Chapter 3

She had only had Ember for a couple days, and yet when Nilien went to class, she found she missed her familiar almost immediately. Within a few minutes of starting her first class, however, she was far too engaged in the subject matter to think about Ember or much of anything except the class.

Reinmonte was covering very different material from her former school, so Nilien spent her morning catching up, taking notes until her hands cramped and trying to follow along. She asked questions as often as she felt appropriate, although not quite as frequently as she had questions, and was grateful every time someone else raised their hand.

She’d expected to be nervous about lunch, after the way dinner had gone, but her mind was running in circles about the new mathematics problems she’d just learned and she was hardly paying attention to where she was going.

She barely noticed when Ember joined her — indeed, didn’t notice at all until her familiar lightly nipped the back of her calf. Hello.

“There’s a lot to learn.” It was somewhat of an apology and something of a pleased complaint.

“I think you’ll catch up soon.” Lorque had stopped a few feet back to pet River between the ears. “You were asking good questions. And there will be people who will help you with anything you get really stuck on. Augustin is really good with math, for instance.”

“I am.” As if summoned, Augustin walked up to them. Nilien found herself wondering what sort of familiar he had, and what they looked like in the indigo that matched his trousers and tie. “I’m also pretty good in science, if you end up needing help with that. But only after I’ve eaten something.” He gestured towards the dining hall.

“Thank you.” Nilien ducked her head and followed his gesture. “I’m normally fairly good at classes, but everything is so different here.”

“You’ll settle in soon enough.” Lorque seemed brightly confident about the matter. “Just keep up like you were this morning and everything will be fine, you’ll see.” The crowd was thinner today, but there were more people behind them. They must have gotten in closer to the beginning of meal time. Nilien followed along with Lorque towards the table they’d sat at yesterday.

“I’ll manage one way or the other with classes.” She was determined to do that much. “As long as I don’t get lost too many times.” She set down her books in the same place she’d sat the night before, across from Riva, who had clearly beaten them there.

“Lost?” Riva looked up, surprisingly sympathetic. “Oh, no. You didn’t end up anyplace horrid, did you? I got lost my first week here and it took me hours to find my way back to the dorms.”

“Oh, no, I ended up in the bird dormitory. Not horrid at all,” Nilien assured her. “But even with a detailed tour back to my room, I’m not sure I’d be able to find it again.”

“Eventually, you get used to it all.” Riva shot her a sympathetic smile before turning back to her book.

Nilien took a bite of her food. Things seemed less tense than they had been yesterday, and now that she was wearing a uniform like everyone else, she did a better job of blending in. Maybe people would forget she was a Wild Rune soon.

She stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth for a second bite. Someone had poisoned her — or, at least, that’s what she’d been told. She’d gotten poisoned. They’d tried to kill her and failed. What was to stop them from trying again?

She leaned down to pet Ember between the ears. “Do you know how to check for poison?” she whispered into one of those big red ears.

Ember leaned into the petting and closed its eyes. Mmm. Nice petting. Are you worried someone will try to kill you?

“Well, of course.” She wrinkled her nose at the familiar.

Ember pried open one eye to look at her. You are here now. You have me.

“Yes. That’s why I’m asking you,” she hissed.

“Is he being cranky?” Lorque leaned over to peer at Ember. “Don’t like the stone floors?”

“Yes,” Nilien lied. Istore had just sat down and she didn’t want a lecture on how Weeds weren’t susceptible to poison or something equally dubious.

Blaming me, are we? Ember jumped up into her lap and glared at her.

“I’m sorry.” Nilien looked away, hoping her face wasn’t showing her embarrassment too clearly. “No,” she whispered to Lorque. “I just…”

Everyone was looking at her, or at least all three of Lorque’s friends, Lorque, River, and Ember — and, she noted with chagrin, Riva’s otter. She put her face in her hands. “I was poisoned,” she muttered quietly. “That’s how they tried to kill me.”

“That’s right!” Lorque shook her head. “That’s not silly, why are you hiding it? It’s clever. Once you’ve had a few magic classes, you might be able to do it yourself, but I can do it now. And tell your familiar it doesn’t have to be so prissy about everything. It’s okay.”

