The night was long, seemingly never ending while Melanija tossed and turned in her bed. The air was so hot she thought she stood the chance of suffocating unless she kicked the covers off to let her skin breathe. The window was open but there was no wind to allow circulation of the cooler air outside to flow into the room. She would have to go out if she wanted to cool down—and that was too much for her heat exhausted muscles at the moment.
She had been awake for maybe an hour, wishing the darkness would lull her back to at least a half-slumber. She sighed tiredly. She had hoped the crushed herbs she had mixed with her tea would work all the way till morning. She even went the extra step and ate a root with calming properties that a witch had given her yesterday. Ha! she thought to herself. Looks like I‘ll have to keep myself busy. Melanija could never get a good nights rest, no matter how many sedatives she tried. Oh, she knew she shouldn’t take so many, but when you’ve been awake for three days straight one tends to go to extreme measures, even for a few hours of blissful unconsciousness.
Enough is enough. She pushed herself up and dragged her feet carefully to the front room of the house, her arms raised as she searched for the wall to guide her through the dark. She bumped into a corner table and stubbed her toe, yelling out in pain as she slammed a fist against the tabletop. This really was going to be a long night. Luckily, the table she injured herself on was what she was looking for. She slowly ran her fingers across the side until she found the drawer and pulled it open. Inside she laid her hand on the flint and steel; why it wasn’t in her bedroom she couldn’t remember. There was a spare candle, too, so she grabbed it in the same hand with a finger and pressed it against her palm. She made her way outside, cautiously. She didn’t want to stub her toe again.
Outside the air was much cooler. She took a deep breath, imagining the heat escaping her body and leaving the ‘mirage’ effect one would see on the road on a hot summer’s day. Yes, she quite liked that image, made her seem like a ghost or something else incorporeal. No longer feeling suffocated she grabbed the candle with her free hand and carefully placed it on the wooden railing of the porch and began striking the flint with the steel. It took her a few tries but she lit the candle.
The small radius of flickering light the candle flame gave off was enough, offering some form of comfort in the pitch blackness. The moon was missing from the cloudless sky, probably sitting low behind the mountains that towered over Melanija’s home. The stars were bright but they just weren’t enough to offer any sort of illumination to see by. That was alright by her though, she just wanted to cool off. She didn’t really care if she had anything to look at, but the atmosphere could lean a bit on the creepy side at night so some light was always welcome.
The mountains were home to a few creatures that liked to stalk well after midnight, and their eyes shined brightly in the blackness, even without a moon to illuminate them. Some say those creatures are magical, having a bond so deep with the lands that the gods gifted them eternal sight. Others say it’s devilry, that a sorcerer cast a curse on the forest to punish the King for tarnishing Mother Nature so he could expand his kingdom. There were a few other rumors and folk tales, as well, but they were all wrong. It was simply how the animals were. It didn’t make them any less vicious, but it made Melanija feel somewhat better about living alone in the forest guarded by mountains and terrifying creatures. She was safe though. Her home was just on the outskirts of the forest, a place the creatures never ventured to, for whatever reason.
She took a seat in the wooden rocking chair behind her, smiling when the soft creaking reached her ears. Hm, maybe this will put me to sleep? she thought to herself with a yawn. She didn’t care if she fell asleep outside. The temperature was heavenly compared to her bedroom, and she felt relaxed and comfortable in her chair.
She sat there for awhile, her thoughts beginning to swirl in the quiet. She cursed to herself inwardly; she had a problem with over thinking things once the silence fell over her. Her mind began conjuring up old memories, ones she would rather have stayed buried in her subconscious. She pinched the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes tightly. This really was going to be a long night…
Her other hand fell off the armrest, her knuckles making contact with leather. She looked down and grabbed the book she had forgotten she left outside the other day. A book of spells. It wasn’t her favorite topic, as she was a woman of logic, but there was no denying that some magic existed in the world. She admitted to fooling around with the misleading art on occasion, finding some things were indeed possible with a little faith in the mystical and arcane—but only some things. She eyed the age worn pages for a minute or so, eventually accepting the reprieve from the silence that almost uncovered old memories.
She opened the book to a random page and began to read. It wasn’t a particular interesting topic in her opinion, but it would have to do. She forced herself to get lost in the words, sinking into old knowledge that the majority of the world accepted as pure fact. When she came upon a new chapter she suddenly found herself sitting up at full attention.
