8.9

“Do you think they’ll all come?”

Nilien didn’t mean to be nervous, but people had been so strange here. She was pacing back and forth in the small space between her bed and Lorque’s. “Do you think they’ll like it?”

“We wouldn’t have asked if we didn’t think they’d like it,” Lorque pointed out, “and if they don’t come, it’s their loss.”

Unless Chason was telling Heldira all about it. For the fourth time that evening, Nilien looked herself over for tracking spells. Nothing.

“You know, you can wear yourself out doing too much of that,” Lorque pointed out. “Besides, you look like you’re trying to see if your skirt is tucked up into your waistband. Which it’s not.”

“Oh, hush, you, I’m just worried. There’s no point having a secret hide-out-”

“-If the person trying to kill you follows you in. But- Oh!” A knock at the door interrupted Lorque. “Someone…” She swung open the door to reveal their guests, all three of them. “Well, that’s convenient.”

“We ran into each other coming here.” Riva was nearly bouncing with excitement. Next to her, Augustin looked even less contained. They were never going to be able to keep this a secret.

“I was trying something with a draft of my map,” Chason admitted. “Nilien got me excited about playing with making it usable for any new students, and I wanted to see the best route from dorm-area to dorm-area. I skipped the birds for now, but that found me Augustin and Riva.”

“This map is turning into quite the project.” Lorque shot him a contemplative look.

Chason didn’t seem to notice. “I like projects. Maybe I’ll make it magical for my final thesis.”

“And you can put the-” Augustin lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper “secret rooms on it. Hey!” He looked down at Ember very deliberately bit his trouser leg. “Your fox…!”

Bit his trousers, Ember pointed out primly. To remind him not to give away secrets.

“Ember says ‘shh’,” Nilien translated. “Besides, your pants are fine. Shall we go look at the Book Room?”

Despite rolling her eyes at Augistin’s excitement, Nilien found herself very excited as they neared the room. This really was just like a spy novel!

She snuck them into the supply room and, from there, waited until they were all quiet to open the door. Down they went, Lorque’s pocket torches lighting the way.

“Wow,” Riva murmured. “This place really needs a bookshelf and some lanterns and some chairs and maybe a carpet. I think I have a lantern and a carpet to spare.”

“It’s a real secret room!” Augustin wandered around touching things. “It’s a real secret room.

“This is wonderful,” Chason whispered, still on the stairs. “Now I’ll have something to be cryptic about, when Heldira starts talking about her secret meetings.”

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