9.8

Ember and Nilien scampered after Nilien’s pencil, but it had rolled out of sight.

No, not just out of sight, Nilien realized. They combed the immediate area, Nilien sitting down on the floor ungracefully to get a better view, and they could see no place the floor sloped, no crevices, nothing.

“You know,” she muttered at Ember, “A place where there’s a lack of surprising holes or passages is a little suspect in this place.”

That, Ember informed her haughtily, is just ridiculous. The lunch room has no surprising holes or passages.

“That we’ve found yet. This area of floor, we can be absolutely certain about. We combed every bit of it. There’s not even a loose stone.”

If I were building a secret passage, there would be no loose stones. You would have to know of its existence to discover it. That is a proper secret passage. Ember was still sniffing the floor, but managed to add a mental sniff of disdain to the comment at the same time.

“If I were building them, they’d be less dingy. More like the garden one,” she admitted. “Or they would be actual short-cuts, instead of taking one out of one’s way. So, there is no secret passage here, or there is one that is invisible, but a pencil would hardly know how to get through a passage, now would it?”

It would have to be a very clever pencil, Ember allowed. And I do not believe that your pencil is imbued with brilliance merely because you made it light.”

“…Was that a pun?”

I do not know what you are talking about. Ember looked away, but its tail was high and it looked pleased. Anyway, the pencil was here and it is not. Get off the floor before someone sees you. They may think you’ve fallen again.

“That’s bad?” Nilien took the fox’s advice – followed its order, she supposed – and stood back up. “I mean, I have had a few close calls…”

We do not want people thinking too much about that. There are reasons. Ember looked back at Nilien and sniffed again. Besides, humans are not made for floors. You look silly down here, like a fox on two legs. It lifted itself up onto its hind legs and took a few prancing steps by way of demonstration.

“You’re so flattering.” She smoothed her skirt down over her knees and politely did not point out how ridiculous the fox looked like that. “So then, where did my pencil go? It’s not here anymore, and it didn’t fall down a crack…”

A very good question indeed. It is not on the ceiling or stuck into some other poor familiar, is it?

“I dropped a ball on you! Not a pencil! Nothing stuck into you!” Nilien looked up anyway, to see nothing but more ceiling. “No. It is not on the ceiling.”

Then I suppose we must look other ways. Ember put its nose back down to the ground and sniffed. I can smell magic. It is not That Person With The Awful Familiar’s magic.

“No?” Nilien assumed Ember must mean Heldira and her badger. “Then whom?”

I… don’t know. But there is definitely magic here.

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