When Arady arrived at the dorm, she discovered that her Familiar had emptied her snack reserves in her absence.
“When did you even learn to open drawers?” she asked. Neil rolled over with a contented snort. Arady sighed heavily. He had even gotten into the really good stuff this time: the top-shelf sweets she kept around to bribe upperclassmen, rather than to enjoy herself. The remains of the magical locks were scattered all over the floor, along with the last few miserable crumbs that, evidently, not even Neil had wanted. Arady made sure to roll her eyes particularly hard as she got out the broom. She knew Neil would not notice, but it made her feel better.
Neil had first belonged to Arady’s mother. She had named her Familiar spirit after her first love, the handsome ace pilot who had walked on the Moon. Arady thought this was not merely sappy but also rude, but her mother insisted that Neil’s eyes were just like the astronaut’s, and that anyway it had seemed very cute when he was a little pink-and-brown piglet.
At present, Neil was over two meters from snout to tail and nearly half as tall. He made the castle walls shake when he sat down too fast. As for his eyes, Arady had never actually seen them through the cascade of brow blubber, and she suspected sometimes that her mother hadn’t either.
Arady had only just finished emptying the dust pan when Ange wandered in. “Hey — geez, you’re cleaning again? What happened this time?”
“Neil is killing me,” said Arady. “I mean literally killing.”
Ange laughed. Arady wished urgently for Neil to sit on Ange and see how funny she thought it was then, but would rather not antagonize her fifth roommate in as many months.
“I’ve never heard of an indoor pig before,” said Ange. “I mean, I didn’t know it was a thing.”
“He’s not really indoors so much as not quite understanding walls, like as an abstract concept. Neil goes wherever he wants, whenever he wants.” Arady prodded Neil with her foot; he gave no indication that he had even felt it. Her heart leaped for a moment as she considered that, Gods willing, he might be dead, but his chest was still rising and falling, however slightly. “Anyway, my mom wouldn’t let me come to boarding school unless I brought him with me.”
“That’s just sad.” Ange clicked her tongue; a tiny ball of white fluff zipped out of her unmade bed and hopped onto her shoulder. She petted it absently. “What do you do during tests?”
Arady groaned. “Don’t remind me. Don’t even use the word. Please.”
“Why — ohh, right, the midterm.”
“I’m doomed, Ange! Professor Gerald already hates me after what happened last time, and I cannot fail enchantment this time. I’m going to flunk and end up selling rags by the pound!”
“It’s honest work,” said Ange in what she probably thought was a comforting tone. The fluff cooed along in a decent imitation. “And it’ll be fine if you ace the written part, right?”
“It would be,” said Arady, “if Professor Gerald hadn’t already told me that no one who failed the practical could possibly get such a good grade, and thus that I must have cheated.”
“I guess you are kind of doomed,” said Ange.
“No, no, I’ll think of something,” said Arady. “Maybe I can get a new Familiar and dress it up in a pig costume. Or make a fake Neil out of papier-mâché. Or steal a grimoire from the Dark part of the library, learn a mind control spell, and use it —”
“Arady,” said Ange. “Why don’t you try again to get Neil to help you? I mean, it’s his job.”
Arady wasn’t able to stop herself from laughing in time. “Are you serious?”
“Well — you’re good with psychology, right? You can get anyone to do what you want, even without magic. You got Josie to quit picking on me, and I’m sure she’s smarter than a pig.”
Arady was not actually sure of this herself. “Whatever. I guess I can try, but if this doesn’t work, I’m counting on you to testify at my trial.”
The books Arady consulted spoke at length of “positive reinforcement”, which she considered more than a little unreasonable. For one thing, it presumed that the target actually did things worth being reinforced, as opposed to constantly sleeping, wandering around aimlessly, and trying to eat things and people.
There were a few authors who talked about game theory and self-interest, and the general gist seemed to be that everyone was very selfish even if they didn’t know it themselves. Arady often heard people say that pigs and humans were similar. Greed seemed as prudent a vice to appeal to as any.
