Natural Affection

***** Chapter 1 *****

Walter logged out of his workstation. It was early for him as he usually worked from nine to five in his typical office cubicle job. Today it was only four-thirty. He walked over to the elevators and used one to go two floors up.

A moment later he entered the dreaded area of human resources. Though he didn’t fear it as others did. He only was here for his monthly review. Mindy, his case worker, greeted him. “Ah, Walter. Punctual as always. Come into my office.”

They exchanged some pleasantries and then Mindy had a surprise for him. “I have some good news. The company noticed that you raised your intelligence stat to 87. That is quite high. Especially for someone with the ‘not specified civilian’ class. With a stat that high, you could make a good mage. I know. I know. We talked about that. You aren’t a glory hunter like others. And the company values that. Therefore it’s my pleasure to tell you that the company gives you a bonus. Equivalent to a month worth of salary. Of course, as your int stat is now 87 your salary is adjusted upward. Congrats.”

“Thank you. It’s nice that the company's notice changes like this.” Walter did his best to hide his surprise.

Mindy gave him a reassuring smile. “Well normally it doesn’t, but it’s quite unusual that someone remains an N.S.C. for so long. Of course, you aren’t the only one. Most of the others are working towards a Class-Change. It appears you develop skills solely to the benefit of your job. That stands out. I think your wife follows the same philosophy as you do?”

Walter fidget a little inside his chair. He wasn’t used to this much attention or compliments. “Yes. That’s right. Though she doesn’t work for the company. She is a part-time florist. We just don’t see the value in a class change. We also worry about undue attention.”

“Ah yes. Very understandable. Certain classes draw out thugs that hope for a class stone drop. However rare that is. And nobody cares for an N.S.C. class stone. Well, given your reservation about Class-Changes I was surprised to read in your file that your daughter had one. Isn’t she a bit young for one?”

“Yes, she did. Her mother and I aren't very happy about it. But I do understand her reasoning. You see, she had an unpaid internship last summer break at Netsearch Corp. We were so proud. With only sixteen, she got one of the few available spots. She did well. In fact, she won an unofficial competition. You see Netsearch Corp has money in spades. So they tend to offer the top 5 interns a random class change.”

“Fascinating. Do you mind if I ask what class she got?”

“No, I don’t mind. She’s become a Necromancer.”

Mindy looked surprised. “Wow. Rare and powerful. I bet it draws a lot of attention.”

Walter gave her a rueful smile. “You have no idea. Necromancers have some strong compulsions. All of them make her stand out. We are worried someone might target her.”

Mindy gave a curt and knowing nod. “Even with killing strictly forbidden it happens a lot. And let me tell you it really sucks. Losing experience points is the one thing. The memory loss is worse. I’ve gotten killed three times so far. Last time I got home I was surprised I had a cat. A pet that I later learned I had for nearly two years. For a teenager, such a memory loss would be a lot worse.”

“Yes. We think so too. That’s why, until she has better control over her compulsions, we decided to home school her.”

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea. Well, Walter, I don’t want to rob you of any more time. I will see you next month and keep up the good work.”

Walter mirrored Mindy’s smile and shook her offered hand. “I think the pleasure was all mine. Can’t wait to tell my wife of the pay raise. Till next time.”

***** Chapter 2 *****

Walter arrived home at seven and was greeted by his daughter Sarah. Her smile and eagerness made him weary. Like every good parent of a teenager, he knew she wanted something.

And if she was ambushing him at the door it could only mean one of two things. Either her mother had said no and she hoped she had better luck with him. Or her mother had pushed the decision onto him with a sentence like “I am okay with it if your father agrees to it.”

He mentally willed himself not to sigh in resignation and gave her an equally cheery smile. After a moment of typical father-daughter talk, he finally managed to enter the living room and greet his wife Bethany. He exchanged a few pleasantries. All the time being watched by his daughter close by, who waited for her moment to strike.

“Okay,” He gave a heavy theatrical sigh. “What does my darling daughter want?”

Sarah blushed a little as she was found out so easily. Walter meanwhile fought to hide a smirk. Instead, he raised an eyebrow and waited. Suddenly put on the spot Sarah fidget. “Well. As you know it’s been nearly a half year since my class change. And as we agreed I focused suppressing and managing my compulsions. I think I do well enough right now. So I thought we could go out this weekend.”

She gave him her most innocent puppy eyes she could manage. Walter sighed and took a critical look at his daughter. She was right. It was a far cry from the way she used to look.

Before her class change, she had been a normal teenager. Maybe dressing a bit on the plain side. After the class change that had been over. Long flowing black robes had been her new wardrobe. She couldn’t have helped it.

Worse had been the spirits of the dead that had bugged her. For days she had argued with ghosts that only she could see. Nowadays she mostly ignored them. Though sometimes she snickered at a joke being told to her or she hushed a particularly annoying spirit.

There also had been an improvement to the clothing she could wear. She still was wearing black, but now she learned to break it up with splashes of pink.

Today he saw she wore a hot pink skirt and a black leather jacket with pink highlights. Not a year ago that ensemble would have earned her house arrest. Now he was just glad she didn’t look like a typical necromancer anymore. More like a rebellious teenager.

Getting impatient Sarah added: “Mom said it’s okay. But only if you agree.”

Walter gave his wife an annoyed look. Yet another important decision she pushed solely on his shoulders. “How about a family picnic this Sunday in the park?”

Sarah gave a squeal of joy and then stormed up to her room, mumbling words like “outfit” and perfect”.

“Getting out again will be good for her. Being cooped up the past months hasn't been easy for her,” commented his wife Bethany.

“Yes, I agree. And visits from her friends can only alleviate her solitude a little.”

“Speaking of friends. You know the young Cooper?”

Her sudden steely voice made him look into her eyes. Normally her voice was soft and always hinted of compassion. Now it could have cut through concrete. “Brad Cooper. He is in Sarah’s class, right? What happened?”

“He showed up earlier today. He also had an auto-accept gift with him.”

Now it was Walters turn to get furious. Sometimes he cursed the universe that it ran by stats and numbers. And if he hated one stat above all it was the affection stat.

It had been nineteen years back when he first started dating Bethany. Both shared a lot of natural affection and they had been quite happy.
Then Gregory McCormick showed up. To this day Walter was certain Gregory had only been interested in her beauty. He wanted a trophy wife.

Walter and Bethany had raised their affection stat for each other with walks in the parks. Visiting museums or galleries. Simply spending time and talking with each other. Gregory instead showed up with gifts. Thoughtless ones that Bethany didn’t want.

But all these gifts had an auto-accept enchantment on them. Once presented Bethany had to accept them. If she wanted to or not and each gift raised her affection stat for Gregory a little.

Over weeks he had to see how she drifted away from him. She talked more and more about Gregory and his redeeming points. The very few that had been there.

Walter had nearly lost Bethany back then. Only the wilderness trip saved them. His last desperate play to protect Bethany. It had taken hours to convince Bethany of the trip but in the end, she had agreed.
Two weeks away rekindled their friendship. But better yet the artificial affection of the gifts had mostly worn off. What was left died when they returned and Bethany saw Gregory pursue another woman in earnest.

“I’ll phone the Coopers. Make sure they reprimand their son. And I won’t let him in anymore.”

“Thanks, honey. That means a lot.”

***** Chapter 3 *****

Walter gave his family a last critical glance before they were to head out to the park. Bethany had a nice white summer dress with yellow accents. It hugged her figure very nicely. Thankfully this spring had a spur of warm days. Thanks to it he could appreciate his wife's beauty as it wasn’t hidden beneath layers of clothes.

His daughter got a more critical once over. As a father, he was still worried. However, he had to admit Sarah had pulled out a small miracle.

She wore a black lacy dress. Between its delicate needlepoint ornaments were parts quite see through. He wouldn't have her, in a million years, wear it, hadn’t it been for the second dress beneath it. It was a darker pastel pink dress.

The lace on top of it contrasted nicely. She looked quite fashionable. Of course, he knew the reasoning behind it. The long dresses were close to being robes and of course, she was wearing still a lot of blacks.

He still knew it was a risk, but he also knew he couldn’t hide her forever. Giving them a nod he opened the door and led them out.

The day was sunny and he smiled as he saw the two most important women in his life walking before him. They chatted just like they used to. Before his daughter's class change.

A picnic like this hadn’t been uncommon for them. In fact, it had been their family tradition. He looked forward to resuming it.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the local park. In the middle of it was a good-sized lake that was surrounded by fields and groups of trees.

He smiled as he saw his wife and daughter head for their usual spot. The lake had two small half-island. One had a spot where few trees provided a cool shade. Yet was open enough that a generous amount of sunlight could pass.

They arrived and started to spread their picnic blanket. Half of it was in the sunlight and the other half shaded by the trees. Not a lot further started the waterline.

They sat down together and enjoyed the spot for a while. Soon enough his wife and daughter continued their chatting.

Walter meanwhile lazily left his gaze drift over other park visitors. Most were farther away and they had the small half-island to themselves.

After a half hour, they unpacked a salad and enjoyed a quiet lunch.
Walter had to suppress a small smile. This was it. The perfect life. A beautiful wife. A daughter he could be proud of. Overall trouble stayed out of their ways. He just couldn’t understand why some would risk their lives and mind in search of adventure and fame.
He was happy if this right here could be forever.

It was an hour later. Sarah was reading a book and Walter was deep into a discussion about the last gallery he visited with his wife. Suddenly she stopped mid-sentence and furrowed her brows.

Curious, about what had caught his wife's interest, he turned around.
Two women walked down the path towards them. One was kinda small and a little hunched. She wore leather clothes even in the blazing sun. Walter found that strange. Downright shifty.

The other woman, however, caught his attention. And probably not just his. She was tall for a woman. Maybe 5 feet and between seven or nine inches. Because of the heels, she was wearing it was hard to tell. Contrary to the small woman the tall one boasted about her body by dressing as skimpy as you could. Her big breasts and hips were in full view. Everyone could see the taut belly and small waist.
She could have been a model if it hadn’t been for the big leathery wings behind her back or the small horns on her forehead.

He knew she saw some kind of succubus. This spelled trouble.
Distracted by the tall woman he nearly missed when the small one drew a knife. His body reacted before his mind caught up.
He stood up and positioned himself before his wife and daughter. The threatening pair steadily advanced, clearly not bothered by a middle-aged man.

He clumsily dug in his pocket till he fished his phone out. “I am calling the cops! You better stay away!”

He heard behind him shuffling as both, his daughter and wife, stood up. However, he didn’t glance back to them. His eyes focused on the threat ahead.

All his life he had thought he could stay from trouble if he just didn’t search for it like others do. Now, in the moment his family was threatened, he wished that he could take a step back in time. To learn something. Didn’t matter if it would be a defense or attack spell. The only thing that was left was to ball his fists and try calling the police. They could be close by. Maybe. He quickly dialed and moved the phone to his ear.

“That won’t save you old man.” The small one taunted.

By now they were close and he could see the manic grin on her face.
She was the dangerous one he thought. Then a voice spoke.
Sweet like honey and alluring. He could hear it as if the person was right beside him. “You don’t need that right. Just drop it and I take care of everything.”

His hand involuntarily opened and the phone fell to the ground, as his mind had it utterly forgotten. He couldn’t take his eyes from the tall woman. She had been a beauty from far away.

Close as she was now, he could see perfection so stunning it could rival a goddess. The surrounding and everything else faded away. All that was left was her. The only thing left worth his attention.

Sure enough behind him were voices. Insignificant ones. The vision before him gave a come-hither look. Then a thin but long tail revealed itself. It beckoned him to come closer.
Step by step his feet carried him towards her.

Then, only two feet away, he stopped. Again the woman motioned for him to come. Yet his feet didn’t move. He wanted to. Then a thin red mist rose up from his chest and slowly floated towards her.
She greedily sucked it in. Bliss appeared on her face.

At the same time, signs of pain appeared on his face. He grew weaker and intellectually he knew why. She drained his life points.
Still, he couldn’t move. Didn’t even want to. If this godly creature demanded his life force as a sacrifice, then who was he to deny it to her?

Slowly his limbs grew heavy. His smile slowly vanished as the pain grew stronger and stronger. Finally, a shout broke through.
“Dad! Step away!”

The cry of his daughter brought him back. Something snapped and the first clear thoughts drifted back into his mind. How could he betray his daughter and wife like this? Slowly he lifted his heavy head and looked the creature before him into his face.

She was still beautiful, but a far cry from the divine being moments before. What shocked him was the malicious smile on her.
Appalled he drew some hidden reserves and pushed the temptation made flesh away.

She only staggered away a few steps. Enough for his daughter to act.
Before Walter or the woman before him could react a slim white spear pierced her shoulder. A shrill wailing escaped her and she grabbed the spear.

While he was still shocked the back of his mind provided unbidden answers. The spear was summoned by his daughter. Forged behind the veil. It was made from ethereal bones of the dead. One of the few first basic spells a necromancer learned.

Meanwhile, the creature before him pulled the spear out in a fluid motion. Seeing it a sudden anger filled him. He flung himself forward and grabbed the spear. A struggle broke out. The tip of the spear still pointed towards her. All he had to do was point it to her heart and then push.

An anguished cry beside him nearly distracted him.
As slowly the spear slid into the woman's chest and heart, a searing pain drove itself into his left flank.

The woman's legs before him and his own crumbled. A hard impact rattled him as he hit the ground hard. Slowly he looked up and saw the face of the smaller woman. It was filled with rage and hatred. She leaned over him and move the blade of her dagger close to him. Droplets of his own blood were slowly falling to the ground before him.

“You killed what I love. I will kill what you love,” She snarled at him.

She spun around and he could see his wife and daughter. While he had been distracted they had fought as well. He saw the weakened mana-shield of his daughter and the cuts on his wife as she stood defiantly with a wooden branch as a weapon.

The small woman advanced and anguish filled him. The woman was skilled and clearly more than a match. All he could do was lie there. Stunned as he was mortally wounded. His last life points dribbling away as blood from his wound. He had to do something. Anything.

Besides him, the woman, succubus or what not, vanished as a mist into the air. She had respawned and somewhere she would wake up, close to a respawn stone, with two years worth of memories gone.
A fate that soon would be his too.

As his vision narrowed he saw something twinkle beneath the empty clothes of the vanquished woman. Soul splinters. He had heard of them. A common drop of a human or sub-human kill.

If there had been one drop there might have been others. Maybe something he could use. He fought to mobilize the last ounces of strength and slowly pulled himself closer. Then he reached with his hand in and felt for anything that might help.

Success. Something hard in his hand. He slowly drew it back.
A class stone. Not helpful. Or was it?

He tried to remember. Didn’t a class change heal the user completely once it was activated? Should he risk it? He heard a scream. He couldn’t tell by whom. His daughter or his wife. But it was enough for him to decide. He activated the stone.

Deep within his chest, an energy burst forth. Not burning but revitalizing. Soon he felt strong enough to push himself to hand and knees. His eyes caught sight of the bone spear before him. With determination, he grabbed it and drew himself upward.

He saw with crystal clear focus his target close by.
His enemy drew her dagger over the mana shield. He could tell it was close to failing. Behind it, he saw his daughter weakened by exhaustion. His wife with dozens of nasty cuts on her arms. He saw their faces. Looking at him with a shocked expression. The woman must have noticed as she started to turn.

Walter reacted quickly and slashed at her with a wide arc. The spear barely reached her but drew blood nonetheless.

Finally, the woman was facing him and whatever she saw made her fall to her knees. Was it the surprise seeing him standing or the rage on his face? He didn’t care. He came close fast and struck with the spear deep into the woman's weapon arm. She cried in anguish. Her dagger clattered to the ground. But still, she looked at him shocked.
Stepping close he knew that in just a few moments the battle had turned.

He had now the upper hand and only he controlled her fate now.
Yet he hesitated. He needed something from her. An apology? No.
Begging for mercy? Not even that.

He raised his hand as if to offer assistance. It was not. Something in him stirred. A hunger. He unleashed it and through it, he drew. A fine red mist raised up from the stunned woman before him. He drew it in and then consumed it. Power. It was pure life force that filled him and he couldn’t get enough.

Then, as the flow of the mist ebbed away, he raised his spear and struck the woman down. As the woman crumbled to the ground he leaned on the spear with all his weight and drove it deep into her body. Exhausted he did fall to his knees. His shoulder resting against the spear was the only thing keeping him propped up.

It was over. Finally, it was over. They had done it. They survived.
Below him, the body vanished. Only the clothes and the bloody dagger were left behind.

“Walter?” Bethany asked in a brittle voice.

Tired, he looked up to his wife.

“What have you done?” she asked with a shocked look on her face.

What had he done? What did she mean by that? Slowly his mind caught up. Started to take in the many details he had blended out before.

He looked to his arms. Still clinging to the spear. They looked so dainty and slender. A slight breeze caught his hair and blew a strain of long dark brown hair into his view. Below the wind tugged on the tatters of his clothes. He looked down and saw rosy nipples on top of creamy mounds. A tight stomach going over to wide hips and shapely legs. Around them slithered a thin hairless tail.

Wide-eyed he looked up to his wife. “What have I done?”

His high and breathy voice shocked him. It dawned on him then. The class stone. It must have been a women-only class. Exhaustion and shock caught up with him. He finally got some rest as he fainted and darkness claimed him.

***** Chapter 4 *****

Walter sat up with a start. Blinking he took in his surroundings. Was he in a hospital?

“Miss? Please remain calm.”

Walter looked to the side and saw a police officer. He looked weary and cautious. “Where am I? Where are my wife and daughter?”

The man relaxed a little. “Both here. Close by. You are at the police station. To be precise in the respawn recovery room.”

“I died?”

“No, Miss. You fainted. What is the last thing you remember?”

It came back to him. The park. The fight. He looked down. His new body. He gulped and panic threatened him. He took a few moments to fight it down. “We were in the park. Two women attacked us. I think ..”

He broke off. Realization wracked through him. “I killed them.”

The officer nodded. Gently he placed a hand on Walter's shoulder.
“We have them. Both of them. Picked them up at their respawn points. From what I heard it was self-defense.”

Walter took a moment to process it. He had never killed before. Never even thought about it. While his exterior was cool and collected, his inner space was in tumult. He needed someone to talk to and there was only one he trusted enough. “Can I see my wife? You said she is here.”

“I am sorry. Until the hearing, we have to keep you separate.”

“What hearing?”

“Well, Miss. There had been some conflicting statements from eyewitnesses. The hearing will sort those out and the district attorney will formally charge the offending persons. For now, rest. Your health points are awfully low. Our healers were puzzled by it. Whenever our healers tried to heal you, it worked only measly and your health tickled down to your current level. They found out that for whatever reason your maximum health is low too. Might be a temporary status ailment. Resting should help with that.”

Walter frowned and opened his status screen. There all his stats are listed. Name, birth date, basic mental and physical attributes. Then a long list of minor details. What drew his eyes was his health points. It was awfully low. Worse was that his max health was equally low. No wonder the healers failed. He was already fully healed. He seriously needed to find out what was going on.

As he was about to close the status window he noticed something else. He never used much magic. Now, however, it looked impossible. Current mana and maximum mana was listed as zero.
It looked like his situation got stranger with every minute passing.

*****

It was an hour later that Walter was lead into the courtroom. He was pulling and tweaking his wardrobe all the way there. The standard pants barely fit his hips and the cleave of the shirt had to be cut to make space for his ample bosom.

It all reminded him too well that it wasn’t his old body anymore. What he had given up in the heat and confusion of the battle. He pulled the blanket closer around his body. He was thankful for it, even if it threatened to overheat him. For a thin blanket like this, it kept his body warmth amazingly well. He would have asked to keep it if it hadn't been so itchy.

A moment after entering he saw them. Bethany and Sarah stood close to the prosecutor table. Walter rushed over and hugged them both tight. A few tears escaping his eyes. He knew everything will be alright. Even when the signs told otherwise. Like the small hesitation before they hugged him back.

