me. And I don’t think she has a way to listen to Ember’s communication, either. I don’t know if anyone does…?” She lifted her eyebrows at Lorque.

“Nobody does. There’s no way to do it, it’s just you and your familiar. I mean, they can mime, sure, but that went so well when Ember came to tell us where you were, and, besides, it’s not like Ember would intentionally tell anyone what was going on…”

“But familiars.” Nilien bit her lip. “Familiars are really important – of course you’re important, Ember – but I mean, to every Rune, right? So maybe we should find Heldira’s familiar. Neph… Nephrite. Little Nephrite, Chason said, so we’re looking for something small and green.”

“Well, that narrows it down.” Lorque made a note at the top of her page anyway, and then began sketching a copy of the map. “In the meantime, if you can coax Ember to do it, maybe you should try on the other end of the school and see if the ‘somewhere’ is more or less anywhere than it is there – don’t look at me like that.”

I will try, Ember allowed, but only two more times.

“Ember will give it another try.” Nilien petted Ember a little more. “So we’ve got to get through some classes, and we can start looking a little at a time once I can put weight on my feet again.” She sighed down at her ankles. “You were right, Ember,” she said, not for the first time, “I shouldn’t have just run like a madwoman.”

You were scared. Ember butted its head against her leg. It was understandable. Someone trying to drop trees on you is frightening

Nilien pulled Ember up in her arms and buried her face in her fur. “You made everything okay,” she told her fox. “Thank you.”

Everything wasn’t okay, not really. They still had to find the pendant. They still had to determine who was trying to kill her – and if Chason was involved, too. But she was willing to pretend for a minute.

The next few days of classes went by quickly. Nilien’s ankle and her scraped knees healed faster than she would have thought possible, but she took advantage of the few days of limping and discomfort to spend most of her free time sitting down, studying and catching up.

In her regular classes, she was nearly completely caught up. In her magic lessons, she was only beginning to scrape the surface of the process. She spent a lot of time grumbling in frustration, but made herself keep trying.

Not everything can come easily, Ember advised her on one particularly frustrating day. She showed considerable restraint in only dropping her pillow and blankets on top of the fox’s head.

As her ankle healed, she had more time to plan both the search for the pendant and the search for Heldira’s familiar. Ember’s attempts to locate the pendant only garnered the fox two more headaches and the general impression that the pendant was somewhere in a several-mile radius.

“So where’s your familiar?” she asked Chason, the next time he stopped in to see her. She had been showing him her additions – normal ones, not their plans to search for her pendant – on his map, and Ember had been helping by getting in the way and nosing at parts of the map.

“Oh, Maple-leaf’s a bit shy, prefers to stay hidden a lot of the time. See?” He reached down under the chair and pulled out a mustard-yellow rabbit, which immediately buried its nose in Chason’s shoulder. “It gets along okay with Heldira’s Nephrite and sometimes with Tarin’s familiar, but that’s about it. Doesn’t like people too much.”

A wise decision. Ember nosed curiously at the rabbit, which got it a nervous return sniff.

“Tarin’s familiar lives in the stable?” She remembered that from their conversation when she’d been “lost”. “There’s a really wide range of familiars, isn’t there? I found the aviary-”

“You really do like getting lost, don’t you?”

“Well, it happens a lot, at least. But I haven’t gotten lost in the stables yet.”

“They’re pretty nice, considering that the familiars housed there can voice their opinions of the situation. Tarin’s familiar Percivale – a deer – lives there, yeah, or at least sleeps there. Heldira’s got a badger that mostly stays in her room. Sharp, too. Not the friendliest of things, but then,” Chason smiled a little, “you’ve met Heldira. Sometimes it works out that way.”

So Heldira had a badger. That was good to know. She felt a little guilty – more than a little, if she was being honest – getting information out of Chason, but she still didn’t know if he was in on the tracking marks and everything else, either. “Ember’s pretty friendly with some people. Other times, I think it thinks it’s better than everyone.”

Well, Ember told her haughtily, I am.

Nilien wrapped up her conversation with Chason with a few more comments on the map and a couple additions from him, one “oh, have you found-” which led to her mentioning the garden – the outdoor one, not the secret one – Benoir had shown her, and both Chason’s addition, a small rare-books library addition, and Benoir’s courtyard made it onto the map.

She almost gave Chason a hug, but she didn’t know him all that well yet, and when she and Ember left him behind, she did check herself for tracking spells.

