Chloe looked in horror at the strand of hair in her hand. There was only one thing in the world that bright shade of silver. While magic would take on the color of an affinity it was used with or a gem it was stored in, anyone who could actually look inside themselves and see their core of magic knew that magic, in its pure form, was the same color as the root the hair in her hand.
Chloe closed her eyes and felt for the power at her core. The power was the same stable sphere it had always been, which both relieved and confused her. Drawing back from her core she extended her senses throughout the rest of her body, but there was nothing out of the ordinary.
Confused, Chloe thought back on everything she had ever read about silver hair.
Silver hair was caused by uncontrolled magic flowing through the body. There were two common ways to end up with silver hair, the first was the loss of stability of a person’s power, usually the result of trying to gain more power by devouring other mages. The second was when a foreign source of magic entered the body and started releasing power into it, this was most often caused by either reading one of the truly powerful grimoires without sufficient magical protection or from simply reading to many of them.
Silver hair, in and of itself, wasn’t harmful, it was what caused it that was the problem. The uncontrolled magic flowed throughout the whole body, including the brain, and sooner or later that always resulted in insanity.
“But this makes no sense,” Chloe thought to herself, “My magic’s stable and there’s nothing abnormal in my body”
Then a memory struck her, it was only mentioned in a few books but there was another possible cause. When a group of mages works together to cast a major ritual, magical barriers are erected to keep all the magic they are pumping into the spell, in the spell. On occasion these barriers fail, either as the result of improper casting or when the amount of magic pumped in the ritual is simply enough to overwhelm them, and when that happens large quantities of magic often flow back through the casters. As the brain is not being subjected to long-term exposer to magic, insanity almost never results, though silvered hair often does.
“Magical backflow.” she thought, suddenly realizing the cause.
“Ash?” she asked, her mental voice sharp
Ash lowered her head, a look of embarrassment briefly playing across her face.
“I’m sorry.” Ash said softly through their link “The link was failing and you needed more power quickly, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been.”
Ash then gave Chloe a reassuring smile, “You shouldn’t have to worry about other side effects, silver hair is very much the canary in the coal mine, and even in as much of a rush as I was in, I was still more careful than one of those grimoires that only care about planting a seed of themselves, or their creators, in readers. Not one tenta, strand, of my magic passed through your brain.”
Chloe sighed in relief, at least she did not have to worry about her sanity, though there would be other problems. Anyone who saw her hair would make assumptions about her state of mind and what she had done to end up with unstable magic. On the bright side, any halfway competent mage who she allowed to examine her would be able to testify her magic was stable and that there were no secondary magical sources in her.
“Hair dye.” she muttered quietly to herself, “Finding some Hair dye has to be the first order of business, there are too many people here who can see through illusions”
“There’s some hair dye in the room a few doors down.” Ash said casually through the link
Chloe took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then shifted back to mental communication.
“Ash, that wouldn’t happen to be the room that the boy vanished from night before last would it?”
An amused smile flickered across ashes face, “Indeed it would”
“And how do you know anything about what’s in that room, you told me you had nothing to do with his disappearance.”
The amused smile on Ash’s face simply grew wider. “I never said I had nothing to do with the disappearance, and as for how I know about the dye in his room, he told about it before I ate him.”
Chloe’s eyes opened wide in shock, “Ate him?” she asked, her mind rerunning the conversation from the previous day, “How do you call eating another student doing nothing wrong?”
“Several ways, first the boy was a devourer. He captured non-mages from the nearby town, usually oarsmen from the riverboats, who people would simply assume had run away, and performed the spells on them. He believed that the much smaller power reserves non-mages have would be safer to absorb even if the power increase was smaller. He was wrong by the way, one of the biggest problems with the standard spells for devouring is that they overlook how closely a person is linked to their magic. While a mage who devours another mage will get some increase to the speed at which they generate magic, the amount of magic their bodies can hold, and some shreds of the devoured mages affinities, they will also get an echo of the devoured mage. It's having these echoes in the core of your power that is the largest cause of their magical instability.”