Ember turned its glare on Lorque, but Lorque seemed not to notice at all. “Thanks,” Nilien muttered. Augustin looked like he wanted to ask questions but couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t sound ghoulish.

“Of course,” Riva murmured, possibly having less qualms about such matters. “The book I read — that makes sense. It’s awful, of course, but it does make some sense.” Her smile almost looked apologetic.

“I’m glad it makes sense to someone,” Nilien muttered.

It makes perfect sense to me. Ember butted its head against her shoulder. You have me now.

Lorque stared at Nilien’s food for a moment. “No poison,” she announced quietly. “It’s perfectly safe. Well, except the beans, but that’s just because they always taste awful.”

Nilien looked at her food, then back to Lorque. “You can— well, I believe you, but just by looking?” She tasted her food — not the beans, taking Lorque’s warning to heart. It tasted the same as it had a moment ago. She took another bite and gave it some consideration. “So you can look at any food and tell if it’s poisoned?”

“Yep.” Lorque grinned at her. “Neat, isn’t it? And it’s a handy skill to have, living with you.”

“You make it sound like she’s going to poison your food,” Riva complained. Slyly, and in a tone Nilien thought was teasing, she asked, “are you?”

“Of course not.” Nilien tried to sound like she was taking it as a joke. Riva didn’t seem all that bad, and she didn’t want to discourage her if she was trying to be friendly. “She’s a good roommate. Besides, I’m not the sort of person who goes around poisoning people.”

“Just the sort that goes around being poisoned,” Lorque pointed out, far too cheerfully.

“That was only once! And,” Nilien trailed off, not wanting to admit she still had no memory of the event. “Anyway, it does seem like a nice skill to have, especially if someone might try again. I mean…” She looked down at her plate. “I don’t know why anyone would try to kill me. I’m not anyone important.”

“So it’s a total mystery?” Augustin leaned forward over the table. “That’s fascinating. Someone tried to kill you, you nearly died, and you have no idea why? I can’t even imagine! And you get to be a Wild Rune!”

Nilien smoothed her hands over her skirt. Augustin sounded so excited about the whole thing. He was staring at her and grinning, like she’d just had a meeting with the Emperor. But the more he talked about it, the more it made her stomach sink. “I don’t know why they tried to kill me,” she repeated. “I don’t have any idea. And I don’t know if they’ll try again.” Suddenly, she felt very obvious and easy to find in her bright red skirt and tie. “How did you do it?” she asked Lorque. “How did you test for poison?”

“Not everyone can do everything equally well,” Lorque warned her. “You won’t know if you can do it well until you try a few times. But mostly, well. You look at it and you concentrate your magic, so you’re focusing on seeing a thing. Poison, in this case.”

“It all sounds so… simple.” Nilien looked at her food. Would she be able to sense poison? Could she risk her life on her abilities with this new magic?

“It sounds simple until you’re doing it,” Lorque assured her. “And then there’s still just a few steps, but it feels a lot different. You’ll get there! It’s almost time for magic classes.”

Magic class. Nilien swallowed. “You already know how to do something like…” she gestured at her food, “and I don’t know anything, anything at all, about magic.”

“It’s because you’re a We—” Istore coughed at a pointed glare from Lorque. “A Wild Rune. We’ve all been here for years and you’re just starting. That’s why some people are against Wild Runes.”

“Some people?” Augustin shot Istore a glare.

“I’m just explaining. She knows that she’s behind, and she’s going to have to work very hard to catch up. That’s not fair to her, is it?”

“I think not dying is a fair trade-off for having to do some extra classwork!” Augustin shook his head. “Not fair…”

Nilien, however, was forced to admit, if only to herself, that Istore had a point. She looked down at Ember. “You could’ve given me some sort of primer class instead of complaining about my color choices,” she hissed. “I’m going to end up at the bottom of my class.”

But, as the boy said, alive at the bottom of your class. Ember looked entirely unrepentant. You’ll learn. And I have no problem using my own magic. I’m certain that any human I chose will be equally as skilled with theirs. It dropped its jaw in a parody of a grin.

