Actions

Work Header

But Not the Symptom!

Chapter Text

"Crap!"

Jason looked in horror at the three little children running around the halls of his high school, teenagers just a moment before.  And right after Professor Madison's careless wish to command the boys' attention had left him a woman.  Before Jason could collect his thoughts, he heard a voice from behind him.

"Ooh, he's so dreamy; I wish I could follow him around all day."

With a flash of light, the unfortunate – or perhaps fortunate – girl who had said this became a dog, still wearing her glasses, as the bemused jock she'd been following looked down at her.

"Double crap!" Jason shouted.

A nearby couple, James and Irene, were idly chatting.  "I wish I had your smarts in class," said James; "psh," Irene replied, "I wish I had your athleticism!"

There was another flash of light, but this time there were no visible effects, only the couple staring at each other in shock.

"What in the... Irene?!" Irene cried to James.

"How... James?!" James responded.

This was going to get worse before it got better.  Jason summoned Angelique despite the crowd – after all, if this town were capable of noticing anything, the girl turning into a dog would probably hold more interest than the genie appearing.

"What in the world are you doing?  You need to stop!"

"I told you, I can't!" said Angelique.

"Well, then, jeez, at least change everything back!"

"I tried!  I can't do that, either!"

Meanwhile, with another flash of light, two boys vanished from the hall.

"What did you do to them?" asked Jason.

"I'm not even sure," said Angelique, scratching her head.  "I didn't really hear their wish that clearly."

"Why'd I have to find this stupid bottle?!"  Jason shouted, holding it up in front of him.  With that exclamation, Angelique got a good look at the bottle for the first time.  "Wait," she said, "let me see that."

"See what?  It's your bottle."

"No, we get summoned out of different bottles all the time, and if this is what I think it is, we're in deep trouble."

Angelique had recognized it by traditional depictions of something called "the bottle of Ishtarru," regarded as mythical even among genies.  She couldn't say much about it, only that genies feared being summoned by it to the point of it being a proverb.  Jason wasn't especially keen to deal with something that was a threat to genies, much less a threat of mythical proportions, on his own; the next stop was to ask Anne.

Jason and Angelique found Anne chatting with Robin and a boy in a Leafs jersey.

"...I just wish I didn't have to move at all after this," said the unknown boy, and in a flash, he vanished.

"I didn't do it!" shouted Anne.

Anne seemed terrified – just like the genie, it was unnerving to see a being so powerful nonplussed.  Jason raised his hands to keep her from panicking, as Angelique began to explain her uncontrollable wish-granting, and the apparent responsibility of a genie campfire story.  A look of recognition seemed to slowly come to Anne with each detail, and she soon summoned a book she'd bought from Milo.  (By this time, Robin was a girl due to the idle wish of a passing Stephanie Brown fan, and a redhead due to a deliberate wish by Jason.)

"Here it is.  I knew I'd read about it before.  'The bottle of Ishtarru is an ancient artifact.  Once a normal djinn bottle, it was cursed by a powerful being centuries ago, and has since become feared in both the mortal and djinn planes.  It causes any genie or djinn summoned through it to lose control of their powers.  All wishes from any wisher nearby are granted, no matter how large the number.  Since the number is then increased beyond three wishes, the genie is bound to the mortal plane for an unknown time.'  It says here the way to break the curse – odd that it's never been used before – the bottle of Ishtarru's gateway to the land of the djinn must be sealed forever, and..."

Angelique interrupted her.  "Wait, sealed?!  That's my only way home!  If I don't go back to my own land, after a while, I... I lose my magic altogether.  There must be another way!"

"It's the only way the volume says."

"Then it's wrong!  I'm already bound here if I'm cursed, what good is lifting the curse if I'm still stuck here?  Besides, if I've heard of the bottle already, then it was obviously dealt with differently before because djinn have returned to talk about it."

Anne flipped through the pages.  "Here – 'in time, the curse of Ishtarru will wear off and the genie can again return to its land, as in two previous cases...'"

"See, I told you there..."

Anne continued reading.  "...those of Pompeii and Atlantis."  Angelique's face fell.  "I can keep looking," said Anne.