“Walter? Are you alright?”

“Yes. No. For the moment I guess I am. Let’s get this behind us and then we figure this out.”

Both nodded.

A judge showed up and everyone settled down. He reminded everyone that this was not a trial, but a hearing to sort things out and speed up the whole process.

Sarah and Bethany were first to bear witness. Then some bystanders who saw the whole thing from further away. To Walters relief, he was quickly dismissed as a suspect.

The next point was to determine if the small woman, a professional thief, was guilty or not. Walter hadn’t even seen the woman sitting beside her public defender. Contrary to before she looked meek and confused. Her case, for Walter a clear case at first, turned out anything but easy to judge.

The woman herself claimed no memory. Understandable, as most who died and respawned, lost their last two years of memory. Her background was surprising, though. As a professional thief, she worked with both, corporate and police, to design and test security systems.

Then, a half-year ago, it all changed. Her social pages told the true story. She met a woman. Beautiful and alluring. The thief fell hard. For her and later from the good graces of her business partners.

Finally, the public defender concluded: “Judge Abrahams. My defended did attack willingly, but it was under influence of an Empusa. Empusa’s are a rare subclass of Succubus that specialize more than other sub-classes on inducing wrongful artificial affection in their victims. And this is why Miss Mathews is a victim. I hereby advise to not pursue Miss Mathews in court.”

The thief broke out in tears and begged Walter and his family for forgiveness. Walter felt a cold realization in him. She had fallen prey to a vicious predator. Just like his own family. He remembered how it had been under the Empusa’s influence. What chilled him really to his bones was that he too was now that hated class. The class that first stalks and then twists the minds of their victims. He was now an Empusa.

The judge asked Walter and his family. Of course, they would not press charges themselves. Then came the hardest part. They dragged in the cursed creature. Screaming and kicking, she gave a fight. The hearing was short. She admitted all.

In a last defiant move, she looked to Walter. “I don’t regret and you won’t too. I lived with this class long enough. Undesirable they call it. I call it cursed. You too will lose everything and will do anything to change.”

They dragged her out and for a long time, her maddening laugh could be heard.

His wife gave his arm a comforting squeeze. “We will get through this honey.”

He somberly nodded. There was a lot to figure out now. At least his wife and daughter are safe. Their health maxed out. Walter looked confused at them. Yes, he hadn’t imagined it. Normally a person had concentrate to find out someone's health points or cast a spell. Yet above every person was clearly for him to see a health bar. He decided that was probably due to a class trait. “Let's get home and start figuring this out.”

“No, Walter. First, we need to get you to a healer.”
She squinted for a moment to determine his health points. “You are running awfully low.”

“That is one of the things I want to figure out. I am not hurt. Bethany. This is my maximum health.” He heard shocked gasps from his family.

“No way. I know caster classes have lower health points, but even theirs don’t drop so low,” his wife commented.

“I am not a caster.”, interjected Walter.

“How do you know?” The question came from his daughter.

“Because. My maximum mana is zero. I can’t use magic. Any magic.”

Stunned silence followed. Then his wife gave him a hug. “Yes, you are right. Let's go home, but first, we have to visit a class library. You might be stuck as this class for some time. We need to know what we are in for.”

Walter nodded. Unwanted the words from the Empusa came back to his mind. Whatever they were in for, it was not good.

***** Chapter 5 *****

The tapping of his foot betrayed Walter. He was nervous and impatient. Still dressed in the standard respawnee clothes and the blanket. It made him stand out a lot. Of course, with his new figure, he would stand out everywhere.

“It’s not here,” Sarah grumbled.

Of course, his wife heard. “Keep looking. It has to be in the Succubus section.”

They had been lucky that the class library was open Sundays. For exactly the kind of emergency like Walter found him currently in. A class library was a mandatory public institution specialized in books about every class known to mankind.

At least one book should be here that was about the Empusa class. Yet they had found nothing and their time was running out. The library was closing soon.

On that note, a librarian walked around the shelf. “We are closing soon. If you can’t find a book maybe I can help.”

His whole family exchanged looks. Walter stepped forward. “Yes. We are looking for books about the Empusa class.”

“Empusa? That does ring a bell, but I guess it’s not a common class. I will check the index.” A moment later she reappeared. “Yes. We have one book about Empusas. However, I fear it is in another section. If you would please follow me.”

She led Walters family to another area of the library. A section that looked run down and in desperate need of repair. There stood a lone bookshelf with a big sign. On it was written “Undesirable classes.”
“I am sorry about the state of this section. We keep it a little messy here on purpose. To ward off people that look for classes to change into.”

Of course, his daughter had to know and pestered the librarian.
“Why are these classes undesirable?”

“Because they are flawed or broken.”

“No class is broken. Classes can only be improved from the baseline of the non-specific civilian class.”

“Well. That is true in a sense, but also wrong. What do you know about how classes are created?” the librarian quizzed Sarah.

The librarian scavenged through the shelf while Sarah recited.
“Every few decades someone is born that can create classes. To do that they take a class and add their own skill to it. It results in an improved subclass of the same kind.”

“Correct. However, class creators have to follow rules. Sometimes they try to cheat the system by creating unbalanced builds. Most of these classes appear to be strong. This one for example.”

She pulled out a book that her hand had glided over just moments before. “Sirens had been ruled the ‘class to be’ a few hundred years ago. Their voice, especially when they were singing, could hypnotize most men easily. But their strength had a price. The creator boosted the voice by adding flaws and drawbacks. Sirens need to sing above water yet live mostly in water. All sirens are female and other females are mostly immune. They share the realm of mermaids, the ocean. But they retained their human legs so their movement is rather crippled. With laws being added that prohibited mind control the allure for the siren class quickly vanished. Ahh, there it is!”

The librarian pulled out a thin booklet. Not much more than a magazine. Walter took it and eyed it suspiciously. It was old and worn out. Most of the pages were dog-eared or torn. A dozen handwritten notes spoiled the cover alone.

“That can’t be all.” Walter protested. Other classes had dozens of books written about them. This was a joke.

“I am sorry. Undesirable classes are badly documented. Most who end up as one try to change as soon as possible. The handwritten notes will probably be more helpful than the book itself. Normally we discourage people from writing in books, but in this case .. go for it. If you find out something new leave a note for those who come after you.”

“Are all undesirable classes bad?”, wanted his daughter to know.

“Well. Some appear badly unbalanced, but that may be because their strong points haven’t When yet.” Walter and his family thanked her and hurried home.

***** Chapter 6 *****

“That’s not much to work with. Even with the handwritten notes. It’s useless.” Bethany was frustrated and made it known.

Not that Walter felt any better. Most of the booklet contained things he could see in his own status window. The low maximum health points were due to a trait called “condensed life”. Apparently, it also cut received healing by a large portion. The specific percentage varied from person to person. Beyond that nothing, concrete was written in the book. Only wild speculations in dozens of handwritings.

The trait “life overflow” was probably the attempt to break the rules. Empusa’s could receive healing past their maximum health. That point, however, was irrelevant as the health points slowly dripped down to their maximum. The more an Empusa was overcharged the faster it drained away. In other words, it was probably also useless. Especially when the “condensed life” slashed his received healing.

He nearly lost all hope, when he read about the next trait. “Substitute mana” was what set his Mmana maximum to zero. If Walter would cast any spell it would substitute the Mana with the one thing he could not spare: health points.

The rest was pretty much standard succubus skills, spells, and traits.
There was one skill that stood out as a thorn. “Orgasmic healing” used the energies set free from persons who have sex or masturbate to heal the Empusa. Of course, the drawback was that an Empusa needed daily sex to keep a healthy level that was even close to their original. Judging by the handwriting most going that route got quickly branded as sluts. By others and by themselves. They got addicted and like every major addiction, it ruined lives.

Walter eyed his wife when they came to that passage. She was the only one who he would have as a sex partner. Something that wouldn’t happen. He knew she was straight. Never had even thought about ‘experimenting’.

There was that spell, the same spell that had been used on him, to turn up her attraction to him. Past levels where she would care if he was man or woman. But he couldn’t do it. He simply didn’t want to. It would be a form of betrayal and subvert everything their marriage stood for.

“I guess I have to get used to a low health level. To watch out that I don’t stub my toes too often.” As intended it got a few giggles from his ladies.

“Oh, you.” His wife punched him playfully in the should.

“Oh my gosh, watch it. You just dropped my health by two-thirds!” Walter joked.

“That reminds me, dad. You know you need a new wardrobe. Maybe some pieces of bubble wrap taped together?” teased his daughter.

Now they laughed openly. Of course, she didn’t cause him harm, but a quiet voice inside reminded him that he wasn’t too far off. He was health wise far worse off than most ‘glass cannon’ mages.
The good mood didn't last long. All too fast the topic returned to matters at hand.

"One thing is strange," Sarah remarked.

"What is?" Walter wanted to know.

"Well, physically you share a lot of attributes with the Empusa in the park. Besides the overall physique, you have small horns and a tail. Yet you don't have wings." Sarah explained.

"Well, I am glad I don't have those," Walter said.

"Is there something in the manual about that?" Bethany asked.

They all looked but found nothing in the booklet. A search online provided help. "So," Sarah started. "To summarize: The wings are an optional trait all Succubus can unlock. They give you the ability to fly."

"I pass on that for sure," Walter remarked.

"The tail is for balancing while flying. In fact, the flared tip is polymorphable. It acts as an additional wing to stabilize mid flight."

Curious, Walter grabbed his tail as he wasn't familiar with it yet and couldn't command it at will. It sprung forth just above his butt with a width of maybe two fingers and slowly tapered off. Its length was barely long enough to reach the ground. The tip was indeed flared out. It was heart shaped and reminded him of the spades symbol of playing card decks.

“We need to find you a different class.”, his wife stated firmly.

Sarah quickly added to it. “Not just any class. It has to be a male-only.”

"Yes. I totally agree," Walter added.

They spend the rest of the day researching online marketplaces and websites. The results looked bleak. Their family didn’t have much on financial reserves. As they never wanted to do a class change they used it to live a quality life. Every year vacations in exotic places. A generous apartment.

It wasn’t that they hadn’t put away money, but a good chunk did go to Sarah’s private tutor. What was left was maybe half of what a decent ‘male-only’ class costs.

“It’s late. We should continue tomorrow.” Walter concluded and pinched his nose.

Both wife and daughter nodded. However, the embarrassments for Walter didn’t stop there yet. Before bed was at least a mandatory shower necessary. That confronted him yet again with his new body.
His hands quickly found out just how curvy he now was. His washcloth glided smoothly over his new silky skin. Blood rushed into his face as he noticed himself getting turned on. He quickly moved his hands away from his new genitalia.

“Not on my watch young lady.”

Walter shrieked very unmanly. Turning around, he saw his wife standing there. How long had she been there and how much had she seen?

“You might be a woman for a while. That means you have to know how to clean yourself properly.”

What followed was one of the most embarrassing lessons he ever got. Patiently his wife explained every detail about his new body. How to clean it and to care for it. Genitalia included.

When he was finally done he meekly returned to the bedroom. On him a borrowed robe of his wife. One that no matter how hard he tried couldn’t be closed above his ample bosom.

With the borrowed pajamas he didn’t fare much better. When he was in bed with his wife. There was no respite. Instead of their usual close intertwined sleep, both lay separate. It did take a long time till Bethany’s breathing slowed to that of a sleeping person.

For Walter, it took even longer. No matter how he tossed or turned. The unfamiliar weight of his chest kept him awake. When sleep finally found him it didn’t last long. One turn in his sleep and he was awake again. He sighed as he knew it would be a long night.

***** Chapter 7 *****

Maybe it had been the long night of tossing and turning that made him a living zombie in the morning. Normally he would get up early, brew himself a coffee and be out the door just past eight. Now he had to be dragged up of the bed sheets just past ten.

For once it was Bethany that took charge. She already had phoned his company and explained the situation. One week off was all he got to adjust to a new body and new class. Bethany didn't seem to share his lethargy. He was dressed and fed in record time.

Only when she got him into the car he finally woke up enough to ask questions. “Where are we going?”

“To the mall, honey. You need new clothes.”

Walter nodded sleepily. A moment later his eyes shot open. The mall. That meant to be outside. Showing off his new body. Modeling clothes for his wife and sales clerks. “We can’t! Everyone will see me!”

“Yes, honey. Don’t worry. They will see two women shopping. Nothing unusual.”

“But …”

“No buts or arguing. You need clothes. These respawnee clothes barely fit you at all.”

Walter shut up and pouted. Which was unusual and as strange as his wife taking charge. Oh, he knew she could, but more often than not she pushed decisions to him.

His head filled with dread. Images of his wife dressing him in sexy Dessous and slinky sexy dresses came to mind. How gleefully would she be to see him for once tethering in high heels? Of course, that wasn’t how she usually acted. But could she resist tormenting him a little given this unique opportunity? His mind worked overtime to imagine situations where she could not. He was already seeing himself standing in a department store. Dressed in lace and silk. Customers ogling his body.

“Walter!”

Walter blinked. He recognized the parking lot of the mall.

“What happened to you? You looked all spaced out and didn’t respond for a minute.”

“I.. I was just lost in thoughts. Nothing more.”

Together they exited the car and went to the mall. Walter always lagging a little behind. First stop was the lingerie section of a big department store.

At once a sales clerk appeared. A woman aged around mid twenty with a bright cheery smile. “Oh, my. Just respawned my dear? I hope you still remember your name.”

“Of course it’s Wa..” Walter stopped mid-sentence. Giving away his real name would admitting that had been a man just a day ago. Suddenly on the spot, he decided to lie. “Valerie. It’s Valerie.”

“Of course my dear. I didn’t actually think you forgot yours. That’s rather rare. What can I do for you?”

Walter spied the eye-rolling of his wife. Thankfully she played along.
“My friend .. Valerie .. sadly forgot that she had a physical upgrade in the last year. She is on a visit and her clothing got stolen in the … event that led to her respawn.”

Of course, Bethany had to overemphasize his fake name a little. It would be his turn to roll his eyes if he hadn’t been the spot of attention.

“And what a fine body you have. No wonder you decided to upgrade. May I ask how?”

Walter exchanged a glance with his wife and thankfully she answered for him. “Class change to a Succubus class. She did it to overcome her problem with her shyness. I tried to talk her out of it, but she didn’t listen. Her adjusting had been rough and now she has to do it all over again. Please be considered.”

“Of course. I take it then a measuring would be a first good step.”
With a sudden swish, the sales clerk had a measuring tape in her hand and led them to a slightly bigger changing room.

A few embarrassing moments later he knew the size of the monsters on his chest. E-Cup was the shocking verdict. Walter could have sworn those would be bigger. From his perspective, they looked downright gigantic.

Next was a marathon of trying on different bras. His wife selected very plain ones, which suited Walter just fine. However, none proved to be comfortable. It wasn’t like they pinched. They just felt wrong somehow. His displeasure could be seen on his face.

“Oh I got it,” the sales clerk suddenly announced. She came back with another bra. Same size and everything. The difference was that it was a sheer material with lots of lace. Reluctantly he tried it on and sighed in relieve. Now that felt right.

“She’s having a version of the Succubus class right? Most of them have a build in a compulsion to dress sexy. Seen that before.” the sales clerk explained.

Walter groaned and the stifled giggle of his wife didn’t help. Just like his daughter he had to dress a specific way. For him, it was sexual enticing clothes instead of black robes.

This new development made itself known at every stop on their shopping trip. Pants needed to be tight as a second skin. Skirts couldn’t cover the knees or anything below. Tops that covered his bosom completely were downright forbidden. Blouses needed to show cleavage and did feel the best if they were a size too small. Accordingly, to his new class, the ability to button up a blouse was clearly overrated.

Everything was a tug of war. Walter’s head was spinning from the way his mind clashed with his new instincts and compulsions. The matter wasn’t helped by the sales clerk or his wife. The former tried her best to dress him in clothes that showed off his new figure in the best way possible. The later was for more modest clothing, but couldn’t help to tease him without mercy with other revealing clothes.

After hours of torment, they finally exited the mall. What they left was a small fortune. Who knew that women clothing could be that expensive. Before today, certainly not Walter.

Bethany and Walter both carried bags through the parking lot. He was amazed that he hadn’t fallen yet. Two-inch pumps had been the lowest he could mediate his two halves on. Maybe his tail helped him to keep balance a bit.

“Well, I hope you had fun, Val. If we don’t find a way to turn you back this will be a regular thing between us.”
Bethany’s ribbing made Walter suddenly realize what felt wrong the whole day. Something that had nibbled at his subconscious, but never on his conscious mind. Bethany hadn’t treated him like the husband she used to have. It was different. Now it came to his mind. The whole trip could have been between two friends. Close ones, but friends nonetheless. Walter knew what it meant and a cold knot grew in his stomach.

With Bethany being straight, her affection for him would slowly drop to a level normal for a female friend. He knew it right then. He would lose her as a wife and lover. They might be still friends, good ones, but never more. How much time had he left? How soon was this going to be unfixable? Once more he cursed the existing of the affection stat. With renewed resolution, he moved to the car. He needed a solution. And fast.

***** Chapter 8 *****

“Oh my gosh, what happened?” Sarah asked shocked.

“Valerie happened.” replied a grinning Bethany.

“Who is Valerie?”

“Ask your father.”

“Beth. Please. Would you let it rest for a minute? I was put on the spot and it was a thing of the moment.” Walter begged.

“Wait. Dad is Valerie?”

“You got it,” Bethany confirmed.

Walter sighed. He guessed it needed a while to live down.
“The sales clerk asked about my name. I didn’t want to explain everything ..”

“ .. and that you were a man ..” interjected Bethany.

“Yes. That too. Just .. take it easy okay.”

“But what about your clothes?” inquired Sarah.

He saw Bethany’s grin and cut her off be she could start.
“Apparently I have some class compulsions too. Just like you with the color black and robes. Instead for me, it is revealing clothes.”

“Didn’t you mean sexy clothes, Val?” corrected Bethany.

Walter rolled his eyes which prompted some giggling. After some more banter, Bethany excused herself, as she wanted to put away Walter's new stuff. Stating that he hadn’t yet developed the feminine touch to properly stow it all away.

Alone for a minute his daughter had to ask. “How are you holding up dad?”

“Under the circumstances fine, I guess. The body is strange. The clothing embarrassing. The whole situation ridicules. I would probably freak out more over the situation if it wasn’t for…”

“What?”

“Your mother. The way she is acting.”

“Seems like she is coping fine with the situation.”

“Yeah. I worry it’s the wrong kind of fine. The whole day she acted more than a best friend than my wife.”

“Oh. Well. Maybe it’s just her way of dealing with it.”

“I think it is. But what if that becomes permanent? I have to go back to being male before that happens.”

His daughter gave him a serious nod.

***** Chapter 9 *****

The next week blew by awfully fast. Walter spent most of his day at home. Searching the internet and other mediums for a miracle. An exercise in frustration. There were plenty of male-only classes. The problem was the price. No matter what he did. They came always short by a large margin. Even if they would sell all they owned it just wouldn’t be enough.

With his wife gone for half the day, it was just him and Sarah to man the fort. It didn't take long for Sarah to pry his hard shell of unwillingness open. Soon he found himself as a student of a class called “All things women a man needs to know.”
It was ridiculous but provided a welcome relief from his frustrated searching. Of course, Bethany found out and suddenly he had two teachers.

On Friday he had a sudden thought. If all desired classes were expensive then he should look into the undesired ones. Maybe one of them was cheap and male only. They probably had their faults too, but maybe not as bad as his current class.
This, however, proved for now just as futile.

Too soon came Monday. So far Walter had never feared one. This, however, marked an important step. Going to work the newly christened Valerie had to pause her searching for a solution and start adjusting. Till she found a solution she had to live her life as a woman.