“Hello, my beloved Familiar,” she said with all the sweetness she could possibly muster. Neil eyed her with suspicion for a moment, then went back to munching on the gardening class’ begonias. (Arady filed away a mental note to apologize to them later.) “How are you on this absolutely fantastic day?”
Neil completely ignored her this time and moved on to the pansies.
“And no, I’m not on drugs,” she said. “I have a proposition for you. A mutually beneficent deal.”
“Your deals,” said Neil, “generally involve leashes and diets, Arady.”
“This isn’t like that … incident at the bakery. It’s different this time. The stakes are higher. And there are no leashes at all.”
This seemed to pique Neil’s curiosity. He rearranged his stomach rolls and flopped backwards. “What do you want?”
“There’s an enchantment midterm on Tuesday. You just have to show up and do your Familiar magic thing. Do that, and I will fry an entire bag of bread heels for you.”
“Tuesday?” Neil licked his chops. “Nope, sorry. I have a prior engagement that day.”
Arady restrained her anger. “I’m sure you’re mistaken. You don’t have ‘engagements’. Ever.”
“Oh. True. Well…you hardly need my help for enchantment, I think. You’re the best student in your year, no?”
“Except if you don’t share your magic with me, I can’t do any enchanting at all. Listen, I don’t understand why you’re being so unreasonable about this. Ange was right. This is your job. And if—” Arady hadn’t wanted to resort to threats, but pressed on. “ — if you don’t help me, we’re going to have to go back home. Is that what you want?”
“The vegetables at home are tastier,” said Neil. “I’m not sure I’d mind.”
“Ah, but you’ll also have to explain to Mom how badly you messed up.”
Neil seemed to consider this. “You said fried bread heels?”
“With cinnamon, yes.”
“With bacon as well?”
“Bacon was not part of the deal,” said Arady firmly. It occurred to her that she should probably be a little more concerned about her Familiar being a cannibal, but brushed it off.
“I want it to be part of the deal.”
“Fine, then. Fried bread heels and bacon. Whatever you like, just so long as you actually help me.” Arady stood up and brushed the grass from her skirt. Neil continued to look, or at least point his head, at her expectantly. “What?”
“It’s customary,” he said, “to shake hands on the closing of a deal.”
“Yes, when you have hands to shake. Which you don’t.”
At this point Neil began squealing and whining so ferociously that Arady could barely hear herself think, so she felt around for his tiny hooves and shook one gingerly, as if trying to avoid getting water from a wet cloth on herself.
“That wasn’t so bad, now, was it?” Neil asked, and Arady fantasized vividly about frying him in a pan.
The enchantment exam was scheduled for first period, which was a problem, as Neil had trouble with mornings moreso than any other time of day. Fortunately, Arady found an opportunity to “accidentally” lean on the third floor Minor Cosmic Horror Emergency alarm shortly before class. It took well over two hours for the teachers to wake up, check each other’s pass codes in case of shapeshifters, sortie, sweep the area, proclaim it clean, and unlock everything; by that time the adjuncts were complaining, and after a bit of shuffling, it was announced that the test would be moved to one in the afternoon.
“I was worried you really did decide to summon something,” said Ange as they were lining up. “Thank goodness it was just a false alarm.”
Arady nodded and patted Neil’s head. He had fallen asleep at her feet again. “Well, you know, these things are just a matter of being willing to compromise.”
“Maybe I’ll get a pig for my Familiar too,” said Ange. “Next time, I mean. After Sugar Shine dies.”
Arady choked on her own saliva before she could ask what or why. Then Ange’s name was called and she skittered off, towing Sugar Shine — the Honduran white bat — with a shoelace and leaving Arady to gape. Arady couldn’t see into the exam room from the corridor; however, after about five minutes, there came a quiet pop and the faint smell of violets. As there wasn’t any sign of acrid smoke or fleeing victims shouting “my God, she turned a man into funnel cake!”, to take an example completely at random, Arady decided that it had probably gone well.
She, Arady, was called next. (Neil was only lightly dozing; he woke up after minimal prodding.) The auditorium was almost empty; its only contents were a collection of mini potted flowers and Gerald, sitting on a folding chair just outside the chalked circle. He looked over his glasses and frowned.
