Connection Confusion
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    I raise an eyebrow, skeptical. “How would that help?”

    Pepper picks up my plushie in her arms, turning back towards me afterwards. “Well, if we want to understand an old pact, making a new one altogether would provide us insight into the nature of what we are looking into.”

    I shrug. “Okay, yeah, fair. How do we do this then?”

    She walks two steps forward, closing a bit of the distance. “I was thinking that as a test run you would share with me your ability to see magic. That way, I get to see you permanently, and that is pretty mutually beneficial, isn’t it?”

    “Oh gods yeah, I’m pretty tired of having to watch my steps or stay in my plush toy.” I throw the inanimate item in question a glance. “But is that even something I can do?”

    “It is very common for one's first pact with a familiar to be obtaining  this useful ability, and I would bet that is part of the reasons why mages with familiars tend to have a reputation as talented spellcasters. Point is, it is something low stakes that can be paid back simply, so simply that in our case it helps us both out already. All you have to do is transform my eyes a little!” She says with an innocent little smile.

    I immediately perk up and grimace at the word ‘transform’. There’s the catch. “Pepper…”

    She frowns, squeezing my plushie. “I know, I know. I’m really sorry your first few experiences with that type of magic have been traumatic.”

    “They have been haven’t they…” I wonder if I can ever see myself dabble in that kind of magic again. With a sad sigh, I come to the conclusion that I probably could, just… not now. “I still need time…”

    Pepper rubs the back of her neck, feeling guilty. “I know you do, but that’s exactly what we don’t have, I’m afraid.”

    “Do we?” I try to argue. “This is for saving me, not the soldiers - this isn’t as urgent, is it?”

    She shakes her head. “The moment we send the soldiers back in time I will be dragged off to prison, Cherry.”

    “...Inferno.” I cuss.

    I pace around the room for a bit, trying to calm my emotions. I breathe in and out at regular intervals, before finally digging my head in my palms. I guess if this is my only chance to get a normal life back, I can only bite the arrow.

 

    Pepper has been standing at the ready for a few minutes now, waiting for me. I finally find the strength to lift my head up again, then look in her direction. “Alright. Okay. I’m doing this I guess.”

    “Good luck.” she says.

    I walk right to her face, then tentatively lift my hands to her temples. I fidget for a bit, hopping in place, before removing my hands and turning around. “I can’t, I can’t--” I crane my head backwards in frustration, before refocusing myself. “Okay. No. I have to do this.”

    I feel a reassuring warmth coming from our connection. I turn around and see Pepper giving me her most determined smile.

    I step back to my previous position, holding my hands against her temples. Finally, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, focus deeply on my task to change her eyes, then initiate contact.

    I feel energy explode out of me in a show of multicolor lights. My eyes pop open against my will, but I'm not any less blinded. I think I hear Pepper scream in pain under the deafening, gravely hum of magic. My feet lift off the ground and I sense my tiger tail growing back. Fur starts to cover me starting from my toes, climbing all the way to my head, changing my form in the process.

    When the transformation finally reaches the tip of my nose, the light stops as quickly as it started, and I crash back down on the ground, confused. I take notice of myself, and indeed, I am in my half-tiger form, though I have no clue as to why. It takes me just a moment of concentration and I’m back to my human self thankfully. “Pepper, are you okay?” I finally ask after having all of me accounted for. I glance up, slowly getting myself back on two legs… and stop dead as I see Pepper.

    Atop newly fluffed up curly hair sits a witch’s hat she definitely didn’t have before -- all black, with a white ribbon. I’m not quite sure what material I must’ve turned into it. A delicate amount of eyeshadow was added to her makeup, and speaking of her eyes, her pupils had turned into slits, and I can only hope that was the intent of the pact being fulfilled. My gaze dropping lower… It’s undeniable she is now filling out her clothes perfectly. She brings a hand to her chest and crosses her legs, and from the happy smile on her face, I confirm my conclusion is right.

    I just gave her her female body.

    “Cherry, by the gods!!” she exclaims, stunned.

    “What just happened?” I ask. Did she know this would happen? Did she trick me somehow? Gods, and now the thought makes me grimace. She wouldn’t stoop that low-- well, at least not anymore, right?

    “I am… me! In every corner of my mind, and now every inch of my body too!” Pepper continues, not having paid enough attention to hear me, apparently. I can’t blame her. “Why did this happen? You are sure you only meant to change my eyes, right?” She tears her gaze off of herself and onto me.

    “Well, yeah, of course!” I reply while standing up.

    She tilts her head, intensely staring at me. “Uh…”

    “What? Do I look different or something?” I take a glance a myself, but no, I did turn myself fully back into my human form...

    She squeezes my plushie (I almost forgot it was there). “Cherry, are… Are you speaking right now?”

    My eyes go wide. “Inferno. Inferno inferno inferno!! You can’t hear me!?” She brings her hand to her mouth in shock.

    “I cannot hear you!” she replies. She glances around me, then herself. “Where did the connection go?”

    “Wait, what?” She’s right. There’s no strand of magic coming out of me and towards her anymore. We’re… finally separate.

    “But that makes no sense, why would fulfilling a pact remove our connection?” she thinks aloud.

    We aren’t given much time to think as a commotion happens outside - a gallop coming to a sudden stop, followed by a horse’s neigh and confused shouts coming from the royal guards’ camp. The front door slams open, and someone runs up the stairs in a hurry.

    “PEPPER!” Ashen shouts, panting. “YOU HAVE TO GO!”

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