The Ritual knew. Oh gods, it knew. I already felt it…a horrific disconnect. Utterly hollow, I felt the need to vomit without anything that could come up.
Just like that, life on my own terms was over. The years of preparation fluttered away like a leaf on the wind, a moment of failure returning all to dust. How would I have felt if I had won? Lisette going through this in my place? What we’d had before was suddenly so incredibly valuable. And gone.
Words. I heard words. “It’s okay, Hildie. We knew this would happen, doncha think? We both get what we want.” For the moment, her words were getting harder to parse. There was something tugging at my soul, laying the groundwork for the drastic revision of all that was Hildegard.
I was pinned by a building pressure, the Ritual of the Familiar claiming my being. It brought sweat from my pores and screams from my lungs, and it was only getting worse; white hot destruction that levelled all that was to make room for…whatever she…wanted…
“There, there…” A low whisper, a purr. It cut through the agony, a light piercing the darkness. “I’m right here. You know nothing can go wrong if I’m here. And better yet? I’m never leaving.”
Never leaving…well, that was what we agreed on. Lisette was holding me now, holding me over a fire. Why couldn’t she stop this? She was stroking my hair, whispering sweet nothings, but…
“Ah!” One more jab of metaphysical agony cut through me, but I could see her near me, through the tears in my eyes. Kneeling by the ground where I lay, others were watching, cheering even, but they were meaningless. “Lissy…am I still gonna be me?” It was the swan song of the me that had free will, an entity no longer on this plane. "I changed my mind, Lissy, I didn't think this through...it hurts so much! I just wanna be me, but it hurts..."
“Of course, Hildie. You'll always be you, but the pain is just for now.” Her voice was completely breaching the ritual’s processes now, echoing directly in my mind, representing the absolute. Lisette continued, and her voice brought as much euphoria as the loss had initially brought pain. Was that normal? I wasn't sure that was normal. But searing pain could make you think the strangest things. “I’m a magus now!”
And even as I continuously begged for her to make it stop, that truth was all encompassing.
She was a magus now.
“That’s…wonderful, Liss…” Echoes of myself were standing up to leave my body behind. The girl seeing her father for the last time, the girl hearing of a peasant revolt in her hometown. The girl reading an impersonal letter telling of her father's death. The girl crying into Lissy's arms, long into the night. Lissy...she was...here, right. In the present. She was speaking. Oh! She was speaking. I needed to listen.
“Yup! And you’re my perfect little jewel. And soon, my own work of art. Let’s get started, shall we?” The victor cocked her head, however, before she started to remold me in earnest. “Any last requests? I can take your input, if you like.”
She knew best.
“No…I…love you, Lissy…” Jovian's balls, did I ever. My guiding light through what magic school had ended up being, a culture of cruelty. I belonged to her now! An extension of her will. No longer a person myself. That was...good? Yeah, that was amazing!
“I love you too, Hilde.” She plunged her metaphysical being into my very soul, and I was only a spectator for what happened next. She shielded me from the pain of my body being remade; I could still feel it, but what should’ve been indescribably awful was held at arm’s length. Because she was here.
She loved me.
For that reason alone, I was unimaginably lucky.
My hair was the first change. It got much longer, to start with, heat centering on my scalp as endless strands exploded from it. Voluminous locks became a uniform sea of white, gleaming under the morning sun. My skin followed, becoming impossibly smooth and shimmering, paling to near-snow, shifting to something flawless and nearly metallic. Glints of color were barely visible under the translucent, decidedly crystalline, surface. I could somehow tell that my irises were suffused with the same myriad of color, ever shifting, even more brilliantly if my eyes fell on my Mistress.
She beamed down at me like my own personal sun. “Oh, you look so lovely!” My skin was set alight with the praise. “Do you think you can stand for me?”
“Of course, Mistress.” The honorific fell into my speech easily. I rose, glistening like an argent waterfall, following Lisette’s unspoken command to put my pearlescent arms around her. The simplest touch sent warm ripples through my being; the hug was a cascade of delight.
To think the old me had wanted this the other way ‘round — oh! I’d retained my memories, perhaps?
