“The royal guard!? They sent the royal guard after me!?” the warlock shouts in panic after seeing the mounted knights making their way across the hill. “I am dead. We’re dead! Why did they send them, and even early of all things!? They’ve never sent a group this soon after the last one!”
I gasp. “The survivor from my troop. He must’ve explained what happened and that’s why they bumped up the threat you represent.”
“Gods…” He swipes his fingers in his hair.
“Can’t you, uh… Dispatch them non-lethally?” I ask, rattling my brain looking for a solution. “And without turning them into animals, either.”
“No, I cannot- When you spend a decade learning all things unethical, that does not leave much time to learn anything that is not!” he exclaims, hiding himself from the window and sliding his back against the wall.
“Then we gotta get out of here!” I continue.
“And leave my victims to their fates? If my time has come, so be it, but something must be done for them.” He glances around, looking for anything to inspire him an answer, before his gaze settles on his reflection in the wardrobe. He regains his calm, though he does frown a bit. “Do you think that surviving soldier would have reported my appearance?”
“He might’ve been interrogated for as many details as possible, yes…“ I think I’ve picked up on what he’s thinking. “You have a plan?”
He slowly stands back up as we start hearing a pounding on the front door of the tower. “A quite shaky one, but yes. All I have to do is convince them I am not the person they are looking for. Could you change my clothes some more, if you please?”
This not being the time for objections, I oblige. With a simple change in color, my magic takes hold on his clothes. His robe shrinks further, stopping at his knees and puffing out into black and white ruffles. It pinches him at the waist, while the fabric in front of his chest turns into satin, cutely framing his chest, as flat as it thankfully still is. His long sleeves detach, wrapping around his hands and arms into long gloves. I do my best to stop there before my magic continues onto his body. “I’m so sorry for having to make you crossdress like this. This is the only appearance that comes naturally when I try to change stuff.”
He sighs sadly. “No worries, I will simply change into another robe once all this is said and done.” He directs himself to the stairs, suddenly stopping as he thinks of something. “Oh, we need to change yours too or they might recognize your armor, that could cause trouble.”
“...Right,” I reply. He strips me out of my clothes, and one careful spell later it’s a pink sundress he slips back on me.
We sprint off for the stairs and hurtle to the ground floor. The warlock takes just a moment to put me on the kitchen table before doing his best to appear naturally startled as the door comes down.
“Yes, hello?” he tentatively asks before being tackled to the ceiling by bright green magic, turning the surprise on his face genuine.
One soldier in ornate armor, holding a glowing hand up, gets out from the crowd of trained knights on the other side of the door. With a simple gesture of their other hand, they command the soldiers to rush through and start ransacking the tower, before dropping it back down to their hilt. Gods, the situation got so bad so quickly. After appraising the room, the commander speaks up. “Where is the warlock?” they demand to, well… the warlock.
He takes a deep breath before speaking up. “He doesn’t exist anymore.” I didn’t expect him to be this competent at lying, the tone sounds genuine to my ears. “He will not get to harm anyone again.”
“Are you saying you took him out?” the voice coming out of the helmet replies.
The warlock glances at me for just a fraction of a second before snapping his gaze back onto the soldier. “It was a team effort. We picked at it for a couple days until we finally drove him to disappear for good.” I’m not sure the strategy of going for half-truths is the safest over going for whole cloth lying, but if that’s what’s allowing him to think quick on his feet, I can’t really afford to complain.
The knight releases him from the ceiling, but keeps him afloat for now. “If you’re speaking the truth, then this is definitely a thorn in the king’s back taken care of. What’s your name, stranger?”
“Uuuh-” The warlock’s eyes go wide. “My name is…” They send me another glance, asking for my help.
I don’t lose any time in looking around the room… My gaze stops on the pepper shaker from yesterday. “Pepper!” I shout.
“Name’s Pepper! Pepper the witch!” he throws out with a shaky smile. “Sorry for the delay. I can have problems sometimes, remembering memories that do not feel like mine, forgetting important details… Being held above the ground by a man that could definitely kill me if he so desires does not help me be quick on my feet either.”
The knight seems to pause for a moment, carefully considering the warlock’s words. “Right. I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you’re not a threat, Pepper. Don’t try any funny business.” They drop him back down. After a moment of letting him catch his breath and rub his neck, they remove their helmet, revealing hair the color of carrots held in a ponytail, and an undoubtedly female face. “Now what kinda business did a lass like you get into that you had to take the warlock down before we arrived?”
“Oh, it was just a public service! I heard the tale of the poor survivor the day he arrived in the nearest town all shaken, and just with that, my special friend and I were set!” I internally grimace. The warlock plays up the theatrics of his words a bit too much. He seems to feel my emotions as he takes a step back, his expression seeming much more genuine again. “There is a lot of wrong that… the warlock has done. I could not let myself be idle when I heard of his crimes.”