"No," said Angelique, "if this isn't checked, you're all in danger.  I can't let that happen.  You need to seal the bottle if it's the only way disaster can be stopped."

After some preliminaries, Anne began to read and gesture, her words taking on an unearthly sound and her hand and the bottle glowed, the bottle hovering in the hall.

"Allistas beatigice, passageway of the djinn, door of the genie, seal your gate to the plane, end the curse here bestowed, become a bottle of clay once more."

The bottle fell to the floor – all present felt it should have broken, but despite its new dull finish indicating the change it had undergone, not a chip came off.  "It's done," said Anne.

"So... um... why am I still a girl?" said Robin, as Angelique knelt to the floor crying.

"The book said 'to reverse the wishes, the curse itself must be lifted,'" said Anne.  "I thought that might mean they would automatically revert, but I guess that just means we can undo them now."  At that, three children ran by.

"What the...?" said Robin.

"They used to be freshmen," said Jason.  "They wished for less homework."

With a wave of her hand, Anne re-aged the students as they ran, falling all over each other in a teenage heap.  "So I guess that's the next step?" she said.

"Um, me next?" Robin asked.

"Oh, right."  With a snap of Anne's fingers, Robin was back to normal.

"There was also a girl who wished herself into a dog," Jason said, "a couple who I think switched places, two boys disappeared and I'm not sure why – um, besides the one you were talking to before – and my lin al professor wished himself into a woman."

"I don't think I can do anything about the boys unless I know where they went.  Do you know, Angelique?"

"No," said Angelique between sobs.

"Scott, too?" asked Robin.

"So where are the dog and couple?" was Anne's only reply.

Irene and James were hiding in a closet they'd long known to be underused this time of day, although this time they needed it for a rather more gloomy purpose.  James, in Irene's body, sat curled up on the lap of his former body, his new girly head weeping against his own former chest.  Irene, in James' body, wrapped her new, manly arms around her former self, clutching the boy inside her old female body tightly to her new male one.  She gave a sad, soft smile.

"Hey," she said in a slightly breathier version of James' deep voice, "it could be fun."

At that moment, there was a sound and a brief glow, not quite a flash, and Irene was back in James' lap, head against his masculine chest, dry tears on her face, as James was back to holding her in his strong arms.  They both started to laugh, and then to kiss, as outside the closet Anne crept away.

The dog and her "owner" were out on the soccer pitch, him on his knees petting her as she yipped happily.  With a snap of Anne's fingers, the dog was a girl again, lying prone on the grass.  The boy briefly withdrew his hand, but the girl murmured "don't stop," so he didn't.

Anne and her friends never would learn what became of Scott or the two boys who vanished.  As it happened, the former had become a mannequin modeling women's swimwear in a nearby department store, where he remains to this day.  The boys, who had wished to make their roleplaying games real, had been sent to a world where they were, one boy in the form of a dagger-wielding elf maiden, the other a wizard resembling his old self.  They soon realized how much they missed the safety of knowing this world only through a dice bag, but how long they survived real combat and what they accomplished by it are of no concern to anyone on this plane.

That afternoon, Robin was taken aback to find his calculus class being taught by a buxom blond woman, and while a few students seemed similarly confused, others addressed her without a second thought as "Professor Madison," and as they did so, the rest seemed to quietly internalize and accept what had happened.  He'd have to confront Anne about it after school.

He gave her the benefit of the doubt when he broached the topic: "Hey, Anne, you forgot to turn Professor Madison back."

"Hmm?  Oh, she's better off - you can see it in her eyes.  She did wish for it!"

For support, he turned to Jason, whose only response was a shrug.  After a moment's reflection, Robin replied with a shrug of his own, muttering, "fine, whatever."

Chapter Text

"That's not a unicorn... that's not a unicorn... that's not a unicorn..." Cassie repeated, rendered almost catatonic by the ten-foot bipedal reptillian monstrosity she'd summoned.

"Ah, it's been so long since I've visited this world, but it's all so familiar," it hissed through its fangs.  "The air, the light, the mortals cowering in the corner – yes, I remember this place well."

"Okay, everyone just stay calm," said Anne, "I'll get us out of this."  These other girls at the slumber party didn't know she was a witch, let alone whatever a "wotch" was, but this thing was worth more than her secret.