“Just noticed that, did you? I could’ve gone for anyone if I’d wanted a blank slate, Hilde.”
“You have my utmost thanks, Mistress.” I caught glimpses of the crowd, who were in good spirits on the whole. Apprentices, but also magi, accompanied by their own familiars. I had something over that last group, of course. I was Lissy’s. And she had only done right by me. The rest were a menagerie of any number of things; imitations of animals or, more rarely, plants, some more esoteric entities among them; golems, angels, or even just sex objects without a single thought in their heads.
My Mistress hadn’t gone for anything so base. I was a droplet of moonlight, imbued with the effortless grace befitting anyone who’d consort with the best.
“If I may,” I said, before trailing off. I had Words in my head, but I wanted permission to set them free.
“You may!” Mistress chirped.
“I’m glad you won. I'm...really glad.”
“Oh, Hilde.” Mistress’ giggles set my soul alight. “You never had a chance, darling. But you did put on a wonderful show. Wanna go somewhere we can be alone?”
My heart rate, if I still had the need for such a thing, must have spiked at that remark. “I very much would!” The excitement must have been visible on my face, because Lisette’s own smile split wider.
“Let’s go, then, my pet.”
I’d been in Lisette’s room plenty of times before, but never like this — hovering off the ground with both hands clutching her shoulders, as she jostled around for a key.
Her robes sure had a lot of pockets. “There we go…” She collapsed on her bed when she reached it. I peered in what must've been a sacred space, Mistress' domain. Was I worthy to even look at it?
Her call allayed my uncertainty. “You coming?”
“Of course, Mistress.” I did so. Surveying the sudden focal point of my entire being, she had an angry red scar across her face, leading me to wince with regret, the colors under my skin briefly shuddering.
“Despite what I’d said…” Mistress heaved a deep breath, every motion of her chest rising and falling burning into my memory. Eyes were occluded under fogged lenses. “It was a pretty good fight. Glad I kept up practice on my Seven Sunders.”
I could only really nod at that. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at this point — I’d taken some comfort in the fact she’d told me I’d “never stood a chance.” But it was what it was. I gradually orbited her, more or less just waiting for her to speak once more. Mistress had such a lovely voice.
What she did do was chuckle a bit uncomfortably. “You can talk freely, y’know?”
My thoughts skipped over a few times as lucidity crashed back through them. “I can only assume that the magus-bait classes were just in-depth looks at how the Ritual feels like you’re growing five new assholes,” I said, shuddering at the recollection. “I’m glad you were there because going through that alone would’ve killed me!”
Mistress made that Lovely Sound That Makes Me Happy again. “Is that so? I am sorry you had to go through so much torment. Really, I am.”
“Don’t be sorry. You can do no wrong.” I blanched at Mistress’ mildly critical look.
“Okay then…but what does Hildegard of Siebrücken think about this?”
“I think the entire system is fucked and in an alternate universe I’m still frolicking in meadows and setting field mice on fire like I probably was before some sweaty official took note and sent me off to magic fuck jail.” Twirling a lock of unnecessarily long hair, I added “‘course, I wouldn’t have met you…” Yeah. This was much better than overrated nonsense like "freedom" and "agency".
Lisette’s smile at my words…yes good very good wonderful yes amazing beautiful good very good good—
“Hilde? I mean…wow, if you could see your face right now.” Her smile faded, leading me to briefly panic under overlapping questions of what I’d done wrong. “I…don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile like that…”
“But…if I’m happier that’s good, right? Or am I not supposed to be?”
She moved her mouth but made no sound — Mistress was deep in thought. As emotion cracked her composed facade, she was a flurry of motion, pulling me into another tight hug.
Accordingly, hot jets of bliss shattered my thoughts as I melted into her embrace, the colors gleaming brightly. Little imperfections in the moment were only more endearing — things like her hands slipping against my hair as she sought a solid grip, her glasses briefly catching on the side of my face. Things we could laugh about later.
But now wasn’t the time for that. The discord emanating from Mistress was palpable, and the parts of my mind that once concerned themselves with how I could best turn my hands into swords were now scrambling to solve the puzzle of Her emotions and how I could assuage them.