Nilien huffed in exasperation. “You’re no help at all.”

I am exactly as much help as you need. You needed to be alive. Wanted to, I might add. You did not need a “primer course.”

“And how did you know that?” She tried to ignore the amused looks Lorque and her friends were giving her.

That is my job to know.

“Aaargh!” She leaned back, refusing to look at Ember.

“You’ll be fine.” Lorque patted her arm. “You’re doing so well at catching up in everything else. It’ll come easily to you, you’ll see.”

“I’ve already taken history classes and science classes! I’ve never taken a class in magic before. I’ve hardly even had it mentioned in other classes!” She put her face in her hands and sighed again.

“That’s why Reinmonte is a better school,” Augustin offered. He leaned over the table and patted her arm gently. “You’ll learn everything, and it will be fine.”

“I read a book,” Riva started, “that said that sometimes Wild Runes learned magic faster. Because it’s more instinctual for you, and less learned.” She smiled so brightly, Nilien wasn’t entirely sure if she was trying to be helpful or being very insincerely mean.

She came to the decision to pretend that Riva was being serious, whether or not she was. It seemed an easier direction and one more likely to end up in a positive manner. “Thank you, that’s really quite reassuring. Maybe I’ll be able to check for my own poison quite soon.”

“Oh, come on.” The voice came from behind Riva, someone from the next table over. They turned to face Nilien, a pale peach mark standing out on their cheek. “Nobody’s really trying to kill you, that’s ridiculous.”

Nilien did her best to ignore the question. She looked at Augustin. “So if everyone has specialties—”

“Well, we’re all trying to find our specialties now,” he temporized, “but I’m not that good at looking for poisons, no. I’m trying to focus on changing colors and shapes. Like… well, I don’t have my familiar with me at the moment…” He frowned.

“Like this?” Riva concentrated on Augustin’s hair until one chestnut-brown curl turned the same blue-green as Riva’s otter familiar. “There. You look perfect.”

“No, really.” The voice from the next table cut in again. “Come on, someone trying to kill you? Isn’t that a little far-fetched?”

“I don’t know.” Nilien mock-frowned at the streak in Augustin’s hair. “I think it clashes with his tie.” She gestured at the pinkish-purple tie in question.

“Oh, come on.” The interloper turned around completely so they were staring at Nilien. “You can’t just ignore me and pretend I didn’t ask you anything.”

“She looked like she was doing that quite well,” Riva countered. “Besides, the wintergreen really does clash with Augustin’s tie.”

“But why should she?” The peach-clad older student frowned at both Riva and Nilien. “I mean it. Why ignore me, unless you have something to hide? It’s not like the question is going to go away. You were talking about being poisoned. In the middle of the dining hall. People other than me must have noticed.”

Ember put its paws up on the table and glared, ears raked back. Would you like me to bite this irritating person?

“No biting,” Nilien whispered into Ember’s ear. “Not now.” She looked back at their intruder and sighed. This was just getting louder and louder. “Someone tried to kill me.” She tried to pitch her voice just loud enough that her peach-marked inquisitor could hear her and not the rest of the dining hall. “That’s why I’m a Wild Rune.” That, at least, she was pretty sure everyone knew already.

Ember turned its glare on her. You are a Rune because you chose to live.

“Really tried to kill you? You mean ran their horse too close to you and pushed you off the road into a ditch or something, don’t you?” The person leaned closer to them, voice softer now. “Not assassination.”

“Attempted assassination,” Riva corrected. Augustin was still trying to see the curl of blue-green hair.

“And it’s not like she’d lie about something like that.” Lorque leaned forward over the table, her own voice a hissing whisper. “Come on, really? Who lies about being the target of an assassination attempt?”

The word was starting to give Nilien hives. “It’s okay,” she protested. “It’s kind of far-fetched, I know.” She stroked Ember idly, taking comfort in the warmth of its fur. “I would’ve thought so too, until it happened.”

“So.” The peach-clad intruder moved even closer, nudging Riva and Augustin aside. “What was it like? I mean, if someone really tried to kill you, was it scary? What did it feel like? You said poison? Did it make you sick?”

