The night sky was the clearest it had been all spring. Clustered nebula winked above, drawing patterns with celestial rhythm behind an implacable, smiling moon. A smattering of lazy whisps floated invisibly across the vaulted sky. But no rain. Perfect for a small, cheerful, crackling blaze.
Beneath these starry heavens, two people sat around an inappropriately cheery fire.
An uncomfortably androgynous mage shifted restlessly on her log bench. Her petite frame was draped in a dark blue, floor-length robe inscribed with dull red lettering. A similarly colored pointed cap perched on her face and a stiff, dark-blue collar neatly covered the bottom half of her face. The only signs that there was a girl beneath all the wrappings were newly crimson eyes, framed by cropped blonde hair.
She blinked, a bead of sweat rolling past her bloodshot eyes.
Thomas snuck glances at the massive armored male before her while keeping her gaze low. He was very still, his expression impossible to discern through his thick metal helmet. For a while, the smoke rising from the fire was the only thing moving in their modest campsite. The knight broke the silence by shifting in his seat. With all the plate, he sounded like a pair of massive gears shaking off their rust.
“So, Tom,” he graveled.
His attempted casualness was thoroughly arrested by his pensive tone.
“Your manhood is gone?”
Thomas shook her head and sighed. The bell at the tip of her hat bobbed back and forth.
“Hero, that’s the least of it. I am now an Alp. It’s a succubus type monster that-”
Hero interrupted her by coughing loudly. After covering his fake-cough, he reached into a satchel at his hip and produced a well-thumbed tome. At its cover, faded gold lettering spelling out “MGE” were visible – not that it mattered particularly to the illiterate knight.
Thomas was sure that her friend was going to quickly search through the book and thrust the page out for her to read aloud. Surprisingly, the burly knight simple opened up to a bookmarked page and quickly did the approximate of skimming through the entry. More accurately, he was looking at the sketches. He closed the book and looked back up at Thomas, shrugging when he saw Thomas’ furrowed brows.
“Well, since you gave me a book as a gag gift I do occasionally look at the pictures sometimes.”
Thomas stifled a giggle. While the book was a mean-spirited gift, its contents were nonetheless a fairly useful and detailed field guide. But also a good setup for a joke that Thomas had waited nearly six months since she had bought it to spring.
“To what? Beat off after I turn in?”
After a six month wait for a joke of that caliber, there was no clearer example of Thomas’ comedic genius.
“Funny. Sorry, if you see me removing these gauntlets it’s not because I want to rip off my dick – I do – but because the air hurts a little less than the armor rashes.”
Thomas’ expression soured somewhat. She hadn’t meant to poke fun at Hero’s condition and mouthed a quick apology.
Right, she thought, pressing her small lips into a line, turning into a monster is not a good time for brevity.
Hero accepted her apology with a nod and continued.
“Anyways, what’s important is that I was already aware you were at least a little gay,” he explained, ignoring Thomas’ glare. “So obviously, I got prepared just in case you couldn’t control yourself. Which you couldn’t. Anyhow, this proves I got some foresight.”
He tapped the side of his temple, chest puffed out in pride.
He was really only proud because he managed to say something that he thinks sounds similar to foreskin, Thomas thought.
“Anyhow, I found this page and bookmarked it. I made you specifically read this, and you didn’t think anything about it?” Hero sounded genuinely puzzled.
Thomas shrugged, lifting her gaze off the hole that she had scuffed into the dirt. She thought back on it. Indeed she remembered reading the article on alps, though thought nothing of it at the time. Hero made her read a lot of things for him, which was kind of a drawback of not taking your schooling quite as seriously as one ought to have.
As of now, the mage was more worried about the contents of the alp entry, particularly the “attraction to a close male friend” portion. She didn’t particularly feel like tackling the issue head-on, so she decided to try her hand at waffling and denial. Also just to put off admitting that Hero was right.
“It might not be that. It could have just been the Demonic Energy around this place. We’ve been traveling across Demon Realms for a while, and since I have a large reserve of Spirit Energy, it conceivably could have simply gotten corrupted.”
Her tone was hopeful, delusionally so.