Her first big hurdle of the day was clothing. Her own idea of professionalism clashed with her class based need to show off her body. In the end, a half buttoned up blouse and a short pencil skirt were the winners. Combined with pumps with a modest heel she was declared ready by her wife. Of course, nothing could be further away from the truth. The pumps quickly proved to be an additional challenge on her drive to work and by the time she arrived two near accidents had happened.

She was painfully aware of the stares she got on her way to the elevators. Murmuring was all around her. As were stares.
First stop was Janet. His, now her, floor manager. Gulping she stepped closer. Janet could be a hard-ass on anyone and her temper was legendary. With Valerie’s new look she expected plenty of trouble. Janet hated everything that lowered efficiency of her floor and flirting co-workers especially. Now Valerie looked like a stereotypical flirt. Approaching her felt like being wrapped in red cloth and send to face a bull.

She stopped in front of Janet’s office. Unless you are above her payment level you wait for her to tell you to come in or you may as well walk out of the building. Valerie didn’t have to wait long.

“Walter I presume? Come in.”

Quickly Valerie stepped in and felt mustered.

“This ..,” Janet motioned at Valerie's body. “ ... is not much like I know you. Why a succubus? “

Valerie swallowed hard. “It was in the middle of combat. An ambush. I was close to dying. Saw this class change stone and … I didn’t think. I just reacted. Believe me when I tell you that this will be as temporary as I can make it.”

“So you didn’t want to be a Succubus.”

“Empusa actually and not in a million years. If my mind hadn’t been so muddled I would never have done it.”

“Good to know. Look. I’ll be honest. We had a few tries in the last years to incorporate Succubus classes into our workforce. Never worked out. On the other hand, I have known you for years so I’ll give this a try. Don’t make me regret it.”

“No Mam.”

“Now Walter, …”

“It’s Valerie for now. To avoid confusion.”

“Okay. Valerie. I would send you back to work immediately, but I fear you have to sign some documents in HR. They are expecting you.”

“Thank you. I’ll try to be quick.”

“Oh, and Walter .. Valerie I mean. Your clothes…”

“.. are the most conservative ones I can wear. Class compulsion.”

“I see. Might I suggest that you try working on counteracting it?”

“With all due respect, I rather keep trying to find another class. Preferably a male only class.”
Janet nodded and Valerie took it as a sign that she was dismissed.

*****

Mindy was her usual cheerful self, but she tried to mute it a little, given the circumstance. What Valerie thought would be a short visit to read and sign some documents quickly ballooned out to two hours.

Apparently, Succubus classes tended to exert certain behaviors not appropriate for the cooperation she worked for. One hour alone was dedicated to avoiding gestures that mimic jerking of phallic objects. By the end, Valerie was deeply embarrassed and to her own shame, a little aroused.

Thankfully Mindy didn’t notice or if she did she was a good sport and kept silent. She also offered her service to Valerie to learn some girly stuff. Not as her HR representative, but as a friend. While grateful, Valerie excused herself quickly.

She just wanted to go back what she did best. Sitting in her cubicle and hammer away at her keyboard and workload. As Walter, she could spend hours immersed in her work. Now as Valerie it proofed much harder.

“Hey there. I don’t think we have met yet. My name is Gary.”

Annoyed, Valerie turned around. Gary was the third disruption in two hours and the potential to be the worst. He had a certain reputation. Walter had always ignored it. But sadly Valerie couldn’t.
“I know who you are. Not interested.”

“Oh come on, you hardly…”

“But I do! You know the cubicle I am sitting in?”

“Yes, it’s Walters. The old lame-o has some family crisis. Guess it takes a little longer and you are his temporary replacement. And a sexy one at that.”

Valerie had to bit her tongue and could swear she already tasted blood. Stupid low health points. Her nails bit into her palms. Better that than to smack that so-called ladies man. How he hadn’t been caught by HR was beyond Valerie.

“Listen… Gary… That old lame-o is me. I am Walter you dimw…” Valerie cut herself off before she said something she would regret. It wasn’t like her to swear and she wasn’t about to start now.
“I had an accident with a class-stone. Soon to be remedied. And in case you didn’t notice. I still wear my wedding ring. Might be a little loose, but I still wear it proudly.”

Gary opened his mouth, but Valerie cut him off. “Just move along. I have work to do.”

Thankfully he did just that. Annoyed Valerie swiveled around to her PC and back to her work. Too bad there hadn’t been a course in HR about the unwanted attention she might get. Then again Valerie thought such a course might take longer than two hours.

*****

Valerie was on her way to her car when another voice called out to her. “Great. Another one who wants to hit on me,” she thought.

Turning around she saw Hank, the guard responsible for the afternoon shift in the underground parking lot. He was massive and had to duck his head even with a nine feet height clearing of the ceiling. Must be some class perk. “Valerie right? Normally Walter. I thought I might be of some assistance.”

“I haven’t forgotten how to drive a car.”

“I sure hope not. No, it’s about another thing. Some knowledge other co-workers found helpful.”

That peaked Valerie’s interest. She motioned for him to continue. “I complained to management that there aren’t enough cameras around here. There are some blind spots. As much as I hate to say it, it might be good if you know where those are.”

Valerie was confused at first. Why should she know about those spots? Of course, her mind caught up and the implications weren’t pretty. As Walter, she had been fine. Now as Valerie she was prey and judging by the number of times she had been hit on today she was a rather attractive one. With her slashed health points, she was a pushover too. She quickly agreed and was led around by Hank for half an hour. Time well spent as it might save her from a respawn one day.

*****

“You are late. We were worried.”

Valerie did go over to give her wife a hug. There was a slight hesitation to return it, but both decided to not mention it.

“Sorry. Apparently, our own security guard thinks the company's underground parking lot is unsafe. He showed me which spots to avoid.”

Bethany shook sadly her head. “Welcome to our world. Look. You better heed his advice. You aren’t as robust as you used to be.”

“And you dress like you are asking for it,” her daughter chimed in.
Bethany gave her a mean look while Valerie was embarrassed and looked away.

“What? It’s true. I know Dad or Mom or … this is confusing. I know she can’t help it. It’s the same with my clothes. But we can’t ignore it. Maybe I can show her some tricks I learned. In the meantime …”

Sarah got up and fetched something from the hallway. As she returned she put a can of pepper-spray on the table and pushed it towards Valerie. “I think you need this more than I do. I hardly leave the house anyway and when I do I have now my spirits to protect me.”

Before either of her parents could say anything she continued.
“Of course I won’t fight someone. If someone comes at me I’ll use them to buy me time to escape. And that's the same tactic you will use Dad. Spray and run.”

Valerie hated that she now was the weakest in the family. Nonetheless, she took the spray. She was grateful and had to wipe away a tear from the corners of her eyes.

***** Chapter 10 *****

It was Thursday and Valerie had survived two more days at work. She dreaded to walk inside, yet did it anyway. It wasn’t like her work had changed. Just the behavior of her co-workers. News traveled fast and only rumors could match its speed. The hot “new” worker on the fourteenth floor. Many found a reason to “visit” her.

Mostly those reasons were flimsy at best and Valerie was thoroughly annoyed. Her male co-workers were now very attentive, while her female co-workers grew colder to her. Male co-workers were busy chatting her up and the female ones chatted behind her back. She so hoped the novelty would fade away soon.

Just as she entered her floor a slimy voice greeted her. Gary again. That guy couldn’t take a hint even if it was painted on a twenty feet billboard. She hastily made her way to her cubicle and hoped he would just vanish.

She hid behind her cubicle walls and a flimsy printout. “A short FAQ” it was titled and kept the worst off her back. Of course, there were always those that had to pry. Right now she hated the honor position. The one farthest away from Janet’s office. Earned by his good work the past years.

It was just past lunch break when Paul shuffled by. When Valerie’s cubicle was the honor spot, then Paul’s was the one for punishment. It was the closest to Janet’s office and in full view. It was the spot reserved for troublemakers. It was also the preferred spot for Janet to look for messengers or runners if she needed an errand to be done.

She half expected another tacky pickup line. Instead, Paul gave a short “Janet wants to see you.”

Valerie twitched like she had been hit by someone. “How bad is it?”

“Someone from human resources is there too.”

Valerie nodded and swallowed hard. Whatever was up she wouldn’t like it. She took a moment to get into a decent state. An exercise in futility. No matter how hard you try if you wear a blouse a size or two too small you can’t button it all up.

She stood up on her two and a half inch pumps and walked towards the dreaded office. In this moment she seriously regretted to not have the habit of swearing.

She quickly was led in by Janet’s personal assistant and with a finality, the office door closed behind her. Janet had a grim look on her face. Before her desk sat Mindy. Her expression was just as grim. Valerie decided she was neck deep in trouble.

Janet motioned for her to sit and Valerie quickly complied. She then looked at Mindy, who in turn began to talk. “I have known you for a while so this will be probably a shock to you. We got today a formal complaint in human resources about unwanted sexual attention and harassment…”

Valerie breathed out in relief. One of her co-workers must have filled it on her behalf. Fed up by the unwanted attention Valerie got.

“The named perpetrator was you, Valerie.”

“What!?” Valerie’s eyes grew as big as saucers. Her mind needed a few seconds to fully catch up. “That’s ridicules. I am the one peppered with stupid questions and cheesy one-liners and someone thinks I want that?”

“Please, Valerie. Indoor voices,” chided Janet.

“I fear it is worse than you think Valerie,” Mindy continued.
“I quote from the complaint … She cornered me in the lunch break when the floor was empty. I think she saw me as an easy target. She said something like that she had underestimated her hunger and now she was hungry for me. I mean normally I would have jumped at the chance, but the wild look in her eyes frightened me. I declined and she got pushy and said obscene things.”

Valerie was beside herself and fury shot through her veins.
“That’s … It’s pretty much an accusation of attempted rape. I would never do something like that!”

“We … “ Mindy motioned to herself and Janet. “ .. agree that it doesn’t fit your character. But given your current class, the accusation is not completely without merit.”

Janet took over in a calm voice. “Currently it is word against word and no evidence is present. However, the company can’t just ignore accusations like that. If that would go public it would be a publicity nightmare. Now Mindy and I have to determine a way to deal with this matter.”

“Who is it? The one accusing me, “ wanted Valerie to know.

“You know I can’t tell you that Valerie. Don’t lose your wits now,” Mindy replied.

She was right and Valerie knew it. It didn’t help her when emotions made her blind. In a way, that was what had landed her in this trouble in the first place. If she hadn’t lost her cool in the midst of battle. What’s done is done and Valerie knew she had to rely on the one thing that hadn’t changed. Her body and her physical stats might have changed, but she still had her mental stats. After a moment to calm down she had a solution. Not a perfect one, but close enough. Or so she hoped.

“You are right. I apologize. Such unfounded accusation isn't easy to stomach. Given that it is unfounded I do expect no serious action on your part. However, I would totally understand under the given circumstances that the company might want to keep an eye on me. Say for example by making me exchange cubicles with Paul? I would be in full view of you Janet and your personal assistant. The company could then keep tabs on me and who I interact with.”

Several seconds passed and only the drumming of Janet’s pen on her desk broke the silence. Finally, she cleared her throat. “Yes, that might be acceptable on my part. Any qualms with it on your end Mindy? No? Good. We keep this silent of course. You may return to work Valerie. Oh and switch with Jared. Paul is there for a reason.”

Valerie nodded and left. It didn’t take long to switch with Jared, who was in the cubicle next to Paul. Once done she could finally pick up her work again. She knew there would be rumors. That couldn’t be helped. And she definitely didn’t like the black mark in her company’s file. On the other hand, there was the silence. The only good thing that came out of it. No one dared to hit on her in full view of Janet’s office. Finally, she could work in peace again. Still, the anger never left her system that day.

*****

Tired she entered her apartment and collapsed on the couch. It didn’t take long for her wife to come over and to notice that something was wrong. “Long day?”

Valerie nodded but avoided the eyes of her wife. Something she picked up immediately. Bethany sat down beside her and gently asked. “What happened?”

It took a moment for Valerie to start. There was a lump in her throat and her voice sounded coarse. It came out in pieces. Her words quickly cut off as tears welled in her eyes. Soon she was burying her face in her wife's shoulder and bawled like a small child. A flood of emotions broke free that she had suppressed till now.

It felt good in a way, but it also came with a harsh aftertaste. It was normally her that consoled the others in the family. She was the strong one. Or had been. Not anymore. Ever since her class change, things got more and more out of control. Walter had always handled everything. He had been the rock in the midst of this family. But she wasn’t Walter anymore and in this instance, the fact of it was so painfully clear.

It took a long time till she could tell the rest of today's events and even longer till the last tear was shed. The whole time Bethany held her. Unwavering like a rock. Valerie knew she must have become just as angry as herself. Yet she gave Valerie what she needed the most and she was deeply grateful for it.

***** Chapter 11 *****

Friday was mercifully quiet and uneventful. At least at work. When Valerie returned home she saw her wife upset.
“Sorry Val. I nearly had it. I saw a male only class stone we could afford online. Shop sale only. I asked a co-worker to cover for me and drove over as fast as I could. They already sold it. Apparently, a research company in the next town over buys all kinds of class stones as long as they are cheap.”

Valerie knew that might complicate things. Why wouldn’t the string of bad events finally stop? Out loud she asked a different question.
“Why do they buy them in the first place?”

“Shop owner said they try to override less valuable class stone with the contents of valuable one. In the long run, that might lead to a drop in class stone prices. But since they try for ten years now..”

“.. it might not help us short term,” finished Valerie the sentence.

“In that case, you are mine tomorrow,” came a shout from the living room.

Both walked into the room and Valerie had to ask her daughter.
“And why is that? I got a strange feeling it won’t be good for me.”

“Shopping and training. Unless you want to keep looking like a porn star trying to pretend to be an office worker.”

“Hey!” Valerie protested.

“Sarah you know your .. father .. can’t exactly help himself. Or herself.”

“I know. Better than most. I have a dressing compulsion too and I have learned some tricks to deal with it. So call me your teacher or keep flashing those t…”

“Sarah!” Bethany cut her off.

“Sorry. But you know I am right.”

Valerie had to agree. It made sense and it also might get some heat off her at work. “Fine. Why do I feel that lately I always draw the short straw?”

“Oh, I could share the misery of shopping with you,” replied Sarah. And a quieter “I could use some new clothes too.”

A few chuckles came and to Valerie’s surprise, some came from her.

***** Chapter 12 *****

“So sensei, where do we start?” Valerie asked.

It was Saturday and they just had entered the local mall. “To the shoe store,” Sarah proclaimed.

Valerie nodded and started to walk. “Wait. What? Last time I had to drag you to and through it.” Bethany exclaimed.

Valerie gave her wife a shrug. “Last time I ended up with two-inch heels. If Sarah knows a trick to go with a smaller heel I am all for it.”

“Oh, my. You are so on the wrong path. You won’t go lower. Instead, we try a three or four inch.” corrected Sarah.

“What!?” Valerie came to a dead stop.

“Well, let me explain. When I started fighting my compulsions I researched a lot. One thing I found out is that you have to satisfy a certain amount of the compulsion and that the compulsion judges this based on the whole wardrobe. Not just the individual items. That means if you go a little more deviant down there you can be more modest upfront. How much we will see. But let me show you something.”

Sarah got her smart phone out and browsed a moment in her pictures. Then she handed it to her parents. “I researched yesterday some possible looks that might work.”

Bethany looked through the pictures and Valerie looked over her shoulder. The woman there looked more modest, yet retained an aura of sexiness. They had a strict and stiff posture. On top of it all, they didn’t look like the typical porn stars. They looked strong, confident and in control.

Bethany stopped on one of the pictures. On it was a big white caption reading ‘reveal your inner slave to me!!' and some more small writing in the corner. “Exquisite Domina's blog? You browsed a porn site?”

“It was just a blog. And come on. You have to admit that style would be better than her current.” was Sarah’s defense.

“Okay. So where do we start?” asked Valerie.

“With three-inch heels, remember?” replied a grinning Sarah.

“Is it too late to turn around and run?” Valerie asked with a mock wince.

“It sure is. We are here,” Bethany announced.

Together they stepped into the local shoe emporium. It took three hours to whittle down the possible options to the chosen few to buy. Four three inch pumps in various styles and colors and much to Valerie’s dismay two four inch pairs too.
She even had to wear one pair of the new shoes out of the store.

“This way we can make sure that it works and can cover up more when we try on other stuff,” Sarah explained.

Valerie groaned. She had nearly forgotten that this was only the first stop of many. They entered another store. Sarah turned around and stopped them from going further in.

“Okay now for the hard part. An important step is to decouple the compulsion from the standard focus. You see I learned that my compulsion doesn’t make me dress like what I expected a necromancer to look like. No. It’s a little bit worse. The compulsion made me dress the way I thought others might expect I had to dress as a necromancer.”

“So you are saying I dress this slutty not because I find it sexy, which I don’t, but I think other think it is?” asked a disbelieving Valerie.

“Correct. It also says you are a bit of a snob if you really think everyone around you thinks that is sexy,” Sarah confirmed.

Bethany laughed as she saw Valerie’s face flush with guilt and embarrassment. “Well, at least your actual taste in women is good.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Back to the matter at hand. I decoupled so far my compulsion by substituting my own world view of how a necromancer should look like. A more modern and more flexible version. To achieve that you have to train your subconscious, which is a lot harder than you think it is. Now, Dad, we have to do the same with you. We have to pick a target set of points that define your view what makes you sexy. Then we shift it step by step.”

“Wait!” Valerie’s mind caught up. “You are saying in order to become less slutty I have to become comfortable with seeing myself sexy in my own way? To actually develop a preferred taste of clothes that count as sexy by becoming more ... feminine?”

Sarah saw the disheartened look on his face and needed a moment to gave him a serious nod. “Pretty much.”

Valerie let her head hang and soon felt the reassuring presence of her wife's hand on her arm. “We can start with it, but maybe we don’t have to finish it. Just till we found a way back to your normal self, okay? You can do it and Sarah and I are with you.”

Valerie nodded reluctantly. She knew that what Sarah proposed was reasonable given the circumstances. With a heavy heart, they started the long process of sifting through potential outfits and clothing for Valerie. Always measuring them against the outline of Valerie’s supposed future dressing style and how limited it was by her current discomfort.

It gave them a little hope when Sarah’s first educated guess proved right. With higher sexier heels came a greater freedom with the rest of the outfit. Not much. Just enough for now to squeeze out another inch of skirt length or another closed button on a blouse. But it made a difference one could see and Valerie took it as a rare good sign.

While some of the new acquisitions proofed to be comfortable, most were chosen to be slightly uncomfortable. Sarah always reminded Valerie when she squirmed or scratched an itch, that these will help her to train her resistance.

By the end of the day, they left with a lot of bags and Valerie was painfully aware of the irony. Each measure of money they spend now made it harder to find a permanent solution in the end. But she knew there wasn’t much of a choice. Short term survival by keeping her job had priority. She just hoped it wasn’t for long.

***** Chapter 13 *****

Valerie was relieved to finally arrive at her company's underground garage on Monday morning. Work meant a short break from her relentless training. Who knew Sarah would be such a strict teacher. From whom had she learned it? Not from Bethany or her. That was a sure thing. The whole Sunday had been dedicated to training. Walking in heels of three or even four inches. Wearing slightly uncomfortable modest clothing. Working on her posture and mannerisms.

“The posture training? Remember we are trying to trick your subconscious into believing these clothes are sexy and right for you. Acting like they are will help and eventually it will make it true. So stop slouching.”

“No scratching that itch! Remember: giving in will prove you wrong in wearing those modest clothes. Fight it and don’t give up.”

“Sway your hips more. Even a newborn gazelle is more graceful than you are right now.”

Valerie mentally nodded again. Definitely not from her or Bethany.
With a sigh of pure relieve, she parked her car and slipped on her heels back on. Immediately the discomfort became less. She had learned her lesson and drove now in flats to work. That however meant dropping below comfort level. The whole way she had to resist scratching and or tucking at her clothes.