None. If Professor Vaudelle hadn’t confirmed both of the ones she’d found, Nilien might have begun to think she’d made them up.

Well, maybe it just meant that Chason wasn’t part of whatever Heldira was. She looked down at Ember. “So, I’m going to go tell Lorque what’s going on. Could you-”

-go get myself “lost” and see if I can find this green badger? If I get my nose clawed, I am going to be very annoyed with you.

“If you get your nose clawed, I will do my best to make it up to you. Would someone else’s familiar do that?”

They might. Would some other familiar’s human drop a tree on you?

“You have a point. A rather unpleasant point, but still a point.” Nilien hugged herself, suddenly chilly. “Thank you, Ember.”

I am your familiar. Ember looked haughty again. It is my job to make sure you don’t do anything too particularly stupid. In this case, that means exposing myself to the chance of a clawed snout.

“And I really appreciate it, Ember, I do.” She bent down to give Ember a warm hug. “Thank you.”

“Appreciate what?” She hadn’t heard Benoir coming up on them, but there he was, looking very curious to find her hugging her familiar in the middle of the hallway.

“Oh!” Nilien straightened up. “Saving my life. Twice, not, at the very least; Ember’s been amazing. Go on,” she told Ember, hoping she sounded casual enough. “I’ll catch up.”

“Twice? Oh, you’re not lost again, are you?” Benoir smiled crookedly, clearly teasing her. “Because if you are…”

“Oh, not this time.” Nilien started wandering towards the dorms while Ember trotted off ahead of them. “No, I was out in the woods this past weekend, that’s all, and I almost missed a tree falling on me. Ember warned me just in time.”

“That’s once.” His forehead furrowed. “That sounds horrible, though. A tree dropping on you?”

“It was pretty terrifying.” She kept up her casual stroll towards her dorm. By now, she could manage this much without the map – or a guide. “And Ember appearing, well, Ember always says it showed up because I wanted to live.”

“Oh! Right.” He slapped his hand to his forehead. “A Wild Rune! Right! Well, looks like you’ve got a very handy familiar there.”

“Yeah.” She kind of wished Ember could hear him, but Ember was out of sight, presumably going to find Heldira’s familiar. “I got really lucky, getting Ember.”

Nilien kept ambling towards her dorm room, and Benoir kept walking along with her. The company was nice, and she did feel a little strange about being out alone after having Ember at her side almost constantly.

But she couldn’t help fishing for more information, too. There was too much she didn’t know, and in this case, what she didn’t know might actually kill her. “Do you know anything about people — students — using tracking spells for pranks?” She glanced over at him, wondering if she’d be able to read anything in his expression.

All she got was confusion. “Tracking spells? Like ‘this is where Professor Chevlin is’ sort of spells? I haven’t heard of anyone using them for pranks — although that’s not a bad idea. Maybe the next time Heline is being far too full of herself, I can do something with that. Thanks!”

“You’re — well, you’re welcome, I suppose. So that’s not something people do normally?” Maybe they’d done so when Professor Vaudelle was a student here?

Benoir shook his head. “No, or, at least, I’ve never heard of it. The aviary people don’t tend to be so big on that sort of thing — pranks and everything — that’s more your people. No offense.”

“None taken. I haven’t pulled any pranks yet, at least not here.” Not for lack of trying, though.

“Yes.” He smirked at her. “I’ll keep that in mind, if I get a tracking spell on me mysteriously.”

“Oh, I can’t do anything like that yet.” She sighed. “I’m still at the learning-my-letters stage of study when it comes to magic. It’s going so slowly, too.”

“It goes slowly for everyone at first. Don’t worry, it’ll click eventually. And then there you are, seeing through walls accidentally and putting tracking spells on everyone.”

She did not want to know about seeing through walls accidentally — wait. Did she? Yes. “Oh! I should ask you — do you know any more,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “secret passages? There have to be other ways to get around this place, don’t there? Some of the public hallways are entirely counter-intuitive.”

“Do I?” He grinned at her. “Of course I do. Is that a map?” He looked at Chason’s map clutched in her hand. “I bet — here, yes. I can show you three passages just on this map, and there’s a lot missing here. Do you want to see them now?”

“There are more passages? Oh, that’s so neat!” Nilien bounced a little. “I’d like to see-” she really did have to get back to Lorque and tell her about Heldira’s familiar “-at least one, now? Maybe the rest when I have some more free time? I spend so much time just trying to get caught up,” she explained apologetically. “And that’s before the whole mess with magic!”

