With some experimentation, we quickly understand the spell on the door is a simple, silent alarm that would warn the knight if we tried to get out. The warlock reacts with indifference, climbing the stairs up to his bedroom with me in tow.
Once arrived, he lets himself fall onto the blankets with a happy sigh. “Isn’t this great, Cherry? Now we have a whole group of talented people helping us find the transformed soldiers!”
“Yes, that part is good, but-” I try to edge in only to get cut off by his rambling continuing.
“You know what that means? Now actually finding and saving them all in time sounds actually plausible instead of being a false hope!” He rolls onto his belly, swaying his legs up and down. “And this Ashen woman! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such strong emotions, even less so caused by the presence of someone! I’ll have to study that phenomenon. Do you think she would be interested in learning about the intricacies of your existence?”
“STOP! Stop! Timeout!” I shout, finally catching a moment of respite. “First and foremost, we’re reversing that last thing I did, because this is crazy. You have nothing in common with… with yourself anymore!”
He turns around once more, moves his hand to the top of my head and starts to pet me. “Says you. From my point of view, it feels more like I’ve grown out of being a lonely, angry man.”
I can already feel this has become a lost cause, but I can’t stop myself from arguing, trying to find any way to make him change course. “But it’s the spell itself making you be okay with the way it’s changing you! It’s not your own feelings!”
He pauses his caresses, raising his hand to his chin and thinking. “You’re probably right. But my feelings about those feelings are definitely my own, and I’ve decided I like them… Plus let’s not repeat the discussion about how old me deserved much worse anyway,” he quickly adds in a low growl. After a short pause, he lifts me up above his face, his deep pink eyes looking straight at mine. “Gods, even, you know what? Turn me into a woman!”
“What?” I ask, saddened.
“What what? I wanna be a woman. Make me one?” he offers with a shrug and a smile.
“Oh gods… You’re really somebody else altogether, aren’t you… The warlock is dead…” I speak monotonically as the situation hits me.
“And lo and behold there was nothing of worth to mourn,” they reply with a roll of their eyes.
“Pepper, that means I killed someone,” I say, clarifying the reason for my distress.
“Eeeeh… I’d argue differently since I know I’m still me in here, as much as you don’t believe me. If anything, I was less alive before than I am now.” Their tone, as well as their expression, is dead serious. “But even then, so what? That’s what you’d been conscripted to do anyway, take down the evil guy, mission accomplished.”
I keep rattling my brain looking for a reply to make, a concern to raise… I don’t find any. Every angle my brain could take to make me feel awful for this, they’ve raised an argument against. The warlock was a bad person, killing him was a good thing to do, and even then they think he’s not truly dead, and that’s merciful in a way...? I let out a long, pained groan, during which Pepper hugs me. “I need some rest...”
They nod. “Definitely, yeah. Heavy emotions there, give yourself some time to process them and freshen up. Brood a little, or sleep, whatever helps. I used to like the brooding myself, even if it was to avoid listening to my emotions.” They let out a playful giggle.
I offer a sigh as a reply. “Yeah. I’ll just… sleep for a while. You go… do research, dig up some graves, flirt with Ashen, whatever it is you want. I don’t have any energy to think about any of that right now.”
“F-flirt?” they ask with a concerned expression, their cheeks turning red.
I would offer a smirk before letting myself fall into unconsciousness, but alas, the plush face I possess remains as stoic as ever.
When I wake again, I realize from the rays of the setting sun that I probably wasn’t out for more than a few hours. Still, I feel as refreshed as with a full night’s sleep.
I hear Pepper’s footsteps move from their wardrobe to me, picking me back up and into my usual spot, snuggly fit between their arms. “Feeling better?” They ask while sitting down on their bed.
“Yeah,” I reply. “What did you do while I was out?”
“Hehehe…” The laugh they let out seems a bit nervous. “I was… planning on doing some research on what kind of ancestor you might have, but found myself getting distracted by posing in front of the mirror.”
“I see…” A thought comes to the tip of my tongue, it takes me a while to figure out exactly how I want to word it. “You are being extremely feminine, you know that? I know that’s exactly what I enchanted you with last, but I didn’t expect to that extent...”
“That is true. If I had to assume, the fact it was a mutual agreement, along with… honestly, the curiosity and eagerness I had built up for it over the past two days probably let it through my mental barriers unaltered. Hence the extreme result.” They let themself fall backwards onto the bed. “But I am enjoying this. A lot.”
Their request from earlier comes to my mind, leading me to ask a question. “So it’s curiosity that’s making you demand that I turn you into a woman?”
“I… I guess? I’m not sure… At this point, I have the mannerisms, and my body is quite feminine, yet still… Underneath, it still feels like I am a feminine man in opposite clothes, and… That thought hurts. I’m not sure why.” They let out a long sigh. “I just… I think of what I have down there and it feels like it’s tainting the picture. I think of my chest and it feels as if something should be there and it just isn’t. I don’t want to be a feminine man, or even a man at all, I want to be a woman. I want to stop thinking I’m a man...”
I try to feel for what they want out of me. “So you want me to use my magic to change your body into a woman’s?”
“Yeah! Yeah, I want that, I…” Their eyes squint for a moment, deep in thought. “Nevermind, there is no need.”
“What?” I ask, totally confused.
They bring one of their hands to my hair, gently caressing it. “I already am a woman. My request is silly.”
“What makes you think that?” Not that I’m denying, er… her discovery, I’m just curious where it came from.
“Come now, I want to have a woman’s body so much, how could that not mean I already am one?” She raises her arms up in the air and lets them drop back down, spread out. “Truly, when you think about it, what difference is there between wanting to be a woman and being one? What could possibly make one radically different from the other? By that I mean, who but a woman would want this enthusiastically to be a woman? Gods, it’s like I’ve suddenly smashed my understanding of identity into something new.”
I must admit I do not manage to fully follow her train of thought. I suppose I’ll just have to think on it some more later. But at the very least, there is something I believe I can say. “I’m happy for you then, Pepper.”
“Pepper… Yeah, that’s my name,” she replies blissfully. “I’m truly, fully, Pepper the witch. In mind and… Well, the body remains a work in progress.” She lifts me to her face and offers me a thankful smile. “Still. The changes in my self might not have been quite organic, but I am someone I am happy to be now. Thank you.”