7.7

Lorque brought her copy of Chason’s map, which was quickly growing full of notes and annotations. Nilien felt like she was in some sort of mystery story, sneaking through the halls trying to look ordinary.

Because of that, and because of the notes they were making on the map, they took longer than they might have, stopping to chat about trivial things whenever someone passed them and making hurried notes on anything Chason’s map didn’t already have on it.

They got to the passageway in due time. “Benoir says,” Nilien whispered, “the trick is to not look like you’re sneaking snacks.” They slipped into the room, which still smelled very much like a food storage room.

“I can’t imagine why he’d be suspected of that here,” Lorque muttered sarcastically. “There’s so many other reasons for a student to be in a supply room.”

“Well, I suppose they could be making murderous plans or coming up with some sort of prank,” Nilien pointed out cheerfully.

Are there things to eat here? Ember nuzzled her leg. Or a passage? Or shall we stand and talk until we’re found and haven’t even snuck a snack for our trouble?

“Ember says we should get on with it.” Nilien slipped over to the door and reached for the switch. “It’s right under… here. Pocket torch?”

“Here we go.” Lorque shone the light down the stairs. “Oh, this is creepy.” She sounded delighted. “What’s down there?”

“Well, go on down. I’m right behind you.” Nilien pulled the door shut behind them and made her way slowly down the stairs, Ember bumping against her ankles and knees at inappropriate moments.

“This could be so neat!” Lorque started poking around immediately. “I mean, it needs some proper light, of course, and a very thorough cleaning, but it could be a great place to hide out.”

Nilien sat down on the stairs with her homework and Lorque’s second pocket torch. There was something delightful, she had to admit, about even just doing one’s homework in a secret room. They could be caught! They could get in trouble!

Getting in trouble seemed far more thrilling than worrisome when there were people trying to kill her. She wrote her notes, pretending she was hiding out from some angry creature that was right at the door, while Lorque poked around in the corners of the room.

“Oh, these jars are pretty vile,” Lorque called out, and, a few minutes later, “does anyone still use pens like this? I think my grandfather had one.” Several minutes after that, she said, with some surprise, “marbles! I can’t imagine some child down here playing marbles, can you? It’s so dark…”

Marbles, Nilien almost wrote in her homework, and laughed. “Maybe they had a lamp?”

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