With the ordeal of finding a new name over, Sarah and Erin went back to alternating between small talk and comfortable silence. Soon enough, however, the conversation went back to the events prior to their trip to the mall.
“So, Becker.” Sarah started, her tone clearly indicating her opinion of the professor. “He said something to you, about the forest ?”
“Yeah,” Replied Erin, getting thoughtful. “He thinks there’s something wrong with it. We need to go have a look, apparently. We’re going to need to go deep inside, though, and it’s getting me nervous, because It gets more dangerous the further you go in.”
“And you’re going ? Just because he asked you ? Actually, let me guess, he didn’t ask, he just told you that you needed to go with him.” Sarah deadpanned.
Erin flinched a little bit at that. There was no doubt in her mind that Sarah was right, but she couldn’t just decide she wasn’t going to help Becker. What if something really was wrong ? No one else could do anything about it, since so few people knew magic existed, let alone how to use it. She told as much to Sarah, who let out a small sigh at that.
“Look, I’m starting to know you, Erin. I know you’ll go no matter what I say, because that’s the kind of person you are. I’m only asking you to not let Becker walk all over you all the time” She said empathically, concern cresting her face. “You need to think about what you want, sometimes. Be a bit selfish !”
“Sure, but what do I do, then ? Like you said, I have to go with him.” Erin asked, confused.
“You could take a page out of his book and ask for something in exchange, for once.” She replied, trying to sound nonchalant, but failing to keep some mischievousness out of her tone.
“That’s… Yeah, actually, that’s a great idea! Why did I never do that before ?” Erin muttered, her face scrunching up, eyes looking down at the table.
“Because you’re too nice for your own good,” Sarah answered, a wry smile on her face.
Sarah’s comment prompted a blush to blossom on Erin’s face. Did she really think that ?
“I guess I could get him to spend more time figuring out how my bracelet works, or even ask him about your abilities,” Erin mused, lifting her arm and turning the bracelet left and right, looking at it in wonder.
“Yeah, that might…” Sarah paused. Her gaze had followed Erin’s, her eyes tracking the movements of the bracelet. Her strange abilities had calmed down after a while, and her gaze had stopped getting pulled towards the trinket. Now, however, the strange pulling sensation was back. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it, but more than that, she could tell something was different about it. The only problem was she just couldn’t tell what had changed, to her slowly growing frustration.
“Erin.” She said, her tone suddenly serious. “Your bracelet.”
Erin looked up, confused, her gaze alternating between Sarah’s serious expression and her own wrist. It didn’t take her long to connect the dots and figure out Sarah’s abilities were acting up again.
“Hold on,” She simply said, before triggering her sight spell. They were in the middle of a mall, but it was still relatively empty, and she’d started caring much less about that sort of thing, ever since she’d met Sarah. There was only so much anxiousness one could feel before they started getting jaded about it.
Soon enough, Erin’s vision changed, her perception of the world getting fuller, more detailed, magic revealing itself to her eyes. Looking down at the bracelet, she could instantly see the patterns of light within were different. They seemed brighter, and even more complex than before. Soon enough, Erin managed to untangle the wisps of light from each other in her mind, and she could discern a new spell matrix, one that hadn’t been there before.
Erin’s heart skipped a beat at that, her emotions swaying from excitement to nervousness. On the one hand, this could mean further complications to her already convoluted situation, but on the other it could just as well be something that might help her considerably. She kept her gaze firmly locked on the bracelet, the now familiar sensation of knowledge appearing in her mind slowly making itself known.
“It’s a new spell,” Erin said, still not averting her gaze from her wrist. “I think… Oh wow.” She blurted out.
“What is it ?” Sarah asked, a bit impatiently. Just like Erin, her gaze was locked on the bracelet, but she just couldn’t figure out what was different about it. It felt like the answer was stuck on the tip of her tongue, endlessly teasing her.
“It’s some sort of minor shapeshifting spell, and it’s ridiculously complex. I’m not really sure how much it can do, I’ll need to go and test it later” She answered excitedly.
“Really ? You can shapeshift ? I want to see ! Turn into me !” Sarah said, ineffectively whisper-yelling in an effort to avoid anyone nearby hearing them.
“What ? Sarah, I don’t think that’s how it works,” Erin giggled, cutting off her sight spell before fixing her gaze on Sarah. She was trying to stay calm and think about all the possibilities this new spell offered, but her friend’s enthusiasm was contagious. “Like I said, I’ll have to test it to see how far it goes, but that’ll be for another day. It’s getting late, I need to get back home before my parents freak out.”
“Oh ! Right. It is kind of late. I’d better go home, too” Sarah said, a bit of disappointment creeping up into her voice. They’d been having a lot of fun, and she didn’t really want it to end so soon. Still, that just meant they’d have to do it again.
With everything said, they both stood up, and started the trip back home, leaving the mall behind. Once they parted ways, Erin found an empty alleyway and changed back into her old clothes, before transforming and letting Ryan take over once more. Strangely, he found himself a little bit sad, once he got back in his original body, feeling like he’d just lost something special. Turning back had felt a bit like putting on a disguise, and the thought confused him greatly. This was who he was supposed to be, why did it feel so wrong ?