"Now hold on just a minute!" yelled Katie, the party's host.  "You can't just appear in my house and walk all over us!  You'll have to get through me first!"

The monster's four red eyes glowed as beams of light issued from its forelimbs' claws, straight into Katie's chest.  Orange fur grew all over her body, her hands becoming paws, a tail shooting out from her spine, her ears now feline, a collar around her neck.  She tried to hurl insults at the creature, but only an angry feline yowl came out.

"I also remember how easy it is to change your form, mortals!  I'm gonna love this," said the creature.  Two more zaps, and Wolfie and Ming had been changed similarly, their changes differing from Katie's only in that rather than a cat, they'd taken on traits of a wolf and a Pikachu respectively.

Only Anne and Cassie were left.  As Cassie turned the pages of her spellbook in a blind panic, Anne put one arm around her waist and encased them both in a protective capsule.  Another beam of green light struck the capsule, throwing them out the second-story window.

They landed in a hedge outside, where Robin and Jason had been hiding.  Despite the bubble's protection, the shock of landing jolted Anne enough for her to unconsciously dispel it; Cassie had fainted before they'd even hit the ground.  "Robin?" Anne asked in a daze.

"Are you okay?  Are you hurt?" asked Robin.

"No, I'm fine. I got the defensive spell up in time.  It cushioned our fall."

"Hey, that's Cassie Sinclair!"

"You know her?"

Robin thought back to his past encounters with her, mostly initiated by her.  Every time, she'd eventually bring up some upcoming event, generally involving either ear-splitting music or some pagan festival.  Never quite asking him to go, she would always stress the low/no cost of the former or the openness to newcomers of the latter, and in both cases the fact that she'd be there.  He'd never gone.

"Yeah, you could say that," he said.  "What happened?"

"A demon happened!  Cassie tried to summon a unicorn, but..."

The creature, the demon, leapt over their heads, with a shout of "it's good to be back, baby!"

"So you summoned a demon," said Jason.  "Why can't you just have pillow fights in your underwear like normal girls?"

"That reminds me," said Anne, "why were you two here again?"

"Enjoying the night air?" said Robin.

"You're a bad liar, Robin.  Remind me to punish you guys later."

The demon, whose name Anne would later learn from her library was 'Uricarn,' had fled to the woods.  It found James and Irene along one path, on a "walk" to the secluded heart of the forest.  The moment they saw the demon, they froze in fear, and it sensed in them an affinity for a particular type of spell.  With a snap of the demon's fingers, once again Irene was James and James was Irene.  It cackled as they ran off in a confused panic.

Uricarn came to a clearing in the trees.  Through the trees was a bustling café – fertile ground for the demon's seeds of chaos to be sewn.  It had been far too long since it had caused a genuine panic among mortals – these two simpering weaklings, these cowering little girls, they could not sate its lust.  This entire town would soon be the demon's plaything.

It leapt toward the café, only to be blocked by its near-twin, differing from it only by its tattered human clothes and a mane of red mammalian hair.  Uricarn swiped its claw across its opponent's midsection, further shredding its human dress.  The two of them traded blows for some time, until Uricarn knocked its opponent – clearly the redheaded witch from before, whom the demon's second sight recognized as the current incarnation the being known as "the Wotch" – back into the woods.  Abandoning the café for the moment, it leapt after her.

In the cafe's patio, a boy named Ivan had spotted the warring demons and come to take a closer look, while most of the patrons just fled.  Hiding behind him was a girl named Julie.  She was sorely tempted to flee, but her morbid curiosity had the best of her, especially with her Canadian would-be boyfriend having vanished just as the two of them might have been together, his family finally having crossed the border.  Ivan, on the contrary, was all but laughing as he snapped photographs of the fight, until the two demons abruptly fell back.

When the demon found Anne, she was winded from its blow.  It picked her up by the throat.  "The mighty Wotch, struggling in my grip... gotta say, it's a bit of a thrill."

From nearby came a mortal's voice.  "Return to your world, visit this place no..."

The demon saw a mortal boy reading from the spellbook that had summoned it.  With a single swipe of its claw, the spellbook was reduced to tatters.  "Now, now, can't have you spoiling the moment, mort..."

