Chapter 9

Chason was shaking his head, and he had gotten half to his feet. “You guys don’t know her at all. I don’t know how you can think that she’d be in any way involved with something like hurting another student! I mean, really.”

“Chason-” Nilien began.

Lorque talked right over her. “Just listen for a minute, okay? When Nilien went out to the woods, she had a tracking spell on her that she knew was there. She thought maybe she could – find out more about who was tracking her. But then Ember saw someone, and the tree fell almost on top of her!”

“Wait, what?” Augustin frowned. “She what?”

“She what?” Chason repeated. “Even if it was just someone setting you up for some sort of silly prank – okay, those sorts of things happen. They’re ridiculous and sometimes people get a little hurt, but they do happen – but if something like that was going on, it was really, really silly to go out into the woods on your own with a known tracking spell on you!”

Nilien wasn’t sure which she preferred, people not believing she’d been in danger, or people scolding her for getting herself into a dangerous spot. She thought, if she were being honest, she preferred to hear neither of them.

She cleared her throat. “I know it was a bit extreme,” she allowed, “but I didn’t want to be the sort of pushover that just waits for things to happen to me.”

“Well, I suppose you didn’t wait for a tree to almost fall on you, then! And you think Heldira was behind this somehow?”

“The tracking spells were hers. I don’t know where she was at that time – I can’t do spells well enough to do a tracking spell, even if I wanted to-” She was going to be depressed about that for a while, she though. It would be nice to be at a magic school and able to actually do magic.

That wasn’t the point right now. She mentally shook herself. “I don’t know where Heldira was,” she repeated herself, “but I do know that she set the tracking spells. They all smell like the same person’s magic to Ember, and they do keep coming back.”

“I don’t know,” Chason frowned. “This is all really excessive. We’re students.”

“And I’m a student because someone tried to kill me!”

“And,” Lorque added, “you said yourself, Heldira is part of some secret thing outside of school.”

“This is all so…” Chason frowned. “I don’t know, cloak-and-dagger? I mean, assassination attempts, people sneaking around tracking down other people, suspecting other students… what next? Are we going to have some sort of conspiracy? Teachers whispering in the hallways? Secret cabals?”

“Technically,” Augustin pointed out helpfully, “aren’t we a secret cabal?”

“Well, we’re a book club,” Riva offered, “but… we’re a secret book club. And it sounds like we’re not the only secret club in the school. I wonder if everyone has their own secret club? Maybe Thesri does too, a secret club full of gossip.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting in on that club,” Lorque admitted. “Maybe then I’d have a bit better idea what was going on around here.”

“No,” Riva countered, “you’d just know who was wandering off into the trees with whom and who, perhaps, had come wandering out of the trees all banged up. And that last bit is only because Thesri’s already taken an interest in Nilien, so you’d already know all of it anyway.”

Chason was watching all of this like a tennis match. At the last, he snorted a bit. “Thesri imagines more information than Thesri actually knows. You wouldn’t get all that much new information from quizzing Thesri, at least not accurate information.”

Ember studied Chason from its perch. Funny he thinks about secret cabals but doesn’t think about the other one he’s admitted to, the fox pointed out.

Nilien gave the fox a thoughtful look. “Thesri’s imaginary secret cabal aside — and ours — there is Heldira’s secret meetings. She might not be any danger herself, but what about her friends? I hate to harp on this, I really do, but—”

“Someone tried to kill you.” Chason frowned. “It’s so much easier to think of this as some sort of ridiculous joke than to consider it actually happening, here, in Reinmont. I mean — we’re safe here. We’re supposed to be safe here. All of these magic-using teachers, and all of us, the students, our familiars — it should be safe.”

“It should be safe,” Lorque agreed. “So, maybe your friend isn’t actually doing anything, I can believe that. She might be completely on the up-and-up. But if she has secret friends, don’t you think that maybe, possibly, people like that could be doing something a little questionable?”

“Or they could just be meeting to have a secret society and talk about books,” Augustin interjected plaintively. “Like us.”

“We’ll talk about books soon,” Riva soothed. “Here, come over here and tell me about that book you were reading.” She gestured to the rest of them to continue as she led her friend to a corner of their hide-away.

“They could be,” Lorque agreed unwillingly. She shifted her frown suddenly to a smile. “If they are, maybe they know about where to find other secret groups, and maybe one of those are the people we’re looking for. You could find that out, couldn’t you, Chason? Just if they’re, ah. If they’re dangerous or if they know dangerous people?”

“I could do that,” Chason agreed slowly. “They might know someone helpful.”

I knew he was going to be good, Ember declared smugly.

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