Chloe and Eloise separated when the class ended, Eloise rarely ate in the dining hall apparently.
“It’s easier on everyone this way” Eloise had explained with only a hint of bitterness in her voice “Vice chancellor Murtsum gave me permission to stock up on food from the kitchens, so long as I ate it in my room.” Then her tone lightened “I even talked him into letting me have one of the academy’s Everchills, having one of those in the summer makes up for a lot.”
As Chloe walked towards the dining hall Ash trotted up next to her.
“You do realize,” Ash asked, “that you still have two skeletons sitting on your shoulders?”
“Yes, but everyone’s reactions are proving to be very entertaining.”
Ash looked at the distance everyone was keeping from them, and at the shocked looks on the faces of people entering the corridor they were in.
“Well, I can’t argue with you there.”
“Besides” Chloe went on, “with the way everyone is reacting I am starting to wonder if even the people waiting in line for their food will be so desperate to keep me from getting near them that they will simply let me cut through”
The two of them made it most of the way to the dining hall before Chloe spoke again.
“Ash, do you think that people are assuming that I have an affinity for necromancy, or that Eloise gave me a couple of her pets?”
“Some think one and some think the other I would guess. But you know, I can’t tell which idea scares them more.”
The presence of the skeletons did not allow them to walk straight through the line. Chloe was fairly certain that the primary reason was that the girl in front of them. She had, as Chloe clearly remembered from her first-year classes with her, Illusions has her primary affinity.
Disappointingly, neither of the classes they attended after lunch were ones they shared with Eloise. After a quick dinner Chloe returned to her room with ash trotting along beside her. Once inside Chloe immediately stripped and slipped into her nightgown before collapsing into her bed.
Her mind drifted back over the day and, inevitably, it came to focus on Eloise. Chloe felt that the necromancer was perfect, both powerful and shunned. She was clearly very lonely, but had yet to become bitter and cynical, in other words, the perfect sort of person to take under her wing.
She had learned many things from the memoirs and journals that she had read while growing up, but one of the most important things was this. If you give someone who already has some power, even more, they might feel some gratitude, but they were just as likely to simply feel that the additional power was their just do for who they were or what they had done. Also, while it was entirely possible for a person like that to perform whatever task was assigned competently, it was far less likely that they would bring any true dedication to the task. And of course, the biggest problem was that if the person would work for you for a bit of extra power, then there was no reason they would not sell you out for a little bit more.
On the other hand, if you were to find a competent person who had nothing and give them power, if you showed them trust and kindness where none had before, then you might well end up with an ally who would stand with you against the gods themselves.
But if Chloe was being completely honest with herself, she had to admit that there was more to it then that. That small frame, the long black hair and deep blue eyes, and that soft voice, Chloe smiled to herself just remembering it.
And then there was the way she walked. Every time Chloe had seen her walking, she had kept her back rigidly straight and had walked with a long stride as pride and a complete lack of interest in how the rest of the world saw her practically dripped off her. However, as Chloe had watched she had seen small flaws in what was clearly a carefully crafted image, whenever Eloise had come to close to someone there been a minute flinch and a slight hunching of her shoulders. To Chloe, these were clear signs that, no matter what she wanted everyone else to think, she was just as distrustful and frightened of other people as they were of her.
In fact, that walk reminded Chloe strongly of how she herself had walked, all those years ago. She remembered the way she had struggled to suppress her fear anytime a castle servant had come near, and the image of power she had desperately tried to project. Back then it had been Luna who had dragged her out of her shell and had worked tirelessly to restore some of her trust in other people.
By all the gods, did she ever miss Luna. It had been over a year since she had last seen her, as the Seahawk had carried Chloe off towards Alir academy Luna had stood at the very end of the pier, waving, until the Seahawk had gone around a bend in the river. Luna had sent letters, as had she, but letters weren’t the same as being able to talk face to face, and anyway, there were things neither of them dared say in a letter. Chloe sighed, even when this second year was over, and she could go home, it would be years, possibly decades, before she could truly be with Luna. As her thoughts drifted from Luna to Eloise and back to Luna, her slowly eyes fluttered closed, and she drifted off to sleep.
Chloe was sitting on the sofa in her tower room and looking out her giant window. She had always loved the view from here, watching as the two great rivers that gave her march it name came together. Luna sat to her right, her left arm wrapped around Chloe’s waist. Chloe smiled, seeing the way Luna sat, Luna hated the fact that she had ended up an inch taller than Chloe and always tried to hold herself in a way that would make her look smaller. The hair that slipped through Chloe’s right hand was brown, like her own, but while hers was a dark brown, Luna’s was a much lighter shade.
Eloise was pressed against Chloe’s other side, Chloe’s left arm Wrapped around her. Her head rested on Chloe’s shoulder and she had an enthralled expression as she looked out through the window.
Suddenly there was a loud boom and Chloe jerked upright. Her first confused thoughts were that something had struck the castle gates, but no, this was certainly not her room back home. As she blinked the sleep from her eyes she discreetly wiped some drool from her lips, then looked about for the cause of the noise.
Only the first few rays of sunlight were coming through the window, but it was enough for Chloe to see the book at Ashes feet. Looking up, she saw Ash, currently in her human form, staring at her.
“What’s wrong?” She asked, immediately worried.
Ash took a deep breath, and as she exhaled her face returned the serene, though slightly amused, expression Chloe was growing used to.
“Would you happen to have a mirror? This is something you may want to see for yourself.”
Chloe jumped out of bed and started to dig through her chest. Finding her small hand mirror, she brought it up, looked at her, then hurled the boot, which she had just pulled out with her other hand, straight at Ash.
“Don’t do that, you had me truly scared for a moment there.”
“No Chloe, as amusing as it could have been, this is not a Joke”
As she was talking Ash walked up to Chloe and ran her fingers along Chloe’s hair line.
“Look Closely” Ash instructed
Chloe did as instructed. She didn’t see anything at first, but then barely visible. The mirror started to shake in Chloe’s hand and she gently placed in on the bed.
Her hand rose, trembling, and yanked out one of her hairs. She stared at it in horror, most of it was her normal dark brown, but its root was silver.