“You seem like you’re pretty bright. I’m sure you’ll pick it up quickly enough,” he assured her. “All right, let’s see. From here… we want to make a right at the next intersection.”

That would take her away from her dorm room, but there was a secret passage. Lorque could wait a little bit, right? “Here?” She turned right down a smaller hallway, one with plainer-looking doors spaced further apart than the hall they’d just been in.

“I don’t know what it used to be, but they use this one mostly for storage. The trick to this passageway is mostly not getting caught looking like you’re trying to sneak snacks.” He swung open a door, looked both ways, and gestured Nilien inside. They were in a dimly-lit room full of shelves, the shelves smelling faintly of cheese and herbs.

“I don’t know if they even know about it, but if we go down this row here and then, see this shelf? Run your hand along the middle of it until you feel a catch.”

The shelf seemed thicker than the others, and when Nilien ran her hand along the bottom of it, she found a small lever. “How did you even find this place?”

“Trying to sneak snacks and someone came in. I put my hand on the shelf when I was trying to duck down,” he admitted.

“Are all the passages you know in food-related places?” she teased. She pushed the little lever, and a panel behind Benoir clicked and swung a finger’s-width outward.

“Only most of them. Sometimes it’s like the aviary, a rather open secret. This one I haven’t even shown to anyone else.”

“I hope it doesn’t lead to another forbidden garden,” she teased.

“Not this one. You’re safe this time.” He pushed the door the rest of the way open to reveal a narrow staircases downward. “This one even has stairs.” He stepped in and down to demonstrate.

Nilien followed Benoir into the staircase and shut the door behind her – on this side, she noticed, it had a handle.

The stairwell didn’t have any lighting of its own, but Benoir pulled out a pocket torchh and switched it on with a flourish. It made for a spooky climb downwards, full of shifting shadows in the dim lighting.

Eventually, they reached the bottom of the stairs, and the passage they had been walking in opened up into a wider room. There were a couple shelves to one side, but the jars on them had a thick layer of dust, and spiderwebs joined the shelves to each other and to the wall.

​​Benoir shifted from foot to foot. “Well, when all you really want is a place to hide, it’s not bad.” He shone his torch around the area, lighting up the shelves. “It was a lot more useful my first couple years, before I found some of the other passages.”

Nilien gave the space another look. “Maybe there’s something interesting in a corner,” she offered. “Have you ever searched around down here?”

“Not more than enough to look for more doors,” he admitted. “I couldn’t find any, or any switches.”

“Well, let’s see.” She picked a corner and started looking around, only to be faced with even more spiderwebs. “It looks like they might have used this for more food storage? Or something. But who needs a secret room for food storage?”

“Well, maybe it was really expensive food? Or secret food? Magical food.” Benoir licked his lips. “I could stand a magical crumpet.”

“What, one that made you belch magic?”

“Or get really big or really small. You know, something out of the storybooks that doesn’t happen in real life.”

“That might be nice when trees are dropping on me,” Nilien admitted. She found a rag on one of the shelves and began pushing away the dust, more corralling it than removing it. After a moment, she pulled her hankie from her pocket and tied it over her nose and mouth. “There ought to be a spell for this.”

“Oh, I think there is, but- darn it, no. We learned it last year but I didn’t pay enough attention.”

“That’s all right. I can do a little dusting.” She moved things around as she encountered them: the dusty jar full of what looked like moving flowers, the old marbles, the textbooks from a bygone era. She arranged everything neatly on one shelf and vowed to herself to come back with some proper cleaning equipment – or someone who knew that cleaning spell – sometime when she had fewer pressing matters on her mind.

“Hey, look at this.” Benoir had been moving from shelf to shelf on the lower shelves, running his hands over them, presumably looking for another latch or lever. He held up a thin leather-bound book, tied up with a faded ribbon that might, at one point, have been red. “Wonder what it is?”

“Careful, it looks old.” Nilien untied the ribbon, only to have it break into three pieces in her hands.

“Careful,” Benoir teased, “it looks old.”

“Hush.” She was blushing, but the dim light of Benoir’s torch probably hid that fact. She opened the book much more carefully. “Oh, it’s a diary.” She peered at a date entry. “Well, I doubt they’re coming back for it. This was started over fifty years ago.“

“Well, maybe someone else came down here in search of snacks,” Benoir joked. “Do they say anything about any other passages?”

She closed the book carefully. “I’m going to have to look at it in proper light. But this place is definitely worth coming back to.”

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