“After all, there hasn’t been a truly powerful mage, like one on my level, that’s stayed this long in a Demon Realm. This could be the first case of Demonic Energy tainting a male by overtaking his own Spirit Energy production. Nothing to do with how alps are generally created, and as such an isolated incident worth studying at a university.”
The knight listened attentively, hands clasped in front of him as his friend began desperately trying to convince herself of her own gender. Fragile delusion indeed.
Hero coughed to get her attention and presented his own argument.
“Thomas, I have no idea what you’re saying – the Demonic Energy and Spirit Energy crap don’t make a lick of sense to me. I skipped school all the time, remember? But I still know that you’re full of shit. I mean after all, even before your cock ran off and stuck itself to your ass-” Hero pointed at Thomas’ purple tail, which flicked irritably at the comparison to a genital, “- you were still basically a girl. For example, remember when we used to swim in the river together?”
The mage raised opened her mouth, a frown of indignation not fully forming as Hero silenced her by rapidly tapping his breastplate. The rapid sound of metal hammering metal prompted Thomas to clap her delicate hands over newly-sensitive ears.
“You had boobs. Not pecs. Boobs. And you weren’t even fat.”
Thomas’ face flushed and she deflated. No more rationalizations, then. There was nothing she could do except for accepting the situation as it was.
She had noticed her transformation only that morning when she awoke in the tent and noticed that not only was her manhood absent, but she had grown a pair of horns, wings, and a tail. Fortunately, she was able to quickly hide the physical changes from the unconscious knight and had gotten through the day without incident. This was some parts Hero’s overall inattentiveness and another part Thomas’ ridiculous wardrobe. By nightfall, however, her conscience had gotten the best of her and she confessed what had taken place to her best friend, leading up to the current unique situation.
The knight decided to cut Thomas some slack. Or at the very least, take a break from the conversation that neither party wanted to continue. He sat up and walked over to Thomas. Smoothly, he yanked off her hat to reveal a pair of small black horns perched amongst her short blonde hair and a quivering set of pointed ears beneath them. Thomas did not take to the theft of her hat kindly.
“Give me my hat back you slow-witted cave ape.”
“Nice insults. I’m just trying to see your wings and tail. I wanna know if you’re not just messing with me, and this is the best way, short of me pulling your pants down.” he lied. Hero took Thomas on face value. On top of that, he at least wanted to maintain the illusion that he would be surprised that Thomas turned into an alp.
“Alright, that’s actually a much better way of us enjoying the evening.”
Thomas rose from her log bench and walked to the tent.
“When I woke up, I found an odd little outfit laid out for me next to my blanket. It really, shows off my new features, to say the least,” she said over her shoulder as she entered the tent.
“It’s for scientific purposes,” she said from behind the tent walls, “I’ll wear it so you can see.”
The mage sounded slightly too enthusiastic for what amounted to flashing her best friend. There was a brief lull. Hero stared at the fire, listening to the rustling coming from the tent.
He decided that “shows off my new features” wasn’t a phrase that he particularly enjoyed hearing, particularly from Thomas.
When she finished dressing, Thomas exited the tent and entered her friend’s line of sight. She was dressed in a midnight blue high crop top. It was made of some sleek, ribbed material and had a heart-shaped cut-out at her bosom that was filled with a tangled netting. Supported by garters, baggy trousers hung from her waist. The trousers were of the same color as her top and were cut so that they barely reached her thighs. On her legs, shiny purple stockings emerged from under her pants and abruptly ended at her knee. The garments were, true to her word, extremely well suited to showing off her wings and tail, and also did a spectacular job at exposing her midriff, legs, and general crotch area. In fact, the two-piece garment did an all around good job at pretending to clothe Thomas’ decency.
“Wow.” Hero said, now fully convinced that his friend Thomas was no longer a male.
The ‘wow’ did not carry the usual connotations that a situation such as this called for. Beneath his helmet, Hero wrinkled his nose.
Thomas, to his credit, was not blushing.
“These clothes are kind of strange. It was kind of cold while wearing just my robe, even by the fire, but in these,” Thomas fluttered up and flew around her log, showing off the sleek, velvety, black webbing of her wings, “it’s perfectly warm, despite the appearance.”
