The next morning, after Pepper’s breakfast, she brings me to her library. She puts me on the table again before fetching a few books that she piles next to me.
“I believe we should cross fairies off the list of possibilities,” she tells me. “The fair folk live for thousands of years and are very protective of their family - had one of them been your ancestor, they would’ve gone to search for you already. Not to mention, their magic is usually linked to the forests and the plants, which doesn’t quite fit the… impressive renovating you have done to my wardrobe.”
“Uh… Sure. You’re the expert there, Pepper,” I reply. “Any other idea, then?”
“Right, let me think...” She closes her eyes, deeply thinking for a second… I find myself wanting to raise an eyebrow when I see her cheeks turn a mild pink, with a smirk on her lips.
I mentally reproduce the sound of a cough, apparently snapping her out of a reverie. “Are you okay, Pepper?”
“Uh! Yes- yes, I am. Sorry. I had the word familiar in mind, as that is what Ashen likens you to. Then my thoughts drifted, and… Anyway. Maybe familiars?” She quickly pushes aside the current book at the top of the pile, then looks through the titles. She pulls out the one second from the bottom and places it on top, opening it. “There we go.” She starts skimming the page, using her index finger as she reads along. “Magically attuned beings from another dimension, can see magic - at least that criteria is fulfilled -, they seek mutually beneficial contracts with magic users, and have a peculiar talent in…” She goes silent, muttering incredulously as she reads further. “Oh. Ooooh. Ooooooh…”
“What does it say?” I ask, curious.
Pepper scratches the back of her head, seeming nonplussed. “I guess coincidences do happen. Your secret ancestor was very likely a familiar after all.”
“Oh. What makes you think that?” There seems to be an unspoken communication between our minds as Pepper picks me up to show me the page.
“Apparently transformative magic is their specialty, which would explain why you have picked up on it so fast you managed to change my polymorphing spell in mid-air.” She gestures at a series of drawings showing a crow turning into a house cat. “This talent also includes self-shaping, which would make the fact you cannot change the plushie a snag in the theory.”
“I mean, I haven’t exactly… tried,” I admit. “I kind of made a button explode, so I kept my experimenting to what I knew was safe.”
“Right, that does makes sense, my assumption was simply faulty… Well, we have already established the plushie is not your body anyway, so maybe that would not even rule the possibility out.” Pepper spins around to rest her back against the table. “But since you are here talking to me, I cannot assume your body has gone far. Maybe you just made it invisible in some manner.”
Something tickles my thoughts as she says this. “That reminds me, when you opened me the other day?” She seems to grimace in recollection, but nods. “The fluff inside of me was covered in specks of magic? Or at least I think that’s what that was, you couldn’t see it.”
“Is that so? Hmm… Well, that is when I finally have a reason to regret never learning a spell to sense magic. It is supposed to be the basics, but with my past beliefs on what makes a person strong, I had challenged myself to learn magic without…” The witch lets out a mighty sigh at first, before suddenly jerking her head up as she gets struck by an idea. “Though, I guess we could just ask for help?”
After some more arguing back and forth, Pepper finally manages to begrudgingly convince me to let Ashen in. The knight’s gaze flows across the room, while the witch’s stays firmly planted on her crush. “Alright then, little lass, what do you need my help with?”
Pepper snaps out of her reverie, focusing back on the moment. “Uh, right. Would you happen to have a spell to sense magic by any chance?”
“You don’t?” the knight replies, side-eyeing her.
“Let us say I happen to be self-taught in weird ways,” Pepper offers as another half-truth.
Ashen shakes her head, but nonetheless seems to oblige, moving to the center of the room. “I haven’t seen this one used since my days at the academy, but that should work.” She raises her hand above her head, a small orange orb appearing in her palm. The orb slowly grows in proportions, thinning to a translucent veil as it covers the entire room in a slight colored tint.
“Thank you!” the witch exclaims excitedly, turning her head in my direction. Ashen watches as she walks towards me, scrutinizing me. “...You were right, Cherry, you are covered in a blue aura.”
“Wait, so the plush toy’s really alive?” Ashen demands, cautiously eyeing the magical link between Pepper and me.
Pepper gulps, laughing nervously as she glances backwards to the knight. “She is… The story behind this is quite lengthy, but this is one thing I am willing to explain, would you just give me a few minutes to finish up understanding this predicament.”
“Starting to be a lot of lies by omissions, little lass.” Ashen nods disapprovingly, though she eventually moves to the opposite side of the room, resting her back against a wall.
Pepper mouths another ‘thank you’ and turns expectantly towards me again. “So, it seems as if you have enchanted the plushie somehow, but I still do not see your body anywhere.”
I sigh. “Good gods. Not even, like, a lifestream somewhere?”
“No… Unless… unless it’s all hidden in the plushie... Can you try to shake an arm, or do anything similarly easy?” Pepper suggests, holding my left arm in her hand to illustrate.
“I’ve already tried when I woke up like this. I tried to move but it was like I was stuck in this position.” I try to tug my arm out of her grasp to illustrate it to myself, not sensing anything changing.
“But you can feel sensations through the plushie, right?” she says, squishing on my hand with hers.
I stay pensive, wondering where she’s going with this. “I do, yeah...”
Pepper’s head slowly turns upwards in thought, her eyebrows furrowing. “Maybe you have mapped your concept of self to it? Can you try to move yourself, yet not move the doll?”
I’m a bit confused by what she means, but I get to the task wordlessly. I imagine my arm being something separate from the fabric. I try to visualize my hand tearing itself out from the sea of cotton it is enclosed in. I find it a bit silly, but I press on as I start to feel tingles in my entire limb. I groan as I put more and more effort in… And gasp in shock as I see a blue, transparent paw work its way out of my arm and into my field of view. I spot from the corner of my eye the other two women sharing the same disbelief. Not one to stop there, I press my whole body forward against the walls of fabric surrounding me… and I stumble off the table down to the ground.