Anne kneed the demon in the midsection, breaking its grip.  "Good one, Wotch," it said, "but not good enough!"  It ran a claw through her chest, and she fell back in pain, feeling it pierce her heart.  She fell back against a tree.

After a moment, she realized she was still breathing, still fully conscious, and looked down.  The wound had closed as soon as the demon had removed its claw, the only lingering damage being to her nightgown.  "I'm fine?" she asked no one.

"My species are very hard to kill," said the demon, "let's remove that trait, shall we?"  Before it had even begun speaking, it had already begun to charge a green beam, one much brighter this time, that it released as it finished its taunt.  The beam washed over Anne, transforming her back into a squishy little ape in a ruined nightgown.

"Well, Wotch, it's been fun, but I think it's time for you to go now.  I have a mortal plane to terrorize."  And the demon raised its claw to see how well a punctured human heart could heal.

As this was happening, back at the road, Ivan had stood up to chase the demons, only to feel a tap on his shoulder.  "You don't have to come, Julie," he said, "but I have to do this."

"I'm not Julie," came the reply.  He turned to see Cassie, a smirk on her face, her hands glowing with an eerie blue light.

"If you two don't want to be toads, you should probably finish your coffee."

"I'm going after demons, and you think I'm going to be afraid of you?" He took a step forward, silently daring Cassie to make her move, but stopped when he felt Julie grab his hand.  He turned to her.

"Ivan," she said, "I keep thinking about what happened to Scott... I don't want it to happen to you, too."

"I should probably have been more clear this was a package deal," said Cassie.  "I did mean 'you two.'"

Julie looked over at Cassie's smirk and gasped slightly, then turned back to Ivan, a pleading look in her eye.  With a sigh, Ivan began walking to the café.

"Good choice," said Cassie.  As they walked off, she wiped the phosphorescent powder from her hands, quietly thanking Hecate for her backup plan to show it off to the other girls if the summoning spell had fizzled.

Back in the woods, a rock hit Uricarn in one of its four eyes.  It turned to see the mortal who had had the spellbook.  "You're still here?" it asked, firing a beam at him, which missed due to its slightly unfocused vision.  The mortal, Robin, ran.  Vision out of focus and distracted by pain, Uricarn briefly lost track of the mortals.

Hiding behind a bush, Robin whispered to Anne.  "He destroyed the book!  I don't have the banishment spell anymore!  Can you, I don't know, take a guess or something?"

Anne seemed appalled at the suggestion.  "Taking a guess at spells you don't know, even the simplest of spells, is incredibly dangerous and unpredictable!  There's no telling what would happen!" she exclaimed, so taken aback that she hadn't noticed her voice rising in volume until she saw the demon towering over them.

"As delicious as your fear and panic is, I think it's time to end this once and for all.  Don't bother with a pathetic defensive bubble this time, Wotch."

Anne, meanwhile, despite what she'd just said, was screaming every incantation and drawing on every mana pool she could think of that vaguely resembled banishment.  "Callone pantate espere fourquad!"

The demon vanished.  "Where did he go?" asked Robin.

"I'm not sure – it was a short-range teleportation spell."

"I thought you didn't know any teleportation spells."

"I kinda took a guess."  Robin winced at that as Anne laughed nervously.  "I need to get back to the party before they notice I'm gone," she said, and left, magically stitching her gown up on the way.

When she arrived at the party, she found the three girls still in their transformed state.  She tried to be subtle about her agency as she transformed them back, hoping to maintain plausible deniability.

"What happened? Where's Cassie?" asked the once again human Katie in a daze.

"I remember a big lizard monster," said Wolfie.

"The thing knocked me and Cassie out the window..." Anne began to say.

"...it transformed us, and Anne just turned us back," Wolfie continued.

"What?" said Anne, Katie, and Ming in unison.  "No, of course not!" said Anne.  "Cassie must have banished the demon."

"No," said Katie, "now that Wolfie mentions it, I'm pretty sure that's what happened."

"I too am remembering," said Ming.

As Anne tried to come up with a new excuse, Cassie entered behind her.  "Although if you really want to credit me with banishing that thing, feel free."  She pinched the fabric of Anne's gown.  "Aww, you fixed the nightie?  Those sexy rags were super witchy."

