Crooked Stitches

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Chapter Twelve: Types

"Um... Are you sure this is the right place?"

"It's the address that Lin gave me but..."

Francesca and Victor were standing in the middle of the city of Shift. They had searched through the crowded streets and asked the odd-looking population of the city where to go. While many of the residents of Shift were some variant of shapeshifter, among them there was at least two people with unicorn horns, Victor still felt safer with his mask still obscuring his stitched face.

When Francesca had asked him why he was keeping it on, he answered that he didn't want to bother anyone. She seemed upset at this response, but didn't force the boy to remove the mask.

They were staring at the sign of the shop that Lin had written the address to. While the sign itself was wooden, the painted rose and name, La Jolie Fleur, on it were flashing in a bright red. In flashing green was the slogan that said "We bring your inner you to the light!"

Francesca looked around once more before finally walking up to the door. "This had better not be some trick of Lin's..." she muttered.

When she opened the door, three things happened. First, a small bell rang from somewhere above her. Next, a small shower of rose petals rained down on Francesca's head, a few of them no doubt getting buried within her ponytail. And lastly, a blond man who was standing over a woman laying back in a chair looked up from his work and smiled.

"Welcome!" he said brightly. "I'm with another costumer so I'll be with you in a moment!"

All around the place were mirrors and chairs. The customers, mostly women, were reclined out in front of the mirrors. People were looming over them with their hands at ready, as if waiting for a signal to start.

A small human girl was the signal, apparently. She would skip around the salon with an oddly bored look on her face. She would briefly visit a pair at a chair then leave. After she left, the workers would lower their hands and get started.

She finally made her way to the blond man who had spoken. She grabbed the woman's hand and closed her eyes. She then let go and grabbed the man's hand. Afterward, she skipped off to another pair in the salon. The man then put two fingers on each of the women's temples.

Then the woman's form was changing. Her figure was getting slimmer. Long blonde curls were darkening and getting straighter. Stray marks on her skin were vanishing as if they'd never existed. The man told her to open her mouth and smile. Teeth soon straightened and whitened.

The changes stopped. The man removed his fingers from the woman's head. "Alright, Marjorie, I'm finished."

Marjorie shakily got up from her chair and examined herself in the mirror. She had a broad grin on her face as she turned and twisted in front of the mirror to see all the changes. She turned around and threw her arms around the blond man's shoulders, earning glares from the other patrons. The man put his hands on her upper back, politely returning the hug.

"Thanks, Cecil! You're the best!" she cheered.

"You're welcome, my dear," Cecil replied suavely.

She released the man from his hug and dug into her purse. She pulled out a shining gold coin and place it into Cecil's hand. Francesca's eyebrows went up at how cheap the price was. Marjorie rushed out the door, brushing past Francesca and Victor.

Cecil started to approach them, but his appearance was changing as he walked. His chest, no, his whole frame, was growing broader with muscles. His skin was steadily getting darker. Blond locks retreated back into his skull and turned darker as well. Minor changes in his face made it seem like it was shifting around, Francesca couldn't stare directly at it for more than a second without feeling ill. When he was done, a laid-back looking black man was holding his hand out to her instead of the refined blond he was moments before. The only thing that was similar were the droopy eyes.

"I'm sorry about the wait," he said. His voice hadn't changed yet it still suited him. "I'm the owner of this little salon, Cecil Vale. Who might you be?"

"I'm Francesca Benedict and this is Victor."

"How may I help you, my dear?"

"Uh..." Francesca said uncertainly. She wasn't really prepared for how casual he sounded. "We were sent here by Lin because apparently you're good at cosmetic magic."

Cecil smirked. "He only said I'm good at cosmetic magic? Why, that's an understatement. I'm one of the best!"

"Well, someone's modest," Francesca deadpanned.

Cecil looked taken aback by this response, but only for a moment. "Only because I'm confident, my dear knight. Only because I'm confident."

Francesca rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. He reminded her too much of the elven knights for her comfort.

"Now... Let's see..."

Suddenly, Cecil changed again. He was now a voluptuous woman with a gentle face. He stared directly into Francesca's eyes as if he were gauging her reaction. When he didn't get anything more than a surprised stare, he pouted slightly in disappointment.

Cecil brought his hands up and tilted Francesca's chin up so he could examine her face.

"Hey!" Francesca squirmed in protest but Cecil had a firm grip.

"Ugh, those blackheads... Hair's all tangled... Those eyebrows... My god, have we got some work to do-"

Francesca slapped his hands away. "It's not for me!" she snapped. "It's for him!" She pulled Victor between her and Cecil as a sort of makeshift shield.

