“…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.”

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