“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.

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