Behind the visor of his helmet, the knight’s widened in horror as he watched his friend flit around like a horribly deranged fairy.
“I don’t appreciate that. While calling you a flaming gay is kind of tiring, you’re really not giving me too much of a choice.”
Hero’s was nonchalant, but from the way he wrung his gauntleted hands, it was clear that he was more unsettled than he let on.
Thomas, noticing his discomfort for the first time, fluttered down back onto her log. The alp had enough fun reveling anyhow. She sat and faced him from across the fire, mirroring the postures that they were in previously.
I wonder why he was so uncomfortable? I was just showing him clothes, Thomas thought, a fuzzy thought slipping just out of her grasp. She rubbed the back of her head and gave up on chasing that line of thought. She had more important things to talk about with Hero.
“Well, the clothes lead into another issue that we should talk about. It’s about magic.”
Hero straightened, gaining some more of his previous disinterest. He even managed a groan.
“Are you going to lecture me on the Energy crap?”
Putting on as much of a teacher air she could muster while dressed like an exotic escort with a tacky wardrobe, she began lecturing.
“To begin with, humans produce Spiritual Energy naturally and can replenish their supply with food and rest. Think of it as stamina. It’s most potent in human reproductive fluids but also occurs in most living things. Monsters, on the other hand, have Demonic Energy, which is similar to Spiritual energy in every way except it can’t be replenished and can corrupt places and people if present in large enough quantities. Monsters can’t replenish their Demonic Energy naturally and thus need to intake Spiritual Energy for that, which unfortunately leads to, how shall I put this, ‘love blossoming on the battlefield.’ So you understand that right?”
The knight grunted in acknowledgment, fighting to prevent his attention from wavering. Thomas decided to help ease her friend’s discomfort and skip to the important points.
“So moving onto the clothing. The cloak that I wear is really effective at amplifying spells that I cast with Spiritual Energy, but now that I’m an Alp, I don’t have Spiritual Energy anymore. But with these clothes-”
“They’re not clothes. If your mom saw you ‘dressed’ in that, she’d kick your ass into next week, and my mum would probably join her.” Thomas shot the knight a dirty look.
“Neither of our mothers believes in ‘kicking asses,’ Hero. Regardless, the new garments that I have now seem to augment my Demonic Energy so I’ll probably keep them on.”
Immediately, Hero got up from his log and stared at the girl sitting across the fire. The intensity of the gaze made Thomas squirm slightly in her seat. He began vigorously shaking his head.
“No, no, no, I really don’t think so.” He pointed at Thomas’ top. “You aren’t selling your dignity for a couple of buffs, alright? Unless you have another reason than that, you don’t need to wear them.”
Thomas crossed her arms defensively and opened her mouth to say something. The knight caught the look and gave her an expectant look. He knew her well enough to know when she wanted to say something else. She closed her mouth and sat in silence before she caved in.
Avoiding Hero’s gaze, she muttered, “I think it looks cute too.”
Hero sat back down heavily. He was stony-faced if one could tell.
Thomas looked back at her friend’s defeated frame. More revelations were pushing against the mage’s pursed lips. She was a monster. She didn’t even know if she could still do magic. And if she could? There was the immensely uncomfortable topic of getting Demonic Energy.
Ah! That’s right, I do have that. The Demonic Energy issue was probably not going to be a big issue in that case.
Now, how was she going to play this? Thomas decided to go with the worrying Hero stratagem. Never once failed. She frowned. Maybe comfort him first. The clothes debacle seemed to have put him in a poor mood.
“Alright I know this is a lot to take in, but I’m sure we can figure this out together. In the state that I’m in right now, it’s going to be hard for me to help you with spells like before because I don’t exactly have a male I can…” she paused searching for the right word, “…harvest, I suppose, for energy. Unless, well… you know.”
She looked up expectantly at Hero, who had reclaimed his position on his log bench and was wiping an invisible tear of mirth from his cheek. The knight caught her look and indeed did know.
“It’s your choice. I can’t really tell you what to do for the clothes,” he said, seeking to delay his answer, “but what you’re saying…” he trailed off, chuckling nervously.
