10.1

Ember and Nilien had been going back and forth about magic since they lost her pencil. Ember was of the opinion that Nilien ought to be cagey about what she told Lorque, while Nilien was of the opinion that Lorque was going to notice her being cagey, considering Nilien was not all that good at being sneaky at all.

By the time they got to the dining hall, they had agreed – well, they hadn’t really agreed so much as Nilien had declared that she was just going to ask people. Ember, of course, thought that was an awful idea, but Ember did not have to attempt to lie to its friends.

(Did familiars have friends? Nilien wondered who she could. Probably not Ember…)

She was feeling a little nervous as she sat down next to Lorque, and she was certain it showed. She poked at her food with a fork. “Do you know how you can see some magic things, some spells?” she asked Lorque. “Not like identifying, well, poison,” she whispered that part, “but how I can see the tracking spells?”

“Magic sight, yeah.” Lorque nodded. “Are you still working on that in your magic class?”

It was nice of Lorque to pretend it was just another session of magic class. “No, we moved on to moving objects today.” She lifted her fork with a very careful application of magic to show them.

Careful, Ember couldn’t seem to help but say, Do not drop it on anyone’s head.

“Ember is still annoyed with me because I bounced a ball off of its head when I was first learning,” Nilien told the table, not bothering to hide a little smirk. She had felt bad… when it happened. After Ember had complained ten or twenty times, she no longer felt bad. “But I didn’t really hurt it – or anyone. But I don’t think we spent long enough on magic sight, even though I was really getting somewhere with it. I don’t know if you can tell what sort.”

“You didn’t get some other sort of spell stuck to you, did you?” Riva frowned in worry. “That can get dangerous really quickly. Especially if it’s something that slowly builds in effect – I was just reading about something like that in the library the other day.”

The girl is made of books, Ember complained.

“No, nothing like that,” Nilien assured her. “I look every day. Twice. More that that, when I spend a lot of time around other people. I’m being careful. But I just know there’s a spell there, when I find one. If it was something else… how would I know? Is there a way to know?”

Riva leaned forward. “Have you been finding more magic? Are you getting things dropped on you again?” she hissed. “Did you have Ember track it again? Ember can track magic, right?”

“I just want to know if there’s a way to tell what kind of spell something is,” Nilien protested. “There has to be, right? That’s how Professor Vaudelle knew I had a tracking spell on me? Right?”

“You have found something else! What is it? Do you have another spell on you?” Riva’s voice was getting more and more excited and louder and louder. Nilien tried to vanish into her chair.

9.9

“There is magic?” Nilien asked. She might be able to pull up her magic-sight, athough she’d gotten very good at just looking for tracking spells on her own back – rather, she supposed, like being very good only at, say, division while ignoring addition and subtraction. “Can you track it to its source?”

I can track anything. Ember’s haughtiness was clearly intended to ignore those times when Ember hadn’t been able to find the source.

Nilien smiled at her familiar. “Try, then? And I’ll try to look for the magic.”

Of course. Do not levitate the magic and drop it on me.

“I don’t even know if that’s possible!”

Nilien’s complaint fell on deaf ears, as Ember already had its nose to the ground and was sniffing along in circles.

She leaned against a wall, as she didn’t want Ember to scold her again about sitting on floors and being unseemly, and closed her eyes for a minute. Don’t levitate the magic. Don’t levitate the –

No, she was being ridiculous. She looked for magic as if she was looking for a tracking spell on her back, focusing first on her back and then moving the sight out and around, until she was looking all over the hallway.

There was not, she noted, a tracking spell on her. That, at least, was a relief. And as she moved her vision out, there was no magic on the floor, but over the wall, there was a sort of curtain of magic hanging over it.

She wrinkled her nose and squinted, trying to get more information. It’s magic was not all that useful in a school dedicated to magic, after all. It wasn’t a tracking spell, she was pretty sure – but even here, who would need to track a wall?

“Besides,” she muttered, “a tracking spell normally wouldn’t make a pencil vanish. I need to learn more types of magic so I can discern them.”

Yes, you do, Ember complained. Because there is nothing to track. There is magic, yes. It is here. It does not come from here or leave here or come to here or move around here. There is simply magic here.

“It’s some sort of curtain,” she informed her familiar. “It’s here, more or less.” She gestured at the wall in front of them. “But as I said, I don’t know what it does.”

Well. Then we need to determine who can find out what it does. Since I do not believe you have moved on to spells which can move or unravel magic as of yet.

