Osmond looked at the girl claiming to be Louise, stunned. "Are you saying you can free Colbert?"

The girl smiled, "More than that, the tree is the source of this Blizzard. Once I free him it will dissipate."

Osmond felt a surge of hope, "Then break the spell, we can talk about payment after."

The girl's eyes went cold and she closed her fist crushing the twig of ice. "No."

Osmond shouted at her, "Why not? Every moment we wait he suffers! I know Colbert, if you are truly Louise like you claim and your familiar attacked you then the reason he ended up like this is because he was trying to protect you from your familiar."

The girl's voice broke, and she suddenly sounded much younger than she had moments before, "You think I don't know that? You think I haven't spent the last fourteen years wishing I could save him?"

The girl paused for a moment taking a deep breath and spoke again her voice steadier "What I want has little matter in this situation. He attacked the Queen of Air and Darkness. The punishment my Queen decreed for that transgression is for him to suffer as no mortal on this world has suffered until she or one bearing her authority deigns to release him. If I were to just release him on my own authority the punishment would be transferred to me." The girl's hand moved towards the brand on her neck, and she stroked it lightly. "And I doubt my Queen would see fit to grant me the mercy of only having it last two weeks."

"Then why show me you could break the tree if you won't save him! Are you just here to offer me false hope?"

The girl gave him a hard glare. "I said that I could not release him on my own authority. If I were to release him as part of a deal in order to help me achieve a task my Queen has ordered of me and has given me a measure of her authority to help achieve, then that is a very different story."

Osmond's mind whirled and he felt his rage begin to subside. "Would that really matter? You would still be undoing a punishment set by your Queen. Would she not still be angry with you?"

The girl sniffed, "My Queen is a lady of her word and I mean that precisely and absolutely. When she said one who wields your authority may end the punishment, she meant that as an absolute law. There is no spirit to her words, only the words themselves."

He felt somewhat confused by the situation she described but if she could really destroy the tree and end the blizzard if she was to be believed, if he made a deal with her then he had no choice. "Fine, what is it you need?"

"I will require a place to stay as I complete the task my Queen set before me and two other favors from you to be specified later."

Osmond paused, "I can give you a faculty room at the school or a place at my own estates, but can you give me an idea of what favors you would require of me? I will not take action that will bring my students to harm."

"I will not ask a favor of you that would have you harm those under your protection, or those to whom you owe your loyalty. And I will honor the responsibilities of a guest and help protect your hearth and home while I stay."

Osmond hesitated. He didn't know what her task was, he didn't know if he could trust her, he didn't even truly know who she was or how she got here. Even with the limitations this deal could cost him greatly.

The girl spoke, "Do you know why my Queen froze his mouth shut?"

Osmond looked at her, confused by her sudden question.

"She did so that he would not be able to beg you to end his suffering. So that you would not relieve him of his punishment." A haunted expression crossed the girl's face. "He is suffering in ways you do not understand right now. My Queen once saw it fit to trap me in this spell for a month. The pain of the ice and the crucifixion are the minor parts of the suffering, the worst of it is the nightmares. You cannot sleep while on the tree and your mind begins to attack itself, dreams begin to mix with reality, and they work to tear your mind asunder. While on the tree you wish for death with every fiber of your being."

Osmond felt like throwing up. What was Colbert going through, what nightmares was he seeing. "If that is the case, even if you free him will he truly survive, or will he be a broken man."

The girl looked at Colbert, "I could put his mind back together, I know the magic to be able to do so."

Osmond scowled, "What are you telling me that you would require another deal from me to fix him after you save him?"

The girl turned back to Osmond, "No. I am… limited. But I still have my Free Will for now. Colbert attacked winter to try and save me, I can save him." Tears began to well in the girl's eyes and her voice cracked. "Please let me save him."

Osmond paused only a moment longer, "You have a deal."

As the words left his mouth, he felt the temperature begin to plummet despite it already being freezing outside. Mist began swirling next to the girl as if guided by a wind he could not feel. The mist continued to coalesce until it formed a tight column as tall as the girl that he could not see into. The girl thrust her hand into the column, and it suddenly dispersed sliding to the ground and spreading across the snow-covered earth. In the girl's hand was a staff of pitch-black ice covered in runes he did not recognize all faintly glowing with a blue light. As he watched the veins in her hand which clutched the staff began to glow with the same blue light as the runes. The blue veins rapidly spread up her arm disappearing up her sleeve.

"What is that? Where did it come from?"

The girl glanced at him, her eyes now faintly glowing, "It is my focus, and my leash. Now be quiet, this is not a simple spell."

The girl raised the staff and stepped forward placing the tip of it on the trunk of the tree. She began to chant in a language he did not understand and the world somehow found new depths cold to plunge into. He felt as if his own energy was being sucked into the staff. He felt the bone deep exhaustion that had been built up over the last two weeks and all the years that preceded them. He wanted to just lay down and let the cold take him as it would inevitably take everything else. He forced down the feeling with the discipline honed over his long years.

He looked up at the tree and saw faint cracks forming in the ice spreading from where the tip of the girl's staff touched the trunk of the tree. Around them the winds of the blizzard began to howl louder and stronger, lightning began to strike down from the sky and the thunder from it sounded as if it was a quickening heartbeat. The girl continued chanting unperturbed, her voice growing louder as if she intended to shout the storm down. Then she suddenly stopped chanting and pulled her staff away from the tree.

For a moment the world went absolutely still. He could see snowflakes suspended in the air as if gravity had leased its hold on them. In the storm he could see a bolt of lightning locked in place as it formed a connection between the heavens and the earth.

The moment ended and the tree shattered to pieces freeing its prisoner and dropping him to the ground. Osmond rushed forward to the prone body of Colbert. He gasped with relief when he saw the man's chest slowly rise and fall, his eyes were closed and his face was peaceful for the first time Osmond had seen in the last two weeks. He turned towards the girl to ask her to help him move Colbert to the school's infirmary but stopped when he saw her collapsed on the ground herself. He went over to her, she was asleep and her staff had disappeared as suddenly as it had manifested.

He looked around, the Blizzard was still present but it was noticeably calmer. He wouldn't be able to carry the two of them through the snow himself but he could penetrate the weaker storm without interference. He pulled out his wand and spoke, sending the words along the wind to his secretary's ears, ordering her to send healers and a couple of fire mages to the clearing.

He looked back down at the girl lying on a bed of snow. He did not know if she was truly Louise de la Valliere as she claimed but she had spoken true about her ability to save Colbert. Regardless of what favors she could ask of him he would not regret his choice.

A/N: A bit of a short chapter today, though I really enjoyed writing the description of Louise's spell. She is basically a walking magical WMD, so she gets some fun and flashy magic if she has enough time to do a full chant.

I wanted to cut off here because the next chapter will open on the first flashback to Louise's time in Winter and I wanted to give a bit of a warning that there will be quite a lot of abusive situations in the flashbacks. Louise's situation in Winter was not healthy for her and there will be descriptions of both physical and mental abuse of both the magical and mundane varieties. I will be including trigger warnings at the start of the relevant chapters but I wanted to give people a heads up.

On a lighter note I figured I would keep people informed about my current writing schedule. The next two chapters I post will be for Absolute Zero and The Lady of the Flies, the order of which is dependent on my muse but I already have parts written for both of those. After those two chapters are out I should be posting an update on Those Who Fight Monsters. I don't have a lot of time to write on the weekends so expect mostly weekday updates.