A few minutes later she was in her cubicle and forgot her worries. Working always put her kind of in another mental state and today was no different. It helped that her new cubicle was so close to Janet’s office that no one dared to come by and flirt with her.

Sometimes, however, she looked up by reflex and saw a familiar figure close by yet never to close. Gary. She saw that sly smile he gave her whenever no one else was looking. He wanted her to know that it had been him who filed the harassment claim. Why she couldn’t tell. Nothing about this made sense. Even a player and ladies man like him should be able to stomach a rejection from a woman like her. Yet for some reason, he made his personal mission to ruin her. It was strange. No doubt about it.

Valerie stood up and grabbed her lunch when it was finally time for it. Normally she ate in her cubicle, but since last Thursday she knew that could be a mistake. The cafeteria of the company was not a place for some quiet time, but in her case to be seen and noticed. Not that she liked that either, but it gave her an unshakable alibi.

Just as she about to leave a voice startled her. “Valerie. I noticed your wardrobe.”

She turned around to face Janet. “All part of fighting my compulsion.”

“Interesting. Would you join me for lunch in my office? You can tell me a little more about it.”

Valerie nodded. She knew Janet for years. Both had always maintained a professional cursory relationship. She suspected her class change would change things for the worse, but now it appeared the opposite might be true. Most curious. The lunch was quite nice. Maybe it helped to offset the negative impact of the accusation a little.

***** Chapter 14 *****

“This is a disaster!”

Valerie cursed her own stubbornness as she took another break and steered her car over to the side. Following yesterday’s lunch with Janet, she was eager to show her just how much she could clean up and be modest. That, in turn, meant shifting where she got her sexiness from. She opted for her new four inch heels. She still wasn’t proficient in walking them, but her long Empusa tail helped her to stay upright. It would have to do.

No. Her mistake was the same as yesterday, just worse. To drive she had to switch to flats, which immediately started the itchiness again. Just worse as more sexiness was missing. Even the hilarity couldn’t keep her mood up. Only her stubbornness kept her going. After she pulled aside she slipped on her four-inch heels and sighed in relieve. She would never have thought to be happy to slip on a pair of high heels.

It took her five minutes to calm down enough to try for the rest of her commute. She did arrive in time, but nowhere near her usual over-punctual standard. That, in turn, meant all the good spots in the underground garage were taken. She found finally a spot on the lowest sub-level.

Annoyed she walked to the elevators and thanked whoever build them for it. She didn’t even dare to think about walking all the way up the stairs in her new heels. Of course, when she arrived at her cubicle, she couldn’t just slip out of her heels. For someone with an intelligence stat of eighty-seven, she sure felt pretty stupid about now.

Work was serenity. It always gave her mind something to focus on. However, she noticed more activity than usual around her. She waved over one of her co-workers and just had to ask what was up.

“You haven't heard? One of our biggest clients demanded an audit and the review of some core documents. Now we scramble to make it on time.”

Valerie nodded. She could work with others, but she was usually quicker on her own. So that was how she usually was utilized. That would explain why no one bothered to shift some of the workloads to her.

Lunch came and went. She hardly saw Janet. Of course, she hadn’t expected to have lunch with her boss again. But at least she could have noticed her improved wardrobe. With all the hectic around her, it was no wonder she didn’t. Of course, it upset Valerie. All this torturing herself this morning and in the end it was nothing.

Getting close to the end of the day the high activity died down and slowly the floor emptied. She was packing her things when a sudden loud curse startled her. It came from Janet’s office. One she could ignore. The string of swear words that followed she couldn’t. She walked over to Janet’s office and knocked.

“Ah, Valerie. Get me Benjamin, Eliza, Cory, Gary, and James into my office.”

“Pretty sure they all left half an hour ago.”

The curse words that followed could make a sailor blush and it certainly made Valerie. She knew Janet could curse up a storm, but those were usually limited if she needed to cut down unruly underlings. Finally, she looked back at Valerie. “Valerie, I have a favor to ask…”

And there was Valerie’s evening going down the drain. Guess she had to endure her heels and wardrobe a few hours more. “I’ll call my wife that I’ll be late today.”

Sighing she moved her laptop into Janet’s office and started. She was quickly surprised about Janet’s half of the work. She was just as efficient as Valerie, if not even a tad better. Communication was limited and cut down to the essentials needed.

It didn’t take long to see what had Janet alarmed her. Large arrays of numbers were just plain wrong. Methodically she narrowed down the possible causes and came to the conclusion that several key-values had been altered. Had it been sabotage? Valerie couldn’t tell. For now, she concentrated on fixing the problem as fast as she could.

With their fast pace, Janet and Valerie fixed what was wrong in slightly below three hours. Tired they pushed the question of sabotage to the next day and headed out. It was a little eerie to walk through empty floors and hallways. Only Hank was there and gave them a wave from his security booth.

The underground garage was pretty much empty and Valerie was painfully aware of the echo her high heels made. Janet’s car naturally was parked on the highest floor. The privilege of being management. They said their goodbyes and split.

Valerie walked to the elevators and nearly screamed in frustration. Yellow and black tape, as well as a printed paper, marked the lift as out of order. Couldn’t go anything right today? Now she had to walk four flights of stairs. Unless. The ramp was close by and she reasoned the gentle slope might be easier on her feet than walking stairs.

By the time she arrived on the lowest floor she would have given anything for a means to be instantly home and under a nice hot shower. She rounded a corner and spotted her car. A half hour of hellish driving might await her, but then she could finally get some rest. She was so done with this day.

Twenty feet away from her car she was rummaging in her bag, in search for her keys, when a voice startled her. “Hey, slut. I’ve been waiting for you.”

From behind a column, Gary appeared and walked between her and her car. He had a gleam in his eye she definitely didn’t like.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded to know.

“Waiting for you of course,” he admitted.

The nasty grin on his face made her shudder and she felt the panic rise within herself. Quickly she fought it down. It was the last thing she needed. What she needed was time to think. For now, she had to stall him. “Why?”

She quickly concluded her biggest mistake. The cameras Hank had mentioned. She had parked below one but the stretch towards it was a blind spot. Exactly where Gary sprung his ambush.

“To teach you a lesson. To remind you of your place in this world.”

What was that maniac talking about? She knew she couldn’t dwell on it. The next cameras were the one at her car and behind Gary or the one sixty feet behind her. Could she outrun Gary? Not in four-inch heels. “And where would that be?”

Could she use her magic? It was a risk as it would drain her health points further. Besides, magic like arousal or artificially risen affection might backfire horribly.

“Under a man of course.”

“You are delusional.” Of course. She still had …

“No, you are! You are made for sex! And I’ll prove it to you.”
Her hand pushed into her bag and grabbed what she needed. Just as he lunged at her she leveled her pepper spray. She stepped aside as he blindly staggered through the spot she had just occupied. He took a few more blind steps towards the exit that had been behind her. Valerie had anticipated that and ran instead towards her car.

After only a few steps she heard a roar and steps behind her. Panic welled inside her. He should be blind, yet she heard him behind her and he was coming closer. She dared a glance behind her and immediately regretted it. She missed a step and fell hard on the ground. Scraping arms, legs and her tail. Her car was close yet too far away.

A hand grabbed her and pulled on her left leg. By instinct, she kicked with her other and heard a satisfying yell of pain.

“Stop fighting it. You are in denial. Once I have sex with you, you will understand.”

“Never!”

Gary gave her a nasty grin again. He slowly started to unbuckle his pants.

“You are a Succubus sub-class. Doesn’t matter which one. You are made for sex and believe me, you will love it.”

“I will sue you. I will …”

“... beg me for more!”

He grabbed a leg of her again. This time her kick missed. Worse. His hand caught her second leg. It was hopeless now. Her heart did beat loudly in her chest. Drowning out everything else. He would rape her here and she would probably wake up at the respawn center and not even remember anything.

Defiant she looked with hatred up to his face. He still had that nasty smile on his face that … suddenly was replaced by an equal sized fist. Connected to an arm that might have steel cables under its skin instead of muscles. A hulking shape entered her view. It took a moment for her mind to catch up.

”Hank,” came an astonished whisper from her.

“Be with you in a sec,” Hank said without looking at her. He only had eyes for Gary who was slowly getting back on his feet. As Hank drew closer Gary took a fighting stance. “Oh how long I wished to wipe that grin off your face,” Hank shouted.

A moment later he became a blur as he moved with a speed Valerie hadn’t thought someone so big could have. Again Gary flew through the air. Just to land with nasty sounds of tissue ripping and bones cracking. Gary still lived, but she could only guess by the twitching, the agonized moaning and the health bar she could see if she tried to.

Hank turned around and walked in his usual slow pace towards her. He offered his arm, the same muscular trunk of flesh that struck down Gary, and she pulled herself up on it. A moment later she leaned on the hood of her car. Hank silently stood beside her. Her heart was still beating like crazy and her legs shook like leaves. She felt weak and drained. Yet she found the strength to keep clinging to his arm. He said nothing as her tears started to flow. He just was something solid she could hold on.

After a while, she calmed down. Now she could hear the sirens that drew closer. “Called the cops,” muttered Hank.

It didn’t take long for the first car to exit the ramp and roll towards them. There wasn’t much to do at first. Hank in his guard clothes holding steady a woman who had recently cried. Gary bleeding on the ground. The situation was clear and the first police officers waited for backup to arrive.

A moment later emergency healers arrived and hurried towards Gary. Valerie couldn’t care less. She felt numb and detached. As if all this happened to someone else.

One of the healers came over and Hank left her in his care. She just couldn’t find the strength to beg for him not to go. Instead, she watched as he walked over to the officers and talked quietly with them.

It was after a while that her tired mind noticed that the healer was still fussing around her. Wasn’t she already healed? As she stirred she was gently pushed down by the healer. “Please mam, your health is still low. I healed your outside wounds, but your low health might hint of internal damage.”

When she found the strength to speak it was barely a whisper.
“‘s alright. Healed full. Overhealing. A class trait.”

She didn’t manage to say more and just waited patiently till the healer checked her maximum health stat to confirm her statement.
Even drained she couldn’t sit still forever. She stood up on shaky legs and walked over to Hank and one of the officers. Ignoring the protest of the healer.

“... we always record the camera feeds. I guarantee you will get a copy,” Hank paused himself as he noticed Valerie.
She saw the concern on his face and was grateful for it.

“Miss. Are you alright?” the officer asked.

“No, but I … What happens now?”

The officer only needed a moment to collect himself. “It’s mostly clear what transpired. Later we might need a statement from you.”

“I can do that now,” she volunteered. Not only surprising Hank and the officer but also herself.

“Are you sure? This must be very traumatic for you. We can do it later,” he gently reassured her.

“No,” Valerie quickly interrupted. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to get it over with now. “It’s okay. I .. just … Can we do it now?”

The officer regarded her for a moment and then nodded. “Then please start from the beginning and take your time.”

“Yes. Uhm. I came from the ramp and it was about ..”

“Excuse me. Why from the ramp?” the police officer inquired.

“The elevator was broken and I thought it was easier," Valerie explained.

"Not as far as I know," admitted Hank.

"There was tape. And a notice," Valerie said.

“We will check that out. Okay. Go on Miss," the officer prompted her.

“It was there where Gary revealed himself. He stepped between me and my car. He was ranting nonsense and he scared me. When he came closer I sprayed him with pepper spray and ran over there.”

“To your car to..”

“No," Valerie interrupted.

The officer gave her a questioning look.

“Hank, the guard here, told me once about the cameras here. Gary had caught me in a blind spot. I needed help so I thought the smartest thing was to get into the camera view. One was at the ramp. Too far away. But there, above my car, was another. It was closer.”

She pointed with a still jittery hand and finger up. “If I hadn’t fallen I would have tried for my car. Instead, I had to stall for time and hope that Hank wasn’t walking a security round to check on things.”

“I came as soon as I saw you on the floor.”

“Thanks”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he patted her, surprisingly softly, on the shoulder.

The rest was a long and tedious amount of waiting and sometimes answering further questions. Hank had led her up to his small guard house and placed her on a chair. A cup of hot chocolate found its way into her hand.

She must have nodded off, as a sudden shout woke her up.

“Valerie!” Arms and a familiar smell hugged her. Bethany. Then she heard sobbing. Her own as she noticed a moment later.

Bethany held Valerie for a while. Valerie noticed the rest that happened only with a numb indifference. Like Bethany talking with Hank and thanking him. Next thing she knew was being strapped into her own car and that Bethany drove them home. Sarah’s worried face as they arrived. The spray of hot water from the shower. The soft touch of blankets. Then darkness. Not the scary kind. The one you welcome. She drifted off to sleep.

***** Chapter 15 *****

“It has been three days. We need to do something.”

Valerie was woken by Sarah’s raised voice.

“I know. It's just that... I can’t push her right now. If she doesn’t want to see an expert…” Bethany countered.

“I am fine. Just need a few days,” said Valerie as she joined the conversation.

“No, you are not.” Sarah crossed her arms.

“We talk about this when I am back from work.” Valerie saw her wife off. When she came back to the living room Sarah was gone. From her bedroom, she heard murmured incantations. Probably training her skills.

Valerie did what she had done the last three days. She headed back to bed and tried to forget that the world existed. She knew it was unreasonable. She was fine. He hadn’t really hurt her. The unimaginable avoided at the last second. She should be okay.
Yet every time she thought of the outside her mind spun tales of others. People like Gary. Those who saw only the body. Knew only her class. It filled her with dread. It was easier to bury her head under pillows and blankets. Maybe tomorrow she could face the world.

Sudden steps in her bedroom broke her train of thought. She peeked out of the safety of her blankets. Sarah who rummaged through Valerie's wardrobe? She tossed a few pieces of clothing on a nearby chair. Then, to Valerie’s surprise, the blanket flew off. Stripped from her by magic.

“Sarah? What the…”

“Get dressed.”

“What!?”

“If you won’t see an expert then you are mine for today,” Sarah stated with hands propped on her hips.

“I .. I haven’t even showered yet.”

“Oh, you want to when we are done. Count on it.”

Sarah picked up the clothes and flung it to Valerie, who wondered just when her daughter had become so bossy. Picking up the first piece she came face to face with a sports bra.

“I see you in five minutes outside.”

She was gone before Valerie could voice any protest. Wary she eyed the thrown ensemble. She knew it from the last time they had been at the mall. Valerie had protested to this one. Which she gave up as both, Bethany and Sarah insisted. The tight sports bra and smallish shorts made the basis for the outfit. Then, over her bra, came a flimsy half see-through top. And that was it.

Grumbling she got to work and then meet Sarah in the living room.

“You haven’t changed,” Valerie remarked.

“Of course not. Only you will be running. Besides. Running in a robe sucks.”

With that, Valerie couldn’t argue. She was about to grab a pair of sneakers when Sarah stopped her. “Nope. Take the heels. The one there with two-inch heels.”

“You expect me to run in high heels?!”

“Not just to run. Just be glad. Some of the others advocated for the three or four-inch heels.”

“The others?”

“Oh. Just some ghosts I keep around as advisers.”

Valerie gave Sarah a dubious look but complied nonetheless.

Now it was time to step out and a familiar tightness in her chest built up. “We won’t go very far. Just to the block’s community yard,” Sarah told her.

She nodded and gathered her strength. One step. Then another.
Step by step they made their way over to the yard. They stopped at the paved basketball court.

“Okay. Before we start I need to give you this.” Sarah dropped a whitish cylinder into Valerie’s hands. She nearly dropped it. It was cold as if it had been in the freezer for hours.
Sarah covered Valerie’s hands with her own and a moment later the cold feeling vanished.

“It is now attuned to you. Hold it up before you with one hand and make sure that both fronts point away from everyone.”

Valerie did as told.

“Now. Let a little mana ... well, health points flow into it. As if you are charging an artifact.”

As soon as the health entered it the cylinder twitched and extended in a blink of an eye. She was now holding a staff of about six feet long. Then she notices the gleaming edge on one end. It wasn’t a mere staff. “A spear?”

“Well, technically it’s an ethereal bone scythe that I reshaped by force into the form of a spear.”

Valerie twisted and turned the weapon to view it from each side. It was near white with a slight ivory tinge. Nothing even hinted of it just being a cylinder a moment ago.

“Why a spear?”

“You seemed to handle one well the last time.”

The image of the other Empusa’s shocked face flashed behind Valerie’s eyes. The moment when Valerie, back then as Walter, had pushed it into her chest.

“You can collapse it again with a little flow of health. Now. Take a position at the end of the basketball court. I want you to meet someone.”

Valerie did as told and watched as Sarah walked to the opposite side. She started some incantation Valerie couldn’t understand. A glowing circle shimmered into existence. Slowly rotating and gaining in strength. A sudden boom and the circle was gone. In its place stood a figure that made Valerie gasp. There stood a knight with an armor that was black as the deepest night. Contrasting to it he held a white spear on his own. A mirror image of Valerie’s.

“I am Sir Percival,” a deep voice announced. It had an unearthly resonance to it. “I’ll be your teacher.”

Valerie took a few steps back. Damn that guy was impressive. Sarah clearly got along in her studies. “Fear not my maiden. I mean you no harm.”

The tense moment was broken by laughing. It was Sarah who stepped aside so she could be seen behind Sir Percival. “You should see your face. Priceless.”

Once her shock was swallowed down it was time for her training. Sir Percival gave her step by step guide on how to hold the spear and what stance to take. “Your footwork is terrible. Those shoes of yours..” Sir Percival started.

“ … is sadly the best she can wear. Kind of a class restriction,” Sarah chimed in.

“Well let's end today’s lesson with something fun. Strike me with your spear as hard as you can.”

Valerie gave him a dumbfounded look.

“Do not worry. I am already dead. No harm will come to me.”

Valerie swallowed and took a position before him. Just like he taught her. Then she pushed the spear forward. It was harder than she would have thought. At once, she noticed the instability her heels gave her. Her strike landed nowhere near her targeted point. However, what really shocked her was the spear that actually pierced Sir Percival.

She thought it might get deflected. Instead half the spears head was inside his arm. With some difficulty, she withdrew her spear. No wound. Not even a hole or dent in the armor. It eerily reminded her of something from her childhood. Back when she had been Walter and maybe seven or eight years old. He had pushed a toothpick into Jelly-O. Just to pull it out and marvel as no puncture could be seen.

“Again. And this time please aim for my chest.”

Valerie grimaced. She had aimed for his chest. She stabbed at him again and then again. Each stab followed by a comment or correction. More and more she stabbed and struck at him. By now she couldn't tell how often anymore. She was lost in the rush of adrenaline.

A voice broke through her haze. “That is enough for now.”

It hadn’t been Sir Percival and only after a moment her brain caught up. “Sarah, I still can handle more.”

“Probably, but I can’t.” Now she saw her daughter well enough to notice the glistening of sweat on her face. Valerie admonished herself. Summoning wasn’t a one and done kind of spell. It had to be channeled. That Sarah had been able to do it this long was kind of amazing.

“Sir Percival. Thank you for your help.” Sarah gave a small curtsy.

“My pleasure Milady.” He gave her a swift and elegant bow.

With a wave of Sarah’s hand, he was gone.

“I didn’t know you were this good already,” remarked a proud Valerie.

“Well, after the park incident I reevaluated the priorities of my training.”

Together they walked slowly back towards the apartment. It didn’t take long for Valerie to break the silence. “I know what you trying to do.”

“Want me to stop?”

“No. Thank you.”

“Good. Next workout is after I finish today's lessons with my private tutor.”

Valerie tightened her hand on her spear. Now back in its collapsed form. She wasn’t feeling ready yet, but maybe soon.

***** Chapter 16 *****

To train twice daily became their new habit. Once in the morning and once in the evening. It was the next Sunday and Valerie was waiting at the door for Sarah to get ready.