“I’m working as fast as I can, all right?” Nilien found herself snapping at Ember. “I’m trying hard. I’m studying and catching up on everything and you keep reminding me that I have a long way to go! I am quite aware that I am not doing as well here as I was at my old school. But it’s not like I asked for this!”

Yes. You asked to live. You wanted to live. And I, Ember bowed to her, I wish you to live. You are doing quite well, even if your well-doing sometimes injures my delicate skull. Let us go find something tasty at dinner, and ask your friend Lorque if she can identify a type of magic.

Nilien gave Ember a little smile. “Thank you.”

end chapter 9

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.

9.7

Nilien held her pencil in front of her and practiced floating it. It bounced along in front of her, sometimes dipping down into her hand, sometimes lifting up further than she’d really meant to.

Ember was still a little miffed and walked behind Nilien, so that you do not hit me on the head again, it informed her, since you are being so very irresponsible with that thing.

“I thought you wanted me to practice and get better.” She was teasing Ember, she knew she was, but she was feeling so giddy she couldn’t help herself.

About the history of Lugrazia! And about geometry! Not about how to best drop things on one’s kind, suffering familiar’s head! Why would you even do such a thing?

“Well, first, by accident, second, I apologize. I did not mean to hit you on the head, third, Ember, I can lift things with my mind! I could lift a tree with my mind! I can lift you with my mind!”

No, no thank you. Do not attempt to lift me with your mind. For one, you are not strong enough yet. For another I do not wish to be lifted. For a third, do not be ridiculous.

“I’m not being ridiculous at all! I bet I could lift you eventually. Perhaps not today, no, but one day, I will carry you with nothing but my mind.” The pencil bounced and twisted in front of her.

You hardly carry me with your arms. Why should this be different when you can lift things with your mind? Ember was grumbling and growling in Nilien’s mental ear, but the actual irritation had gone out of the fox’s tone. It is good that you are happy about magic, but I could wish it was a less aggressive sort of power.

“Just because I dropped a ball on you doesn’t mean it’s aggressive. It’s just more so than, ah, looking for magical marks. Or trying to find one black ball in a bowl of white ones.”

Dump the bowl on the floor, and then you will have all of the balls, Ember offered practically. Likewise, carry your pencil in your bag, and you will not have to lift it with your mind. On the other hand – you are a Rune, and it is good to know where your skills lie. There you go. Dance a pencil around. As long as you do not drop it anywhere near me.

Ember had given up its sulk, it seemed, and was walking alongside Nilien now, watching the pencil bounce and sending the occasional fond look upwards.

“I will attempt to not drop anything else on you,” Nilien assured her familiar. “I really am sorry. It just, well, I finally figured it out, and it clicked… excessively. And now I can float – well, pencils. And balls.” She smiled at her pencil. “It does seem a little silly, doesn’t it? To be so happy about a-”

Her pencil clattered to the floor. Nilien bit back a couple very un-student-like words. “Oh, no! And I was doing so well!”

At least you didn’t hit me, Ember pointed out. Catch it, it’s rolling away! Ember pounced, but the pencil was gone.

9.6

“Nilien, good, come on in. And Ember, hello, both of you. Have a seat.” Professor Hestinger was beaming; Nilien had not seen him this happy ever before. “Today we are going to start working on one of my favorite parts of magic: object manipulation! It can be quite trivial-seeming at this level, but the more you focus on it, the more useful it will be.”

“Object manipulation, Professor?” Nilien sat down and smoothed her skirt to make a perfect landing place for Ember.

“Moving objects with the power of your mind – or rather, magic. As I said on your first day here with me, eventually we’re going to learn what your specialty is, and to do that, we get to practice a wide range of skills first.”

“So we’re not working on magic sight this week?” She had been struggling with it for a while, but she felt like she was just getting the hang of it.”

“No, no. You need to give yourself a little rest on that and, besides, you have the basics down perfectly fine. So today-” the professor bounced a small red ball in his hand – “we are going to play around a little, as they say.”

“Professor, I have so much catching up to do,” Nilien protested. “I can’t take time to just… play.”

“Ah.” Professor Hestinger smiled broadly. “Yes. But this is not just play. This is play and learning all in one. Besides, it will do you good to relax. Perhaps tomorrow we can take our learning out in the garden.”

Ember made a noise in Nilien’s mind that sounded a little like scoffing. Nilien petted the fox between the ears soothingly.

“All right, Professor. I trust your judgement. What are we doing?”

“I am going to hold this ball here, and you are going to move it without touching it. Understand?”

“Yes, Professor.” She settled in a little more comfortably, focused on the ball, and began picturing it lifting.

