7.1

“Then we went down into these stairs hidden behind a storage shelf, and there was a hidden room back there.” Nilien took out her map and marked the location, then pulled out another piece of paper and began making more notes. “So there’s the hidden garden up in the Aviary-”

“What?” Lorque leaned forward. “Hidden room?”

“Oh! Benoir almost got me in a lot of trouble; there’s a passage, here,” she noted, “a ladder down that leads to a secret magical garden. It’s really nice, but I guess it’s forbidden. Doctor Alaroq was there.”

“You saw the doctor? You got seen by the doctor?” Lorque’s eyes were huge.

“No, no, it’s just that we heard people talking, and when the doctor was taking care of my ankle,” she stuck out her ankle and rotated it, “I recognized the voice.”

“Oh! Oh, well, that’s okay, then. So there’s that passage, and then there’s this one Benoir showed you today. Anything good there?”

“Just this,” she showed Lorque the journal. “It doesn’t look all that exciting, but it’s old, which is kind of neat. Like reading your great-grandmother’s letters. But it could be a great hiding place with a little bit of work.”

“You’ve only been here a few weeks and you’re having all the fun.” Lorque smiled sidelong at Nilien. “Maybe I ought to start following you around, so that I can… protect you, that’s it, protect you.”

“Well, I do seem to get into a number of scrapes. Oh! Heldira’s familiar is a badger. Ember went looking for it, just as Benoir showed up.”

“Again, you have all the interesting things, although ‘a number of scrapes’ isn’t quite how I’d describe someone trying to drop a tree on you. Did you make it out of your secret-passage exploration without another tracking spell?”

Nilien stilled and pulled on her magic, before she remembered that Ember was quite a ways away. “I’ll have to wait until Ember gets back. I hope so, though. I’d hate to have given away Benoir’s best hiding spot just because I happen to be being tracked by a creep.”

“Maybe you ought to ask her why she’s tracking you.”

Nilien frowned. “For one, I’d have to admit that I knew she was tracking me, so we’d lose any aspect of surprise.”

“The last time we tried to surprise them, someone dropped a tree on you.”

“I know. But, well. If she’s not doing it and Ember was wrong-” she whispered the last part as if Ember could hear her “-or if she is but for some benign reason, well.” She looked away. “Chason’s nice. And I don’t want to alienate him if turns out that Heldira isn’t part of anything malicious.”

“Someone dropped a tree on you! I’d say there’s some malice involved!”

“Well, it wan’t Heldira. We know that much. And I suppose there’s still a chance it was an accident…”

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