8.6

“Hey! I’m nice” The voice came from behind Lorque and Nilien and, as one, they tensed and turned around. Not Istore, not Istore… Chason was looking indignantly at them.

Phew.

“We were saying Istore wasn’t – coming up right behind you,” Lorque ended unhappily. “Hi, Istore, did you get that math problem figured out?”

“I did. What’s wrong with you? You look like you just ate a lemon.”

“He’s friendly, isn’t he?” Chason commented dryly. “No fox today?”

“No? Oh! No, Ember said something about exploring. It doesn’t have to go to classes.” Nilien smiled nervously. “Come on, we don’t want to keep Istore from lunch; the three-”

“Ahem.”

“Four? Five of us can go talk in the hallway.” At least then she could put her back to the wall and not have someone sneak up on her.

“What are you up to?” Istore glared at her.

“Oh, Chason’s been really helpful lately and I want to ask him some questions about the map he drew me. It’s helping me a lot, with being new, being a Wild Rune and all.” Nilien felt like she was laying it on a little thick, but all it did was make Istore turn a strange color.

Maybe he really had been listening to Lorque.

“We’ll be right back,” she assured Istore. “I just don’t want to block the walkway here.”

Out they went, Chason giving her a strange but amused look the whole time. “I know I heard you say my name,” he insisted, once they were in a relatively quiet spot.

“We did,” Nilien agreed, “but we weren’t talking about you not being nice. We were talking about Istore. He’s definitely not nice – well,” she added, in fairness and to make Istore’s friends happy, “he actually seems to be getting better. But that’s, well, nobody said you weren’t nice! You made me a map.”

“I did. I’m glad you don’t think I need to learn to be nice; I work very hard at it.” He grinned at her widely. “These are your friends?”

“This is Lorque, she’s my roommate and my friend, and these are Riva and Augustin. We were just talking about… about people that we like in the school?” she offered, knowing it sounded a little weak.

“Oh yeah? Sounds like a fun list.”

Maybe she should just go ahead and tell Chason now? She looked at Lorque, who shrugged a little, and at Riva, who looked doubtful. Augustin just looked confused by the whole matter.

None of them were going to be any help at all. And where was Ember?

Post frequency update

Sooo y’all might’ve noticed how it’s been a crazy erratic posting schedule around here lately. I want to apologize for that, first; can’t go into details without going into My Personal Life but I have been dropping the ball a lot.

That, plus talking to Lyn a bit about her own writing commitments, has led to a change of plans!

We are going to be shifting the posting schedule to M-Th-S, with polls open for 24 hours after each one. Each update will be a little longer – but not that much longer. Originally they were supposed to average about 400 words per update, but Lyn consistently writes 500+ half the time…

Anyway, sorry for the generally low level of content lately. Hopefully this’ll help!

8.5

Nilien smiled at Augustin and Riva as they came towards her. She had a secret! A secret that had nothing to do with her being a Wild Rune, or with someone trying to kill her! She found her smile growing wider and wider. They were almost here. She rose up on the balls of her feet and dropped down before she drew too much attention to herself. The last thing she wanted was Thesri getting wind of this.

“What is it?” Riva asked, the moment she was close. “Did they catch the – the culprit?”

“What culprit?” Augustin asked. Riva flushed and stammered.

Lorque filled in quickly. “Oh, someone stole a necklace from Nilien’s dresser. We didn’t really want anyone to know, because if they don’t know we know it’s missing, then they might get sloppy and wear it or something.”

“Oh! I hope it wasn’t an heirloom.”

He looked so sincere, Nilien felt bad lying to him. “No, it was something from my old school. Just a trinket one of my friends gave me.” And there, if anyone was listening in, then they might think she was foolish and hadn’t noticed that it had markings on it like her Rune.

She was beginning to feel like she was in some sort of spy novel, but she wasn’t particularly good at it. More like she’d slipped into the pages by accident while the real heroine was off changing hats or something.

“So you didn’t find… your necklace?” Riva sounded disappointed.

“No, not yet,” Nilien admitted. “Nobody really thinks it’s a priority.” And that was true of both the necklace and the thing they weren’t talking about. Maybe she didn’t need to go find the heroine and drag her back, hat or not, after all. “But I did find – or was shown, I suppose – something interesting. And Lorque and I,” she confided as they sat down, “we’re thinking of forming a very small, exclusive club.”

