6.6

“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.

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