"F-Frankie!" Victor squeaked. He wished that he could turn invisible as the clients started giggling at him. Commenting on how 'cute' he sounded.

Cecil's attention moved away from Francesca. He examined the boy as if it were the first time noticing him. He held out a hand with a smile, a smile that was much less sleazy than the grins he was giving Francesca.

"Aw, there's no need to be timid," Cecil said in a calming voice.

Victor shook his hand and relaxed. He still felt self-conscious about the patrons looking at him.

"Can you take off your mask for me?" Cecil requested.

Victor looked down to the ground. "The last time I took it off... I scared someone really badly. I'm not sure..."

Cecil changed into a girl around Victor's height. He placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled.

"I won't be scared," he said. "I promise, Victor." Several calls of encouragement came from the patrons, a few eager to see the 'cute little boy behind the mask.'

Victor hesitantly reached up. Cecil seemed to be honest about his word. He slipped his mask off and didn't look him in the eye.

Suddenly, there was a wave of shocked gasps and startled yells throughout the salon. There was at least one high-pitched scream coming from one of the patrons but a worker quickly muffled her with their mouth. Victor cringed at the noise and he started tearing up. Victor quickly pulled his mask back on and tried to hide himself behind Francesca. Even then, he could feel the scared stares he was receiving which only made him try harder to hide.

Cecil, however, didn't bat an eye. He sighed in what seemed like exasperation and changed back into a broad man. He turned to the rest of his clients with his hands on his hips. "Honestly, have you all forgotten where we are? We're in Shift, people! Some come in here so that I can fix a shift gone wrong. I see more transformations gone wrong in a day than everyone in this room put together has in their entire lives! Most of you come in here for menial changes like changing your hair or changing your weight. Do I need to remind you all that this a magic salon? There's an actual barber down the street from here; they could really use some business!"

Francesca was taken aback by Cecil's rant. She wasn't expecting something like that to come from him. Especially to chew out his customers...

One petite customer got up from her chair and crossed her arms. She smirked at Cecil. "Then how come you always change our hair and weight when we ask anyways, Cecil?"

His exasperation looked like it melted away and he changed back into a blond. He smiled at all the girls in the room. "That's because I simply can't deny my precious clients' requests! Where would I be without all of you? It's a pleasure to see each of you, my dears."

A few of the patrons muffled squeals once he smiled. The petite customer's smile only widened further.

Francesca nearly gagged at this. Honestly, what kind of sorcerer was this Cecil?

"Um...?" Victor asked quietly. "Mister Cecil...?"

That seemed to return the salon owner's attention back to them. "Oh! Yes, yes! Come this way!" As he started leading them to the back, he changed back into the black man. As he passed the little girl, he waved her over as well. "Maze, I need you for this." She followed him as well.

Francesca bent down and whispered in Victor's ear. "What's with this guy?"

"He seems nice," Victor said honestly.

Francesca clicked her tongue. Nonetheless, they followed Cecil into the back room.

Much like Lin's study, it was filled with books and instruments. However, unlike Lin's room, there were several mirrors dangling from the ceiling. Another chair lay in the middle of the room. There was a spiral staircase on the side.

"There is my room for research," Cecil explained. "Sometimes when a client is particularly shy about their appearance or I get a tricky case like this, I bring them in here."

"Um... Mister Cecil..." Victor said sheepishly. "I have a question."

Cecil seemed amused by this. "Go ahead."

"How come you don't have to say anything when you use magic?" he asked. "Frankie always has to say something before he... she uses magic, but you do it instantly!"

Cecil beamed at this. "Ah, you're observant! I like it!" Cecil changed back into a girl. "Well, you see, most sorcery is learned. It's studied for years and years before most people can specialize in a specific branch of magic." He put his hands to his small chest. "But not me! I'm one of the few who are born with an ability naturally. I was born with the ability to change my appearance at will; that makes me a shapeshifter. That's how I'm so good at cosmetic magic!" He added the last part in a singsong voice directed at Francesca.

"So is everyone here a shapeshifter?" Victor asked.

"Not quite everyone." Cecil changed into a teenage boy and wrapped an arm around the girl's shoulders. "This is my little Maze. She isn't a shapeshifter and she doesn't talk, but this salon wouldn't have started if it weren't for her!"

"What do you do?" Victor asked Maze.

Maze didn't say a word. She silently grasped Francesca and Victor's hands. She closed her eyes.

Suddenly, they both felt a rush of sensation. They were standing in the salon but it was different. The colors were louder, the lights were brighter, the noise felt deafening. Seated in a chair was the form of a person, but that was it. They didn't have a face, a sex, or anything distinctive about them.