‘On Summoning Aether Spirits’ the title read. The supposed afterlife was called the Aether, the dead calling it their home for all Eternity. Melanija didn’t know if that was true, and all honesty she had her doubts, but…
A memory broke free from its shackles, wrenching her heart at the sudden onslaught of emotions and pain brought with it.
“Korena!” Melanija called out, her heart in her throat. “Run!”
She was far behind them, the hot sun burning her bared shoulders, the pathway cutting her feet from fallen tree branches and sharp rocks. She wouldn’t catch up to them in time, no matter how fast she ran.
Further ahead of her was a middle aged man, crazed with anger, or possibly he was just insane to begin with, Melanija didn’t know. She didn’t care either, only that he was a few feet from her dearest friend and would catch her soon enough.
Only the gods would be so cruel as to let him enact some nightmare upon Korena. If only Melanija was faster! She felt her stomach twist when he jumped at her friend. They tumbled forward, landing in a heap with him on top of her. Korena struggled, managing to scratch his cheek once before he punched her.
Melanija ran as fast as her legs would allow, a fire lighting in her lungs with every step, their forms growing closer. But she wouldn’t make it…
He drew a knife from his belt and pulled his arm back, the sunlight bouncing off the clean blade.
“NO!” Melanija screamed.
He plunged the knife deep into Korena’s chest, a wicked smile spreading across his maniacal face. His eyes held a sick mirth as he covered his fingers in her blood and began smearing it over his face.
Something was building up in her chest, she felt it, and as Melanija came within distance to him, she flung herself at him. She held him by the collar and stared him in the eyes, the tears falling without a struggle from her. She screamed again, a sound so feral she felt her humanity had possibly died. The build-up in her chest exploded with the scream, a release of pent up energy that tore through the man’s body, igniting it and turning it to ash.
Her body shook, her eyes staring at the scorch mark beneath her. What had happened? She turned, forgetting about the man almost instantly and scrambled towards Korena, cradling her head gently as she wept. Her beautiful blue eyes were vacant. She mumbled something; she didn’t know what. If only she had been faster…
If only she had been faster…
That was three years ago, and it took eight months to figure out what had happened exactly, even if the crazed man was still a mystery. That’s when her occasional trysts with magic began. She had some potential with the arcane; the primal rage she experienced that day released it.
Melanija returned her gaze at the book, suddenly remembering about the chapter’s contents. How coincidental, she thought. The summons required a candle and only the thought of a spirit to call forth. There were other ways of calling Aether spirits, but she only wanted to see Korena again, if only for a brief moment. She could care less about talking to ancient beings. Besides, she had no idea if this would work, but all the other spells in this old book had been legitimate when she had practiced them so why not this one?
This would be a rather simplistic spell so she leaned forward and stared intensely at the small dancing flame. She allowed her mind to flood with images of Korena—only the happy memories, however, she didn’t want the negative feelings to influence the summons. The flame flickered greatly, growing to about the size of a large man’s fist. Melanija watch curiously as a form began to take shape within the fire.
“My old friend…”
Melanija shot backwards in her chair, surprised. Korena stood before her, a tiny flame sprite standing on the melting candle wax. She tried to speak, but words failed her.
Korena chuckled. “Mellie, please. It feels like ages since we’ve seen each other, say something.”
Her lips trembled and a quake claimed her body. The tears cascaded down her cheeks like a waterfall, her shoulders shaking violently. She held her face in her hands to hide her shame.
“Oh, my dearest and truest friend, please… No tears.” Her voice crackled like burning wood, but was gentle and wonderful all the same.
“How can you call me that when I let you die?!” Melanija couldn’t stop herself from yelling into her palms. All the regret and self-loathing finally escaped its cage.
“Do you really believe that?” Korena questioned sincerely. “I know you didn’t let me go from the world willingly. If I recall correctly, you tried to stop him by slamming your weight against him. But he just shoved you aside, which is why you fell behind in the first place. You tried to save me.”
Melanija shook her head, her voice slightly muffled. “No, I didn’t go for help. I should have!”
“We both know we were far from any village, Mellie.” There was a short silence before she spoke again. “Look at me.”
Her eyes felt like lead, but she managed to look up from her hands. She squinted, the soft orange glow of Korena’s body hurt to look at directly so she stared off to the side into the nothingness of the darkness.
