A grumbling Gaston set to work putting his study back in order. When they arrived back at the keep to place Lucinda’s belongings in a more agreeable place—far from them, the sage had whispered to his pupil—they had found the room in terrible disarray. The visiting sorceress’s lackey had transformed back into a rodent and run amok in the room until Gaston opened the door, allowing the creature to scurry to freedom.
“This is becoming an all-too-familiar occurrence,” the sage said. “This study has never seen such foul treatment as these past months.”
“Oh, but I do love when he gets that little growl in his throat,” Lucinda whispered. She placed her hand on Adelia’s shoulder, and leaned in to offer another secret. “He may be old, but he still has such vigor.”
“And excellent hearing at that,” Gaston spoke. “Don’t go speaking your foul poison into my apprentice’s ear. She has such a nice disposition. It would be a shame to see it flagged simply by your presence.”
“Very well,” she said. Her movements were choreographed in the most perfect manner. The fluttering of her lashes disguised her rolling eyes, and an innocent shrug hid the subtle shake of her head. “Well then, you precious little thing, allow me to explain the basics of transformative magic. We might as well make a learning experience of this mess.
“First of all, the cardinal rule of transformations: whatever will be, forever will be. Oh yes, you can put a comb on a chicken and call her a rooster, but behind the disguise, she’s still a mad hen. The same goes for our dirty little squirrel who made all this trouble for us. I turned him into a spry young man instead, but he was still a furry ball of fluff and claws behind the curtain. And the poor thing thought his tail was lost forever. And those flowers out in the garden, they’ll be back to normal by this afternoon.”
Adelia’s eyes flashed with curiosity, but she swallowed away her questions, along with her trepidation, and nodded instead.
“Well go on, my dear,” Lucinda said. “It’s not common knowledge. You’re allowed to wonder how it all works.”
“Ask away, Adelia,” Gaston bade. Though he had a meticulous focus on the books that he was arranging, he still cared to observe the lesson. “If you don’t, our friend here will invent all manner of questions for you, and answer them until we’re ready for bed.”
Lucinda smirked at that remark, but rolled her hand through the air, granting permission once more.
“Well,” Adelia hesitated. “When something is transformed—a living creature I mean—is it painful?”
“She has a sinister side, Gaston,” the sorceress said, raising her eyes and offering a delighted smile. “That is an excellent first query. Now, if I took your arm and stretched it out to be twice as long, you’d imagine the agony would be quite immense, wouldn’t you? Indeed, a fledgling witch or wizard would likely overlook that whole part of the process. But you, you’re already thinking ahead. This is quite good. A skilled practitioner has the ability to make the process of transformation quite painless. It is almost as though you pass the subject through a cloud, where all sensation is suddenly diminished. Our friend, the runaway squirrel, wasn’t even aware that he had been transformed.”
Adelia arched an eyebrow, and brought up her finger. “You said they have the ability… does that mean you could have made the poor thing endure that pain if you wanted to? And what about when the enchantment has ended? If you’re not around when the spell wears off, do they feel pain when they revert to their original state?”
On the other side of the room, Gaston could not hide his impossibly large smile. For the first time in as long as he could remember, someone could outtalk Lucinda.
The plump sorceress held up her hand, then. “Now then, young lady, wouldn’t you rather I show you the answers to all of the questions?”
Adelia looked to the sage, who nodded and shooed her away. “The further she is from this room, the quicker I can put it in order once more.”
“Come now, Miss… Kreegan, was it? We’ll go back out to the gardens where I’m sure we’ll be more appreciated.”
Lucinda ushered Gaston’s apprentice down the steps into the courtyard once more, and they passed through the gates of the keep. They did not venture much further than that, though, stopping once they arrived beside the first long stretch of wildflowers.
“Now, what better way for you to learn about transformative magic than to feel it yourself?” the sorceress asked. “What would you like to be? A fox? A sloth? A cat, like your furry friend in Gaston’s care?”
Adelia’s eyes went wide as she considered the curse that Lucinda was about to impart on her. “I’d rather not change at all!” she cried.
“Nonsense, you won’t feel a thing.” Lucinda didn’t allow Gaston’s apprentice to put up any more of a fight before she pointed at her with her cane. Contrary to her insisting, Adelia did feel something. It was like tiny sparks fired in her muscles, not so painful as it was unfamiliar. But the sorceress stopped then, and lowered her cane. “Hmm, you’ve got tremendous will, girl. It would take incredible magical prowess to convince you to change your skin, and I’m just not sure I have it in me to risk that much power.”
The girl smiled at that notion, and found herself more interested in that branch of arcane arts than ever. “So, you can’t just change anything you see? Other people can’t be transformed?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, dear child. Believe me, I’m the authority on husbands who turned out to be animals. But a caster’s will must be considerably greater than that of their subject. And someone’s will is affected by so many things. I perish to think of being able to work transformative magic on the great sage of Forsynthia. But if I caught him in bed, oh I’d turn him into a mighty stallion.”
Adelia averted her gaze again, and Lucinda blew out a weary sigh. “Oh you meek little thing. You are certainly old enough where a fire should be running through you, not extinguishing with every taboo thought that crosses your mind. Erm, don’t let Gaston know about that. Our little secret and all that. Moving on…
“We came out here to let you get a taste of transformation. Let’s see you test your mettle. We’ll start with something simple. These flowers are red. I’d like to see you turn them blue. Can you do that?”