6.8

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.

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