Ash laughed softly, “He was actually harming himself far more, and for less gain, then most devourers. I actually know a few ways to make devouring safe, though the gain is far slower and it requires precise control, if you are interested?”
When Chloe shook her head, Ash continued “As I was saying, his power had long since become unstable and it was affecting his mind, I was certainly not going to allow an unstable mage with a habit of devouring people to live a few doors away from where you slept. I did nothing wrong, I stopped a murderer and a madman. I did nothing wrong, I protected my mistress. And in a slightly different meaning, I did nothing wrong, I killed his familiar first, preventing its escape and sending him into a state of shock, and when I was done with him I eliminated all traces, even the subtle ones your girlfriend was looking for.”
Ashes voice took on a lecturing tone “You need to be more thoughtful about the questions you ask and the answers you receive, you should be learning truth spells soon, but since you’re not a mind mage the best you will be able to manage are spells that will tell you if the person is straight out lying. If you had used one of those spells on me it would have shown me telling the truth and If you had been conducting an investigation, the results would have been disastrous. You’ll also be able to employ the same thought processes to get around the subtle truth spells that are so common at court.”
Chloe nodded in acceptance, then asked a question that that had started to bother her. “How did you know”
“You mean that he was a devourer, or the details about who he devoured?”
At Chloe’s second nod Ash continued “As for knowing he was a devourer, you already experienced some of the differences in how I see the world, I can see power and affinities. With his power being unstable and the large number of weak affinities he had, the conclusion was obvious. As for details, I spent some time with him before I ate him.”
Ash then gave a broad smile and Chloe was fairly sure Ash had suddenly made her teeth far pointier. “Simply breaking into someone’s mind is no fun, so instead I made a deal with him, I would cast a simple truth spell and if he told me everything I wanted to know honestly, then I’d kill him. He gave me a very complete account of his activities, which by the way is how I found out about the hair dye.”
The mention of hair dye refocused Chloe’s attention on the problem at hand.
“His hair was a few shades lighter than mine, his dye will work as a last resort but let’s try to get something better first.”
Chloe fished through her chest, eventually pulling out a large pouch. She removed several coins and put them in a smaller pouch and offered the smaller pouch to Ash.
“I know there is a dye merchant in town, would you be willing to track his shop down and get me several bottles of dye?”
“This being the result of my carelessness, it’s the least I can do.”
Ash offered an apologetic smile, then her form shifted slightly, her skin grew wrinkled and her hair lighted. Most of her hair lightened only slightly, coming to perfectly match Chloe’s dark brown, but the roots turned gray. Reaching out a hand she held a strand of her hair beside one of Chloe’s, then smiled.
“I think this will do, don’t you?”
Chloe gave Ash an impressed nod. “It’s perfect.”
Ash opened the window, then looked at Chloe. Chloe dutifully looked away, and when after a moment she looked back out the window, she saw a large raven flying away with the small pouch in its talons.
Chloe spent the time Ash was gone coming to grips with what had just happened, her familiar had eaten another student and her hair had was now silver.
After some thought she smiled, everybody dies in the end and that boy had deserved it more than many others. As for her hair, as long as she kept a supply of dye, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Soon after that acceptance a raven, carrying a bag considerably larger than it was, flew in through her window and landed on her table. Chloe looked away for a moment, then looked back to see Ash, with the bag in her hand, sitting at the table.
Chloe took the bag and smiled as she saw how close a match the dye was to her hair. Pouring some out, she rubbed it through her hair, then proceeded to get ready for the day. Before they left the room, Ash returned to her goat form.
“No time for breakfast at this point, we’ll barely make it to class before it starts” Chloe muttered, a hand resting on Ashes head
Chloe smiled, seeing Eloise as soon as she arrived at the class. She sat down against a wall, directly beside the Necromancer. Eloise smiled back and shifted slightly closer to Chloe.
The two sat peacefully for a few minutes, before Eloise suddenly blinked and looked closely at Chloe.
Eloise brought her mouth close to Chloe’s ear before whispering “I would cover the back collar of your cloak with an illusion if I were you, there are some brown stains on it”
Chloe tensed but Eloise just smiled “How about you come to my room after class today, I think we may have some things to talk about in private.”