Eventually Lissy spoke and Words tugged me back to the present. “This soulbond, Hilde…we’re gonna figure it out. I’m going to do everything to make you happy while keeping you you.” The conviction in her voice was...really hot. But the words themselves were a bit puzzling.
“But…the ‘me’ you’re talking about wasn’t happy.”
“There were flashes, there were definitely these small moments,” Mistress said. “Moments at the end of the day when one of us would show up at the other’s door, when we could push the rest of the world away for a few hours. That’s when you were the most you, and that’s what I’m after.”
“I kinda thought you just had to tell me to be happy and I’m there.”
“Maybe that works in the short term,” Lisette mused, “but…Jovian’s left tit, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just refusing nature. People are just gonna say you’re not a person, but…”
She trailed off, and I used my powers of being able to “talk freely, y’know?” to interject. “Can I just say that being a person is totally overrated? Now I get to be an extension of my favorite human. Pretty good deal, it turns out.”
Lisette cracked a smile again. Success! “It’s only just happened. You’re really sure about this?”
“My todo list is just Lissy things from here on out. Studying? Any sapience I get is granted by you. Magic? Outta my hands. I dunno what I was on, this is perfect! Now if some jackass claimed my soul, that might be different…”
“I was never gonna let that happen.” Again, her absolute sent my metaphorical heart racing.
“See? I was never in any danger. That’s…pretty nice. I could get used to this whole peace of mind thing.” Settling on her bed beside her, I smirked. “Enjoy all that pesky decision making stuff. I’m just along for the ride!”
Mistress scoffed with loud amusement. “Perhaps I’ll cut those words on the side of the main building and force you to remove them. A day or two of begging and I *may* even grant you the means to do so~” At some point she’d pinned me to the bed and was gleefully looking down at me, or maybe through me. It was…glorious.
“Sounds like a good time to me.” If Mistress wanted me to do it, what could be bad? The former me would've hated the idea, but she lost a duel, who cared what she thought? I certainly didn't.
“Perhaps I’ll make you take my likeness and go to class for me. Actually…I like that idea…”
*That* sounded properly horrifying. “You wouldn’t be there?”
“Nope! I’ll be living it up in town!” Reading my apparent expression, her own changed. “I’m never actually going to leave you, Hilde. I forbid you from imagining such a thing.”
So she commanded, and so it was.
Lisette continued. “I’d love to have you accompany me to class, though.”
“Service you under the desk?” I said a little too quickly. “I-I mean, I’d heard the magus banter before, and…it’s…well, I dunno, I guess it’s stupid…”
“Perhaps I’ll allow it if you’re a good girl.” Her smile, her glasses reflecting light.
This whole ‘elation at simple statements’ thing was one hell of a drug. “Have I ever not been a good girl, oh dearest Mistress?”
She booped me on the nose, which, now that I thought about it, I wondered if she changed my face at all. But either way, it felt nice. “I distinctly remember a human by the name of Hildegard plotting to parade me around naked.”
Oh, her again. “That, uh, could’ve been any human by the name of Hildegard. And, uh, I’m no human.”
Mistress’ smile was suddenly marred by a sad gaze. “By my authority as a magus you will have an identity, formerly-human Hildegard.” The joviality in her voice was smothered by a new somberness.
“Identities are stupid and maybe I don’t want one.” I slipped out from under her so I could cross my arms while I pouted.
“What part of ‘authority as a magus’ don’t you get, dummy?” She softly elbowed me in a place I may or may not have had ribs. “It’s not your place to refuse.”
I gulped. What if I couldn't be me? What if I let her down? “Sincerest apologies, Mistress.” I considered prostrating myself at the foot of the bed. It seemed a bit much.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lisette said, waving me off. So worrying about it was off the table. “Ah, the fatigue is catching up with me.” She accompanied that statement with a languid stretch. “Let me cuddle you, Hilde.”
“I’d like nothing more.” I settled into her arms, the most natural thing in the world. The entirety of her body against mine as it was; I yearned for it to last forever.
Maybe it would.