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Chloe smiled as she watched Eloise stretch and twist after getting out of the bed. Eloise stood beside the bed for a moment, clearly at a loss for words, before finally, simply saying.
“Thank you”
Chloe smiled as she pulled out one of the two chairs that sat in front of the desk and offered it to Eloise.
“No, thank you for last night. Not just last night actually, thanks for everything.”
Eloise took the proffered seat, then waited until Chloe had sat down in the other one.
“You’re welcome. Would you like to talk about whatever happened yesterday?”
“Not really. Nothing actually happened yesterday, it’s just that yesterday is the anniversary of my mother’s death, and the memory of her death brought a number of other unpleasant memories with it”
“I’m so sorry.” Eloise said softly, wrapping an arm around Chloe’s back.
“It’s alright, it happened sixteen years ago.” Chloe said, forcing a smile, “And look, we have good food, a day free from classes, as well as feast and ball to look forward to tonight, this isn’t the time for melancholy”
As Chloe thought about the fact that she’d be dancing with Eloise that night, the smile quickly stopped being forced. Eloise looked at Chloe in silence for a moment, then clearly decided to accept her change of subject.
“True enough, though I have to warn you, its been years since I last danced, and even then, they were all imperial dances, not the local ones.”
Chloe blinked in surprise, the Empire was on the other side of the continent.
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll lead and I’m sure you’ll catch on quickly. By the way, have you picked your first batch of classes?”
The first year at Alir academy students focused on fully mastering their affinities. The second year was very different, students signed up for short courses that taught one or two of the most basic of spells of other affinities, or spells which had no real affinity. A course ended as soon as a person either mastered the spell or decided that they didn’t have the power to cast it without the affinity, at which point they signed up for another course.
Chloe and Eloise spent the rest of the meal discussing what spells would be useful to learn, and by the end had decided to take the same classes so they would always have someone to work with. Eloise had been looking at the books that Chloe had on her shelves while the two were talking, and when the meal came to an end she asked if she could take a closer look at them. Most of the rest of the day was spent in companionable silence as Eloise began to read through Chloe’s books and Chloe worked on charging a couple of wands.
Just as Chloe finished placing the final parts of a spell inside the gems of the wand she was working on, the door opened and Ash trotted in, followed by Sheila.
Eloise looked up from the book she was reading and turned to Chloe with a confused look on her face.
“How does a goat open a door?”
Chloe smiled at her, “You know, I asked the same question, and I have yet to get an answer.”
Ash didn’t volunteer any answers, instead, walking over to Eloise.
“I agreed to get her ready for the ball,” Ash sent through the link “so I’m afraid it’s time for you to hand her over to me”
“Ash thinks it’s time to start getting ready, you can come back and keep reading anytime you like.”
Eloise sighed, inserted a placemark, and put the book down.
“Well then, I’ll see you in just a bit” and so saying, she left the room, followed by Ash and Sheila.
As soon as the door closed Chloe stood up, grabbed her hand mirror, and began to prepare. A while later she smiled as she angled the mirror up and down, red had always been her favorite color and she quite liked the red ball gown she had chosen. She took a couple of experimental steps, and her smile widened as she found no problems with her dancing shoes. Just as she was placing the mirror on her desk, Ash’s amused voice called out to her through their link.
“She’s just about ready, I should have her all set by the time you can get here.”
Chloe smiled and grabbed a pair of long gloves from a shelf as she left the room. She pulled the gloves on as she walked towards Eloise’s room and looked down at the embroidered crest that now covered the backs of her hands. The Yinara crest, a shield with a river running down the middle, a mountain and a tree on the left, and three towers on the right, symbolized everything her family had stood for since the end of the Eldritch Kings war.
“And,” she thought, as a wicked little smile played over her face, “it will probably continue to accurately represent the family for another few years.”
As Chloe reached Eloise’s door she paused, it was open just a crack and she could hear Eloise’s and Ash’s voices through it.
“I’m still not sure about this.” Came Eloise’s nervous voice.
“There’s nothing to worry about, you’re attending with the most powerful noble at the academy and you could tear the soul out anyone else who’s attending.” Ash paused for a moment before continuing “Well, except for mine of course, but with that one exception, you’ll be the most dangerous person attending. You shouldn’t be hiding what you are, flaunt it.”
Before Eloise could reply, Chloe knocked on the door. There was silence for a moment, then footsteps and Eloise opened the door. Chloe grinned widely and suppressed an evil laugh as she saw just how Eloise was dressed. The necromancer wore a black velvet ball gown, embroidered with bones. When Chloe looked closely, she could see that the hair sticks that were holding Eloise’s hair in place were actually small bones.
“Flaunting certainly describes the look,” Chloe thought to herself as she continued to grin at Eloise “and it looks perfect on her. “
Chloe extended her arm “Would you do me the honor of attending this ball with me lady mage?”
The nervous look on Eloise’s face vanished, replaced with an amused smile, and she curtsied “It would be my pleasure, my right honorable lord.”
Eloise linked arms with Chloe and the two started to walk towards the great hall.
“I love the outfit”
Eloise blushed, “Thanks, you look beautiful in yours.”
Ash was trotting along behind them and gave an amused snort through the link when she heard Chloe’s words.