Maze suddenly appeared, skipping over to the person with a form that they felt was Cecil. She grasped their hand and closed her eyes. Out of the person's head emerged the wispy image of a woman. She floated around Maze like a ghost, longingly staring at the person on the chair. Maze then released the person's hand and grabbed Cecil's. The woman flew into Cecil's head, disappearing once again. Cecil placed his hands onto the person's head, changing them into a spitting image of the woman.

They were standing back in Cecil's study. Maze had let go of their hands.

"Whoa..." Victor gasped.

"You can read minds..." Francesca said in understanding. "And you can communicate like that. You show the shapeshifters exactly what the customers want."

"Exactly!" Cecil said proudly. "It's a good system, isn't it? That way, we never get customer complaints because we give them exactly what they want." His face grew more serious. "Now that we're away from prying eyes, can you show me what I have to work with again?"

Victor obediently removed his mask for Cecil to examine his face. The sorcerer turned back into the girl that was Victor's height and gently held his face in his hands. Cecil furrowed his eyebrows.

"I assume Lin sent you here because he couldn't remove these, correct?" Cecil asked as he let go of Victor's face.

"Yeah," Francesca answered. "He tried removing them himself, but he just ended up getting exhausted."

"Hmm... How far do they go?"

"A-All over my body..." he answered.

"Take off your shirt," Cecil ordered. Upon seeing Francesca's apprehensive face, he sighed. "Don't look at me like that, my dear; I'm not going to do anything. Even I have standards, so I don't go after elves until they're at least a hundred." He changed back into the black man.

"Could just stop doing that?" Francesca snapped. "Pick a form already!"

Cecil turned into a plump androgynous person with long hair. He had a thoughtful look on his face before obnoxiously saying "nah" and turning into a copy of Francesca with his droopy eyes. "I've been trying to figure out your type this whole time. Seems you don't have one."

"Nope," Francesca confirmed.

"Pity, I could've turned into whatever your type was." He changed back into a blond man. "This seems to be a favorite with the customers!" He changed back into a black man. "This is the masculine form I'm most comfortable with though."

Victor fiddled with his cloak and shirt in his hands. "Do you know what you originally looked like?"

Cecil's face turned stony. He bent down to Victor's level. "Not without Maze's help," he said grimly. "That form... doesn't suit me. That's why I threw it away. Now, the question is whether you remember what you looked like before you got those stitches."

Victor sadly shook his head. "I've only seen my reflection once and that was after I got these."

"I see." Cecil nodded toward Maze. "Check his memories, Maze. Go back as far as you can."

Maze nodded her head. She walked up to Victor and brought hands up to his scarred cheeks. She slowly brought her forehead to his and closed her eyes.

Victor was still aware of his surroundings this time. He could see Maze frowned and looking more and more worried the longer she went. He was about to ask if she were okay when she let out a screech.

She pushed him away with wordless screams. She held her head in her hands and tears started streaming down her face. Cecil ran forward and pulled her into his arms. He changed into an older woman with a similar appearance to her and rocked her softly.

"It's okay, Maze," Cecil cooed. He held Maze's trembling body tightly against his own. "It's okay. You're fine. See? That wasn't you. You're okay, Maze. Could you show me what happened?" When Maze frantically shook her head with another strangled cry, he backtracked. "Okay! You never have to go through that again! Alright? You're safe."

Cecil scooped Maze up in his arms. He gave an apologetic look to Francesca and Victor before carrying her up the stairs.

"...I scared Maze," Victor sobbed.

Francesca looked down at Victor. He was shaking. He was hugging his clothes and crying. He wanted to hide himself. He felt disgusting. Francesca hugged himself tightly.

"No, no, you didn't, Victor! Really!"

"Yes I did!"

"A memory she saw scared her! It wasn't you!"

"I scared the first people I met besides Master, I scared Baudouin, I scared all those people out there, a-and now I scared Maze!"


Cecil came back down. He was still in the form he was in before he left. His face was full of worry and pity. He turned back into a black man and rubbed his hands together.

"I'm... er..." he said nervously. "Please, don't take Maze's reaction personally. When she looks into someone's memory, she takes on their emotions and senses as well. I-I'm not saying she's injured or anything! Don't worry about that! She's just shocked."

"Is she going to be okay?" Francesca asked.

"She'll be fine," Cecil responded. "Anyways..."

He changed into a copy of Victor. However, his smooth skin was free of stitches. His face seemed fuller and his eyes weren't sunken. His cheeks had more color in it than the corpse-like grey.

Victor gaped at his doppelganger. He reached up to touch Cecil's face but then let his arm fall back to his side.