Crap, that wasn’t comforting at all.
“Hero-” she began, but the knight interrupted her. He was speaking in a distinctly nostalgic tone.
“You remember that one time that shopkeeper caught me stealing a honeyed roll out of his pocket?” he asked, staring at the stars and reminiscing.
Thomas nodded, puzzled at the new change of topic.
“I do. After you made off with it, you split it with me and wolfed down your half. Then he thundered into the alley behind the store and yelled at you for a while.”
They stared in the dimming fireplace as they both relived a bit of their childhood in comfortable silence.
“You were a terrible kid,” she said finally, a big grin breaking out on her face, “and after that, you looked so miserable, I just had to give you my half.”
“Yeah. I remember. It was a good honeyed roll.”
Hero paused. Thomas looked up expectantly. He had told this specific story for a reason, after all.
“Well, he said yelled something at me then that probably applies to now. Something like, ‘If I catch you with your hand in my pants ever again, I’m going to make sure you won’t ever be able to use that hand again.’ So yeah, please don’t touch my dick.”
Like she thought, definitely that story for a reason.
The succubus barked out a laugh and slid off the log. Getting comfortable lying on the grass, she sighed in mock disappointment. Her jokes, as usual, never went where she wanted them to.
“Well, if you don’t want me to, then I won’t. I’m still a monster though, so I have my instincts. And if I can’t replenish my Demonic Energy, I’m going to be fairly ineffective in combat.” She shrugged noncommittally, her bare shoulders parting several stalks of grass.
“Well, I mean I could maybe get some spirit energy from people in the next town we go to and so on like that, but…”
She trailed off. The wind whistled, filling the air with the sound of grass rustling.
Wow, Thomas, you should seriously stop.
“Yeah, none of that shit,” Hero said dismissively, “You think you’re still a dude right? I read in the encyclopedia entry that if you go ahead and do that kind of stuff, then you’re gonna actually turn into a full-blown ass succubus.”
His tone was light, but with a hint of strain. Thomas smiled, feeling a little warmed by her friend’s worry.
“Thanks. I’ll rethink the clothes, and I’m certain there’s an alternative for Demonic Energy generations.”
“Well as your best friend, I’d appreciate you not being a succubus. And dressing like one.”
Hero got up and walked over to Thomas’ stump, whose owner was using her wings to make tiny grass angels.
“Going without the magic that you used to be able to use is going to be hard,” he admitted, sitting down on the Thomas’ vacated log. “And yeah, we’re out here because it’s my adventure. But that does not mean I’m going to stick it out without you.”
They both stared into the night sky, Thomas not thinking much of anything while Hero was thinking on how to change Thomas back to normal. Hero gave up thinking of an easy solution, deciding to push the thinking to another day.
“How’s this,” he began, “we get some sleep to figure stuff out, and then tomorrow when we reach the next town, we’ll start looking for a way to get you back to normal. Maybe an archbishop or something could help us turn you back human.”
“De-monsterization. That sounds possible,” the succubus mused glumly, “but I suppose I’ll put some faith in you. You punched a Lilim with your bare hands and survived, so maybe you can do something about this, Hero.”
“Survive. Yeah, sure.”
There was silence again, this time more comfortable. Then Hero piped up again with a thought that he had been holding to himself for the entire night.
“You know I got a question, Tom.”
“Looking to finally find out what a breast feels like, Hero?”
“No, jerkface. If even I could have seen this alp thing coming, shouldn’t you have been just a little prepared? Especially since you actually did the whole education thing and all.”
Hero caught the look in Thomas’ eye and felt that he had just walked into a trap.
“Wait, now that you mention it,” the alp’s face broke into a toothy grin, “I did prepare for this! Just in case I happened into a scenario where I would ever turn into an Alp and require Demonic Energy replenishment, every time I, well, pleasured myself, I collected it into jars and put them into my Bag of Holding! I just need to drink a jar as needed and then I’ll be able to still cast magic!”
Thomas smacked her forehead with his palm and laughed.
“I must be clairvoyant!”
“Dude, what the fuck?!”