I will bite this nuisance, Ember offered again, although Nilien thought the fox was starting to look amused by the whole thing.

“I don’t really like talking about it,” Nilien demurred.

“Yeah!” Lorque glared at their intruder. “Come on, would you like talking about it, if someone had tried to kill you?”

“But she was talking about it.” The interruption would not go away. Nilien began to wonder if maybe she really ought to have Ember start biting people.

No. For one, she didn’t really want to find out that Ember had been teasing her and had no intention of biting anyone, ever, and for another, she didn’t want to risk expulsion (again) for her familiar’s misbehaviour.

“I was talking about it with my roommate,” Nilien countered weakly. “And her friends. I don’t really want to broadcast it—”

“Well, it’s not like everyone doesn’t already know you’re a Wild Rune. What’s being assassinated on top of that?” The peach-clad menace offered this up so reasonably, it almost seemed as if it made sense.

“One of those was quite more unpleasant than the other,” Nilien retorted. She shook her head in indignation.

“Oh, come on, tell me something? I mean,” the intruder added slyly, “if someone really did try to kill you. There has to be some juicy detail.”

Nilien huffed. There was no getting around it. “I don’t remember much of it,” she admitted, as quietly as possible.

“What?” The peach person stared at her. “How can you…?”

“I woke up, and I was missing a quantity of time in my memories. I was sore all over my body, and with Ember here with me, and they — my school — told me someone had poisoned me. I’m sorry it isn’t as interesting as you hoped,” she added acerbically.

“So… you don’t remember at all? How do you know—?”

“My parents aren’t in the habit of lying to me. The head of my former school isn’t in the habit of lying to me.” Nilien found her words getting more and more clipped, and if Headmaster Narite hadn’t actually told her anything about the poisoning, well, there was no way this person knew that. “But no. I don’t remember, and all Ember will tell me is that I wanted to live.”

That’s all that matters, Ember informed her yet again. It turned around on her lap and got comfortable with its chin on the table, eyeing the intruder.

“You know,” Lorque pointed out, “if I’d been told someone had tried to poison me, I don’t think I’d spend too much time fussing about the details. I’d be more worried with making sure it didn’t happen again.”

Nilien cleared her throat. “I’m Nilien, by the way.” She looked pointedly at the intruder. “And I hear I have magic classes this afternoon, so I’d like to finish my lunch. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name…?”

“Oh, I’m Thesri.” The peach-clad person shrugged, as if that didn’t matter one bit. “You ought to find out more about what happened to you.”

“Why?” Augustin turned to glare at Thesri. “Because you’re nosy?”

“Aren’t you?” Thesri smiled as if that made the point.

“Well, I admit I’m a little curious, but not enough to badger poor Nilien.”

“Badger? No, that’s Marlot, over there, with the vivid lime-green familiar. You know, the one with the stripe down its head.” Thesri pointed vaguely. “Me, on the other hand, I’m just curious. And I think she ought to be curious, too. I mean, if someone’s trying to kill you, checking for poison is great and all but it would help to know who she ought to be looking out for.”

Nilien took the out Thesri had offered, even if it hadn’t been meant as an escape route. “I’ll write my parents. Maybe they’ll have something more to tell me than they already have. But first, I’m going to eat lunch.”

She picked up her fork and began eating again. Her lunch had already started to go cold, but she was determined to eat some of it anyway, if only to make a point.

“Oh, come on, tell me something else, anything else. You don’t remember your first experience with your familiar at all? Or anything else? Your familiar doesn’t know anything else?”

The nerve of some people. Ember glared at Thesri, who seemed not to notice.

“There’s got to be something you can tell me. How does someone kill you and you end up forgetting the whole thing?”

It was, Nilien had to admit, a very good question. Why had she forgotten the whole thing?

If she answered, however, she’d never get anywhere with her food. She looked faux-apologetically at Thesri and covered her mouth with her hand, indicating to all good people and, she hoped, to Thesri, that she had her mouth full and couldn’t answer.

“Well, fine, if you’re going to be that way. But when you hear from your parents, let me know. I want all the details.” Thesri turned back around in a huff, leaving Nilien to eat in peace.