“How exclusive?” Augustin leaned forward, excited. He definitely did not belong in a spy novel, except perhaps as the clumsy sidekick.

It might be nice to have a sidekick, Nilien considered.

“I have this secret room that Lorque and I have been looking into sprucing up, and we thought that perhaps we could have a little club, the two of us, the two of you, and Chason.”

“Chason,” Riva sighed. “Of course. But not Istore?”

“No.” Lorque beat Nilien to it. “Not until he learns to be nice.”

8.4

Nilien was drawing in the margins of her notes.

It wasn’t a boring class, and she really ought to be focusing, but she kept thinking about Ember, and Ember Spying on Chason.

Chason. She bit her lip and stared at her notes for a moment until she got her feelings and thoughts under control. He was nice. She didn’t want him to be involved in any of this mess! She didn’t want him to think she was a horrid spying untrusting sneak, either.

She managed to haul her mind back to mathematics for a few minutes. Now that she was caught up, it was a great deal of fun, and she was learning things they had never covered in her old school. Even if the magic was still hard and frustrating, the rest of the academics at Reinmonte were wonderful.

She found herself writing Secret Hang-Out Club? in her margins. Lorque and she had gone back and forth for a while before deciding on their list of potential Hang-Out friends. They had both done a little foot-stomping, until River and Ember had gotten involved (Ember said its ears hurt; River just looked exasperated).

They’d ended up agreeing on Chason only after both of them had been headbutted by both familiars, with the obvious caveat that if Ember discovered that Chason was evil, or in cahoots with evil knowingly, then they weren’t going to invite him to their secret club. On the other hand, they’d managed to agree to exclude Istore until he stopped calling Nilien a Weed or asking her if she had decided to go wild yet – mostly, Nilien was fairly certain – because Lorque was both embarrassed about and angry at her friend for acting like that.

Class ended with a final problem she’d totally missed. Flushing, Nilien stood up and found Lorque. “Did you-”

“I caught a glance at you and wrote down everything. Worried?”

“I’m always worried,” Nilien sighed. “What if Ember really gets hurt this time?”

“Ember will be fine. You know most of it last time was whining.” Lorque took her arm and steered her towards the cafeteria. “Come on. If we hurry, we can ask Auqustin about the – the secret – before Istore is done bothering the professor about that last math problem. Oh, don’t look like that! You’re going to be fine. It wasn’t even a hard problem. Here, look, there’s Augustin and Riva.”

8.3

“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.”

8.2

“I like him, though.” Nilien sighed. “I don’t know. Why’s he friends with her, anyway? Even he says she’s as prickly as her badger.” She had put off the wet-mopping as long as she could; she dipped her rag in the warm soapy water and started washing.

“Well, maybe he just has really bad taste in people. I mean, I think he’s a lousy judge of character, but what are his other friends like?”

“I only met one other one. Tarin. He was a boy in a skirt, and he didn’t talk much at all. He didn’t make much of an impression. And then Heldira. Maybe she’s nice when she’s not being a possible-murderer.” She considered. “Maybe Heldira really isn’t a possible-murderer and she just has bad taste in strange magic spells. Maybe,” she added, less happily, “she just hates Wild Runes. That wouldn’t even be all that unusual around here.” She scrubbed at the wall more intently, as if she could wash off the nasty feeling. Maybe she could, with enough soap and water.

“Well, it’s not like you want to be friends with someone who hates Wild Runes, Lorque pointed out. “You don’t even really talk to Istore, and he’s really trying to be better.” The sloshing sounds indicated Lorque was doing some washing, too.

“You’re right. But I don’t think Chason hates Wild Runes. I hope he doesn’t.”

“So he’s a decent person who just has lousy taste in friends, then? That’s not a lot better.”

Perhaps he is just a very good liar. Someone is clearly lying to someone. Ember pulled something from the corner of the room and dropped it in a pile of detritus. Aside from you, who are lying to many people. I am glad you are not lying to Lorque. Are you?

“I’m not lying to Lorque! I’m not lying to… well, I’m not lying much to anyone.”

You are lying enough. Perhaps Chason is not the one with bad taste in friends. Ember looked far too pleased with itself.

Nilien sighed. “My familiar is calling me a liar. But… really. Maybe he has his reasons. Maybe she’s secretly a very nice person?” She stared at the wall. Even clean, it was not all that attractive.