"I also remember that right when the demon showed up, you said you'd 'get us out' of it," said Katie.

"She did say that!" said Wolfie.

"Anne, why would you think we'd mind you being a witch?  Cassie was summoning demons!"

"It was supposed to be a unicorn," muttered Cassie.

"I don't, not really," said Anne, "it's just, I don't think I'm really supposed to let people know..."

A silence came over the room.

"Well, now we know," half-sang Wolfie.  "And I guess I should take this opportunity to come clean about..." she trailed off. "Actually, never mind."

"No, go ahead, you can tell us," said Katie.

"I really shouldn't.  Like Anne, I don't think you'd mind, but it is supposed to be a secret."

Katie sighed, then put a hand on Wolfie's shoulder, smiling.  "Wolfie," she said, "if you're gay..."

"No, no!" said Wolfie.  "I should have known your mind would go right to a Greek island.  It's nothing like that.  I'll tell you, and only you, later."

Anne used this tangent to sneak out to where Robin and Jason were waiting.  "Everyone's okay, guys.  Listen, thanks for all your help tonight."

"We do what we can," said Robin.

"Anything for a girl in a nightie," said Jason.

"Yes, that reminds me, there's the little matter of your being here in the first place."

"All Robin's idea," said Jason.

"What?!" said Robin.

"I tried to stop him, but he was like a man possessed."

"I was trying to stop..."

With a snap of Anne's fingers, Robin and Jason were girls, both with long hair, Jason's now red.  "...you," Robin finished in a new register.

"I'll see you ladies in the morning," said Anne before going back inside.

"Well, I guess we can see about getting into the party now," said Robin.

"Screw the party," said Jason, "all I need is a mirror!"  And with that, he in his new girl body headed off.  Robin, not really all that interested in getting into the party, followed, realizing after a while that the two of them were going back to Jason's home.

"Um, is this really a good idea?  What if your mom sees us?"

"Hey, Mom," shouted Jason as soon as the two walked in the door.

Jason's mother walked to the door cautiously, immediately perking up when she saw Jason.  "Oh, hi, Jason!  Didn't recognize your voice as a girl."

"Yeah, yeah.  Robin's spending the night."

"Okay!"  And with that, the two "girls" went upstairs, Robin scratching his girly head.  When they got to Jason's room, Jason asked Robin, "could you wait outside for a moment? I need to change."

Change?  Robin thought, but he waited anyway.  "Hey, Jason?" he asked after a moment.

"Yeah, Robyn-spelled-with-a-Y?"

"Very funny," said Robyn.  "Anne did say she was going to turn us back in the morning, right?"

"She implied it.  Besides, she's not vindictive or anything like that."

"Yeah, but Professor Madison..."

"If Anne thinks she's better off for it, she probably is."

"I guess..." Jason walked out in a red halter top and matching short-shorts as Robyn's eyes widened in shock.  "Why... why do you...?"

"After the Jean Grey incident, I thought it was best to be prepared.  Besides, I'm hot."

With that, Jason headed out the front door, Robyn entering his room dumbfounded.  While waiting for him to get back, she texted her mother to tell her where she'd be, but not why.  Jason returned miffed, and Robyn didn't need to ask where he'd gone.

The next morning, Robyn was forced to go to school in dirty clothes, hair matted, but at least no stubble and a bit less sweat.  For all of that, however, hygiene was not her foremost concern – she and Jason sought out Anne the first thing in the morning.  Anne happily waved them over, and the day went on as normal.  Robyn thought it best to let her bring up the elephant in the room, since, after all, the two of them had sort of deserved it, but Anne never did bring it up.

Once the school day had started, people seemed shocked to see her, but they quickly got over themselves.  "Ms. Ericson" seemed to roll off professors' tongues.  The only person who actually seemed interested was Ivan.

"Robin? Is that you?  Oh, wow, what happened?"

"The demon," Robyn said.

"Whoa... can I interview you for the school paper?"

"No."

Anne's reaction, though, seemed strangest of all in its own way.  She seemed to have completely forgotten that Robyn and Jason weren't supposed to be girls, going the entire day without mentioning it.  Finally, at the end of the day, Robyn brought it up explicitly. "So, um, Anne, how long are we 'punished' for?"

