The rest of the classes that day passed in a blur for Chloe, she had agreed to meet Eloise in her room after dinner and the forthcoming meeting had been all she could think about. Eloise had clearly known what the stains were and guessed what they meant, but the lack of fear or revulsion in her response had confused her. Just after lunch, at least a part of the explanation had occurred to her, Eloise had touched her both yesterday and this morning, and it was not at all difficult to feel someone's power when you were touching them. Still, the fear of anyone with silver hair was something taught to every child, Eloise's ability to ignore that both impressed and touched her.

"So, what's the plan? How honest are you planning to be tonight?"

Chloe had taken her dinner to her room, and as soon as the door was closed Ash changed to her human shape and asked. That was, of course, the question that had been on Chloe mind all day, and she had finally come to a decision.

"I think I will tell her everything."

"Risky." Ash commented, though not it a tone that suggested she truly disagreed with Chloe.

"Just the fact she knows I have silver hair means she could hurt me badly. If she decided to tell the wrong people, say Telkirin nobles who end up opposed to me in the future, about my hair color then they would be able to spread rumors, not only of my silver hair but also that I had bribed any mage that testified as to the stability of my magic"

"Ah, so it's a matter of, she knows enough that more won't make much difference?"

"In part, at this point, I need to do whatever I can to win her over on a long-term basis, and the best way to do that is with honesty and a show of trust."

"I could just eat her, that would also solve the problem."

Chloe flinched, the thought of something bad happening to Eloise was even less pleasant then she would have guessed it would be. Her immediate impulse was to forbid Ash from harming Eloise in any way, but before she could say a word a memory rose up.

She was standing just behind her father, while he looked out the window in his study. Her father had been shouting at her about some mistake she had made earlier that day, but now he was just silently staring out the window. Without turning to look at her, her father had begun to speak

"I'm sorry for shouting, but you have to learn, always make your choices based on logic, not emotion. You will be responsible for every person in this march in time, and nothing that harms your ability to provide them protection can be allowed. And remember, it's not just your subjects for whom you will be responsible, nor even just your vassals. This march is a border, on one side is Telkirin, and all the other human kingdoms on this continent, and on the other is the Umbraian forest and the moon thorn mountains. For generations, it's been our family's duty to protect not only those who call us lord, but all the human lands, from the things that dwell in that forest and those mountains, And Nothing Can Be Allowed To Impair This Defense."

Chloe sighed, remembering her father's lecture. It had not been the first time, or the last, that she had heard that lecture, her father had given it often, but that particular iteration had always stood out to her for some reason.

 Her father had not always been that cold, determined man. Chloe's earliest memory was of her mother and father smiling and laughing, while her father held her at arm's length and spun in circles, as she laughed from the pure joy and exhilaration of the experience. That, of course, had all stopped on that day, almost sixteen years ago.

"I don't want to hurt Eloise, but if she tries to outright blackmail me, she's not the person I think she is, and eating her will be on the table. Even then, talk to me before you do anything."

Ash's eyes briefly widened, in evident surprise, then a pleased smile played across her face. "I understand completely"

Chloe raised a sardonic eyebrow, "Glad to hear that, but the question is, will you obey"

Ash's smile widened "Very good. Yes, I promise I will talk to you before I do anything to Eloise, unless your life is in immediate danger."

Chloe sighed inwardly, that stipulation was a larger loophole then she would have liked, but she had made her desires clear and hopefully that would be enough. While she liked Ash, she did remember just how much power it had taken to summon her and what she had promised to give Ash. With someone like that, a loose leash seemed a far wiser policy than trying to calculate just how much Ash would put up with to stay in this world. Yes, as with Eloise, she would have to show Ash a large degree of trust, and hope that the years of watching the people in her father's court had honed her instinctual judgment of people the way she thought it had.

"Judging people" the though prodded another reason she might have been so willing to trust Eloise to the surface of her mind

"You know, we have completely forgotten someone." Chloe told Ash, a smile spreading across her face, "Despite all the time I spent thinking about Eloise, I hardly gave Sheila a second thought."

"Sheila?" Ash asked, then recognition flashed across her face "Oh yes, her familiar"

"Her dog familiar" Chloe corrected "Now while it's not quite unheard of for a familiar and its' summoner to have completely different character, it is rare. Anyway, the link between familiar and summoner always results in a bit of a personality bleed, the summoner becomes slightly more like what she summoned and vice versa, at least for as long as the bond exists."

"And what," Chloe asked, her smile practically splitting her face "is the strongest characteristic of a dog?"

Ash gave Chloe an answering smile "Loyalty"

"Precisely, now if I can just make myself the target for that loyalty, were set."

This time Ash gave Chloe a far more impish smile, "Is loyalty truly what you want her to feel about you?"

Chloe paused for a moment before answering, Ash had probably only asked as a way to tease her but it was a question that deserved a serious reply.

"I admit I am hoping for more than loyalty from her, though it does scare me a bit. I know very little about necromancers, save for one of their spells that's of particular interest to me, but I do know that the only type of mage that goes insane more often than necromancers are mind mages. If she stays half as sane as she seems to be right now then I would be happy, but the idea of what might happen later in life truly scares me."

Ash had been sitting on Chloe's desk while Chloe sat on her bed, at the serious tone in Chloe's voice and the worry on her face, Ash stood up and sat down on the bed beside Chloe, and wrapped one arm around her shoulder.

"We made a deal when you summoned me, you grant me access to this world and keep me entertained, in return I will use all the power I can squeeze into this world in your service."

Chloe nodded, that was not quite the deal she had meant to offer, but it was close enough

"What you may not have realized" Ash continued "is that the power I have to offer is not simply magic. I have been summoned countless times, and have had dealings with humans even when not acting as a familiar, I know much about your kind, and that knowledge is also at your disposal. It may please you to know that human madness is something I am quite familiar with, if you like I will keep an eye on Eloise, and tell you if she is heading down that road while there is still time to do something about it."

Chloe sat silently for a moment "Thank you, I would truly appreciate that." Her eventual reply, while quiet, was clearly heartfelt.

After another few moments of silence, Chloe gently removed Ash's arm from her shoulder and stood up "That's enough of that for now, there are things that need doing tonight"

"Things?" Ash asked, her mental voice having gotten its' standard, slightly amused, tone back.

"Our meeting with Eloise," Chloe replied distractedly, looking at the hat that sat on the corner of her desk.

"Ash, do you think this will be a conversation we should have outside of the castle?"

"If you are planning on telling her as much as I think you are, then that would not be a bad idea at all"

Chloe plopped the hat on her head, checked her wand belt and headed out the door.


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