“No,” her friend said sternly. “Look at me.”
She did so, the expression of love and understanding on Korena’s face molding into a memory Mejanija would never forget.
“I’ve been watching you, Mellie.”
The bluntness of her words struck her in a familiar way. Yes, this was her friend’s spirit. Only Korena was so forward.
“You’ve the Gift. But why don’t you have a Familiar yet?”
“Magic isn’t something I practice often. I dabble; that’s it.”
“You should do more than dabble. You’ve the power of a Great One resting inside you. If you studied you could become a force of nature.”
She laughed, her cheeks wet from the now forgotten tears. “Oh, Korena, please. You know better than anyone that I only wish to be left alone. The very idea of being famous makes me cringe.”
“I know, but who said anything about being famous?”
She looked up at her friend with confusion. “What do you mean by that? All Great Ones are well known. They hold seats of power in almost every kingdom.”
“Not all… There is at least one that hides from the public eye. You could do the same if you’re careful with your practices.”
She thought about it for a moment, but what would be the point to having power? It’s not something she cared about. “I guess it’s a possibility, but why should I care if I have that potential? And why would it matter if I have a Familiar?”
Korena chuckled again, the sound filling Malenija with a secure feeling. She felt happy again. “True, you have no real reason to be bothered with the pursuit. But even if you don’t wish to become more than a mere apprentice the Familiar would keep you company.” A solemn expression crossed her fiery features. “I worry about you. You hide yourself away completely from the rest of the world now.”
“You shouldn’t worry. I have a garden and know how to take care of myself.” She felt like she had this discussion one hundred times before in her head, pretending to discuss it with Korena while going for a walk or just before she attempted sleep.
“I do. You may be fine physically but your mental state will soon deteriorate.” She paused for a moment, her body flickering with more intensity. “I don’t want that for you…”
“I have more to say!” Korena interrupted with a loud crack in her voice. “You deserve better than self-imposed loneliness.” She stopped briefly, a thought on her orange lips that she must have been debating internally about. “Let me be your Familiar, Mellie.”
She was speechless. What would that mean for Korena’s spirit? Would she no longer be considered human? Was she considered a human now even if she was currently dead?
The flame sprite chuckled, and Melanija looked at her. “Your face! You’re giving it some serious thought. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine,” she winked playfully.
“Okay, what do I have to do?”
“My, my, that was easy,” Korena laughed loudly, her body flickering brightly as she smiled. “I thought I would have to persuade you for several hours, which would have been impossible since I only have about five minutes left.”
“Only five..?” Her heart sank. She didn’t realize how much time they really had for this visit, nor how many times she was allowed to actually summon her friend. Damn. She wasn't usually so hasty, but the thought of seeing her friend again was so important that she just jumped at the chance.
“Cheer up, you can have as much time with me as you wish if you agree to this.” Korena began to twirl around the candlestick, the length of it now only an inch tall compared to when it had been first lit. Melanija felt a little foolish when she examined it. Of course the spell would only last as long as the candle wax, that was one of the basics she learned from the spell book. “Now pay attention, Mellie—as complicated as it may sound this is actually really simple. Just speak these words: ‘I enter a bond with you, Korena, so that you may become my familiar.’”
It amazed her at how many spells were incredibly simple and easy to perform. Not that there wasn’t complicated or convoluted ones—there was plenty of those, too. She licked her lips, shut her eyes, and spoke softly, repeating every word carefully. She didn’t want to take chances, no matter how easy it may seem. When she opened her eyes the flame was gone. But why? There was still enough wax left to keep Korena here for about three minutes. Where was she? Did Melanija do something wrong? She felt her heart wrench.
There was a hand on her shoulder. She turned slowly to see a woman with flaming red hair and eyes of coal behind her. This strange woman was naked, and Melanija couldn't help but notice the red, erect nipples that caused a stir in her own belly and a blush on her cheeks. But she noticed the face, too. She was different now but that face belonged to Korena.
She bent down and placed a soft kiss on Melanija’s cheek, then moved her lips to her ear, whispering with an emotion she couldn’t place. “And now, Mellie, I am yours. I am your Familiar, and you will never be alone again.”
Maybe now Melanija could find the sleep she desperately wanted with the one she cared for the most back in her life.