“Some people just don’t know when to stop,” Lorque muttered, but Nilien really had her mouth full this time and didn’t answer. Conveniently, she couldn’t answer when Augustin asked her a question, either, or when Riva told her something else she’d read in a book — this time about fox familiars.

In that manner, Nilien managed to get through the rest of lunch without having to answer any more awkward questions, although she did have to pantomime a few variations on “I don’t know.” The whole thing was somehow more distracting than just answering the questions, however, and she found she had no idea what she had eaten when she was done — except that she was fairly certain that it wasn’t poisoned.

It was a relief to be out of the lunch room, and the closer Nilien got to the classrooms, the more excited she became.

“How long do you think it will take for me to learn how to detect poison?” she asked Lorque.

“Oh, not much time at all.” Lorque waved off the question with a breezy gesture. “You’re clever. You’re going to be caught up to us right away, just you see.”

“Do they teach much theory? How it all works? I want to know how the pieces all go together. I want to be able to protect myself,” she added in a much quieter voice. She didn’t want another incident like with Thesri. “Nobody else might believe it, but I really am worried.”

“Hey, I believe you! And Augustin… and I’m sure lots of other people. You shouldn’t let jerks like Thesri get you down.”

“I don’t… Well, I suppose I do, a little, but I know that it does sound a little far-fetched. Everyone’s said it; I’m just not really assassination material. Is this the way to the magic classroom? I’m really going to get to learn magic!”

“Well, of course you are.” Lorque smiled at her. “You’re a Rune. You have a familiar. You’ve got the rune mark.”

“You’ve had some time to get used to the idea,” Nilien complained. And, she thought, to practice all this magic. “I’m only now having my first day of classes here at Reinmont. At the Academy for Runes.”

“You’ll get used to it fast.” Lorque patted her shoulder. “I’m sure you will. Here’s our magic classroom, and here’s Professor Valents. We’ve all been working with her to find out specialties all year. It’s been a lot of fun.” She waved down the teacher, who was wearing stunning violet trousers with a rose-and-teal jacket. “We’ve got a new student here; I’m sure you heard about Nilien.”

Everyone already knew about Nilien, but still, a few people fell quiet and looked over. The teacher strolled over, followed by a lavender creature the size of a small dog. It looked something like someone had combined a rabbit and a pig, with the fur and the nose of the rabbit, the shape of the pig, and doglike claws.

Clearly she had to pay more attention in zoologic studies. After she paid attention in magic classes, of course.

Professor Valents frowned down at her. “Ah, yes, the new student, Nilien. It’s very nice to meet you.” She sounded sad. “I’m sorry, dear, I am certain you would love to be in this class with your friends, and from all accounts, I would love to have you.”

Nilien’s heart sank. “I — I don’t get to learn magic?” She kept her chin up and didn’t give into the urge to scoop up Ember, despite the way the fox was butting against her legs.

“Oh, you do, of course you do, dear.” The teacher patted Nilien’s shoulder. “But you’re going to need to start off with Professor Hestinger. Right this way, please. I’m afraid it’s going to take you quite some time to go over the basics, and these students are quite a way past that.”

Nilien swallowed. “Oh. Oh, I see, of course.” She gave Lorque a quick hug. “I’ll see you after class, then.”

“Chin up.” Lorque looked a bit stunned, but, well, Nilien supposed what Professor Valents was saying made sense. It was one thing to be a bit behind — a week or two, maybe — in history or sciences, but in magic? “You’ll catch up in no time.”

“I’ll do my best.” Nilien no longer felt very certain, though. “I’m sorry, Professor Valents, I don’t mean to dawdle. Where…?”

“It’s all right, dear. It’s good you’re making friends so quickly. This way.” The teacher guided Nilien out of the large classroom back into the hall and past two more rooms, all while Nilien struggled with her feelings and Ember stayed uncommonly quiet.

It made sense. She kept telling herself that, but it didn’t stop her from feeling awful. She was a good student! She shouldn’t need her own class…

But, she countered, she’d never been in a magic class before.