Nothing happened.

By this point, that was beginning to be the norm rather than the exception. Nilien huffed at the ball anyway and thought about the way the ball looked, bouncing in the professor’s hand, how it would look bouncing up onto the ceiling and back down. It would ricochet off and bap Ember right there between the ears and –

The ball bounced up to the ceiling and bounced down on Ember’s head before flying off to the side of the room.

“Very good, very good!” Professor Hestinger applauded.

Very something, Ember muttered.

The professor produced a slightly larger ball. “Let’s see you try that again – although perhaps with slightly less enthusiasm?”

This time, she managed not to hit Ember in the head, although she did lose another ball in the side of the room. By the time class was over, she was contentedly levitating a ball the size of her fist in mid-air.

“Very good, very good. Practice with that throughout the day – but do remember not to wear yourself out. I look forward to seeing what you can do tomorrow.”

Lift trees, Nilien thought, but that was still quite a ways away. Hopefully, she’d get there before someone tried to drop something else on her.

9.5

Nilien glared at Ember, but the fox was looking at her calmly, with no concern.

You have many things to focus on, the fox continued. You have someone trying to kill you – at least one someone, although we do not know the number for certain. You have magic to learn – and the more magic you learn, the harder it will be to kill you. You have a club, which is not a bad idea, because it entertains your friends and engages them in the mysteries that are currently your life. I do not see that you have time for much more of a social life. Homework. Ember nosed at the book. Homework is what will move you ahead. And the more you understand about everything, the more your magic will flow.

“Really? Learning about the history of Lugrazia or about geometry is going to help me remove tracking spells?”

I know you somewhat already. When you are confident in your studies, you will be more confident in everything. Already when you can answer more of the questions, your magic classes go more smoothly. When you know the answers to your homework, you are more relaxed. Focus on your studies so that the next time someone tries to kill you, you can send them away before they have a chance to hurt you.

Nilien stared at Ember. “That’s… really? How can you tell?”

Ember aimed a particularly disdainful look at Nilien. I am a familiar, and I am very intelligent. I can tell things like ‘If A, then B.’ And if Nilien is relaxed in her studies, Nilien is happier about herself, and Nilien does better at her magic when she is relaxed.

“That’s a pretty strange way to phrase it.” Nilien wrinkled her nose at the fox.

It is an accurate way. Now, are you going to stop complaining and work on your homework? Or are you going to keep fussing and get nothing done?

“You have such an encouraging way of getting me to work.”

Thank you. Ember settled down on the side again. Read more on the history of Lugrazia. You were struggling most in that class. Maybe if you read it to me and then explain it to me as you understand it, it will help you.

“That’s a good idea!” Cheered, Nilien settled in to do just that.

Ember had skill in asking just the right questions, drawing out things that Nilien thought she understood but didn’t, quite. After an hour of explaining history to her familiar, Nilien found herself both quite a bit more educated and ready to shout at the fox and anyone else who happened to ask her about history.

“It’s because of what the Emperor wrote in the letter! It’s all about the hidden letters and that journal! That’s all! I don’t care if it involved the language of flowers, the language of ivy, or the language of specific inks and codes! I don’t! I just… the Emperor wrote something in a journal, and it came back and bit him when he least expected it! Which says… never write anything down that you’re trying to keep secret, especially if you’re ruling a country in turmoil. Or at least use a better code!”

She flopped back in her chair and glared at Ember.

Ember looked back at her with a drop-jaw laugh. You’ve got it. Good. I think we can move on to geometry.

Nilien banged her head against her desk.

9.4

Nilien glared at her textbook. “This doesn’t make any sense,” she complained. She slammed the book shut and shoved it aside.

Ember, who had been perched on Nilien’s desk in the place the book now occupied, danced aside and settled a bit further away. It is not the book’s fault if you do not understand, the fox pointed out primly. It may simply be your fault.

“Thanks. You’re so much help.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
The fox didn’t appear to notice. It is my pleasure and my duty to help you. What is the problem?

“I’m going to flunk out of magic school,” she wailed. Lorque was out with Riva, doing something entertaining, so Nilien could indulge in more whining than she usually let herself give in to. “I am in a school of magic, and I can’t do magic and I can’t do the basic school work!”

I have not seen you failing at basic school work. Ember walked delicately over the discarded text book, turned to face it, tail brushing across Nilien’s nose, and pushed the book open with its nose. Here. You were doing fine with this in class. What is the problem, now that you are not in class?

“I just…” Nilien flipped to the page she’d been at. “I don’t understand how they got from the point we were discussing in class to this point. It’s like I missed a class and nobody told me.”

