I trace my fingers over the runes etched on the handle of the old dagger and read them aloud. Sarn Meliaken. It's amazing how little those words mean to me, how they no longer evoke fondness and sorrow and pride. My name, and my father's and grandfather's name before me, and it feels strange. Like it's not mine anymore.
Shaking my head as if that would get rid of my thoughts, I shoulder my backpack and walk away from camp. I've been on the road for thirteen days now, heading approximately east by northeast, and I still have no idea where I'm going.
My mother cried when I left. She clutched me in a hug so tight that I thought she'd never let go, sobbing and pleading incoherently. I knew why she was so upset - my father and three brothers, two older and one younger, had died adventuring - but I couldn't bring myself to care. That disturbed me more than anything else.
I stood there for a moment, letting her cry into my armour, then slowly pried her arms off my shoulders and pushed her gently back. I turned around without saying a word, and I walked away.
I thought then that I might be under an evil spell, that I was leaving to a great danger that I would not even try to fend off. I still am afraid of that now. But despite my fears, I can't quite convince myself to stop. I've never been the incredibly curious type: I was consent to stay home while the rest of my family ran off and got themselves killed, but now I can't stand not knowing why I journey, where I am going. I have to go over just one more hill, cross just one more river, walk just one more day, to see if this time I will find out what draws me. This day, the fourteenth day, I have a good feeling about.
I laugh, the sound clear in the morning, rising with the mist. It feels good. "Don't kid yourself," I say to myself, loudly. "You felt good about solving this mystery yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. You are a fool, my friend. You are a fool." I call myself my friend. I haven't called myself Sarn since I left.
The rolling hills have become steeper. Rivers cut deep trails through and under the earth. Yesterday my path led behind a magnificent waterfall that must have been a hundred meters high. Tiny white flowers twined over the rocks and opened their star-shaped eyes in the spray. The slick rocks were worn into strange, twisted shapes. But I didn't even pause.
It is late summer, and the many briars and trees bear fruit and nuts. Game is plentiful. I find food easily, barely needing to pause. Luck seems to be with me.
No one bothers me. A few come close enough to see my face, then run. Word must have spread. They think I'm possessed.
My fifth day out, I was beset by bandits. They blocked my path and demanded money, and I simply walked around them. They shoved me down, and I stood back up and continued. I didn't feel like dealing with them. My strange impulsion was more important. They drew swords and challenged me, and I ignored them. They stole my father's sword from the sheath where it hung at my belt, and I walked on. They took my belt with all my money and a pouch full of dried meat, and I cared nothing for the loss. They watched in disbelief as I just kept marching without looking back, and then they dropped my belongings and ran, yelling of witchcraft and demon possession. I was no more than ten meters from my sword and belt, but it didn't seem worth the effort to turn back, and I kept going. The only reason I still have the dagger etched with my father's name is because it was tucked in my boot instead of my belt.
It's no wonder everyone fears me. I fear myself.
I tread on, watching the sun climb higher before me. A lake fills the valley before me. I seem to be heading for it. I wonder sarcastically if I will turn off at the last minute, or if I will just walk deeper and deeper until I drown.
Something shiny catches my eye. Oddly enough, I stop. Turning to the side, I approach it carefully. It looks like a coin, but if it is, it's not a familiar metal. Like gold, but not quite. I kneel to pick it up from the grass.
It's not a coin, but it's about that size: almost as long as my finger, and a time and a half as wide. It's shaped like a rounded arrowhead, or a flattened kernel of corn. It's a peculiar colour, kind of a dingy gold brushed with pale green. It is slightly concave, and very smooth. A scale? But what has a scale this large, and of such an interesting shade? I raise my eyes to the lake again.
Slowly I pick my way down to the shore. There, I stop again. I feel lost, alone. My eyes water embarrassingly. I haven't cried since I was a boy. But I want so much for someone to be there, for someone to explain everything. I look around desperately, but only the sky and the hills and the lake greet my vision. I am abandoned. I will die here, and no one will care. No one will even know!
I take a deep breath and look more carefully. A hawk circles high overhead to the north. Butterflies flit along the shoreline, landing delicately on the flowers of the lake's weeds. Mice move through the grass with a soft rustle. An ocelot sprawls on a rock nearby, watching me.
The cat catches my attention. It has such intelligent green eyes. I approach it carefully, not wanting to scare it away. I kneel. I stretch my hand out slowly and close my eyes. Suddenly my fingers brush the soft marbled fur. I open my eyes. The ocelot is only watching me. It's eyes are bright with interest, but the cat is completely relaxed. I stroke it, marvelling at its softness, warmth, and calm.
He - I decide the cat is definitely a he - cocks his head. I get the impression of wonder, then pride and increasing joy. He is pleased with me! He likes me! He is impressed with himself.
He stiffens, and I feel him concentrate, a small tightening, almost light-headedness, in my brain. A few seconds pass, and he relaxes and smiles his feline smile.
All the pleasure I felt before is abruptly tenfold. I sense happiness, satisfaction. I am sure the cat is smirking. He is proud of me, there is no doubt. He is pleased with himself because I am here. Because I am here?
I shake my head. "I could have sworn you spoke," I say to the cat.
Felial, he says again. It feels like he is calling me.
"Felial?" The word fits me somehow.
That is your name.
"Yes," I say. I realize suddenly that it is. I don't know how or why, but it is. "Who are you?"
He laughs. My name is Tewendi Arion. Two weeks ago, I called you to me. I am so glad you finally showed up. He stretches and blurs. The dark marbling disappears from his tawny coat, and the fur smoothes into scales, and suddenly the head in front of me is nearly as large as my own. The eyes are the same friendly, unblinking green. He stretches his wings out, flaps once, then folds them neatly back against his sides.
I feel no fear, perhaps because his shoulder only comes up to my waist and he has to stretch to make his head level with mine. I smile at the dragon, who smiles back and laughs again.
"I honestly wasn't sure it would work," Arion says aloud. His voice is as familiar as my own, startlingly similar to how I imagined it when I mysteriously understood his feline form. "I've never had a familiar before."
• Created by: Julia C. Hoekstra
©Julia C. Hoekstra. All rights reserved!
• Keywords: Arion
• Categories: Dragons, Drakes, Wyverns, etc
, Magic and Sorcery, Spells, etc.
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