But she ought to be able to pick it up!

Professor Valents interrupted her swirling thoughts. “Here we go, dear. Professor Hestinger will help you get started with magic.”

The teacher ushered her into a small room, much like Professor Lowit’s office. Professor Hestinger turned out to be a short, rather dapper man with a broad, generous smile.

“Ah, our Wild Rune. Come on in, Nilien, and — Ember, is it? Come on in, Ember.” A purplish-pink puma sat curled around the feet of Professor Hestinger’s chair. It looked up as Nilien entered and yawned at her and Ember before closing its eyes again.

“Take a seat, that’s good. Now, dear, there’s no need to be sad about this. You have to figure out how to stand up before you learn if you’re more of a sprinter or a distance runner, now don’t you?”

“I — I suppose so, yes.” Nilien sat down in the wooden chair he’d indicated. Ember jumped into her lap and made itself comfortable, turning around a few times before settling down, staring at Professor Hestinger.

Pay attention. This is important.

Nilien bit back a retort. Now wasn’t the time to be talking to her fox. “I’m ready, sir.”

“And your familiar is, too, I see. All right then. Let’s get right to it, then, shall we? Now, rune magic is rather simple to explain and rather difficult to get right, so please don’t expect that you’re going to get it right away.”

“Yes, sir.” She was going to get it as soon as she could, so she could take classes with her friends. She settled her hands in Ember’s fur and got ready to learn.

“Very good. We’ll work at it together until you have mastered the basic skills. It may take quite some time, but we’ll get there.”

“Yes, sir.” He seemed so nice, but was he ever going to teach her?

“Good! We’re going to start with a very basic levitation. Here.” He set a pen on the desk to his left. “Now concentrate on lifting this pen.”

Nilien stared at the pen. It was a nice pen, with marbling throughout in green and purple and mauve and a gold nib. She’d had a pen like that before she went away to school, a gift from her aunt…

Ember’s teeth touched her finger. Concentrate, it suggested. Nilien nodded mutely. If she couldn’t focus, she’d never go anywhere in class.

She focused on the pen lifting. Should her hands be in some special position? Should she be feeling something? Nothing happened. The pen, if anything, seemed more resolutely on the table.

Relax, Ember chided, and focus.

“I am focusing,” she muttered, and tried again.

The pen went nowhere. Nilien sighed. She was going to be in this room forever.

“If it helps, perhaps, get your body comfortable first. Your hands just so on your familiar’s fur. Your back straight against the chair. There you go.” Professor Hestinger beamed at her as she followed his instructions. “Now… you won’t need it forever, but for the moment, think of that posture as your ‘magic posture’. Now that you’re in it, the only thing you need to focus on is magic. And you.” He tapped the top of Ember’s head lightly. “Don’t distract her, and don’t scold her. It’s harder for Wild Runes. They’re so much more formed already by the time they get their magic.”

Ember ducked its head and said nothing. Nilien took that as a positive sign. Back straight, hands sitting lightly in Ember’s fur, she looked at the pen again and concentrated on lifting it.

This time, it rose. It lifted a hand’s-width in the air and stayed there for a moment before dropping.

“Very good. Now, again.”

Nilien checked her posture, took a breath, and concentrated on the pen. Again, it lifted, and this time it stayed more steady in the air.

“Very good. Down and, again.”

Down and up, down and up. The pen lifted over and over again until Nilien could do so without fail and she felt as if she were going cross-eyed from the staring.

“That’s enough pen work for today, I believe. You can try that in your room, if you feel up to it, but I’d say you’ve done very well for the day. Now, one more exercise before we break.” He produced a wooden bowl full of white pebbles. “Somewhere in here is a black stone. I want you to close your eyes and find the black stone.”

He set the bowl down on the desk in front of her. Nilien looked it over for a minute. The stones all looked very uniform in size, and there was nothing but white stones showing on the top.

She straightened her back and closed her eyes, reached out with her magic, and found nothing. She took a breath, reached out again, and nothing.

She tried one more time… nothing. “There’s no bowl,” she whispered.