Ember nosed at the pages for a moment before reaching out and catching the left-hand page with its paw and pulling at it. It stuck to the page below it, and Ember’s claws caught the edge, tearing it lightly.

“Hey! Hey, that’s my textbook! I don’t think they allow for familiar wear-and-tear!” She lifted at the page – and found that it had, indeed, been stuck to the page before it, with the notes she had been missing.

If they do not, the more fools them. Ember circled twice, looking, as almost always, smug. You are catching up admirably. You are doing magic, you know. Not as quickly as you would like, but a month ago, you had no magic at all.”

“I’m still behind in all my classes.”

No. You are catching up quickly in all of your classes. I was there when that professor said so yesterday. You. Ember tapped Nilien with a paw. You were top of your class. You will be top of your class again. It will help, of course, if boys will stop wandering off to get you lost in secret passages-

“That was just Benoir!”

Well, then, if a boy will stop taking you off to get you lost. Perhaps you should tell him that he should help you with your history homework if he is going to get you lost.

“I – I don’t think that would go over well. Benoir – well, maybe he could. Chason could probably help more.”

That is because you wish to learn more about Heldira?

“No! No… No. It’s just because, well, Chason is older. But if you’d like, I can go see if Benoir can get me lost with homework. As opposed to getting me lost without homework.”

Perhaps it would be better if you merely did your homework. Without boys of the lost or not variety.

9.3

“All right,” Riva decided, “now that that’s settled.”

Nilien wasn’t sure anything at all was settled, but she was willing to pretend it was if Riva and the rest wanted to. They weren’t going to get anywhere but deeper into holes, she was pretty sure, if they kept going.

“Now that that’s settled,” Lorque agreed. “What’s next?”

“Agenda,” Riva declared. “We have a meeting, we have a space, we need an agenda.”

“Chairs,” Augustin declared. “We need to sneak some chairs down here.”

This is just fine for me, Ember commented from the shelf.

“Not all of us fit on shelves, Ember.” Nilien had to admit she was a little amused, though. She wrinkled her nose at her familiar.

“Shelved seating would be weird,” Augustin opined. “Like bunk-beds, only stacked really close…”

“We are getting off topic.” Riva paced to the center of the room and looked at all of them in turn. “What do we want to cover in this meeting, and then in our next meeting?”

“Secret clubs?” Lorque offered. “And… a book to be talking about.”

“I bet there’s a book on secret societies in the library.” Riva scribbled a note in her notebook. “That could be fun to start with, even if it’s a little obvious. And maybe books on cryptology.”

“Oh!” Augustin perked up. “We could call it the Secret Book Club then and people would just think we meant books about secrets. Yeah! And then we could have codes-”

“One thing at a time,” Chason offered. He looked about as amused as Nilien felt. “So, if we have a secret club, let’s each bring a book next time and we can pick an order to read them in by vote? And maybe snacks?” He smiled unrepentantly. “We could take turns bringing snacks to the meetings? That might make this place more homey…”

Nilien wanted to defend “her” hidden room, but the truth was, it really did need to be more homey.

“You’re as bad as Benoir,” Lorque tutted. “Snacks, snacks. But I’ll bring them the first week. Nilien, I have to show you what we do about things like that, don’t I?’

“I didn’t know there was a, ah. I didn’t know there was something to show. Is it in a secret passage?” Nilien joked uncomfortably. She’d never brought snacks anywhere except when the family cook had made something. “Do we make them ourselves?”

“I do.” Riva was very proud of herself. “But that’s mostly just me. All right. Lorque, then Chason because it was his idea, then me, then Augustin, then Nilien. That gives Nilien plenty of time to figure everything out. And we’ll all show up with books to suggest reading. Is there anything else?”

“There’s the whole thing about someone trying to kill Nilien,” Augustin pointed out. “I mean, that’s important, right?”

“But it’s not new news?” Lorque countered.

“So? Some meetings have an ‘old news’ section to handle things maybe not everyone knows.”

Nilien huffed. “We’ve told everyone here everything. The necklace, the tree, the assassination attempt – maybe attempts.” The more she talked about it, the less sure she was. “I promise, if anyone else tries to kill me, I’ll tell you all about it at the next meeting, all right?”

Oops, hiatus. :(

So I’m on vacation and totally forgot to actually get my twitter contact info while I was gone so I can’t… do the polls.

Argh.

Sorry about the hiatus! We’ll be back with the poll next Monday (the 3rd) and pick up the updates again on the following Thursday.

9.2

“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.