8.10

Nilien turned around to stare at Chason.

Somewhere behind her and off to her left, she could see Lorque, already taking the role of hostess for Riva, doing the same thing.

“Who?” Augustin was still a little behind on things.

Perhaps you should fill him in. Perhaps… he should fill you in.

That was not one of Ember’s more helpful comments.

“Secret meetings?” Lorque managed before Nilien had really quite sorted out the pronouns in Ember’s suggestion.

“What sort of secret meetings?” Riva put in, before correcting herself. “No, of course, if they were secret, you wouldn’t know much about them, and if you knew much about them, they wouldn’t be secret.”

Riva had clearly been taking lessons from Ember in direct and non-cryptic speech.

“Shhh,” Augustin hissed. “Forget about them, we’re supposed to be secret. Come on, we need to get the door closed.” He pushed passed Chason and pulled the door closed with a click. “Now. There’s more secret meetings around here?”

“Well, you can’t be the only one who found hidden rooms,” Chason pointed out. “This place looks clean – does anyone else use it?”

“Benoir found it for me,” Nilien admitted, “but it was filthy. We’re the only ones who’ve been in here since.” She wasn’t certain nobody else had, but nothing had been moved. “But it’s not the only secret room or secret passage or anything like that. Is that where Heldira’s secret group meets?”

“I don’t know,” Chason admitted. “I don’t know much about it, but I do know she wanders off, cryptic and strange, every so often. She’s going to meet some ‘friends’, as if we didn’t know all her friends in the school.”

“That sounds a little suspicious.” Lorque sounded more than a little suspicious. Was she going to upset Chason, after all this?

“Oh, it’s a little strange. I think she does it just to get to me, sometimes. Nobody else we know has any idea what she’s doing, either, and it isn’t any sort of Academy-associated club or anything.” He sat down on the stairs. “This clubhouse needs some chairs. I know a place I can grab a few; I’ll bring some next time.”

“We haven’t had much chance to furnish it surreptitiously yet,” Nilien admitted. She didn’t want to talk about chairs; she wanted to know about Heldira. “She doesn’t just say ‘off to the secret club now,’ does she?”

“Oh,” Chason chuckled, “no, not at all. She’s never said it’s a club. I’m not even sure it is, and certainly I don’t know if it’s organized, like this. It’s more like, ‘oh, it’s time for me to go meet with those friends of mine. I’ll see you later, off with me’.” He shifted his voice into what she imagined was a parody of Heldira, minced and nasal, with a waving hand like a duchess. “And then she smiles like she knows something I don’t – which I suppose she must – and off she goes. I’ve never managed to follow her, so she might have her own secret room. But that’s less exciting that this.” He looked around the small space. “Because this is all ours!”

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