The carriage ride was bumpy, but not too bad. I could hear the horses’ hooves strike unevenly against the ground but they still managed to settle into a monotonous rhythm. Mother was with me. She’d insisted on going with me personally. I think she was still worried that I’d disappear on some other adventure.
I’d told her that it was a one time thing because Sylvie and the others needed me, but she was protective. After all, I was blind and frail. Why shouldn’t she worry about me being out in dangerous situations?
I think she could also sense that I wasn’t telling the full truth about what had happened. I mean, I’d told her about Camila and how she’d tried to claim Inés by force. I’d told her about how I’d worked with Aunt Lais and the others to stop her but I hadn’t told her about Sylvie’s confession. About how she’d told me she loved me.
Truthfully, I was still having trouble processing it. I had told her that if she could say the same in a year, I’d be hers. That I was happy for her feelings. But I was also doubtful of them. Could she, or anyone else, love someone as hapless as me?
“We’re here,” Mother’s voice said. The scent of incense filled the air. I knew the scent. It was made from a dragon palm tree’s resin. “Once you leave this carriage,” mother continued “you’ll have thirty minutes to find a familiar.” She added something to the incense. Lavender? “Should you fail, it will be proof that Hecate has rejected you.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t disappoint you.”
“I know you won’t,” Mother said. “Remember, your familiar will be a part of you and you will be a part of it. The two of you will be bound. You must look out for one another and you must choose your familiar with care. Should you be forced to terminate your connection, not only will you never be able to forge a bond with another familiar, but a part of you will also be missing.”
I heard Sweetgrass, my mother’s familiar, squeak. Sweetgrass was a field mouse. When mother had done her own ritual, she’d wanted a falcon but changed her mind when she felt a connection with Sweetgrass. I’d heard the story many times and I was sure that this was my mother’s way of telling me that it was okay to change my mind and get something besides a bat. “Good luck, Illyana.”
I left the carriage. The scent of the incense surrounded me. It remained as strong as it had been in the carriage. I moved about a dozen metres away and sat in a meditative lotus position.
Now was the hard part. I had to form a sphere that perfectly reflected the nature of my magic. I started with void. Then I transmuted half of the ball into earth. I added fire and ice, making it a quarter each element. Then came water and air. Finally, I added thunder and aether. I carefully manipulated the eight elements, ensuring that each one took up an equal part of the ball. I allowed it to float in front of me and waited.
They started coming. My magic acting as a beacon to them. I could sense them. A wolf, a loner but proud. A bear, brave and composed, starting to grow old. A mole, curious and clever. A coral snake. An owl. Then I sensed it. A bat, a blood drinker. He was probably half-starved but he was determined, inquisitive. From the moment our minds touched, I felt a bond.
I reached my left hand out towards him. “Hello, I would like to make a bond with you. If you’ll have me.”
I heard a rush of air. He swooped and landed in my palm. I sensed something emerging from his body. His soul stone. It burned for a moment but the intense heat quickly cooled into a steady warmth. The stone throbbed in my hand and wouldn’t cool any further. I grabbed it with my other hand and pocketed it carefully.
“You’ll need a name,” I said. “How do you feel about Drake?”
Drake let out a screech of approval.
“Then it’s settled,” I said. “Let’s go back.”
Drake left my hand and settled onto my right shoulder. Together, we left the cave. All in all, the ritual had taken about twenty minutes.
I heard my mother whistle when we entered the carriage.
“That’s a big one. Is… is that a blood drinker?”
“He is,” I confirmed. His name is Drake.”
“I see,” Mother said. She didn’t sound too happy about me picking a blood drinker. “Well, you got done earlier than expected. Let’s head back and I’ll teach you how to borrow Drake’s senses.”
The desert was expansive. It had to be. It had, after all succeeded in largely isolating my people from the outside world for millennia. We had chosen it for that reason and it had played a role in our downfall. Still, it was an ideal place for training in the way of the sword.
I reached out with air magic. There were no travellers in the area. I removed my cloak and stretched my wings.
I spread some sheep’s blood on the ground, knowing exactly what kind of predator it would attract. I flew upwards, knowing it imprudent to be on the ground when it arrived.
There was a loud rumbling sound. I could see the sands being disrupted as it travelled beneath.
The sand wyrm was a fierce predator with armoured scales as hard as steel covering its body and a squid-like snout covering a wide opening with serrated teeth leading down its gullet. This ultimately resulted in a painful end for any prey it managed to swallow alive. It also possessed acid shooting tubes, usually three or four, on its back. Regardless of the danger, I waited for it to peek its head from the sands and tossed a stone in order to provoke it.
The wyrm was roughly thrice my own size. It roared and lunged for me.
I half flew, half rolled backwards. The wyrm’s lunge missed me. I moved further up in the air and dodged to the side as the wyrm lunged through the sand and snapped at me.
I drew my blade and swooped downward. The wyrm’s tubes opened and clear acid jetted at me. The stream barely missed as I flapped over it. I swooped back down. The creature roared and snapped at me as I came. I rolled in mid-air, avoiding the powerful jaws. I plunged my blade through the wyrm’s eye and pierced its brain. The creature collapsed onto the sand.
I burned it as a sacrifice to the goddess Nemesis. I was almost proficient enough in the way of the sword to challenge the Magi, almost.