It startled her when the doorbell suddenly rang. She looked through the spy hole and saw one Brad Cooper. A classmate of Sarah’s before she had begun homeschooling. Last time he had been here he tried to give Sarah an auto-accepting gift. Guaranteed to raise the affection level. He also had the bad luck that Bethany had opened the door.

This time it was Valerie’s turn. With more force than needed, she opened the door. “What do you want?” she harshly demanded.

“Is Sarah ..”

“You got another auto-accepting gift, right? No, thank you. Now go away.”

“But..”

Valerie grabbed her spear from the nearby shelf and extended it. “I have an auto-accepting gift too. Wanna feel it?”

Brad turned white as chalk and ran away as fast as he could.

“Wasn’t that a little too much?” came an inquiry from behind her. There stood Sarah with crossed arms and a bemused look.

“Maybe,” Valerie admitted.

Sighing Sarah waved it off but quickly surprised her in another way. “Today the four inch please.”

“Really?”

“You got a new teacher today. Her class. Her rules.”

“Fine,” Valerie grumbled and complied.

They arrived at the yard and Sarah started another summoning circle. What stepped out of it certainly wasn’t what Valerie had expected. It was a Lady of maybe fifty to sixty years. She looked fit for her age.

“I present Madame Carla,” Sarah announced with a flourishing gesture.

“Hello. You will help me with my spear training?” A little doubt tinged Valerie’s question.

Madame Carla wasn’t wearing fighters garb. Instead, she wore a blouse and a very loose and ruffled skirt. Completed by heels as high as Valerie’s own pair.

“Oh, no no no. No! In fact, you won’t be needing your spear at all. Today and in coming classes, I will show you how to unlock your passion. To free your inner fire. To dance with the devil and survive.”

Valerie’s doubt could be clearly seen on her face. So much that Sarah had to explain. “Tango. You are going to learn the Tango.”

“Exactly. But not just Tango. To round it out I will also teach you Flamenco.”

After a few moments of failed processing, Valerie had the perfect question to ask. “What?”

“It’s easy,” Sarah exclaimed. “As Sir Percival mentioned your footwork is miserable. He isn’t the right person to teach it to you. Madame Carla is. We chose Tango and Flamenco for a reason.”

“Tango is a partner dance,” Madame Carla chimed in. “It will teach you to anticipate your partner's movements. It also has a flow and steps of varying length. Later we will change from standard Tango to Queer Tango. There the roles aren’t fixed. The leading partner can change mid-dance.”

“Flamenco was chosen because it is in part a step dance. Precise movement here is key. It is also more fluid than other forms of step dances as the body contorts more. Because of your low health, you need to avoid getting hit. That means your primary defense has to be evasion. That, in turn, means it has to come from utilizing your footwork to the fullest.”

“Okay. Okay. I get it. How do we start?” Valerie asked.

“With some basic steps …”

Two hours later Valerie had to muster all her willpower to not curse. Her feet were hurting like hell. The first big lesson had been about when to rely on the heels and when to shift her weight onto her toes. That meant putting a strain on her feet she wasn’t accustomed to.

She wasn’t sure how much she learned from this lesson, but another one was painfully clear:”This won’t be as easy as she had thought.”

***** Chapter 17 *****

“How do you feel?” Sarah inquired.

“Might be better not to ask. It might take a while to list everything,” came Valerie’s tired reply. She was leaning on Sarah’s shoulder and limped with her back towards their apartment. Her ankle was swollen and hurt a lot. Courtesy of a dance step gone wrong. Secretly she was amazed that she had managed to avoid it till now. She sighed heavily.

“My fourth lesson and I am still a total klutz,” Valerie complained.

“Don’t beat yourself up too much about it. Remember that most people don’t start learning to dance with four-inch heels on their feet.”

“Yeah, I know.”

There was a momentary silence before Sarah took initiative once again. “I wanted to talk to you about something. I know you need all the lessons you can get, but I was contemplating to cutting them in half.”

“Are two each day to taxing on you?”

“Ah. No. I am doing better with every day. I hoped .. Well. I think my abilities have grown enough that I can defend myself. That’s why I would like to return to school. Besides, we need all the money, right? Saving on the private tutor might help a bit.”

Valerie nodded along. Yes, it made sense to her. There is protective and there was overprotective. A fine line they started to edge closer.
“Well. You are probably the only one in our family that can defend herself. Period.”

“Is that a yes?” asked Sarah with hope tinting her voice.

Valerie felt a little proud. Normally Sarah would go to Bethany and not her. That she was asking Valerie hinted that they have grown closer. Of course, there was one thing Valerie always had wanted and thinking about it, she couldn’t completely hide a small grin.

“Of course, …”

“Yay!”

“... provided your mother agrees.”

Finally, she could turn it around and offload a decision onto Bethany. Just like she usually did.

“My mother did just agree,” shot Sarah back.

Valerie groaned theatrically. “Oh don’t get cute with me. Your other mother.”

“Yeah. Yeah…”

*****

“Are you sure you are ready to go back to work?”

Valerie gave her a serious nod to her wife. “Can’t hide away forever. Besides, I don’t know how long the company would tolerate my absence.”

“It’s their fault too. If they had more cameras installed then this might never have happened.”

“I know. But you know me. Without work, I get a little antsy.”

Now it was Bethany’s turn to nod. “Oh, I know. Well. If you are really ready to go out again then …”

Bethany let it trail out and it didn’t take Valerie long to take the bait. “Yes?”

“I talked to Hank, your savior, and offered him my thanks. I kind of pressured him to say anything I could do to show my gratitude.”

Valerie’s chest tightened. Had Bethany done something with Hank?
“So in the end, he relented and asked for this little favor. His fiancee is pushing him to meet other people together.”

Valerie let out a breath of relief. She hadn’t known Hank was engaged. Now she was curious who could have tamed this giant of a man.

“The deal we made is once you are comfortable enough we visit them for an evening. I think Hank’s fiancee is a chef or so. Doesn't sound so bad right? With you going back to work we could ask if this Saturday would be a good time.”

Valerie didn’t like the going out part. Not in her current form. But there was an opportunity here. The past weeks both of them had drifted apart. She knew she still could count on Bethany as a friend. But how much saw Bethany her still as husband or wife?

The rules of the world were immutable. With her being straight her affection was limited towards a woman. Slowly the rules would force her affection for Valerie down to that of a normal level. How long till it wins or had it already won? For Valerie it was clear. She had to take every chance she could get to keep Bethany’s natural affliction from dropping. “Yes, I think I can manage that.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, I owe the big guy, right?”

She wasn't sure. Silently she cursed her own cowardice to tell her wife the real reason why she had agreed.

***** Chapter 18 *****

“Stop fidgeting. You look fine,” Bethany commented after she had a small fit of chuckles.

“I know. Can’t believe I am saying this, but I think this dress is a little too modest.” That made Bethany laugh out loud and that, in turn, made Valerie blush heavily.

“Here we are. Now just act naturally.”

Bethany pushed the doorbell before Valerie could comment. It didn’t take long before they heard heavy footsteps. Hank opened the door and gave them a huge grin.

“Welcome. Good to see you up and about again. Come in. Come in.”

They exchanged a few more pleasantries before Bethany couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Your high ceilings are gorgeous,” she gushed.

“Really? My fiance always comments they are too low.”

Had he just made a joke? Valerie wasn’t sure. On the other hand, she couldn’t remember ever seeing him standing up to his full height. Maybe ten feet? She guessed that the ceiling itself was up about twelve feet. For Bethany and her, those were high ceilings. Not so much for Hank.

“Speaking of … My fiancee is in the kitchen and I should introduce you.”

They followed him into an opulent dining room and kitchen.
He turned around proudly. “This is Tom, my fiancee. Tom, meet Valerie and her wife Bethany.”

“Nice to meet you,” Tom greeted.

Valerie and Bethany needed a moment to gather their wits, which apparently didn’t stop Valerie’s mouth.

“Holey Moley, you are huge.”

Tom let out a bellowing laugh. “Yeah, that’s usually the first thing people notice.”

It was no wonder. Tom dwarfed them even more than Hank did. Valerie guessed maybe eleven feet. Now the earlier comment made a lot more sense.

“Sorry,” came the timid apology of Valerie.

“Ha. No need,” Tom reassured her.

“So how about some wine?” Hank chimed in.

Both agreed and the awkwardness of the first moment was quickly forgotten. They all were engaged in small talk a moment later. Sipping wine and kept watching Tom as he prepared dinner with amazing skill and dexterity. Topics came and went. They learned a lot of each other.

“Okay. Here is something tricky. Guess where we meet each other.” Hank dared them.

“I guess it won’t be something obvious like the gym?” Bethany asked.

“Not even close,” Tom admitted grinning.

“In a dwarf only bar?” Valerie suggested. Earning laughter from the whole room.

“Okay. Okay. So we sort of knew each other.” Tom told them.
“We frequented the same farmers market.”

“And it’s hard not to notice each other if the other person is the only one on the same eye level than you,” Hank added. “We even talked a bunch of times.”

“Liked him from the start, but always too shy to ask him out. Didn’t even knew if he was into men.”

“So one day a friend of mine kept bugging me to try this dating app. Right off the bat, I got a ninety-six percent match. And wait a minute. I know that guy!”

“And the rest is, as they say, history,” finished Tom.

Valerie had to admit. It was a nice evening and they had a lot of fun. But there was something bugging Valerie at the back of her head. It took nearly the whole evening till she could her finger on it. It was the closeness of Hank and Tom. How they complimented each other. It was something she once had with Bethany. But now, seeing Hank and Tom, gave it contrast. Much of it was lost. More than she would have guessed a few hours ago. It gave the nice evening a bitter tinge at the end.

“You’re alright? You seem a little bit quiet,” Bethany asked on their way home.

“Yeah. The wine. You know. Never could handle much.”

What she really wanted to ask was left unspoken: “Do you still love me?”

***** Chapter 19 *****

Monday came and went by. Much to her relief most of what was happened was kept under wraps. Janet knew, as did Mindy. Both showed their support in a quiet moment. For everyone else, it was the topic to gossip about. Most guessing was far off, but some came uncontrollably close. On the other hand, the company sprung finally for a few more cameras.

Eventually, it all died down. Valerie was swamped with work that had been held back by her absence and the rest of her floor had to carry Gary’s usual workload too.

*****

The next Friday was the hard part she had been dreading for some time now. She had to appear in court and give her statement. Had to watch the footage of the security cameras and see that asshole again. Thankfully Bethany was there and gave her support through it all. In the end, she was glad that this was over. Gary could rot in prison and she could finally continue her life.

*****

It was amazing how something important could be drowned in the flood of day to day living. Her workdays quickly became a blur. Getting up early had gotten a little harder. It took longer to get ready and be presentable. The workload was hell for a few days. Coming home she would spend one or two more hours on the court with Sarah. Training either dancing or handling her spear. She slowly got better. It helped a lot when she started to incorporate her tail into her movements.

A ray of hope was Bethany. Every day she came home Beth was deep in one book or another. Always searching for a solution. She had been dedicated before, but after their evening with Hank and Tom, she got at it with renewed urgency. It soothed Valerie’s mind a lot. If Bethany was so dedicated then all hope might not be lost for them.

And that hope carried Valerie through her days. Always expecting a little to come home one day and Bethany having found a solution.
It was the Friday two weeks after her court appearance. Bethany called shortly before Valerie was done for the day. “Val it’s me. Listen. I have found a solution. At least a partial one.”

At once, Valerie’s heart started beating in excitement. “You found a class stone we can afford?”

“No. Sorry. But there is something else important we have to fix.”

“What is it?” Valerie urged.

“I tell you when you come home, but there is something important you have to do. You have to have the next whole week off. Make whatever deals you have to do, but we need the next week clear of any distractions.”

“Now you worry me a bit.” Valerie’s voice was tinged with worry.

“Just .. trust me. Okay?”

“I’ll try my best.”

“Good. See you soon.”

The next step was a scary one. Getting the week off meant talking to Janet. Sure, their professional relationship had gotten a lot better. And in ways, Valerie wouldn’t have guessed before. But for Janet efficiency stood above all. Valerie had taken so many days off recently. After her change and for her to get back on her feet after Gary. Now she had to get another week off based on ‘my wife told me to’.

It was a battle of wills. Not a fair one. Janet was playing the manager part for a long time. When she finally exited she felt as if she had sold her soul to a demon. When she will be back she had to work an extra hour every day till she got the hours back in. That might take over a month to accomplish. On the other hand, she got what she came for. The free week.

Giddy with anticipation and worry she headed home. Not a class stone. That she knew. So she will still be stuck as a woman. What else might be important enough?

*****

The apartment was quiet when she arrived. She found Bethany sitting at the kitchen table. A bunch of books stacked close by.
She looked up and gave Valerie a strained smile. “Take a seat. We need to talk.”

Was that it? Was this where her hope would be crushed? She nodded and sat down. Valerie blinked a few times as tears threatened to form.

Bethany reached out and offered her hand which Valerie grasped.
“Ever since we visited Hank and Tom my mind had been reeling,” she started. “It was obvious. They had a spark that we lost. A spark that I missed so much and I know in my heart that I can’t go on like that. Valerie …”

She was sure. This was the moment her heart would be crushed. “ … I have to admit that I stopped looking for a class stone. Not permanently. I just needed time to find a way so we could be together again. Not just as friends, but as married people. This stupid world and its rules. I tried a way to break them, but no game there. But now I may have found a way to use them against themselves.”

She pushed one of the books towards him and pointed to a passage. “If the targeted person’s sexual orientation is contrary to the build upon artificial affection it is recommended to keep the duration of exposure short. Long term overload of artificially induced affection is known to temporarily alter the target's sexual orientation and in rare cases alter it permanently.”

Valerie pushed the book away. “I … I can’t do that to you….”

“But … “ Bethany started.

“No. You don’t understand. I have felt it. Back in the park. I had been under its influence. Looking back it was horrible. I didn’t care. For anything. Not even myself. All that mattered was that wretched creature. You would be a living zombie. Your whole life turned meaningless. I love you and doing this would mean I’d lose you too. Seeing you like this for month or years ... “

“Only five days,” her wife calmly interjected.

“What?” came the bewildered question of Valerie.

“My plan calls for five days. All the cases here in these books have been cases of low strength, but long term. I think we could expedite it by having you go full out. Cast as much as you can on me within five days.”

“That’s why you wanted the week off,” Valerie whispered as her wife's plan slowly unfurled in her mind.

“Yes. Five days and then four days for the worst of the spells to wear off.”

“Spells?”

“Yes. Empusa’s have, like every Succubus subclass, a spell to induce arousal. And the thing is I found similar warnings about long term exposure to arousal spells too. Using both gives us better chances to changing me.”

“Not just changing. You are talking about breaking yourself and we don’t even know if it works.”

“Valerie. I haven’t made this decision lightly. As long as I have known you, you have always been the one to sacrifice yourself for this family. Back in the park, you hadn’t even hesitated. For once it is not possible. Only one of us can do this sacrifice and I am willing to do it. I want to. No. I demand to do it. I ask you to trust me. To step back for once and let me be the one who bears the load of the decision.”

“I don’t know. Isn’t there another way?”

“Maybe, but not in time. Listen. Relying on our natural affection for each other had always been enough. But not this time. Just this once we have to do what we swore we would never do to each other. Valerie. Please.”

Tears streamed down both their faces and an oppressive silence settled over them. Valerie’s mind raced. Could she do it? She remembered how it had felt to be under overwhelming artificial affection. To be of a single-mindedness to please just one person. Because that one person meant the world. But deep in her heart, she knew Bethany was right. Without something drastic, they might lose that spark between them for good.

“I’ll do it,” came the silent reply of her. She knew it was too late to take it back. She had said it and she meant it. How she hoped it wouldn’t be a mistake. There was only one way to find out.

Bethany came over to give her a hug. Warm and welcoming. Then she walked to the fridge and got three health potions out.

With barely more than a whisper, she explained the plan.
“Sarah is over at a friends house for the week. I have unplugged the phone and taken a few vacation days too. So we shouldn’t be disturbed. You drink these potions which should give you enough to cast with without needing to hurt yourself. Cast the spells for artificial affection and arousal. If everything goes to plan it should lead to …"

Bethany swallowed hard. "Well, sex. It should lead to a bunch of sex. That should give you fuel for more spells. Don’t hold back. Whenever you have enough health to spare cast anew. For five days. I set an alarm that tells you when to stop. Then we have four days to let the spells cool off.”

Bethany looked Valerie deep into her eyes. “Are you ready?”

Valerie gave her a lopsided smile. “No. But let’s do it anyway before I chicken out.”

She grabbed one health potion after the other. Twisting the cap open and drowning them. This was the moment of truth. Valerie had never cast any of those spells, but she knew them. Both were starter-spells every Succubus sub-class learned on changing into the class.

The change was immediately visible. Bethany’s eyes grew wide as her lips parted in surprise. Her nipples became painfully prominent as she became aroused. It took only a moment of hesitation before she jumped Valerie. Showering her with kisses and clawed at her clothes with need.

It inflamed a passion in Valerie she hadn’t yet known. It coursed through her veins like electricity. They barely made it to the couch before Valerie’s legs buckled under her. It had been too long. Since the change, there had been nothing like this between them. Valerie had been too much afraid to explore this new side of her. The one that craved sex and passion. Now that hesitation was torn down by Bethany. Mercilessly she ripped it apart with every kiss, roaming hand and grinding move of her hip.

Time lost meaning as they chased one after another orgasm induced height. After each peak of passion, both would rest a moment. Only to be broken as soon as Valerie kept her promise to cast another set of spells. They descended into a pit of their most basic needs, the pleasure of themselves and each other.

Sometimes they passed out from exhaustion only to be woken up by the other one in the most erotic ways they knew. Soon Valerie had to add an additional spell. While she was fine, every arch of her body healed by the orgasmic backwash, Bethany was not. A body could only endure so much. Valerie knew this by instinct and added a healing spell. With that, there was no barrier they couldn’t climb together to reach the next climax.

After what felt like an eternity of drowning in an ocean a sound broke through their passion. After a while Valerie recognized it. The alarm. She knew it was time and withheld all spells, but the healing spell. Their sex continued, but without the overwhelming need of the arousal spell their speed slowly dropped. Their lovemaking changed pace from quickest way to climax to a slower and more sensual way. It was Friday morning when they both regained enough control over themselves to hold a conversation.

“That was awesome. You are awesome. I never knew what a goddess you could be,” gushed Bethany.

Valerie blushed but remained quiet for a moment. She tried to savor the moment. She and Beth snuggled close together. Something that hadn’t happen in a long time.

“I missed this so much,” she admitted with barely more than a whisper.

“Was it so bad without the sex?” her wife teased her.

“What? No. Not the sex. This. Us lying together. To feel your warmth against my skin. That I missed so much.”

Valerie expected another jibe, but got a dreamy “Me too.”

As Beth let a finger slide over Valerie’s curves she couldn't help but shudder. Valerie had thought that she knew all that is to her new body. How wrong she had been. It had been Bethany who coaxed out every little hidden erogenous spot of Valerie and she had found a lot. Most surprising of all was her tail. Intellectually she knew it must be the many nerves in it that made it yet another erogenous zone. Finding out just how polymorphous the tail was led to new and satisfying tricks for both of them.

“So… Did it work?” asked Valerie.

“My heart says yes, but my mind doesn’t know. The arousal spell is slowly fading out, but the artificial affection spell lasts longer. We won’t know for sure till it did,” Bethany explained.

Beth finger resumed her slow gliding and found the crevice between Valerie’s breasts and chest. She was rewarded with a small moan. Valerie didn’t know why that spot had her weak, but Bethany had not only found it. She was also abusing the knowledge often.

“You know … Sometimes I am a little bit jealous of your magnificent breasts.”

“Is that so? Well, you can have them. They are just a pain in the ass.”