“-who might be trying to kill you?” The splish-splashing seemed to be getting louder.

“Maybe she’s a secretly horribly bad person who just pretends to be a very nice person?” she tried again. This was more housework than she had ever done in her life. She found it rather cathartic. “I don’t know. Maybe she’s a very good liar, too.”

“Well, maybe you should find out. Find out why he’s her friend, I mean. If you want to stay friends with him – and I don’t think it’s a brilliant idea – you ought to at least know if you can sort of trust him in a pinch.”

8.1

“…And then he helped me with my homework.” Nilien’s voice was a little muffled, because she’d tied a cloth over her face to avoid breathing in the worst of the dust in the secret room, but from the snort on the other side of the shelving, Lorque had understood her just fine.

“So he might talk to Heldira, but he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with her, except that she might be a little prickly. So he’s not a good judge of character. He thinks that you’re overreacting, like pretty much everyone here except us, but he thinks that it’s horrid that you might be in trouble. And, oh, Thesri gossips a lot. We knew that part already.”

“I don’t mind the gossip. At least Thesri is checking it out to make sure the facts are correct, even if nobody believes those facts. I’m just, well.” She focused on a spiderweb just out of reach for a moment, finally wrapping a rag around a stick to get at the corner. “I’m worried about what happens once he talks to Heldira.”

“Because she might convince him you’re crazy, or because then she might know that you know about the tracking spells?”

“Mostly the latter. I don’t think that he’s going to think I’m crazy.” She knocked down several spider webs and brushed the dust out of her hair. “I’m pretty sure he’s not going to think I’m crazy,” she clarified. “But Heldira’s his friend, and he’s not going to believe me over her when it comes to an actual threat assessment.”

“So you’re worried about both. That he’s going to think you lied or maybe just exaggerated, and Heldira’s going to know that you’re on to her.” Lorque clucked. “He’s just bad news.”

“At least he doesn’t think I’m a Weed,” Nilien muttered. “Or, if he does, he’s polite enough not to say it.”

“Nillien! Nobody’s calling you a weed.”

“That’s not true and you know it! I mean, you don’t, Riva doesn’t, although she’s read about people like me in a book. But people do. Chason doesn’t.” She wiped a smear through the dust on the wall. “At least, not to my face. What am I going to do to, Lorque?”

“Hope he doesn’t tell her? Hope that it really is a massive misunderstanding and she just has a bad sense of humor?”

And a very bad familiar, Ember added, from its perch on the stairs.

“I don’t know, Nilien. I’m sorry, but maybe he’s just not a good person to be friends with, when his friend might be trying to kill you.”

7.13

Chason looked startled. “I mean… if you need help finding your way around the school, or, uh, making things shiny, I’m your guy. If you need to know the shortest route to classes from your dorm or where to catch a nap without anyone noticing – that’s me. This sounds like it’s something to ask the teachers about.”

“I’ve tried.” Nilien made an effort not to sound too frustrated. “They don’t believe there’s any real danger, even when they know that someone tried to kill me back home. Or they act like it’s none of my business. It’s my life!” Some of her irritation came bubbling out and her voice rose. “It’s hard for something to be more my business than my own life is!”

“They don’t have anything useful to say?” He frowned. “That’s unusual. But if they don’t, I really don’t know what to tell you. Like I said, I can help you with the map. But I can’t really help with, well, assassins.”

She flopped back against her chair. “I don’t really expect you to be able to,” she admitted. “but I’m out of people to ask, except, well, I suppose I could write to the police.” She wrinkled her nose. “They’d probably say I was better off out of it, too.”

Ember nuzzled against her legs. There are still other adults, it suggested. Or maybe, Chason can help with other things?

She looked down at her familiar and giggled a little, helplessly. “Ember thinks I should ask you for help with my homework, I think.”

“As long as it’s not mathematics. Or chemistry. Those aren’t really my favorite subjects. But magic, I could help with your magic homework. Or literature. I’m pretty good at those.” He gave her a crooked smile. “Or just following you around to make sure you don’t get into trouble by accident.”

“Mostly that’s what Ember does,” Nilien admitted. “Follows me around and gets me out of trouble. But I wouldn’t say no to some homework help.”

“Cool. What are you working on now in Literature?”

