“I think…” Nilien focused on the wall for a minute. When you actually got through all the dirt, there was surprisingly nice wood panelling behind it. “Well, I think this place is going to be pretty if we get a few lamps and a couple chairs down here. A very nice hide-out, though sneaking chairs down might be tricky.”

“We just need a secret club to have secret meetings in our secret hide-out,” Lorque giggled. “Did you know there’s marble down here on the floor? Some sort of mosaic. I’m not sure what yet, but it’s going to need more water than we brought down. We should get Benoir down here to help us clean.”

“Only if there’s snacks. This is his snack-hiding-place.”

“I can tell from the crumbs. He’s lucky there aren’t mice down here.”

There is no place for mice to get in, opined Ember. It is too tightly built.

Nilien eyed Ember. “You know, if it didn’t involve horrid familiars…”

No more badger. Ember sat down firmly on a clean spot and looked as if it would not move without considerable force being applied.

“How about bunnies? If you were just looking to see what Chason was doing…”

You do not want to ask?

“Asking really hasn’t done all that well for me so far…”

“Do we sound like that?” Lorque asked – presumably asking River. A moment later, she chuckled. “All right, but I’ve had you longer, too.”

Nilien chuckled, embarrassed. “Sorry. Ember is hassling me about not asking directly.”

“Well, if you’re determined that he’s not in on it, ‘so, do you just have bad taste in friends?” is probably not the most friendly thing to ask,” Lorque admitted. “Are you thinking of having Ember spy on him?”

“I think so. It’s risky – he might notice, which might make him cranky – but I think I’ll get more information that way.” She reached over and petted Ember behind the ears with a mostly dry hand. “And his familiar is a rabbit, so there’s far less actual risk. No nasty badgers to attack Ember.”

Unless he is spending time with Heldira, who might be spending time with her familiar, Ember muttered darkly. I will go watch this boy of yours. But if I am bit, I am not talking to you for weeks. Weeks!

“Thank you, Ember.”

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