"Life!" chirped Anne.  Robyn winced as Jason shrugged.

Chapter Text

Lilly watched herself grow into an adult, her childish dress splitting into a short skirt and a midriff-baring t-shirt.  "Huh?  Anne, what are you..."

"Just wait, there's more!"  Anne continued to speak incantations, and Lilly went back to her old familiar male form.

"You did it!" he shouted, looking down at himself.  "I'm a boy!  A big boy!  And these clothes are so pretty!"

A look of horror came over Anne's face.  She quickly turned the young man back into a young woman.

"...darn," said Lilly.  "I guess this is better than being a little girl, or an idiot..."

"Yeah," said Anne.  "Sorry I couldn't do better."

Lilly smiled.  "You tried.  At least I'm an adult again."

"Yeah..."

"I guess this means the job is a bust, though."  Lilly, who felt more like a "Lillian" now, first sighed, then looked up at her sister with a smirk.  "So to speak."  Anne chuckled.  "See, sis?" said Lillian, "we'll be all right."

There was a surreal normality to the rest of the day, as though there was nothing unusual about this grown woman in the house.  The tone was set when Anne quietly "adjusted" her new sister's wardrobe, and Lillian did her best not to acknowledge what she was doing or why.  With that it became clear that neither Anne nor Lillian wanted to be reminded of what had happened, so, just for the day, they quietly forgot it.  Unable to forget what was in front of their faces, however, they instead silently agreed to forget the first twenty years of Lillian's life.  It was just an ordinary evening for an extraordinary girl's ordinary big sister; it just happened to be the first.

When night had come, Lillian was woken up by a cloaked figure.  "Lillian Onymous," the figure said.

Lillian squinted, but could make out no details of the figure, in a way low light and grogginess alone couldn't account for.  "You know my name," she said, "before I've even really settled on it."

"In a way, I gave you that name."

At that Lillian sat up and took notice.  "You're behind the amulet going haywire!"

"No."

"Then, was it you who made the amulet in the first place?"

"I would never make such a thing," they said.

"That what did you do?"

"To begin with, I took the liberty of reactivating your alarm clock."

Lillian looked at the alarm clock to see it was indeed reactivated.  "Why?"

"Because tomorrow," said the figure, "you will arrive for your scheduled shift as though you were still a man."

"But I'm not," she said.

"You will do this, and you will not tell your sister why, or anything else about this meeting.  Fail in the former, and you will learn the hard way I have your best interests in mind.  Defy me in the latter, and you will turn to stone on the spot, and your sister will find herself powerless to help you."

"You're bluffing."

The cloaked figure waved their gloved hand, and Lillian began to shrink into her pajamas.  "Anne!  Anne!" she shouted.

"She can't hear you," said the figure.  "This room is soundproofed and sealed; no one can enter or leave.  This will be the case until your alarm sounds."  Lillian lunged for the clock, now barely within her reach, only to find the buttons wouldn't move.  "It should go without saying that the clock will be adjustment-proof until then."

Her pajamas on the verge of being catastrophically loose, she reached for her sheet to cover herself.  She held them up, wrapping them tighter and tighter as she shrank into them, until she was fairly sure the shrinking hat stopped at ten inches tall.  After some deep breaths, she looked up at the figure and laughed triumphantly in their non-face.  "Can't go in to work now, can I?"

"You'll grow back in your sleep, reaching full height when your alarm sounds."

Lillian sighed.  "Okay.  I can see now you probably can turn me to stone, but what about Anne not being able to help?"

"Believe me or don't.  Will you really risk it?  After all, didn't she just now fail you?"

Lillian looked down at herself, and back up at the figure.  "...and what if I just don't sleep?  Say nothing, just go to the breakfast table like this?"

The figure waved their hand again, and Lillian collapsed to the bed.  "Sweet dreams," they said as they left.

As it turned out, Lillian had a terrible dream, although she wouldn't remember it; prophetic dreams are so rarely remembered by the untrained.  At the center of her dream stood her sister, defiant in opposition to a male voice whose source Lillian could not see.

"Foolish girl," he asked, "what do you hope to offer for two wives?"