“The noble humanitarian type, eh.” The knight crosses her arms, walking to the stairs and trying to catch a glance of the floor above. “Anything dangerous upstairs?”
“No, just the warlock’s laboratory and living quarters. I have reappropriated them until I find a way to save his victims.” He moves to sit down at the table, not as nonchalantly as he attempted.
“Right. Let me tell my troop not to cause too much damage then.” Ungloving her hand, she brings it to her mouth and whistles loudly. The other soldiers in the room go back outside, promptly followed by the ones that had moved upstairs. “Let me take a minute to tell them the situation.” And with that, she walks out, giving us a moment alone.
I sigh in relief. “We’re saved! We did it!”
“No, we are not. We are absolutely not. She is onto me,” I hear the warlock panic behind me. He turns me around, making me face him. “Have you seen the way she was gripping the hilt of her sword!? She is not buying it! She is seeing the way I talk and move, and she finds it suspicious!”
“Are you sure?” I try to keep my tone as neutral as possible to calm him down. “I must admit I didn’t pay attention to what she was doing with her sword, but I think you’re overreacting…”
“And what if I am not!? My life is on the line, I am not taking any chances!” He looks me deep in the eyes. “Change me!”
I gasp. “I’m not doing that!”
“Yes, you will! I don’t know, make it… More natural for me to act femininely, something like that! We do not have much time!” he implores, showing me his best approximation of big, round eyes.
“Dammit, no! You know how much I’ll hate myself if this backfires...” My tone breaks into a pleading one near the end. His expression doesn’t falter... I let loose the deepest sigh I can muster. “I’m so sorry.”
“Please… Cherry, just… Please.” He squeezes me in his grip. “I take full responsibility for this one. And we will revert it back, even if I end up pleading you not to. Are those conditions fine by you?”
“Urgh…! Alright, fine, you are tearing me apart, I swear to the gods. But we’re reverting this afterwards, no weaseling out.” I mentally chastise myself for caving in.
“...No promises,” he eventually replies under his breath, making it clear my conditions would likely end up ignored.
I growl in resignation. Our connection changes color for a moment and he closes his eyes. A breath later, when he opens them again… They have turned pink, with no sign of changing back.
He tugs a strand of hair back behind his ear before adjusting his stance on his seat. “Ooh… Much better. You are a lifesaver.”
I frown. “Yeah, well, I still have a bad feeling about this.”
“You’ll get over it.” He smirks facetiously before placing me in his arms and petting my head.
When the knight comes back in the room, I hear a little gasp escape the warlock’s mouth. The knight raises an eyebrow and sits in front of us, looking down at me. “Strange familiar you got there, Pepper the witch.”
The warlock replies with a giggle. “Her name’s Cherry. She helps me a lot when I’m struggling.”
“More a fan of liquor myself when it comes to fulfilling that role.” She smirks, placing her elbow on the table to rest her head on her hand. “Alright, let’s talk serious for a minute there. Can you provide proof that you’ve killed the warlock or are we gonna have to hope you’re telling the truth? Because I haven’t seen much truthfulness from you so far, besides the good will.” Inferno, the warlock was right, she’d exactly managed to untangle the honest parts and the lies.
He pauses for a second. He squeezes me, then takes a deep breath. “As you noticed... I have lied about some details of my story. I can’t tell you my connection with the warlock, but I’ll continue to assure you he’s not of this world anymore.” There is a little pause before he adds, “Especially now.”
“Wait, what do you mean?” I ask. He puts his hand on my mouth to shut me up, which doesn’t work but I get the message.
The knight nods. “Mind if we keep an eye on you for the next few days, then?”
“I would have no issue with that!” the warlock replies with… delight? I hear his heart beating underneath me and I think I start to get the picture. “Actually, I’d love if you could capture his victims around the swamp and bring them to me! I’m sure you’ve heard of their fate, right?”
She gives him an inquisitive glance before standing up again. “If that can ensure your cooperation, then we’ve got a deal, Pepper.” She holds out her hand, which he takes and shakes firmly. “Alright then, I have some instructions to give and a camp to set up. If you’ll excuse me…” She gets up and approaches the warlock, giving him a pat on the shoulder. “Don’t disappoint me, lass.” Her hand slides onto my head, giving me the same treatment. “I hope your special friend isn’t gonna fail you either.”
He vigorously nods and hugs me, standing up. “I won’t, ma’am!”
“Call me Ashen.” And with that, she walks out the door (after a quick spell to put it back in its hinges) before turning around and pressing her hand around the door frame. A yellow magical veil falls into place.
“She’s done some magic to the door…” I announce, receiving only silence in return. “Sir warlock?”
“It’s Pepper. Pepper the witch,” he replies absently.
By the gods, what have I done...