“Right,” Pepper replies after a few seconds, squeezing my plushie once more. “That is more or less what I expected.”
“I’m sorry, professor. The law is the law, and I’m here to enforce it,” Ashen states, dejectedly shaking her head.
“Surely you must understand that saving the lives of my victims must take precedence, though? We should not let innocent lives be lost merely to bring justice to my old self faster,” Pepper adds with a dead serious tone.
“Oh- uh… I’d reckon that’s important, yeah. Sure,” Ashen concedes. “It’s against procedure, but I’m sure I can obtain an exception if I just get an audience with the king.” After an unconvinced groan from the witch, she turns her eyes onto me. “What about the civilian? Can you turn her back?”
“I honestly do not know of anything that could, at this point…” the witch replies, looking at me in turn. “I have never heard of something like that happening to a familiar before. Mind you that they are not my area of expertise, but still...”
I sigh, turning back to the mirror on the wardrobe. “Yeah, I guess I’m not very human anymore, am I...” I think back to the possible futures I’d imagined for myself, bitterly crossing them off one by one as I look down at my translucent blue hands. Despite having regained their fingers, they’re still as if covered in fur, if the distinction even matters when I’m actually all made of magic as far as we know. I think back to the way they shifted effortlessly to this shape from paws, and just visualise them shedding the fur… And with that thought, each strand of hair individually recedes back into my skin with an unpleasant feeling. I close my eyes for a second and let the sensation crawl all over me, before touching my head, thinking back to my human face. When I open my eyes again, I’ve just finished shifting from the half-tiger form I was in back into normal, good old me... or at least a variant tinted blue. How I missed me. I take a look at myself, making sure all is as I remember, and I sigh again, with relief this time. When I turn back around towards Pepper and Ashen, they seemed to have been waiting for me before resuming the conversation.
“So here is the self-shaping we were looking for, definitely confirming the familiar theory,” Pepper states, suddenly making me feel self-conscious. “I believe I need to study my book in more details; it will likely answer some questions.”
“Aye, you do that, little lass. I think I need to get my move on if I wanna reach the capital before noon in two days. I’ll tell my men to continue rounding up the victims.” With a quick wave, the knight directs herself towards the stairs.
Pepper runs after her, grabbing her sleeve and stopping her only two steps down. “Are… you really sure this is a good idea? Ashen, I can tell you how the king will react. The moment you tell him I’ve been apprehended, he will immediately send the order to bring me back for an execution as soon as possible. You will not even be able to put a word in before he will dismiss you onto another task.” She seems very concerned from the way she’s unconsciously squeezing my plushie in her other arm.
Ashen sighs, before turning around and moving Pepper’s hand off her arm. “Look, just… Pepper. I know you don’t have much trust in the system. You’ve made clear as much. But I know my colleagues and I trust my king, I know he ain’t corrupt. Everything will be fine and you don’t need to worry.”
“Would your colleagues have given me the same mercy as you did?” Pepper asks, unconvinced.
Ashen pinches her nose bridge in frustration. “Well, no, but - Okay, no, stopping that discussion there. I said my thing. I’ll go to the king, reason with him, and you’ll see that everything will be working as intended.”
“That is the problem, though. I am not accusing the system of malfunctioning, but of having nefarious intent for everyone but the powerful few!” Pepper calls to Ashen’s back as she slowly walks downstairs and away.
I bite my lip and clench my fists; Pepper feels my frustration through our connection. “Can we just please put the political drama aside? Inferno, I do not want to deal with this. I just want to know what I can do to disconnect from you and go back to as close to my old life as possible.”
Pepper finally relents, abandoning her attempts to change Ashen’s mind to focus back on me for a second or two before squinting. “The spell that allows me to see you is fading away.”
Oh, we’re back at that setback. Hmm. “Is it that big of a problem now that you’ve taken a look at me?”
“Well, you would not want me to accidentally walk into you and transform further, would you?” Pepper replies with a smile that definitely betrays a desire to do so intentionally. Right. She is still looking for me to turn her body female. I’m not yet mentally prepared to change her on her terms, though. The memories of the way my magic killed her old self are still much too fresh… even if I know she would severely object to interpreting that situation as the death of the warlock.
“Alright, alright, let me think…” I look around the room for something to grab. I finally rummage through the sewing kit, pulling out a reel of thread. “If I’m holding something, you should be able to know where I am, righ-- woah!” The thread turns multicolour in my hand and I drop it as I see the reel change into something further, though with having stopped the change in the middle I cannot quite tell what. “Okay, am I going to transform anything I touch? Am I just a walking danger?”
“So far, we will have to assume the answer is yes,” Pepper replies with a frown, shifting her grasp on my plushie to hold it with both her arms again.
Hmm. The plushie.
I slowly approach Pepper, being very careful not to touch her anywhere, then slip my hand inside the plushie. It feels odd, like donning a familiar, if a bit tight, coat. I push further until I find myself slipping back inside, and suddenly, I’m back to being in the position I was stuck in for the past few days. A quick attempt shows me that I can lift my hand back out at anytime though, so I assume it must be true of the rest of me as well.
All in all, going inside the plushie voluntarily feels a lot less anxiety-causing.
“Oooh. You are a smart girl, Cherry,” Pepper replies, having felt what I just did.
I snicker, a joke coming to my mind. “What can I say? Only this vessel can contain my immense power.”