"A single slave," said Anne.  "Me."

Chapter Text

Lillian would have been convinced she had dreamt the previous night's encounter if she could just think of another explanation for having woken up naked.  As it were, she stood up and got herself ready.  The suit she'd been planning to wear had become a smart pantsuit.

She wrestled with her hair for about half an hour, ultimately restraining it by a glut of hairbands she could have sworn hadn't been in the house before, leaving it a mess, but passable.  She should have it cut.  Soon she was down in the kitchen, and Anne's eyes widened.  "Um, hey, you look... you look..."

Lillian smiled.  "Gotta look good for my first day on the job!"

"You think you still have a job...?"

"Maybe?  I mean, even I know what this town is like sometimes.  Better to go and not have it than not go and no longer have it."

Anne was dumbfounded for a moment, then smiled.  "That's a good way to look at it!"  And with that, Lillian left for work.

"Oh, hi... um... what are you going by now?" asked the secretary upon her arrival.

"Um, Lillian," she said.

"It's a nice name."  She tapped out a quick memo to HR, then looked back up at her with a smile quickly belied by a sigh.  "Look, you seem nice, but I think... I think we should cancel our date."

"Oh?" Lillian said out loud.  That's her only reaction? she thought to herself.

"Yeah.  I just... I'm just not... well, you know."

Lillian nodded.  "Yeah, I guess I do."

"Thanks for being so understanding."

"No, I should be thanking you!"

The secretary seemed genuinely puzzled.  "Uh, for what?"

"For... never mind," said Lillian, and she went in to her station.

Meanwhile, at the high school, the cloaked figure that had the previous night visited Lillian lurked in the woods.  They were lucky that Robyn and Sonja, whose uninterrupted education they themself had helped to assure, were giving Anne the cold shoulder right now - or, really, Robyn was and Sonja was following suit out of a combination of Robyn's seniority and her own apathy.  "Anne!" the figure shout-whispered.

Anne peered into the woods to see them, the same person that had given her the flute.  "You..."

"Yes, me.  Don't think this means you've found me yet, but you need to get to your... sibling, right now."

"Found you?  Wait, Lilly?  Is she okay?"

"If you get there quickly, and do not mention this meeting to anyone, she will be.  Just remember, an imp cannot resist a good gamble."

Anne didn't need to be told twice.  It was lucky she'd been boning up on teleportation since the Uricarn incident.

Lillian went to her cubicle, a cup of coffee in her hand, to find a strange little man floating above her desk, a woman in a maid outfit beside it.  "...the heck?"  She turned around to find a locked door, where before had been no door that could close.  The walls of the cubicle seemed higher now, and the inside bigger.

"There, dear, this is a much more ergonomic workspace, don't you think?  Only the best for my new bride."

"New bride?"

"Why, yes, don't you know what that amulet is?"

"What amulet?" asked Lillian, trying to look innocent.

The imp erupted in raucous laughter.  "Oh, that's a new one!  You should have tried that, my darling."  The maid nodded.

"Fine.  No, I don't know what it is.  I know it turned me into a little girl, then went haywire and left me stuck like this."

The imp tilted his head.  "Hmm?  I'm not sure quite what you mean... but no matter.  By nature or magic, you've reached a nubile age in body and mind, and so you are mine."

"...yours."

"Indeed!  That is the bargain of the amulet."

Lillian was about to object, but she remembered the EULAs that her company insisted to be enforceable.  Before she could reconcile these thoughts, Anne opened and shut the door as if it had been unlocked.

"Well, hello," said the imp.  "Who might you be?"

"They call me the Wotch."

"I see," said the imp.  "That explains how you breached my barrier.  But why do you seek to interfere in my acquisition?"

"Acquisition?" asked Anne.

"Of a second wife."

At that, Anne turned to Lillian, her eyes springing open.  Lillian returned her gaze.  "You mean Lilly?"

"Indeed, having used my amulet, and coming to adulthood under its spell, she has made herself my bride."

Anne gasped, taking in the realization that this was her fault.  With that, however, she remembered what the cloaked figure had said and turned back to the imp.  "In that case, I propose a wager!"

"A wager?"

"To free my sister from your absurd 'contract.'"  The maid gestured at her, pleading with her eyes.  "And also whoever that is."