Ryan didn’t have the answer to his question, and made his way back home in a subdued mood, a torrent of interrogations once more whirling in his mind.
The coming days saw Ryan making preparations for his trip with Becker, and unfortunately leaving little time for him to see Sarah. Still, they found some occasions where they could, and Sarah understood that he would be busy until Monday.
One thing Ryan realized very quickly was that the new spell wasn’t the only thing that had changed about his bracelet. Unfortunately for him, his transformation spell had become even more taxing than it used to be. The difference was slight, but it was still enough for him to notice, and he found himself turning into Erin more and more often to compensate.
It was a mixed blessing, as Erin felt more at ease when in her female form, but it also worried her for the future, as she didn’t know what she would do if keeping up the spell for any longer amount of time became too taxing. There wasn’t much she could do about that issue, however, and she found herself emulating Sarah more and more, trying not to worry about things she couldn’t change.
She also spent a lot of time in the forest after classes, Sarah sometimes accompanying her, in order to test the limits of her new spell. It seemed to only work when she was Erin, strangely enough, and allowed her to tweak her body to a certain extent. After a few hours of practice, she was able to alter details like her hair, eyes, or skin color, she could change her size by a few inches, and she was even able to modify her body shape and type.
That last one interested her the most, as she’d been worried about losing some of her strength when becoming Erin, since she’d need a lot of endurance while in the forest. This new ability would allow her to temporarily gain in strength or endurance, depending on what she needed at the time. Interestingly enough, the spell did pull on her energy reserves, but nowhere near as much as the one that allowed her to turn back into Ryan. There were probably many other uses to it, but she didn’t have time to study it further, as the day of the expedition was drawing ever closer.
Still, while she thought that altering her physical strength was the most useful thing about the spell, she couldn’t help but play around with the cosmetic changes, guiltily trying on various combinations of colors and sizes. Of course, she only did that when Sarah wasn’t there, as she knew her friend would never let her live it down otherwise.
Soon enough, however, Saturday morning came, and Erin made her way towards Becker’s house in order to pick him up. She was very nervous, worrying again and again about her gear, hoping she hadn’t forgotten anything important. She was also anxious about seeing Becker again, Sarah’s thoughts and advice still on her mind.
The professor was awaiting her on his porch, and didn’t lose any time before sitting down in the car. Wordlessly, Erin started the engine again, and they were once more on their way.
After a few minutes of silence, Becker decided to speak up. “We need to get over the details of the plan once more, Ryan.”
“Erin.” She replied neutrally.
“What ?” Becker asked, turning his head and looking at her with a single raised eyebrow.
“My name. I want you to call me Erin while I’m transformed.” She said, keeping her eyes on the road.
Becker stayed silent for a moment, before turning his gaze back forward. With a sigh, he pulled a small notebook out of the backpack that contained all his equipment, before meticulously looking over it.
“Since we’re going to be camping inside the forest, today is mostly going to consist of walking. We need to reach the border of the Inner Ring before it gets dark. We won’t be able to stay in there, as it would be too dangerous at night. We’ll set up camp just outside, do a first inspection of the place, and then get back to camp. Tomorrow, we’ll explore some more, I’ll get some readings, and then we’ll make our way back. We need to be as careful and silent as we can be, once we’re inside the Inner Ring. Some of the creatures in there can be extremely dangerous, and they’ve been recently rattled by the wave of energy that passed through the forest a few days ago. That also means they might not stick to their usual territories, and I’m afraid even I do not know all the creatures that inhabit this part of the forest. Do you understand, Ryan ?”
Erin’s face creased in annoyance at that, and in a fit of anger she quickly hit the brakes, catching Becker completely off guard, before swiftly turning her gaze towards him.
“I told you to call me Erin, Becker. I am neither a child you can control however you want, nor an incompetent idiot who doesn’t know the dangers of the forest. You can either respect my request, or I can leave you here and go back home. I definitely wouldn’t mind having a weekend to myself, for once in my life.”
Becker stayed silent, gazing at Erin in slight shock. She couldn’t really tell what was going on in that head of his, but he regained his composure after about half a minute, before averting his gaze.
“Very well. I will call you Erin if that is what you want.” He finally answered. Erin wasn’t sure, but she thought she’d heard a bit of disdain in his tone. Still, she wasn’t going to complicate things further and call him out on it.
“Good. I’ll also need to pick your brain about something else, later, and you’ll answer me to the best of your abilities. Do not try to fuck me over, Becker, or I’ll pack my things and leave you alone without a second thought.” She replied tersely.
While she seemed entirely composed on the outside, Erin’s heart was beating a mile a minute. She wasn’t used to asserting herself like this, and she’d been very worried Becker would call her bluff. She wasn’t sure she would have been able to just leave him, had he decided to refuse her demands.
The trip resumed, a tense silence present in the car. Erin couldn’t help but be proud of herself. She’d been selfish and put her needs first! A bit of her nervousness evaporated, and she thought about how proud Sarah would be once she told her what she’d done. Her friend has opened her eyes about Becker’s abusive attitude, and she couldn’t be more grateful for it.