“Keep trying.” Professor Hestinger coaxed. “You can’t expect all tasks will be equally easy, but you should try as many as you can. One more time?”

“Yes, sir.” Nilien took another breath and tried again.

One more try. She could do it. She closed her eyes and reached out for the bowl, for the black pebble somewhere inside it.

Nothing. “Maybe…” She furrowed her brow and considered the bowl. If she could see the stone, she could find it without a problem.

So first, she needed to see it. She stared at the bowl. Focusing on seeing a thing, that’s what Lorque had said. So she just needed to focus on seeing a black stone.

She petted Ember a little bit and focused her power on vision. She had to be able to see it. It was there; it had to be a simple matter to find it, or Professor Hestinger wouldn’t have assigned it to her, would he have?

The bowl still looked like a bowl. She sat up a little straighter, took a few measured breaths, and steeled herself to to it.

Ember nuzzled against her hand. You will do it, it assured her. Like the teacher says, it’s like standing and then running. You will be able to do it.

Nilien petted Ember behind the ear. “Thanks,” she whispered. Sometimes her familiar wasn’t a complete pain. She focused on the bowl and concentrating on seeing.

For a moment, she thought it had worked. It felt a little different, like when she’d managed to get the pen to float. But when she looked at the bowl, it was still a bowl, and she still couldn’t see inside it.

She tried a little harder, furrowing her brow and focusing as hard as she could on the bowl. Somewhere just out of her vision, down on her lap, something began to glow red.

She looked down; Ember was glowing red, and so was the rune mark on her hand. She glanced up at Professor Hestinger; a mark glowed on his upper arm. At his feet, his familiar was glowing, too, in the same purplish-pink light.

She looked back down at Ember and her own hand. This was — well, it wasn’t what she’d been trying to do, but she was fascinated nonetheless. “I — oh.” There seemed to be something glowing on her back. It was fainter than the mark on her hand, but looking down at Ember — and at her navel — she could clearly see it, which was in itself rather strange. She looked back over at Professor Hestinger; he had no such mark, nothing but the runic mark on his arm.

With a surge of hope, she looked back at the bowl. She still couldn’t see the black stone.

Nilien sighed. “It’s not working.”

“No?” Professor Hestinger leaned forward. “You said ‘oh.’ What was that?”

“Oh, that?” She wrinkled her nose. “I was trying to see the black stone, but I ended up seeing Ember and your familiar glowing, instead. And our runic marks.” She gestured with her marked hand. “They all glow.”

“Oh, very good. That’s magic sight.” Professor Hestinger smiled broadly at her. “That’s an excellent skill to learn; it can be very useful. So you saw the familiars and the marks, of course. They must have glowed rather brightly?”

“Yes, sir.” He was far too excited about her not managing to get the lesson down right! “But I didn’t manage to find the black stone.” She frowned down at Ember in her lap, who was oblivious to this all, apparently napping.

“That will come with time.” Professor Hestinger brushed her concern away with a cheerful wave of his hand. “If you’re discovering magic sight now, well, then we’ll worry about magic sight for the moment. Did you see anything else? Not the stone, of course; that wouldn’t have a magic signature the way our familiars do.”

Nilien wanted to get back to the lesson. She wasn’t ever going to catch up if they kept getting distracted. She swallowed a sigh. “There was something,” she admitted. “When I was looking at Ember…” She hesitated. “I don’t know how I did it, but I saw a mark on my back.”

“Well, magic sight doesn’t care about obstructions to normal sight. After all, you saw my runic mark, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” And that had been, she supposed, through his shirt-sleeve and jacket sleeve.

“But a mark on your back? That’s quite interesting.” Professor Hestinger frowned in thought. “When we’re done here, I do believe you should go talk to Professor Vaudelle. She’s quite good with magic sight, and she may be able to tell you more about this mark.”

“Yes, sir. Ah…”

“I’ll take you to her office, have no fear. It can be quite easy to get lost in these halls, can’t it? But first, let’s work a little more on the lesson at hand. I know you’re eager to catch up to your friends. Let’s try to discern the black pebble in the bowl one more time. This time, I want you to focus on the differences between a white pebble and a black pebble.”

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