"This is my best guess at what you looked like before you got those," Cecil stated. "Now, I'm going to try to make you look like this. Is that okay, Victor?"

Victor numbly nodded his head.

Cecil calmly placed his fingers on Victor's temple. "Now, I want you to relax. I'm going to start." Cecil closed is eyes. After several moments, nothing happened.

Cecil stared in confusion, trying to find even the slightest change in Victor's appearance. He changed back into a black man and sighed.

"I can't remove them," he said in defeat.

"What happened to 'one of the best' at cosmetic magic?" Francesca teased.

Cecil shook his head. "That's the problem," he said bitterly. "It was a powerful body magic spell."

Francesca deflated. "Oh..."

Victor tilted his head in confusion. "I don't get it. Isn't all magic the same?" he asked.

Francesca and Cecil gave him equally confused looks. "No," Cecil answered. "Of course it isn't."

Francesca pulled out a sheet of paper, a quill, and an ink pot from her bag. "You see, Victor, it's a bit more like this." She wrote the word "MAGIC" at the top of the sheet. Then she drew several lines sticking out from beneath it; writing several words connected to each line like "Physical," "Mental," "Elemental," "Object," "Motion," and "Fate." "It's split up a bit like this. These aren't all the branches, mind you, but these are the ones I remember from the top of my head."

Cecil took the quill from Francesca, much to the other's annoyance, and drew three lines branching out from the word "Physical." "And each of these are divided like this. Physical spells refer to the spells that focus on one's body. Understand?" When Victor nodded, he wrote "cosmetic" on the first line. "Cosmetic spells only deal with one's appearance. Most shapeshifting only qualify as cosmetic magic since they only change what one looks like but not what they are." On the second line, he wrote "body." "These deal more with what you are. Your anatomy and such. Which is why I can't help. Imagine it like... er..."

"A make-up artist from the local theater performing surgery on you," Francesca said bluntly. She put a blatant taunt in the words "make-up artist."

Cecil gave her a glare. "Not quite the words I would have used, but yes. Something like that." He wrote "healing" on the last line. "This is for restoring one's body to what it once was. These can all be combined with some other branch, but that's much more difficult. For example," Cecil added with a challenging glare at Francesca. "If I were to change myself into a dragon, which I am entirely capable of, it would take cosmetic and body magic."

"And if I wanted to make my sword an ice sword," Francesca retorted with a challenging glare of her own, "it would need object and elemental magic."

Victor ignored their bickering and stared hard at the paper. "What's that?" He pointed at the branch that said "Fate."

Francesca's expression hardened a bit. She divided it up into "Blessings," "Sight," and "Curses." "These affect one's life, so they're the hardest branch of magic to master. Blessings benefits a person, such as a spell to make you lucky for an hour. Sight looks at one's life, their past and future. Curses are only cast with the intent to harm someone..."

"What if someone doesn't like their blessing?" Victor asked. "Does that make it a curse?"

"Then it will wear off faster," Cecil explained. "It all depends on the intentions and motivations. If a spell is cast for petty intentions, then it won't last very long. Whoever put those on you must have really wanted you to have them."

"B-But who would want that?" Victor asked.

"We don't know," Francesca admitted. "Anyways, we're back to square one. Now what?"

"I don't know, however, I wish you two luck," Cecil said honestly. He pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to Francesca. "In case you two ever need my assistance."

Francesca smiled at him. "Thanks, Cecil."

He bowed. "It was a pleasure doing business with you."

They were walking through the crowded streets of Shift. Francesca was looking for an inn while Victor dragged himself a few feet behind her.

He felt disappointed. Even Cecil couldn't help. He felt like he was wasting Francesca's time and energy on a spell that couldn't be broken...

He briefly amused the idea of going off on his own to look for his master, but decided against it. Francesca would be worried and he didn't want her to waste more energy on looking for him.

"If only I could find Master..." he mumbled to himself. "He'd know what to do..."

It was then that he collided into someone. Victor fell to the ground and his mask flew off. He looked up at the person he crashed into.

It was a tall man who would have towered over him even if he were standing. He had dark hair casually swept across his forehead. He had a thin nose and beautiful skin. His piercing goldish eyes stared deeply into his purple.

"I-I'm sorry!" Victor said nervously. He realized his face was out in the open and quickly covered it back up with the mask.

The man didn't react. He was merely observing him. Finally, the man extended a hand out to help him up. "You look... very familiar," he said at last.

Victor took the hand and stood back up. "T-Thank you, but I don't know you from anywhere."

The man had a look of great realization as he grasped the tiny hand in his own. Then he gave Victor a wide, friendly smile.

"Oh, now I know why you look so familiar. You look so similar to your master."

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