“The Ballad of Sir Malloric.” Nilien pulled her notes out of her bag. “I was fine with most of it, but Professor Barnifor’s interpretation of the symbolism has me a little lost.”

“Oh, well, Professor Barnifor is like that. You have to remember that he’s ninety years old, and sometimes his ideas are twice that age or more.”

end chapter

7.12

Nilien looked down at Ember, then looked back at Chason, and then back at Ember, and sighed. This was going to be tricky. She took a breath, thought about what she was going to say, and discarded several ideas.

I think your friend is trying to kill me seemed like a very bad idea.

“So,” she cleared her throat, “have there been any rumors about why I’m a Wild Rune?”

Ember looked up at her. Because I heard you. It said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

She leaned down and patted it between the ears.

“Well, lots of speculation, but the only one actually saying anything is Thesri, and nobody is really quite sure about those rumors.”

“Thesri’s… well, I can’t speak for what Thesri is saying now, but we did have a conversation about it. Someone tried to kill me – poison me – and, well, I turned into a Wild Rune. Ember heard me, it says, and here I am.” She petted the fox a little more. “I don’t know why, I don’t know if they’re going to try again, but the police were all over my old dorm, looking for – well, something, I suppose – and I don’t think they’ve found it – or the killer – yet. So I may seem like I’m overreacting to everything, and, I don’t know, maybe I am.” She sighed and leaned back in the chair. The number of people who didn’t believe there was a threat was starting to get to her. “But I think I have reason to be, at the very least, concerned.”

“Someone was really trying to kill you?” His eyes were wide. “Wow, I didn’t think – well, I didn’t think that, at least. That’s awful!”

“Someone tried to poison me. Everyone keeps telling me it’s safe here, but it was supposed to be safe back home, too.” She looked up at him. He didn’t seem like he doubted her about that, at least.

“That’s really awful.” If anything, he looked horrified. “I’m sorry.

“Do you think — I mean, I don’t think anyone trying to kill me will wandering around talking about it, but if you see anything, could you tell me or Ember, please? And… is there anything you think I should do?” She sighed. “I’m all out of ideas.”

7.11

I’ll talk to her. All of the ways that could go horribly, horribly wrong went through Nilien’s mind all at once. She swallowed. “I appreciate it, I do, but, ah, please, be careful? I’m not sure just talking to her is the best idea, or I would have done it myself.”

“Oh, but Heldira’s my friend. I’m sure whatever’s going on is just a misunderstanding, or something about her particularly prickly – well, everything, but sense of humor, in this case.”

“It’s not – I don’t think she’d going to hurt you, I’m just worried.” Nilien fiddled with her skirt and tried to come up with a way to phrase her concerns that didn’t involve the words someone is trying to kill me.

She looked down at Ember, hoping for some guidance or advice. The fox looked up at her. She’ll come up with something else if she knows about the tracking spells?

It was actually a really good point. “The thing is,” she offered carefully, “I know how to find the tracking spells. The ones she’s been using, at least. I – I’m not very good at magic, remember?” She hated admitting that, hated even thinking it, even though everyone else seemed to think it was perfectly normal. “I can do about three things, and one of them is locating those spells. If she knows I can find them, if she’s doing something – anything – for a reason, she’s going to come up with something I can’t find. And I already spend far too much time bothering Professor Vaudelle.”

“It’s not bothering if they’re helping you. That’s what they’re here for. And you’re the only Wild Rune we have, so it make sense that they’d spend the most time with you.”

“I suppose that’s fair, but sometimes it seems like other students must need help, too. I can’t be the only slow one…”

“You’re not slow. You’re just a few years behind in classes. You wouldn’t expect to walk into calculus when you’d never cracked a math book, would you?”

“No,” Nilien admitted slowly, “but I’ve always learned quickly.”

“You can already spot a tracking spell. That’s pretty quick.” He frowned, having clearly been reminded of the thread of the conversation. “I really can’t imagine Heldira doing anything to hurt you. She might be prickly and hard to get to know, but she’s not a bad person.” He looked at Nilien’s face — at the face she was trying to keep all her doubt off of — and sighed. “I’ll try to be subtle. But I bet it’s just her idea of a prank, or a welcome-to-Reinmonte.” He smiled sidelong at her. “So, ah. Welcome to Reinmonte.”

Most welcomes, Ember offered snidely, do not involve murder attempts.