"You ask me to put up two brides?  I wonder what you have to offer."

"A single slave," said Anne, just as in Lillian's dream, "me."

The imp smirked.  "And...?"

Anne tried to hide her fear.  "Nothing.  That should be enough."

The imp laughed. "Well then.  If I were to agree to your game, I would offer your sister's freedom and my prior wife's hand for your eternal slavery.  So what do you propose?"

Anne was at a loss.  "I... I..."

Lillian piped in.  "A spellcasting competition!  I provide the challenges to you, you to her."

"Hmm," said the imp.  "I agree, so long as the Wotch accepts the first challenge.  Do you agree?"

Anne looked at Lillian, who tried to put on a brave face, and the imp, who seemed to be deep in thought.  "Yes," Anne said.

"Very well," said the imp, suddenly smiling, and Anne and Lillian both realized they'd made a horrible mistake.  "Turn your sister, permanently, into a sexily-posed statue!"

Of course, thought Lillian.  She had hoped her greater life experience would save them from the imp's trickery, but in fact it had doomed them.  She could give one more challenge, but it was pointless.  The imp would give a challenge, and whatever happened next, it would be over.  Unless..., she thought as she was forced into what Anne thought (her imagination crippled by her sister being the subject) to be a "sexy" pose.  She thought back to Anne's inability to counteract the effects of the amulet - she did get through the door... but didn't dispel it, only opened it - and the last instant before she turned to stone, she smiled and shouted, "turn me back!"

"What?" said the imp.  He furiously tried to grant her last request, but found, as Lillian had hoped, his own magic was of a different nature from the Wotch's, and he was incapable of restoring her sister.  "No!  No!  No!"  He threw everything he had at her, to no avail.  At last he sighed.  "Fine, Wotch. Have your prizes."  He snapped his fingers, and his other wife also turned to stone.  With a final smile, he disappeared.

"What?  No!" shouted Anne.  She tried to change the maid's form, and found she could to an extent, but she couldn't make her anything but stone, or give her the ability to move.  With a sigh, she gave up, and turned to her sister.  She worried for a moment that the imp's insistence on permanence might stop her as well... but no, it was quick work.  This little goddess couldn't make a stone she couldn't lift.

"So you can't turn her back?" asked Lillian the moment she had lips to ask.

"No," said Anne.  "After all that... well, I can at least do this."  She shrank the statue down to a figurine they could carry home.

"Well... I'd better get back to my post," said Lillian.

"Yeah."

As Lillian returned to her desk, she heard the secretary's voice behind her.  "Hey.  I saw what happened."

Lillian's eyes went saucer-wide in fear.  "...oh?"

"Yeah.  I don't think anyone else did, only I was watching when your sister went in."

This didn't put Lillian's mind at ease; it just meant there was someone who could blackmail her.

"Yeah... and I was wondering if your sister... maybe..." the secretary whispered in her ear, and Lillian lit up, all trace of fear gone.

"I think that could be arranged," she said with a smile.

The secretary wouldn't turn up to work the next day, or the day after, and after that she didn't have a job to come back to.  Not that she minded.  Two statues soon adorned the Onymous sisters' living room.  One was a maid, a look of horror frozen on her face; the other was a girl in a bikini and glasses, hands stretched above her head, chest out, hips to one side.

When Anne returned home on the third day of her sister's new job, she heard a voice in her head, which she recognized as that of the secretary, whom she'd left a rapport in case she ever wanted to be human again.  "Hey, Anne..."

"...already?" asked Anne.

"No!  No no no no no!  I'm still fine this way.  I just wanted you to know, I can hear her..."

Anne looked at the other statue, with whom she herself had failed to open a rapport.  "That's great!  What's she saying?"

"She's saying she's glad to be here.  She'd rather be here and human, but she feels she's better off this way.  What she says about the imp... let's just say I don't envy her.  She wanted to thank you, and to tell you not to blame yourself for her being stuck this way."

Anne blushed and curtsied.  "Uh, thanks."

"There's something else..."

The statue in the maid outfit, her face shocked at her fate, was soon replaced by a similar statue in a stone sundress, hands clasped over her heart, a soft smile on her face.