As she walked through the dark forest, Myrna’s pulse quickened. When she had left her house, the sky had been a clear blue, the sun shining high in the sky. But as soon as she had entered the Jaded Woods, the trees overhead had immediately swallowed all light, leaving her surroundings shrouded in gloom. Maybe going into the forest had been a mistake… Myrna shook her head. This forest was the only place in all of Thirdom where woundwort grew, and it was the last ingredient she needed for her potion. She felt a surge of determination. Once she completed this potion, she was sure the Witch’s Academy had to let her in.
Myrna was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t notice something was following her until it was almost upon her. The snap of a branch breaking directly behind her was enough to make her whirl around, and one look at those glowing yellow eyes had her off in the other direction. Her mind raced, going over every spell she had ever read about, but nothing seemed like it would help in this situation. The despair began to seep in, and she didn’t have to look behind her to know that the creature was catching up to her.
Suddenly, she remembered a pouch of flash powder she had picked up from a traveling peddler. She fumbled at the bag at her waist, desperately trying to remember which pocket it was—aha! Scooping out a handful of the dark, gritty powder, she spun on her heel and hurled it at the oncoming beast. She had time to see a flash of light as the tiny particles ignited, but she didn’t stop to see its effect; she was off in a new direction.
She ran for as long as she could, bushes and branches whipping past her, scratching her, pulling at her cloak and skirt. Finally, when her lungs began to burn from her labored breathing, and she knew she couldn’t run any longer, she stopped. The forest still spun as she looked around, searching for any sign that the creature was still in pursuit. She strained her ears, but the thumping of her heart as it tried frantically to return oxygen to her body was deafening. She crouched on the ground, holding her head in her hands, and began to silently recite the All’s Well spell. After several minutes she could feel her heart rate slowing, the ache in her lungs receding. Her strength was returning, her body returning to its natural equilibrium. She looked up from her crouched position, and although her face stung from the tiny scratches the trees had inflicted on her, and her legs ached with exertion, at least she no longer felt like she was actively dying. She took a deep breath and took stock of her situation. She seemed to be safe for the moment; the forest around her was quiet, and though it was as dark as always, she could see no obvious threats. Getting home would be no problem with her homing ring, which would glow brighter when she was facing toward her home. Still, she felt… stupid. Why had she thought it would be a good idea to enter the forest, unaccompanied and unprotected? She could never tell her family about this. Her parents would be furious and might even try to stop her from going to the Witch’s Academy. Although it probably wouldn’t even matter since she hadn’t found the woundwort.
Myrna felt tears pricking at her eyes. She had never felt more like a fool than in this moment. Heaving a heavy sigh, she reached into her pouch to get her healing salve. It wouldn’t completely heal the scratches on her face, but it would at least make it so her parents wouldn’t notice right away. She found the salved and pried the lid off, using a little too much force; the lid went flying into the brush. Muttering in annoyance, she crouched, squinting in the gloom at the ground. She found the lid a few feet away, but when she reached down to pick it up, she gasped. The lid was nestled in a patch of dark gray plants, small, spiked leaves stretching up the stems, and dark green flowers just beginning to blossom. Woundwort. Again, Myrna felt like crying, but this time from happiness. Her trip wasn’t wasted after all.
Heart soaring, Myrna picked a bunch of the herbs, placing them carefully into a designated pocket of her bag. As she reached for a few more stalks, her hand grazed against something smooth and… warm? Gently brushing some of the woundwort aside, she uncovered what looked like a smooth gray stone. But touching it revealed that it was indeed the source of the warmth. Myrna’s heart skipped a beat. Could this be a dragon’s egg? She hardly dared to hope. Dragon eggs, while not entirely rare, were still hard to find, especially by anyone who wasn’t a professional egg hunter. Dragons only laid one egg in their lifetime, dying shortly after. They were usually left by the parent in a secluded location, lying dormant until a human found it and initiated the hatching process. They were sometimes sold by familiar shops, but were usually the most expensive, ranging anywhere from several hundred gold pieces to thousands, depending on color. The shell was usually an accurate depiction of what color the dragon would be when it emerged. Myrna had never heard of a gray dragon before. Had she come across some rare breed? Regardless, she knew she had to take it home. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined having a dragon as a familiar. For the past year, ever since she had decided to try for the Witch’s Academy, she had been saving money from odd jobs to buy a familiar. But she knew she would only be able to afford a tabby cat, or maybe a horned toad.
