*It’s been a bit but here we go. Another flash for you! What do you think? Should there be a part 2? Enjoy!*
“You got this, Gareth. No stress.”
I nodded, thankful for the support, even if I didn’t believe my brother in the slightest. At least, if the ravenous horde of butterflies beating under my ribs was any indication. This was a big deal. A huge deal. And my last chance.
I was the oldest person in the summoning circle, and I’d had four failed attempts already. Most witches were able to summon their animal familiar by the time they turned twenty-one. My brother, Aeron, who was arguably more powerful than I was, had accidentally summoned his cockatoo at sixteen. I was thirty. I hadn’t reached my full power until I was twenty-five, which was also later than normal.
I was definitely a disappointment. My entire family was made up of witches, on both sides, and all had managed to summon a familiar to steady their powers by the time they reached their early twenties. Most of the animal familiars were birds too. The only person who hadn’t written me off was Aeron, convinced there was a reason for the delay. Most of my extended family barely talked to me, and my parents only did because, well, they were my parents.
But Aeron, and his cockatoo Remy, were by my side. Both in the everyday and here, tonight, the night of the Harvest Moon, they stood outside the circle to support me. waiting for the moment when they high mage began the ceremony and the witches gathered worked the spell that would hopefully bring them an animal familiar.
Going through the ceremony a time or two without calling a familiar wasn’t so unusual. Only witches who have reached the right threshold power were even allowed to attempt the ritual. But I was the anomaly. No one in written or oral history had done it as many times as I had and still failed.
The Witches Council had ruled that this was my last chance. I thought that was unfair, but there was nothing I could do about it. The decision was final. And if I didn’t manage it this time, my innate power would be taken from me. For my own safety and that of others. Without a familiar, with the level of magic I had, and no familiar to anchor me, I would end up going mad. And possibly hurt others.
It had happened before.
So this was it. My final chance. And as I stared at the clear sky, the stars and moon shining down and lighting the clearing and the summoning circle, panic and fear began to build. When Remy flew over and landed on my shoulder, rubbing his beak on my cheek, I knew it had to be bleeding into my aura. Aeron was Remy’s favorite thing in the world, and even though the bird enjoyed me a great deal, he never left my brother’s shoulder when Aeron was around.
I tried to calm down. I was unsuccessful.
The High Mage stepped into the center of the circle and raised her hands to the sky, calling to Gaia, as hush fell over the crowd. Remy preened my hair for a second, then flew off. Aeron squeezed the back of my neck and then nudged me forward, as he stepped farther back.
The High Mage completed her rite, and now it was the gathered witches turn. I waited, doing my best to keep the panic under control, trying to focus as witch after witch stepped to the center, completed their rite, and familiars came flocking to their witch. Mostly cats and dogs, a few birds, even a squirrel or two. One by one, every witch successfully completed the spell and welcomed their familiar.
And then it was my turn.
The silence grew oppressive, but I did my best to ignore it. I tried to focus on the fact that whatever happened, happened, and it was out of my control. I stepped to the middle at the High Mage’s beckoning, and closed my eyes. Three deep breaths, focusing on the exhale and letting my worry and panic go with each exhale. I knew I had the power, the ability. The only thing left up to question was if it would work this time.
Centered now, I opened my eyes and lifted them to the sky. Another slow, deep even breath, and I was ready. I made sure my voice was clear and strong as I said, “Dewch ataf, o ffrind. I fod yn gefnogaeth ac yn angor I mi. Tyngaf i’r dduwies y byddaf yn eich anrhydeddu am bopeth yr ydych.”
For a fraught second, nothing happened. And then I felt it, faint at first but growing. A tether, the beginning of a bond, a glowing thread that connected to my soul to something else. Someone else.
Out of the dark, between the trees, a canine trotted forward. It had a wide head with a broad muzzle, tall pointed ears, and long slender legs with large feet. The coat was a startling red with white and grey patches underneath the chin and on the belly.
A red wolf. Beautiful and breathtaking. The closer it—he—got the tighter in my soul. I had to control my breathing because I feared I would hyperventilate. It worked! Finally, after all this time, it had finally worked. And the wolf was majestic and amazing. I already could feel it.
The wolf stopped a foot or so away, and I couldn’t help falling to my knees and reaching out. The wolf froze, staring at me with piercing amber eyes. He sat on his haunches, stared for a moment longer, and then, with a sigh, began to shift.
It took less than a moment, though it felt longer because I couldn’t draw a breath. But then a man knelt before me. His hair was the same sort of red of his fur, his eyes now brown. He was slender but leanly muscled, also echoing his wolf form. He looked to be in his early twenties, probably, but the lopsided grin made me wonder if he was younger.
“Well,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Didn’t expect that. So, you’re my witch, huh?”