“It was the best I could do, she absolutely refused to let me make a few skulls rotate around her head, or to make acidic darkness drip from her sleeves, or anything else truly exciting.”
Chloe barely kept from laughing at the pictures Ash’s words generated.
“I have to agree with her this time, that might have been going a bit too far for tonight’s ball. Maybe another time we can go for a truly adventurous look.”
As the three of them entered the great hall, people took one look then backed away quickly, leaving an empty circle that moved along with them. Chloe saw the smile on Eloise’s face sour, and unlinked her arm from Eloise’s, bringing it up to wrap around her back. Her hand came to rest on Eloise’s shoulder, and she gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Eloise pressed in a bit closer to Chloe and her smile returned, though this time it was a more determined thing.
The two of them sat down at a table chatted happily as the room began to fill. While the two seats to Eloise’s right and the one directly across from her remained open, the rest of the table quickly filled up. In a pause in her conversation with Eloise, Chloe’s attention was captured by the conversation of the three boys to her left.
“Did you hear what happened in town yesterday?”
“You mean about the mage that exterminated the riverside gangs? Yea, though I didn’t hear what started it”
“Me neither, but I have heard that she was dressed like a Cinain mage.”
“Oh gods, those poor bastars. It’s only the most powerful of their mages that are allowed to leave the country, and they’re used to being treated like royalty.”
“Yea, but it’s not like it’s much of a loss, the only ones who died were gang members from what I heard”
The third boy, who had been silent until this point, suddenly chimed in. “That may be the case, but do you really think the prince will simply ignore the fact that a Cinain mage rampaged through one of his towns?”
A thoughtful silence followed.
“Ash,” Chloe asked mentally, “that wouldn’t have happened to be what you did yesterday would it?”
“No”
“Ah, sorry”
“I should think so. To even suggest a single town would take me an entire day, I went through several others as well.”
“Oh”
At that moment a clinking noise reverberated throughout the hall. Chloe looked up to see that the chancellor had apparently magnified the sound of his spoon clinking against his cup. With everyone’s attention now on him, he began to speak. He first offered up a prayer to Shirina and Celios, then began to give a speech about the academies glorious history, without, Chloe noticed, going into much detail about what that history actually consisted of. As far as she knew, the sum total of the academies historical accomplishments was producing two moderately famous mages, it certainly wasn’t one of the famous academies. Chloe had picked Alir academy because while it was outside the borders of Telkirin, allowing her to focus on learning magic rather than on other Telkirin nobles who would try to include her in their political maneuverings, it was still a relatively easy trip by water.
The chancellor finally ended his speech and everyone was able to begin their dinner. Chloe spent the meal happily chatting with Eloise. It quickly became clear that Eloise felt uncomfortable talking about herself or necromancy in public, so they spend the meal discussing the history book Eloise had spent the day reading. As Eloise took a final bite and pushed her plate back Chloe stood up. Other people had already taken to the dance floor and she extended her hand towards Eloise. Eloise took her hand and the two of them stepped onto the dance floor.
While Eloise clearly was out of practice and unfamiliar with the particular dances that were taking place, it was also clear that she had spent quite some time dancing in the past. Another thing that quickly became clear was that she truly loved to dance, even the missteps she made couldn’t dampen her joy at being able to dance again, after so long. The two of them spun through dance after dance, and when the music for a dance they had already performed a couple of times played again, Eloise took the opportunity to lead.
As the dance came to an end and Chloe looked down at the triumph and joy on Eloise’s face, she simply couldn’t help herself, she leaned down and kissed Eloise. A look of even greater joy spread across Eloise’s face, then it gave way to worry, only to be replaced by joy again, then it finally settled to one of worry.
Eloise led Chloe off the dance floor before the next dance could begin, then walked with her to a corner.
“I had hoped that I was interpreting your actions correctly, but it's been so long since I last really spent time with anyone that I wasn’t sure.”
Chloe simply smiled down at Eloise and wrapped an arm around her waist.
Eloise smiled back for a moment, pressing in against Chloe, then pulled away and looked up at her with a serious look on her face.
“I think maybe we should go back to my room. Before things go any farther, there are some things about me, and about being with a necromancer, that you deserve to know.”

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A note from Rook

 

 

A note on gender in Chloe’s world. Because of magic users, there is generally gender equality among the upper classes, after all when someone of either gender can reduce you to a pile of ash or summon an otherworldly horror to eat your face, things even out pretty darn quickly. Since a woman is as likely to be the ruler of any given city of nation as a man, this also means that few gender based rules ever got put in place, so merchants and craftsmen also have general gender equality. Things change drastically away from cities however, in many farming, mining or other rural communities, gender standards are far more medieval, to the point that it is not especially uncommon for a family to abandon excess daughters.  I am noting this here because it is such common knowledge to the people who live with it that I have yet to be able to work it into the story in a convincing manner and I thought it was something worth noting.  


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Rook

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