Despite her scare from earlier, Myrna was sure today was the luckiest day of her life.
Bag filled with more woundwort than she could ever need, Myrna scooped up the gray egg. It was big, but she was able to hold it comfortably in two hands. She decided carrying it like this was the safest way. Bewilderingly, it only took about 5 minutes to escape the forest. She supposed she must have run in circles when being chased earlier. She shivered at the memory. Once out of the forest, her surroundings were almost blindingly bright. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she glanced around warily. The paths were deserted this close to the dreaded Jaded Forest, but you never knew what kinds of thieves and bandits you could encounter this far from town. As she approached her home, she tucked the egg into her cloak. She opened the front door slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. If she could just get upstairs without her family noticing….
“Hey Myrna! Where ya been?”
Myrna jumped so high she almost hit her head on the ceiling. “Witch’s brew, don’t sneak up on me like that, Lill!” she exclaimed, whirling to face her little sister whilst simultaneously attempting to hide the egg further inside her cloak. Lillan just grinned up at her sister in that annoying way little sisters do.
“Go away, I’m busy.” Myrna tried to walk past her sister, but Lillan stepped in her way again.
“C’mon, you promised me we’d play Rich Man, Poor Man today.”
Myrna just rolled her eyes. “We can play later; I have stuff to do for the witch’s exam.” This time she managed to push past her sister and start up the stairs.
But this didn’t stop Lillan. “Can I watch? Please? I’ll be quiet.”
Myrna groaned. She knew there was no getting rid of Lillan, or else she’d whine and pout the rest of the day. “Fine. But you can’t tell dad or papa, okay?”
“Ooh, are you doing something dangerous?”
“Kind of….” Myrna hoped she wasn’t making a mistake in inviting Lillan, but it was too late now.
Once in her room, Myrna made sure to bolt the door. She also added a silence spell just for good measure. Who knew how loud a newly hatched baby dragon could be. She pulled the egg out of her cloak, setting it down on her work desk amidst her various potion ingredients and spell slips.
“Woah… is that an egg?” Lillan’s eyes were as big as scrying glasses.
Myrna didn’t answer; she was busy gathering the necessary materials. Cauldron, powdered dragon’s blood, snowflake obsidian… what else? She turned to her bookshelf, scanning for what she needed. Finding it, she pulled out her copy of Familiar’s A-Z: How to Find and Bond Any Familiar. Flipping through, she found the passage on egg hatching. “Moon water!” Once she had all the materials laid out, she lit her cauldron.
Lillan was still looking at the egg. “Where did you get it?” she asked, awestruck.
“Just found it,” Myrna replied, unwilling to admit she had been in the Jaded Forest.
Once the moon water in the cauldron began to boil, she started preparing the other ingredients. For once, Lillan was quiet as she watched her sister in fascination. Ingredients added, Myrna picked up the egg and gently placed it in the cauldron. The water had turned a murky reddish-brown, but as she watched it cleared into a clear orange. Quickly, she took the egg out and placed it back on the desk, a cloth underneath as cushioning.
“Is it gonna hatch now?” Lillan whispered. Myrna just nodded. Both of their eyes were glued to the egg, watching for the slightest movement. After a moment of tense scrutiny, a tiny crack appeared in the egg’s surface. It slowly grew bigger, and bigger, until something poked out. It was thin and scaled, maybe the dragon’s tail. But a moment later the end split open and a tiny, forked tongue slithered out. A snake? With a sharp crack, the egg fell apart, exposing a creature that was most definitely not a dragon. The snake appeared to be a tail, attached to hindquarters with coarse brown fur and hooved feet. But the head was that of a kitten, eyes still closed, and ears pressed tight against its head. The sisters could only stare in shock.
Finally, Lillan broke the silence. “What is it?” Her tone betrayed bemusement.
“It’s… it’s a….” Myrna was still in shock.
On the desk, the tiny creature shuffled until it was completely free of the egg pieces. It moved in tiny jerking movements. It lifted its head toward the sound of the girls’ voices, blind eyes unseeing. Opening its mouth, it let out a soft Meep!
Myrna’s heart melted. She reached out, carefully lifting the creature and holding it to her chest.
“It’s a baby chimera,” she said softly.
At least no one else at the Witch’s Academy would have a chimera for a familiar.
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