“Miss Arady,” he said, making something on a clipboard. “Of course. So…nice of you to join us.”
“I’m sorry,” said Arady. She immediately felt foolish for apologizing, but Gerald had a finely honed skill for making people feel they had done something wrong.
“Your assignment today,” Gerald continued, “is as follows. You will take one of the allotted flower pots —” he gestured at the flowers — “and enchant them to fly. This can take no more than eight minutes. The exact enchantment is your choice. You must, however, use an enchantment. Do not transmute the flowers into a flying animal or object. Do not affix them to a flying animal or object. Do not hold the pot and enchant yourself or a tool to fly. Do not attempt a Reversal spell to switch air and dirt; this will bury us both alive. Do not direct the flying flowers towards yourself or others. Do not eat the flowers and claim that they flew away so fast that I simply missed them.”
Arady looked at him. “Do you really have to say all of—”
“I am not at liberty to discuss past iterations of this exam.” Gerald made another mark on the clipboard. “You may use your own tools, within reason. Please begin.”
Arady pulled her wand from its holster and examined a potted marigold, committing every petal and fleck of soil to memory. She pushed a length of chalk from the tip of her wand and marked the pot with the appropriate runes, then sat it down on the floor. She visualized the marigolds levitating sedately, about one meter off the ground. (It was probably safer, she reasoned, than making them swoop around like birds.) The marigolds are definitely floating, she asserted firmly in her mind. That is certainly a thing they can do, and there is absolutely nothing preventing them from doing it.
She opened one eye and was disturbed to see that the flowers were still on the floor. Gerald cleared his throat quietly. Arady whipped around to Neil, who was asleep again.
“Neil,” she hissed. “Magic, please?”
“Yeah, whatever,” Neil mumbled. Arady felt a brief tug; the marigolds jolted briefly, as if they had been kicked, but conspicuously failed to fly. She adjusted her mental image to half a meter off the ground, but they didn’t move. Gerald cleared his throat again, louder this time.
“We shook on it!” Arady whispered. “I shook your nasty little muddy foot! And promised you all that fried food!”
“I’ve been thinking, I’m more in the mood for lighter food today …”
Gerald cleared his throat a third time. “Miss Arady…”
“I told you anything is fine, so just get to it!”
“Anything? Really?” Neil showed his teeth. It was not a pretty sight. “You sure?”
“Yes! Oh, but don’t eat the flowers, the professor already said not to.”
Arady was sure, later, that she heard something like “fine by me”, and then an enormous roar like the felling of a great tree.
She had thought Neil was big before, but now his head nearly touched the ceiling, steam rolling off his thick hide. His pink skin could no longer be seen through a tangle of coarse brown-black hair. Those terrific teeth were now enormous tusks, and his eyes were, yes, very blue now that Arady could see them. This, then, was what her mother had been thinking of when she sent him to protect and guide her only daughter.
The marigolds were flying exactly as Arady had imagined; this hardly mattered, as Professor Gerald was nowhere to be seen.
“You didn’t,” she said hoarsely.
“You said anything,” Neil responded. His voice was much louder and less friendly now. Arady remembered the fairy tale about the singing bone, where the good brother gets killed and eaten by a wild boar, every scrap of flesh stripped away. She swallowed and reminded herself that this was the same silly piggy she’d played with as a toddler.
“Even the chair?” she asked bravely.
“It was a bit crunchy, I admit.”
“I — we’re going to be in a lot of trouble for this, you realize?”
“I told you, the vegetables at home taste better anyway.” Neil knelt down, a knot of hair slipping down to the ground; it took Arady a minute to realize that he was inviting her to climb up and ride on his back. “Now, about that fried bread…”
- Arady’s Familiar
- Matthew Ellison
- Date Published
- Word Count
- Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0
- Fantasy, Humor, Magic, Negotiations, Witches
- Source URL
- A little witch needs the cooperation of her familiar spirit to pass the term, but it can’t change its fundamental nature.
Arady's Familiar by Matthew Ellison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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© 2014 Matthew Ellison. Some rights reserved.