“Oh really?” She started to cup one of Valerie’s breasts and slowly massaged her nipple.

“Okay. You win. They have some advantages. But I don’t think you need breasts like these. You are perfect as you are.”

“Really nothing you would change?”

“Nothing.” Valerie firmly stated.

“What about Hank and Tom?”

“What?”

“I saw the way you looked at them. If I hadn’t been certain that you are into women I might have thought you were checking them out.”

Valerie blushed and turned away for a moment. “It’s not that. I mean… Have you ever seen arms like that? Thick like tree trunks and for all I know there aren't muscles beneath the skin but steel cables.”

“So you like muscular bodies? Who knew?!”

“You didn’t? I thought that was obvious. Remember how we met?”

“Of course. In the park. I was jogging and you were reading a book on a bench.”

“Yes. You stopped to tie your shoes and the first thing I saw from you was your leg beside my book. A well toned and sexy leg. Why do you think I compliment you so often for them?”

She gave Valerie an “aww” and a pouty mouth. “You must have been disappointed after Sarah’s birth when I gave up regular workouts.”

“Oh no. By that time I had found something even sexier.”

Beth punched Valerie playfully as she remained silent. “Come on. Spill the beans. What fetish are you hiding?”

“Ha. No fetish. I just discovered that the personality of the person who owned those legs was way sexier.”

“Good answer,” Beth admitted and gave her wife a deep kiss.
Their passionate kissing didn’t last very long as Beth had to interrupt it. “Sorry honey. I know you want it to last longer, but … Damn, I am starving.”

Valerie laughed. Now it was her turn to say:”Me too.”

Slowly they freed themselves of the tangled mess that their bed-sheets had become and looked around. Their bedroom was a mess. It looked like a tornado had cut a path of destruction through the room.

Beth walked on tiptoes to the door. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed.

Valerie wanted her to chastise her for cursing, but arriving at the door, she too had to curse. The living room looked just as bad as the bedroom, if not worse. And to Valerie’s shame, each broken or pushed over item invoke the memory of a sexual act. They had been here often as it wasn’t the first time hunger lured them out of their bedroom. She looked over to Bethany and wondered if they managed this time to not incorporate food into their sex play.

“What deviants we have become …” she murmured to herself as she stepped into the room.

“Yeah. I was so innocent till I meet you,” teased her wife.

Looking around, she estimated that several hours were needed to get the apartment cleaned up. That, however, was not the priority. Food was. And to her relief, the fridge was still stocked somewhat. Given the random plundering of ingredients, they opted to warm some cans of food. Not Valerie’s favorite, but hunger made her wolf it all down.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we overlooked this in our playtime. Still hungry? How about dessert?”

Valerie turned around from her finished plate and found a Beth who just sprayed some whipped cream on her breasts.
Valerie reasoned that cleaning up could wait. After all, there was always space for some dessert.

***** Chapter 20 *****

“She just texted me. Sarah will be here in about ten minutes. Did we get everything in order?” Valerie told her wife who burst out in a sudden laugh. “What?!”

“Us. This. We are just like some teenagers who threw a party we weren’t allowed to do. Now our parent returns and we hope for the best.”

That made Valerie laugh too. “Yeah. Kind of twisted.”

They heard the keys in the lock and a moment later Sarah stepped into the apartment. A short moment later they had gathered in the kitchen.
“So what were you up to while I was away?” asked Sarah with a cryptic smile on her face.

“Oh nothing Mom,” replied Valerie and got a playful elbow jab into the rips from her wife.

“Just some soul-searching together.” corrected Beth.

“Oh is that so?” Sarah stood up and started to open each and every window.
“Does soul searching always result in making it smell like a swinger club had a week-long sex marathon?”

“You told her?” asked a bewildered Valerie her wife.

“No. … Oh, my!” Bethany suddenly looked flustered.

“What?” Valerie demanded.

“I guess we just gave some spirits the show of their afterlife…”

“... and they snitched.” complete Valerie her wife's sentence.”

Sarah gave them a nonchalant shrug. “Most reviewed it as ten out of ten. Would watch again.” The hilarity of the situation made Valerie laugh and the rest joined in.

“So with all the sex you had …” Sarah started.

“Someone has gotten blunt,” interjected Bethany.

“.. how high has gotten your health points.”

Valerie had completely forgotten. As an Empusa, she healed herself with sex and one of her special traits allowed her to heal more than her maximum health points allowed. When she stopped casting spells it must have stocked up.

What she discovered made her gasp. “I am a third over my max!”

“Only a third?” Sarah inquired.

“Yes. I mean no. A third above my old maximum health before the change. I am now at nearly four times my max. I am a freaking tank!”

“Oh don’t get used to it. I don’t think I can do something like that every week,” stated Bethany.

“You just made a whole bunch of spirits unhappy…” Sarah added with a smirk.

“And me too,” added Valerie and overacted the part of a sad person.

***** Chapter 21 *****

“Oh, Valerie. Whatever you did last week must have worked wonders.”

Valerie looked up to see Janet nearby. “That remains to be seen. But for now, I feel great.”

She had been on a high all morning. She knew that their little experiment was far from certain to be a success, but the mere possibility gave her hope. On top of it, her health was close to Walter’s original max health. It may not last, but for now, it was definitely a plus.

“Well, you look like it and whatever you did I may have to try that too.”

Valerie nearly choked when she suppressed a laugh. “Sorry boss. I fear that option is not available for everyone.”

“We will see. One day I might find out your secret.”

Valerie could barely hold back a grin and chose to remain silent for now.

*****

Valerie sighed as she drove home. A whole workday was done, but her day itself was far from over. Sarah would snatch Valerie away for their evening training the moment she came home. At least she was improving.

After dinner, Bethany would occupy her and quite in the literal sense. Their experiment had worked. Sort of, as Bethany was now way into Valerie. Maybe too much as she would demand sexy time both in the evening and the morning. The only spare time she got was on her weekends and even that was limited. It was no wonder that already three weeks had passed since her week off.

She suddenly had to hit the brakes as the cars before hers did too.
Confused she witnessed people running over the road in a panic. Only to be terrified as hound-like creatures jumped over the cars and hunted people down.

“What the...? Where is the city border guard?”

Just in that moment armed persons appeared and mowed down the creatures. It didn’t take long and the guards gave the all clear. One guy close to her car yelled something into his radio. “We need healers in sector …”

He left before she could hear the rest. Shocked she exited her car. There was no driving on as the road was littered with wounded people. The guards were moving on and Valerie wondered about the injured around her. Would the healers arrive in time?

She quickly gathered her wits and grabbed the emergency first aid kit of her car and looked for the nearest wounded survivor. He was close to death and no bandages might save him. The kit all but useless.

She reasoned she could try healing him as she was still overcharged a little on her health points. Not much, but a few small heals might stop the worst of the bleeding effects. She seriously hoped those dog-like creatures didn’t return.

She looked for the worst wound and cast a small heal. The previous unmoving survivor drew a big lung full of air. That startled Valerie, but another thing shocked her even more: that guy had a significant amount of health back. She cast another small healing spell and again the health points of her target jumped further up than anticipated.

He opened his eyes and gave her a weak smile. “Thanks. You saved my life.” He even managed to sit up. She was about to cast a third spell when she was interrupted by him. “I am good enough. Please help the others.”

Looking around Valerie saw that she had been too much preoccupied with the survivor. A dozen of other wounded people lay all around her. She nodded. There might be more people needing healing spells than her overcharged health might provide, but she had to try.

She helped a woman next, then a small girl she had overlooked previously. While she helped an elderly man her mind reeled. Nothing in the manual had suggested that Empusa’s were good healers. The only thing that separated them from other Succubus sub-classes was that they cast from health and the condensed health trait.

She nearly miscast a spell as an epiphany hit her. Condensed health. Didn’t the name say it all? It didn’t limit her natural health points further. It condensed them. Casting spells now must mean she expanded them to their normal value or close to it. Since all of them did go to the spell it, in turn, was way overcharged and resulted in a large amount of healing provided.

Further musing escaped her as a piercing shriek could be heard followed by a few further away. Those creatures came back. She knew she wasn’t fast enough to escape them on foot. Even with her training, she wasn't good enough to run in four-inch heels.

Determined to not give into her fear she ran for her car. A moment later she opened the passenger side door and leaned into it to grab her collapsed spear. Just as she felt the cylinder in her hand a mighty weight landed on her roof. She pushed herself back and narrowly escaped a clawed paw.

Up close it nearly froze her in place. Black shaggy fur and a snout filled with menacing sharp teeth. A smell of rotten flesh and spittle dropping to the ground.

More her mind couldn’t process as the hound jumped. By pure instinct or luck, she twirled aside in an often practiced sidestep. Her spear was extended in a blink of an eye and ready to strike a moment later.

The beast hadn’t even turned around yet so the spear bore into its shoulder and exited near the throat. Black blood gushed to the ground as she withdrew her spear.

Valerie staggered back and had trouble believing what she just had accomplished in a few seconds. The hound was bleeding heavily and ignored her for now. She knew she had to finish it. Her logic dictated the means and a moment later she siphoned for the first time in her life the health points of another being. The beast yelped and shook itself, but it was too late. It quickly succumbed to the blood loss and her spell. Its last act was to shriek the last time in pure agony.

A shriek that was answered and they were too close for Valerie’s taste. She looked up to spot them but saw a dozen other people around her standing and holding weapons. Amateurs like her she concluded. Why else would they stare at her instead of watching out for the enemy?

“Get ready! They are coming from that direction,” she shouted and heads turned in unity. Just in time to witness a whole pack of those creatures to round a corner.

Valerie's mouth sprouted curses and her mind agreed that if there was ever a time to start using curse words it was now. Abandoned cars blocked part of the road and made the pack split. Valerie knew she was in a pinch as three hounds zoomed in on her.

Her mind raced to come up with anything. One thought screamed “even the odds” and a moment later she cast her artificial affection spell on the biggest of the beasts. It stumbled slightly and then pounced on one of the other creatures.

There was no time to celebrate or cast another spell. The remaining hound jumped at her. Again she twirled, barely in time, and managed to avoid getting hit. Her spear bore itself in its flank, but it was not a lucky hit like her last had been. Wounded her enemy started to circle her. Wary that she might strike him again. She lunged a few times at him. Not in the hope to strike it. Rather than to buy time.

A sudden noise behind Valerie startled her and the next thing she saw was black fur of a beast jumping over her. It crashed into her enemy and viciously mauled it to death. Valerie felt the bond of her spell and knew it was the one she had bewitched.

An agonized cry made her head snap around. One of the beasts was on top of a survivor who barely managed to keep the jaw away from his face. The claws, however, had raked deep bloody gashes into the hip and thighs of the man.

“Go!” she shouted and pointed with her spear. She didn’t know what made the beast move, but it leaped at once to its feet and raced to her target.

She rushed behind and stopped beside the man. He didn’t move, yet he was still alive. As Empusa she could see his health points and how quickly it drained away through the wounds. She touched his shoulder and fueled a healing spell with much of the health she had drained from the one beast earlier. Wounds knitted themselves together and color returned to his face. A moment later he was able to stand again.

“Come on,” she urged him on.

A few paces further her bewitched beast still fought the other creature. Valerie ended it by draining the enemy's health. While bloodied her unlikely companion headed her command as she chose another target. With the beast in front and a survivor besides her, Valerie quickly dispatched two more of the vile creatures.

Their small party grew as other survivors joined up and soon all that was left was corpses and eerie silence. At first, Valerie was at a loss what to do. The adrenaline in her veins screamed to fight on, but with no enemy in sight, it slowly settled down.

With her wit returning she turned around to her tamed beast. Its breath was labored and it bled heavily. It had been loyal, but for how long? She murmured a “Sorry.” and drained its health.

“Watch out for others,” she instructed and quickly looked on for other survivors that needed healing. For a few, she came to late. Bloody empty clothes marked places where someone had died and then respawned. She still found plenty of people in need.

While healing her mind raced. All this carnage was horrendous, but something irked her. Shouldn't there be more killed people and less wounded? It was as if the creatures tried to wound as many as they could instead of killing mercilessly.

A sudden pain made her wince. It was her last healing spell that had dug into her own health, as the overcharge she had arrived with and the siphoned health from the beasts had been used up.

Weary, she stood up and looked around. No new enemies around and she heard sirens getting closer.

“... never seen a healer fight like that,” she overheard on survivor that looked at her.

“Must be a high-level cleric,” another added.

“No. Most likely some paladin,” chimed a third one in.

Not liking the attention, Valerie made her way back to her car. As luck would have it she spotted a space ahead that made way to a side street. Quickly she started her car and slipped out of the chaos around her.

The sudden ring of her cell phone nearly made her hit a telephone pole. She stopped at the side of the road and answered it.

“Valerie? Are you alright? Where are you?”

“Beth. Slow down. I am fine.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’ll be home in five minutes.”

“Hurry.”

Valerie ended the call and drove on as fast as was allowed. Had there been other places overrun by those creatures? It happened not that far from her home.

The moment she came into her home she was caught in a tight hug by Bethany. Sarah wasn’t far behind. “We were so worried. We saw you right in the middle of it.”

Sarah must have seen Valerie’s confused look as she added:”On TV. It’s all over the news.”

Together they relocated to the couch and then unmuted the TV.

“ .. is still unknown. They originated within city limits on three different locations…”

“There were more than the ones I saw?” asked a bewildered Valerie.
“There is no official count yet, but they guess over a hundred were released,” came Sarah’s reply.

“ … left widespread destruction. The border guard was spread thin as they had to rush towards different areas. Some areas were left exposed and citizens had to defend themselves as…”

“Look,” Sarah interrupted as helicopter footage was shown. She pointed to a small figure close to three of those beasts. It took Valerie a moment to recognize herself. They saw from high above Valerie’s lunges to drive back one of the creatures.
“Looks like our training is paying off.”

Valerie nodded with a distracted mind. From up high, her fighting nearly looked graceful. She had no clue that she had progressed that far in such a short time.

“Can’t believe you got away unscathed. You are really alright?” a worried Bethany asked.

“Yeah, but I used up my overcharged health. Oh, that’s right! I found something out. Something amazing.”

“What?” inquired an impatient Bethany.

“You remember my class trait called condensed health?”

“The one that slashes your maximum health and received healing?”

“That’s the one. Turns out the trait is quite literal. It doesn’t cut my health off. Instead, it concentrates it into a more potent form. When I used a small healing spell it was several times as effective as it used to be. It was like casting a normal healing spell for the price of a cheap one. I mean I healed dozens of people and I am not even a healer.”

“Why has no one ever noticed before?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know. Most probably didn’t want to lower their health when it was unnecessary.”

“We should experiment with …” Sarah stopped. The street view on the TV changed to that of a studio and a news anchor.

“We just received the following news. Green Valley prison had a major break out. More than a hundred and fifty prisoners escaped as they were aided by external help. The breakout so far is largely unopposed as police as well as border guards left the area to deal with the large creature rampage on the other side of the city. We do not have yet enough information to confirm that both incidents are linked together.”

Valerie’s stomach turned upside down. Could someone be cold blooded enough to unleash such mayhem as a diversion? She hoped not.

“Are you sure you are okay?” asked her wife.

“Yeah. I hadn’t been injured and I hadn’t used my .. um … core health to heal other.”

“Well, I can’t leave you running around with just your core health. Come oh heroine of the hour. Time to get your reward.”

Valerie was pulled to her feet by her wife. Her weak protests sounded even to herself unconvincing. Her last view of the living room was Sarah grabbing something from the kitchen area. Microwave popcorn? Before Valerie could ponder it her train of thought was broken by greedy kisses of her wife. Whatever it was it could wait after her reward.

***** Chapter 22 *****

“So you managed to avoid it barely. Talk about lucky, right?” Mindy proclaimed. A few others at the table nodded enthusiastically.

This was the fifth time Mindy had scooped up Valerie for lunch and dragged her to some social hanging out at the company's cafeteria. It was to teach Valerie the new lay of the land.

The social circles she hadn’t been part of as Walter. But now, as a woman, she had to learn some things. According to Mindy, who took it upon herself to guide Valerie on the way. All part of being her HR case worker. Valerie didn’t believe it for a moment, but couldn’t find a reason to decline the offer.

Now she had to get used to small talk and gossip the girly way. Which, much to Valerie’s amusement, was pretty much the same she had endured as Walter. Just some topics had changed.

“I was at the same intersection just minutes before,” lied Valerie. In hindsight, it had been foolhardy to go out and fight. There was no way she would disclose it here at work. There was already enough gossip at work around her.

“Aww. To bad. There was one that could be your idol. A high heeled and refined-looking woman rallied the survivors and fought some of the creatures. I bet she could teach you a few things,” teased one of Mindy’s HR co-workers.

“What?” came the undignified response of Valerie.

A newspaper was pushed over to her. There was an article with the headline “Heroes admits the chaos”. The third person hadn’t been identified as only a blurry helicopter picture existed. Valerie, however, knew the silhouette well.

“Yeah. Too bad,” Valerie admitted and hoped no one would pick up on her nervousness.

“I bet by the time it happened she was already with sexy timing her wife,” teased one co-worker.

That elicited a bunch of “Uhhhs” from the girls around the table and a heavy blush from Valerie.

“Ladies! Stop teasing her. Seriously. We aren’t in high school anymore,” huffed Mindy.

Clearly, Mindy’s plan to introduce Valerie to the girly ways was backfiring today. Just then Valerie’s phone started ringing. Bethany. As if she had known that she was part of the talking.

“Hey Honey,” Valerie answered her phone.

A few of the girls uhh-ed again and made kissing noises.

“Hi to you too. It’s still your lunch break, right? Do you got a minute?”

“I always have time for you,” Valerie replied with a slightly raised voice so everyone at the table could hear her. “It was kinda getting boring anyways to listen how jealous everyone is of our fun hobby times.”

Valerie stood up and stepped away a few feet from the table. But not before she blew the other girls a raspberry. She saw Mindy roll her eyes. You are as young as you feel and apparently, everyone here was still in high school. Or so mused Valerie.

“Do I need to know what’s that about?” inquired Valerie’s wife.

“I tell you later. Is everything alright? Your voice sounds a bit off.”

“Oh yeah. I tell you about that later too. Listen. Since the chaos the other day I really got worried about your health situation. I found a solution!”

“You found a class stone for me?”

“Not exactly. Just come home straight away after work. I gave Sarah the okay for a sleepover. The weekend is ours. Only us here.”

“Just don’t do anything rushed.”

“Too late. Cya in a few.”

Valerie looked shocked. Bethany had hung up on her. On purpose. That never happened. Now Valerie was worried. What had Bethany cooked up now? Last time she had an idea it did lead to a week long sex orgy.

It worked, but sometimes Valerie suspected that they had overshot their target. Bethany wanted, no, demanded a lot more sex than she used to. It was usually her too that took the initiative. She was still the Bethany Valerie loved, but she had changed. How unscathed will they return this time?

“No booty call?”, one of the girls at the table hollered. They must have seen the slightly shocked face on Valerie.

Quickly she collected herself. “Oh, she just told me what devious things she will do to me once I come home.”

Her boasting was rewarded with some “Uhhh”.

“That’s it!” Mindy cut them off. “I think a few someones around here forgot they work in the human resources department. You all just earned yourself a refresher course for sensibility and about sexual harassment.”

“Awww” the girls exclaimed with looks on their faces that could be on school girls caught smoking by the teacher.

Valerie blinked a few times. Yep. Just like in high school. She must have fallen through a time portal. When had her life become so weird?

*****

The rest of the workday progressed mercifully fast. All the time Valerie switched between worry and being intrigued. She practically rushed out when her work was done and was in record time home. Standing before her door she tried to calm and steel herself. She still didn’t know what she would find.

Valerie told herself that it couldn’t be that bad and finally headed in. Only to drop her purse in shock as she spied Bethany posing in the kitchen completely naked.

Beth turned around and gave her a beaming smile. “Do you like how I look?”

Valerie was too much in awe to give a proper answer. Her mind still trying to take in what she saw. It was still the Bethany she knew and loved, but not everything was the same. Beth had gained height. At least a feet and now towered over Valerie even with her wearing the highest heels she owned.

Bethany’s legs were long and brimming with taut muscles. A trend, that continued upwards. She was the epitome of a sexy body builder. An Amazon if she ever had seen one. There was not much of body fat to be seen save one major feature. Magnificent breasts that stood large, perky and proudly on Bethany’s chest. Valerie’s mind tried to size them up and came to the conclusion that they might just be bigger than her own.

Slowly Bethany came closer. “I don’t know what to close first. The front door you left carelessly open or that jaw of yours that appears to be unhinged.” She leaned close and reached with one arm past Valerie’s shoulder.

The sound of the front door slamming closed broke Valerie’s admiration. “You are stunning,” escaped Valerie’s lips.

“Oh, I know. I just watched you turn into a living statue.”

“How? I mean…” Valerie let out a surprised yelp of delight as she was picked up by her wife as if she was a light fluffy pillow.

“Class change! Come. I tell you all about it over a glass of milk.”

Valerie nodded instinctively, but soon her mind caught up. “Wait. What? Milk?”

She was gently lowered onto a dining room chair and a moment later a tall glass of milk appeared before her. “Yes, milk,” her wife simply stated. She took a seat opposite of Valerie.

“I found an undesirable class that was pretty much perfect. Well, not perfect for you, but rather complementing you. So I got it for myself. Wasn’t even that expensive. It’s called the Heylin class.”

“So I admitted my secret fetish to you and you did go ahead and changed accordingly?”

“Oh no. Though I admit it is a nice added benefit. No, the real reason is the milk. Come on. Drink it. But memorize your status beforehand.

Valerie hesitantly raised the glass to her lips. What hit her tongue was unlike any milk she had tasted ever before. It was kind of thick, creamy, and full of flavor. Before she knew what was happening Valerie had swallowed everything to the last drop.

“That was kind of … nice,” Valerie admitted.

“Check your status,” urged the psyched up Bethany.

Valerie did and her eyes didn’t need long to spot the difference. “It healed me?”

“Yes! It worked!” shouted Bethany as she jumped half out of her chair.

“So the milk is a healing potion? Kind of strange, but what does that have to do with … Oh!”

Valerie’s minded clicked the last puzzle piece together as her gaze landed on Bethany’s massive bosom. “This is your milk!”

“Correct!” beamed the excited Bethany. “An unlimited supply of health potions just for you.”

“Wha... I mean. How?” Valerie demanded to know.

“Well, while researching I stumbled on this class. Notes in the manual tell the tale of a potion creator. He tried to create the ultimate healing potion but hit a brick wall he couldn’t get past. He knew a class creator and asked that one to create a class that would give a potent ingredient suitable for health potion making. The result was the Heylin class. Today, I spotted it on the online stock of a local shop. I just had to have it.”

“And this is an undesirable class?” asked a baffled Valerie.

“Oh, at first it wasn't one. But there are two drawbacks. The milk loses most of its effect after a day and so do potions made with it. Second: it’s just not fitting what the society dictates for a woman to look like. Not everyone has a fetish for muscular women like my little wifey.”

Valerie blushed heavily. Suddenly a thought entered her mind and quickly was forwarded to her mouth. “Wait. Why didn't you gave the class stone to me? That would have fixed my health problems too.”

“Yes. Would have, but honestly, I can’t even imagine you as someone muscular. I rather like you lean and sexy. Besides …” Bethany stood up and slowly made her way over to Valerie. “I could imagine myself doing this.”

Valerie was scooped up in a heartbeat. “Now you have two options. Number one: I can put you down and you can pout. Or number two: I’ll carry you to our bedroom and you help me to get familiar with my new body.”

Valerie could hear her own heartbeat as her excitement made itself know. Her decision was made in a split second. “The bed,” she whispered and leaned into her wife.

Being carried reminded her of their wedding so many years ago. This time she was definitely not the groom. A fact she didn’t mind one bit. However, she was nervous, just like Walter had been all those years back then. As she looked into Bethany’s eyes she knew it was the good kind of nervous. The one that was laced with excitement and eagerness.

***** Chapter 23 *****

“Did you open the windows to air out a bit?” asked Valerie and had to hide a smirk.

Bethany rolled her eyes over the small running gag they had developed. “Everything is ready for Sarah’s return,” she remarked

“Are you? I mean you didn’t tell Sarah about your plan to change your class, right?”

“Yeah. Think she will be okay with it?”

“These days it's a bit hard to tell. Half of me expects her to drag you out to our training sessions from now on. Or she just shrugs it off. She is a teenager after all.”

That got a snicker out of Bethany. “Don’t think a spear would be a good weapon for me. I need something mighty. Something to strike fear and terror into the eyes of my enemies.”

“Whoa slow down there my little Amazon.”

“Little?” asked Bethany and crooked an eyebrow.

Both laughed and nearly missed the sound of keys rattling as Sarah pushed through the front doors.

“Hey Moms,” she half shouted. She gave a quick hug and rushed to the kitchen. There she grabbed an apple and talked between bites.
“Hope you had a nice weekend. Mine was fantastic. We got to see the new Justin Alvarez movie I wanted to see. So good …”

“Honey,” Valerie stopped her daughter. “Notice something different about your mother?”

Bethany looked a little tense as Sarah mustered her critically.

“Oh! I know. New haircut?” Sarah beamed and Bethany looked as if she was in shock. Technically Sarah was right. Valerie had found small yet thick horns on Bethany’s head. Similar to the ones Valerie had herself but better hidden under Bethany’s voluminous hair.

“That reminds me,” came from Sarah. She looked through her purse and pulled something out. “I made this for you.” She dropped an ivory cylinder into her mother's hand.

“A weapon?” Bethany asked.

“Yeah. Just like sexy Moms.”

“Wait. If you made this then…”

“Her spies already told her and she is pretending to not notice as a prank,” helped Valerie her wife out.

“Oh you,” growled Bethany sternly, but soon broke out in laughter.
“Good one, but my revenge will come. Now show me how to use this weapon.”

“It’s not just some weapon. Necromancers can only create scythes. Now come here, please. We need a little space.” Sarah bound the weapon to her mother and then showed her how to expand it.

“Oh, I like this!” Bethany exclaimed.

Valerie gave a lopsided grin. “Aren’t scythes supposed to be sharp?”

“Yeah. I failed horribly. It turned out so deformed and blunt.”

“Best fail ever,” commented Bethany as she swung the malformed scythe around that strangely resembled a sledgehammer on steroids. A top a four-foot long pole rested the head of a mighty looking Warhammer.

“I can some serious pounding with that one for sure,” Beth told her wife.

“Lalala. I can’t hear you. Parents boning. How gross,” Sarah quickly interrupted. They all shared a good laugh.

“So I want to know something before I forget. Did you just call me sexy Mom?” Valerie asked.

“It’s fitting isn’t it?” Sarah innocently replied.

“What do you call Bethany then?”

“Beefy Mom?” Sarah volunteered.

“I like it,” ‘beefy' Mom proclaimed.

That drew out a round of chuckles. “Now who is up for some training? I wanna try out this baby.”

They quickly relocated to the yard and then had some ‘family fun’.

***** Chapter 24 *****

“Valerie?”

She looked up to see Janet poking her head into Valerie’s cubicle. “Yes?”

“Sorry to disturb my number one busy bee. I wanted to eat some cereal for lunch but forgot to bring new milk. I saw you had a full glass bottle in the fridge…”

Valerie blushed heavily. Did she want Bethany’s milk? “Sorry boss. I don’t mean to be rude, but it is .. special milk for Empusas. Helps to keep my health up. My wife … uhh .. got it for me.”

“Ah. I bet it is expensive.”

“It has its price, but I am more than willing to pay it.”

“Well, good that you found something that helps. No worries. I’ll just get some takeout or so. Speaking of food. Are you coming to the company’s picnic and BBQ next month?”

“Oh, that’s right. Haven’t thought about it. Why?”

“Just curiosity. From what you told me they had your back all through the last months and I realized I haven’t met them yet. I would love to get to know them.”

“I’ll talk to them. Promise.”

“You’ll do that. Now back to work.”

“Aye aye captain.”

***** Chapter 25 *****

Valerie was deep in a talk with Sarah when a shout from behind distracted her.

“Oh yeah. Flaunt it, baby.”

Valerie turned around and gave a raspberry. “Glad you could make it but didn’t you have to work for another hour?” Valerie asked her wife who was catching up.

“Boss gave me parole for good behavior. That and there wasn’t much business today at the shop. Besides. I am hungry.”

Sarah and Valerie gave a chuckle. Ever since Beth’s own class change, she was eating enough for two people. Valerie wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but she was a little jealous. Bethany was now eating twice as much and she was eating half as much. Sometimes that sucked big-time. Times like when there was a barbecue.

“Couldn’t they have picked a place closer to home? We are halfway across the city,” Sarah complained.

“With over three hundred employees it is hard to find a venue big enough. Even with only half of them showing up it is crowded when everyone brings their family,” Valerie explained.

“Yeah. One of the reasons why we stopped coming to these events,” Bethany added.

“What was another reason?”

“Well, the last straw had been when one year they couldn’t get a venue so one genius came up with the idea to use the underground garage. It was horrible.”

Valerie cringed a little as her wife mentioned the garage. “There we are,” she stated to redirect the topic. Together they walked to the big community center and sports ground.

“That thing is still ugly as hell. I once was a stand-in at a nearby shop and one lunch break I explored the thing. Half of it is empty,” Bethany exclaimed.

“Good thing then that the company is grilling outside,” Valerie added.

They made their way in and passed a bounce house and other kids attractions. Everywhere kids and their parents mingled around.

“Why was it so important that we show up here?” asked a Sarah who barely managed to avoid a collision with two ice cream carrying children.

“I don’t know, but Janet has bugged me the whole last month about it. For some reason, she was really serious about us showing up. Together with my family. Therefore you are in it too. Shared pain and all that.”

She saw Sarah roll her eyes, but also a small grin.

“Speaking of. Isn’t that her?” Bethany pointed in a direction.

Following it, Valerie could indeed see her boss approaching. “Quick. How do I look?”

“Sexy, but way too modest,” commented Bethany.

“Okay. Perfect then.”

“Valerie. So glad you could make it.” Janet greeted them.

“Happy, to be here. Let me introduce you real quick. This is my daughter Sarah … and here is my professional bodyguard … uff...” Valerie staggered a bit as Bethany had given her a slight love tap with her elbow.
“ … I mean wife. My wife Bethany.”

“Ha. Good one. Nice to meet you. I am Janet. Valerie’s boss. Come, I want to introduce you to a few people.”

They all followed, but Beth needed a moment as she looked longingly to the meat roasting on the grills.

“So Sarah, I heard you are a necromancer?” Janet asked out of the blue.

“That is right,” confirmed Sarah.

“Do you have a specialty?”

“Straight summoning for now. I recently mastered to summon two spirit phantasms at the same time.”

“Impressive, yet a little predictable.”

Valerie thought she heard a little disappointment in Janet’s voice.

“Predictable? What else is there to do?”

“Well, necromancer have gotten popular recently as spies. More so on the industrial level than national. Sending in spirits into buildings to retrieve data can be profitable, but risky. It would be safer to work the other side. No one wards buildings against spirits better than other necromancers and they usually get paid quite well. Too bad, most others go the flashy way with summoning. Warding necromancers are rare. In fact, I think some companies might invest into future necromancers, that specialize in warding off intruders, in return for a limited exclusive contract later.”

“That sounds intriguing. I will think about it later.”

Valerie found it interesting too. Was Janet’s insistent bugging to show up here just to pouch Sarah? Valerie felt a little split about it. For one she was proud of Sarah. On the other hand, she felt a little betrayed.

“Do you see Hank around?” asked her wife.

“Not yet. Maybe he and Tom show up later. Still, haven’t given up on beating him in arm wrestling?” Valerie teased her wife.

“Last time it was so close.”

“Pretty sure last time he was going easy on you.”

“Next time I’ll get him.”

Valerie grinned. The last two get-togethers had been fun. Especially with Beth trying to match their strength. They slowed down and finally, Valerie could see where exactly Janet was leading them.

“Oh damn,” she whispered.

“What?” came the automatic reply of Bethany.

“That guy ahead of us is my boss.”

“I thought Janet is your boss.”

“Yes, she is. That guy is the boss of Janet’s boss.”

“Ohh. Isn’t that good?”

“I flew under the radar for a reason all those years.”

Before Beth could reply screams could be heard from nearby. Valerie had a hard time picking up from what direction it came. Then it dawned on her. It came from all around her. Last time she had heard screams like that all hell had broken loose.

“Beth, Sarah, Janet. To me. We need to get out!” Valerie shouted.

She pushed through the crowd only to see it was too late. Men dressed in black had made a picket line all around them. Weapons ready and sparks of magic showing here or there.

Worse of all they had hostages. Even kids. Valerie had to push back the raw fury burning in her guts. A big man stepped forward and shouted something she heard behind her from two or three different other guys.

“This is a hostage situation. If you do as you are told everything will be fine. Do not resist or else we have to silence the trouble maker. Now everyone will follow us into the community center. Remember. No heroes here. This will be all over soon.”

Blood rushed in Valerie’s ears. The calm announcement, same black outfits and coordinated affords. All that screamed that this was planned in advance. Days, maybe even weeks, beforehand. She pulled her hand out of her purse, where she had instinctively reached for her spear.

“We stay quiet and wait for a chance to escape,” she murmured to the others. “Panic won’t help us here.”

Despite her own words she had to fight hard to keep her own panic down. Slowly they were lead inside and their large number, Valerie guessed around one hundred, was divided into several rooms.
As a small mercy, she was still together with Bethany, Sarah, and Janet. They shared a room with a family. Once they were locked in hushed talking started.

“Definitely professionals. The way they act and so on,” Valerie started.

“Why us?” the family's father asked. “We certainly aren’t worth much.”

“They probably got all of the management,” Janet added.

“If they got all of them who exactly can pay their ransom money?” was Sarah’s throw in.

They shot around a few other speculations till Sarah had an idea. “Warn me if anyone comes to check on us. I’ll do some sneaking around.”

“You can’t,” Valerie quickly interrupted. “It’s too dangerous. They will spot you too easily.”

“No, they won’t. Have you ever heard of astral projections? One of my ‘advisors’ taught it to me. It lets my spirit leave my body for a short amount of time. I can scout around and no one will be the wiser.”

“Since when?” Bethany asked.

“Oh, a few weeks.”

It still sounded risky, but in the end, they all agreed it was reasonable to try.

“Okay. Here I go.” Sarah closed her eyes and it might have looked as if she was sleeping. Now and then she opened her mouth to say a few things.

“In the rooms beside us are people too. Between five to ten.” “They have guards at every exit. The police are here. Lots of them.” “Wait. I think that’s the CEO and that is probably his wife. Some big guy is talking to them. He is demanding access to the company's bank accounts!”

“If they steal that money the company is ruined. The insurance won’t pay enough to keep the company afloat,” commented Janet.

“Figures,” Sarah continued. “Dude refused. No surprise there. Whole company or two years of memories. Wait. The big guy just called for someone. Shit. It’s some kind of succubus and a dude. Of course, they wear black too. I’ll be damned!”

“What?” came from several of them as Sarah didn’t continue.

“It’s the Empusa that attacked us in the park!”

Valerie needed a moment to stomach this. The person that started it all and here she was again. Valerie had to fight to keep her anger in check.

“I thought she was in jail,” Bethany commented.

“Beth. The big breakout a few weeks back. She must have been one of the few dozen escapees," Valerie reasoned.

“Doucheubbus just tried to glamour the CEO and failed. Wait. The big guy just said that this covers their distraction.”

They all waited impatiently for Sarah to continue. Was all this just to distract the police? Just as the unleashed beasts a few weeks back?

“Oh, we’ve got to get out of here. Those guys. They don’t plan on surviving this. They want this hostage situation to go wrong. Their plan is … to kill everyone and hide any useful class stone that drops. To pay some debt or so.”

Sarah suddenly opened her eyes and looked around bewildered.
“I think they got a mage that spotted me.”

“What do we do?” asked the family's father.

A hectic discussion broke out till Sarah gave them a fact to stomach. “Sitting here we are dead for sure. If we try to break out now we have a chance to fight our way out. Nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

“Sarah is right,” Valerie said and stood up. “I’ll have an idea. It’s a life or death situation so I can do some things that would be illegal otherwise.”

Before the others could react Valerie knocked on the door. Loud and unyielding, till finally two of their captors gave in and checked on them.

As soon as the door opened a smile blossomed on Valerie’s face. “Be a sweetheart and kill your friend. Pretty please.”
To everyone's amazement, the guy that had opened the door turned around and drew his sword. The blade punctured the other guy's heart a moment later. Just a split-second later Valerie’s extended spear pierced the first henchman.

“That was rash,” chided Janet.

“No,” countered Valerie. “It was not. Time is short. Come on everyone.”

Just as Beth and Sarah exited the room two more guys came around the corner. Bethany extended her hammer and rushed them down. What remained was very unappetizing.

“Beth. Quit the tough girl act!” chided Valerie.

“I got them, didn’t I?”

“Well, they got you too.” Valerie slipped her hand over the cut on Bethany’s stomach. A moment later the cut was gone. “Remember. We are a team.”

“Well, three ain't a party yet,” added Sarah. It took a moment and then a familiar shape took place.

“My apprentice. We meet again," a low voice boomed.

“Sir Percival. Good to have you.” Valerie admitted.

“Ahh. The mighty wife. May today our enemies taste the crushing blow of your hammer.”

“They already did,” came from Bethany and she pointed behind her.

“One more,” Sarah exclaimed. Another figure emerged from empty space. With his black cloak and tunic, he might have been one of the gang's henchmen. “Sir Olaf. He is a duelist and dagger specialist. He also doesn’t talk much.”

While Sarah had summoned the help, Janet had been going around and unlocked close-by rooms. The newcomers were quickly brought up to date.

“We should move before more show up,” concluded Valerie.

“Might be hard to get through one of the barricaded entrances. Especially with the children," Sarah reasoned.

“The roof!” Bethany suggested. “If we can get up there we can easily defend it till help comes. Maybe they even can evacuate us from up there.”

“Great. Let’s go,” Valerie urged.

An emergency evacuation plan gave help to find it. Two more criminal groups stood in their way. Not for long. Sir Percival and Sir Olaf cut through them first, followed by Bethany. Behind her was Valerie and Sarah, as well as a bunch of frightened people.

They arrived at the roof access. They had luck as it was unguarded and not barricaded. While the families climbed up Valerie did something she rarely did. She cursed like a sailor.

“What is it?” asked Beth.

“All the children…”

“They are safe.”

“Those here. Yes. For now. But we aren’t even a fourth of all the hostages. If the jig is up they won’t hesitate to execute their true goal as fast as possible.”

“Someone needs to buy time till the police breaches in,” Sarah concluded.

“Yes. Look. I haven’t grown a hero complex or anything like that. But if I have to risk two years worth of memory to save children of the same fate .. I have to, right?” Valerie demanded to know.

“Yes. I am with you,” came from Bethany who put a hand on Valerie’s shoulder and gave a slight reassuring squeeze.

“You’ll need me and my knights. No arguing there,” Sarah proclaimed.

“Damn. I hate to be the one who runs away,” Janet added. “But I wouldn’t be good in battle. I’ll make sure the police hears what’s up. I promise.”

Once everyone was on the roof Valerie’s group headed off.

“Darned big this place,” Sarah commented. “It could have been a mall or something. Okay, listen. The complex has three wings. If we want to rescue the others we have to go through the central atrium. That’s bad news as that’s where the leader of the bad guys is. Also the CEO. The good news is that there weren’t that many baddies about.”

With their plan formulated they sneaked closer to their first goal. It didn’t take long to find their way through labyrinthine hallways, till they reached the junction of the complex.

Valerie’s heart pumped a mile a minute as she knew this was it. Make it or break it. Quietly she mouthed down a countdown. Reaching zero Sir Percival and Sir Olaf rushed through the nearby double doors. As they swung close Valerie could hear screams of pain. Bethany charged the door and instead of rushing through she swung her mighty hammer and the doors crumbled like cardboard.

When Sarah and Valerie entered the moment of surprise was over.
Their enemies had regrouped and now pushed back against them. Valerie quickly stepped over the few corpses, that had been unlucky to be close to the door, and pushed a healing spell into Bethany. She had been cut in many places. Healing the two knights was Sarah’s job as Valerie couldn’t heal the undead.

Slowly they were pushed back till they formed a loose half circle around the CEO and his wife. Beth and the knights did a good job covering each other, but now and then a slash came through. It made Valerie wince. Seeing her wife get hurt was taking a toll on her. She used her spear as best as she could from the second row, but it was getting harder and harder as the enemies figured out a strategy to counter them.

Suddenly loud clapping and the withdrawal of the enemy's fighters brought a lull to the fight.

“Impressive,” a loud voice boomed. “I bet a class stone drop from you will be worth much.” It was the boss who stepped forward.

“Not the one from the woman. She has the same cursed class I have.”

Valerie spotted the woman she sometimes sees in her nightmares. The beautiful yet hated visage of the Empusa that had started it all. Because of her, Valerie had to endure so many challenges. Suffer through embarrassments and pain. But now, seeing the creature before her, Valerie understood that she herself wasn’t anything like the dreaded temptress.

“Cursed for you,” Valerie shot back. “Where you faltered I blossomed!”

“You are still a slut,” pitched in a voice that was all too familiar.

“Gary?!” Valerie asked in shock.

“Of course. Where do you think they put me after an attempted rape conviction. Luckily the Blackstone syndicate wanted some of their boys out. Chance was too good to be true to let pass.”

While Valerie fought back to let go a string of curses Gary addressed the leader of the bad guys. “That’s the one. My price for helping you.”

“The hostage you want to fuck? Now I can see why,” the boss replied with a smirk.

“Lay a finger on her and I’ll remove them along with your head,” Bethany shouted. Valerie had to hold her back. Charging in wouldn’t do them any good.

“So this is your revenge?” Valerie asked. Hoping to buy time.

“Yes. In part. The Blackstone syndicate wants a fee for getting us out along with their guys. If we don’t pay there will be no more respawn for us. Fucking you and a new class for her are just a nice extra.”

“Police!” came a shout along one of the hallways. A few winded people dressed in black made their way in. “They are breaching. All sides. We can’t hold them.”

“Shit! Barricade the doors and cast some barriers. And no more chit chat,” the boss shouted. “Kill them!”

The sudden onslaught that followed nearly overwhelmed Valerie’s party. Only thanks to Sarah’s summons they managed to push them back. Whoever they had been in life Valerie was sure they had been formidable fighters and heroes. Still, they lost ground. Inch by inch. Valerie saw the appearance of Sir Olaf flicker as he took too many hits. A moment later he was gone. Vanishing into thin air. It was then that Valerie saw the nasty grin of the boss. Stepping closer to Bethany’s now exposed flank.

“Nooo!” her heartfelt yell didn’t stop her own reaction. In a sprint, she charged in. Barely stopped to twirl out of the way of weapons aimed at her. She didn’t know if the body she stepped on was alive or slain. All she knew was that she was flying a moment later. Ramming the spear deep into the surprised face of the leader. They came crashing down and it got quiet. Without the boss, the others backed away slowly.

“Enough!” Valerie’s skin crawled as she realized that Gary’s shout hadn’t come from before her. Turning around she saw him besides Sarah. A knife at her throat. “Enough. This ends now. You. Despawn your minion.”

Valerie saw the fear in Sarah’s eyes. A moment later Sir Percival vanished too.

“Good. Now I have the trump in my hand," Gary boasted. He jiggled the blade at Sarah’s throat. “Maybe this is a lost cause, but I still want my price. Beg me, slut. Beg me to fuck you and maybe I let her live.”

Valerie tightened her grip on the spear. Her mind racing in search for a solution.

“I agree. This is enough.” To Valerie’s surprise, it was the enemy's Empusa who stepped forward. “However, I have a better idea.”

A few steps and the Empusa closed in on Gary. His jaw slacked and his eyes grew wide. Valerie realized the signs. He was bewitched.

The Empusa turned around. “It is time to knock you off your high horse. You think you are better than me? A newly made Empusa. Barely a few months in this cursed form? I show you how wrong you are. Let’s dance. Just the two of us. We will see who is right. If not, stupid over there will kill that girl. Do we have a deal.”

Valerie wanted to curse. Where was the police? They should be here by now. All that was left to entertain her. Just long enough. Maybe. Just maybe the police will come in time to save Sarah.

“Bring it,” Valerie growled as she stepped into the center of the room.

The other Empusa gave her a nasty smile. “I have fucked every one of them at least twice in the last days. A prude like you can’t have much health, to begin with.”

“You’d be surprised. I grew strong thanks to always drinking my milk.”

“What a fool you are.”

The Empusa did something with her hands and claws of red energy formed. Valerie didn’t know if that was an unknown Empusa skill or something else. However, she knew they looked sharp. Slowly they began to circle. The other Empusa tried a few feints and lunges. Valerie was too quick. Her training paying off.

Finally, the Empusa charged and Valerie felt burning pain as her stomach was cut. It was the Empusa who staggered. Having been hit twice by Valerie. Longer reach and more health. Valerie concluded she might win after all.

“Wipe that smile off your face!” The Empusa grabbed one of the watching criminals. Before Valerie could react, the guy dropped dead to the ground. Every health he had siphoned away.

A moment later Valerie was on the defense. Every attack cut Valerie somewhere. Drained her strength a little more. If she blocked the claws another devious weapon cut her. Valerie hadn't known it was possible, but the Empusa before her could shape her tail into a blade just as sharp as her claws.

Valerie's mind raced to come up with a plan. Draining a criminal was out of the question. She wasn’t as good or fast as her opponent. What struck her as odd was the passivity of the criminals surrounding her. It was as if they had given up. Not even struggling as the vile Empusa drained one after another. With sudden clarity, she knew why. They had already lost. The plan foiled by Valerie and her party. All that was left was to watch. Her eyes darted to Bethany. Held in check by a bunch of thugs. A little further was Sarah with a knife still held her throat.

Had they already lost too? “With nothing to lose, we have everything to gain.” Hadn’t those been Sarah’s words? New determination filled Valerie. She had now a plan and hoped Sarah might forgive her for it. Slowly she let herself be herded around. Circling the small impromptu arena.

Her desired spot reached, she pushed off the Empusa for a moment. A flick of her wrist and she had reversed her hold on the spear. With a last desperate act, she threw the spear with all her might.
It could barely be seen as it cut through the arena.

“You missed,” snarled the Empusa. Wiping away a few droplets of blood that exited the thin red line that Valerie’s spear had drawn across her throat.

“She didn’t,” came a strong voice from behind and Valerie gave a smile of her own. The Empusa turned around to see what Valerie saw. Sarah brushing off a dead Gary. Valerie’s spear deeply buried in his head.

A few quick steps and Valerie used the distraction to land a mighty blow from her fist. Grasping the Empusa fell to her knees.
Valerie knew this was not a time to play fair. She gave a strong kick to the Empusa’s head. She collapsed. Dead or just unconscious. Valerie didn’t care.

The room became quiet as everyone stared at her. Only the sickening sound of Sarah freeing the spear could be heard. She tossed it to Valerie who struck a pose that would hopefully look intimidating.

“You all saw this fight,” she addressed the convicts around her.
“Both of us are Empusas. Yet we are very different. She represents the worst, the weakest, of being an Empusa. She cheated! By draining and bewitching. Yet I won. You have now a choice. Fight me and lose or save yourself the trouble. I don’t care. But know this. Whoever threatens my family will end like him,” She pointed to the empty clothes of the dead boss. “or that bastard,” Her spear tip indicated Gary’s body. “Or her.” Valerie planted a high heel foot firmly on the fallen Empusa. “The choice is yours.”

A moment of silence followed. Broken by the sound of a dropped weapon. Others followed. It confirmed Valerie’s instinctual guess that most of them were hacks. People caught in a situation they couldn’t control. Gladly following someone who told them what to do. That was now Valerie.

When the last weapon fell, the doors burst open and special forces of the police rushed in. The criminals subdued in a few heartbeats. One of the uniformed men approached Valerie. “I take it that you are Valerie? Nice fight. I am captain Barnes.”

“You were just outside?” asked a flabbergasted Valerie.

“We arrived at the barricades just as you daughter was held as a hostage. It was my decision to wait and let the situation play out.”

“What? Why?”

“I know you are upset. I seriously would have breached earlier, but most of my men were tied up rescuing and evacuating the other hostages. Given limited manpower, I had to make a decision that gave the best chances. I am sorry, but this was the best option.”

Valerie was dumbfounded, but let it go. What was done is done.
Just then something startled her. The body under her heel was stirring. Valerie quickly took a step back. The beaten Empusa shakily stood up with a lot of cursing and was promptly taken in custody of two police officers.

“Careful! She can build up artificial affection and other stuff,” Valerie quickly warned them.

“No worries miss. We wear special charms against mental spells and similar on us,” answered one of the officers.

As they turned away Valerie had to stop them again. “Wait! Just a moment.”

She looked around the battlefield. Dozens of clothing piles marked the spot where criminals died. It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. She fished a class stone out of one of the piles.
She walked to the Empusa and offered the class stone without even looking what class it contained. “Take it!” she demanded.

The Empusa showed genuine surprise, yet snatched the offered stone nonetheless. “Why?”

“Because I meant what I said. You are the Empusa class at its worst. You don’t deserve the class.”

“You are even crazier than I am!” The Empusa activated the stone and Valerie witnessed how the woman before her lost her unearthly beauty. She was still pretty, yet a far cry from what she used to be a moment before. The woman looked at herself and started laughing madly. “It’s gone. It’s finally gone!”

“Take her away,” was the only thing Valerie said as she turned around.

Tiredly she walked over to Sarah and Beth. “Everyone alright?”

“You were awesome!” Sarah gushed.

“My heroine. Always knew you could be badass.” stated a proud Bethany.

“Oh, stop it. You both are really alright?”

“Well, my clothes are all holed through like swasarian cheese. Speaking of … I am hungry.” Bethany complained. As intended it earned a few chuckles. However, the mood turned serious a moment later.

“Why did you give her the class stone?” Sarah asked. “Now she has won.”

“Maybe,” admitted Valerie. “But this is for the best. How much did we go through because of her quest to change classes? How many others did suffer because of her? I had to end it.”

Both, Bethany and Sarah, gave her a nod.

“Besides. Every time I see her, I think I might have ended up like her.”

“No you wouldn’t and you never will. We will make sure if that,” Bethany corrected her sincerely.

“Yes. But where would I be without you? You both stood always by my side and I can’t thank you enough.” Swept up in emotions Valerie gave her family a long and heartfelt hug.

“You know. It’s kinda ironic. Isn’t it?” Sarah asked as the hug ended.

“What is?”

“Here you are. A class all about manipulating affection. Yet you rarely use it, because you never needed it. Moms and my own natural affection were always high enough.”

“Yes, you are mostly right. But there was that one time…”

“The one time when it needed a push,” Bethany interrupted. “When my own affection was still so strong to trust you completely. So strong that it found a way for us to remain together.”

“Yes. You are right. Both of you are. Thank you.”

“You are welcome!” both replied with a grin.

“Now. Let’s get out of here,” Valerie suggested.

As they walked out together they got a few odd yet admiring looks. Bethany was in the center, with her impressive physique and height. Flanked by Sarah in her elegant long dress and Valerie in her sexy summer dress as the epitome of most women's paragon of beauty. They stood and walked tall, even with all the cuts in their clothes. To some, it might seem as they had gone to hell and they came back after beating it into submission.

As they stepped out they were startled to still see the sun. It was still afternoon, yet all of them had guessed with everything that happened it would be much later.

“Valerie!” came a shout from the side. A moment later Janet was there and gave a heartfelt hug. Who knew Janet was capable of such. Valerie hadn’t, but then again she had to admit she was learning a lot about her boss in the recent weeks. “Are you all okay? You all look like Swasarian cheese.”

“That’s what I said!” Bethany exclaimed.

“We are fine,” reassured Valerie.

“Good. I was worried. Oh yes. Now is maybe not the right time, but before this universe conspires to prevent it again I want you to meet someone.”

“Nonsense,” came a gruff voice from the side. It was the CEO who came from one of the nearby parked ambulances. “There probably isn’t a better way to introduce yourself than to save someone's life. Thank you and your family for saving the lives of myself and my wife's.”

“It is a pleasure, Sir. But I have to admit you weren't the only reason.”

“Yes. The greater good. I completely understand. In fact, this and what Janet told me about you give hope that one day you will be a good replacement for her. I hope we speak more of this soon, but all I want right now is to get my wife safely home.”

Valerie shook his offered hand. Still baffled a little. “Look Janet. I am not working to replace you or anything ..”

Janet burst out in a loud laugh that was quite refreshing after the dreary stuff that just happened. “Why not? Oh my, you are honestly shocked? Why do you think I wanted you to be here? I let you in on a little secret. Next year our CFO goes into retirement. I have been groomed as a replacement now for a year and if they can groom me I surely can groom someone else. You had a solid reputation and work portfolio before and that landed you into my narrower selection. Then your class change happened. Honestly, I gave up on you back then, but to my amazement, you took each hurdle in your way and carried on. And now this. Honestly, I can’t think of someone more suited.”

Valerie needed a moment to catch up. Her mind refused to work for just a second. “I.. Wow.”

“She means ‘thank you’ and ‘ I’ll do my best’,” Bethany helped out.

“That is something we can work on. Now excuse me. This is a clusterfuck, pardon my Farchian, and someone has to play clean up for the company. That is still my job for now.”

As Janet walked away Valerie felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I am proud of you,” was all Bethany said. Valerie thought that was enough and gave her wife a grateful nod.

“So what does a band of heroes do after they triumph?” asked Sarah with a grin.

“A feast!” Bethany proclaimed.

“Too bad I don’t see a grill around here anymore,” Valerie remarked.

“Oh, I know a good fifties diner close by on the fifth avenue. Maybe we can sneak out?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Valerie agreed.

Together they tried just that.

***** Chapter 26 / Epilogue *****

“That was … nice,” Valerie commented a little out of breath.

“Just nice? That was amazing. Best sex in a long time. Maybe we should be more often in life and death situations.”

“Yeah. Maybe not.”

They both chuckled. For a moment they enjoyed the Sunday morning sun as it shone through the bedroom windows and the warmth of each other bodies.

It was Beth who broke the serene moment. “Val?”

“Hmm?”

“I think I owe you a confession, several actually, and an apology.”

Valerie turned around to look her wife in the eyes. “Why? What is wrong?”

“Do you remember yesterday when you gave that Empusa the class stone?”

“Mhmm.”

“The police didn’t seem to mind that you did it. In fact, they might not have said anything if you would have claimed a stone for yourself.”

Valerie looked shocked at her wife. “I … It didn’t even cross my mind.”

“Valerie. This is hard for me to admit, but you deserve the truth. I did. The moment you picked up the stone for the Empusa.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because .. I like you like this. Valerie … I want you to stay as you are right now.”

Valerie remained quiet as her mind raced.

“I am sorry Val. This is so selfish of me. I should have told you. Look. If the promotion happens it will come with a substantial raise. You can buy a class then. But, please. Don’t.”

It was a lot to process. Valerie’s mind walked in circles trying to get a grasp on things.

“Please, Val. Say something.” Tears started to run down Bethany’s face. Having made up her mind Valerie gently brushed away the tears.

“I am not mad at you. I am mad at me. Just a little. Now that you mention it I wondered when I have given up. No that isn’t the right way to say it. I wonder when I accepted it. I mean when I first woke up as Empusa and the weeks that followed all I wanted was to change back. Then stuff happened. I had to adapt. Had to grow. Find a way to live with it. Thanks to you and Sarah I did. But somewhere along the way, I lost my quest to change back. What stuns me the most is that I can’t even tell when the last was that I thought about it…”

She gave her wife a long and passionate kiss. “Yes. I think I want to remain as Valerie. It was a long hard way, but I have grown to love who I am now. Who I am with you. Even though it is sad to let Walter go.”

“No. Honey. No. Walter is still there when I look into your eyes. He isn’t gone. Yes, you changed. We all did in the last months. But you are still you. The same person I fell in love with.”

“Thank you. I love you so much.”

“Me too.”

After a moment Valerie gave a short laugh and gave her wife a lopsided grin.

“Besides. It would be hypocritical of me to change classes now.”

“What? Why?”

“You remember when we did go to the class library and got that flimsy manual about Empusas? How bleak and hopeless it all looked. The lack of details and the many comments that were downright depressing. Yesterday I decided that if there were a better manual, others might end up like me and not like the other Empusa. So yeah. I will write a new manual with everything I learned in the last months. But what message do I send if they look me up afterward and see that I jumped ship the first chance I got?”

“Not a good one,” Beth agreed.

“Come on. Let’s celebrate. I know exactly what is on your mind.”

Beth playfully bit her lip. “More sex?”

“Well, I thought about grabbing breakfast…”

“Oh, good idea.”

“Thought you might like it.”

A quick shower later they walked into the kitchen and finding Sarah over a bowl of cereal. “Oh damn. I lost,” she exclaimed.

“Lost?” Valerie dutifully asked.

“The bet about when you two would emerge out of your Grotto of passion.”

Valerie saw Bethany’s rolling of eyes and couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well,” Bethany interrupted. “We needed a while to work something out. Valerie has an announcement to make.”

“I plan to write a book!”

“No honey. The other one.”

“Oh, right. I decided to stay an Empusa.”

“How totally shocking. Guess I won one bet after all.”

“You bet on if I wanted to change back?”

“Hey. I wasn’t the one coming up with the bet.”

Valerie sighed theatrically.

“So what’s that about a book?” Sarah asked.

“I decided to write a revised manual for the Empusa class.”

“That’s a great idea! You could..”

Whatever Sarah wanted to say was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell.

“You two finish up. I’ll get it,” Bethany volunteered.

A moment later Sarah jumped up. “Mom don’t! It’s Brad Cooper.”

“Him again? I’ll give him a piece of my mind. Valerie is mine and ..”

“He is here for you. At least that is what one of my advisors claims. Let me handle it.”

Shrugging Bethany sat down beside Valerie. They could hear Sarah as she opened the door.
“Brad. What a pleasant surprise. … Who are you here for? The sexy one or the tall beefy one? … Her name is Bethany by the way and she is my mother. Also happily married! … Oh, you didn’t think. Listen up. I am a necromancer as you know. If you show up here one more time with a present I’ll swear I send a ghost to haunt you. Any takers to haunt this boy? What? You always wanted a baby girl and you think he is perfect for it? Brad? Why are you running away?”

Meanwhile, Valerie and Bethany giggled like girls.

“She is definitely your daughter.”

“I think I could say the same.”

Valerie sighed. This moment was perfect. She felt comfortable in her body and her family was great. The future looked pretty good and for the first time in a while, she looked actually forward to it. In this very moment, she decided that if anyone would ever write a book about her right about now there would be written: and they lived happily ever after.

The end.

*****

Disclaimer from the author: I do not recommend dealing with difficult or traumatic experiences by using violence. Even if it is against an object or ghost.
If you had such an experience, please ask for help. Especially of an expert.

As an author who just is starting to write, I would also appreciate if you would leave behind a review.
Thank you for reading.

Cassy



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