“You excited?” Allison looked up from scratching the ears of her Siamese. Apricot purred in approval.

Ella, the object of the question, didn’t respond.

“Well, are you?” Logan asked. Loki dove from a branch and landed on Logan’s shoulder. The crow eyed Apricot and cawed.

Logan smoothed Loki’s feathers. “Apricot won’t bother you.”

“Apricot has more to fear from Loki,” Allison said.

Logan grinned. Companions adopted the attitude of their bond witch and Logan was mischievous.

“Ignore them.” Zoe dropped into the grass beside Ella. Zither, her corn snake, draped around Zoe like a shawl.

Logan handed Loki a bit of apple. “You know, Ella, I expected a big working dog or wolf for my companion, but Loki’s perfect for me.”

Ella snorted. “You mean he’s perfect for recon.”

“Exactly. He’s perfect,” Logan said. Loki had proven himself on many flights, improving Logan’s success rate for pranks.

Ella sighed. She wanted a unique companion.

“Later.” Logan walked away as Loki took to the skies. “Come on, Allison. I’ll walk you home.”

Zoe patted Zither and turned her focus to Ella. “I know you’re nervous. I was too, but tomorrow you’ll have your companion. Meet me before class so our companions can meet.”

Ella waved bye to Zoe and laid back in the grass. It was a beautiful day with small wispy clouds moving slowly across the sky. Tomorrow, she would be thirteen. The day a witch summoned a companion. Once the summoning spell was cast, the companion had three minutes to appear. The creature would be non-magical, but necessary for major castings. A witch without a bonded companion wasn’t much of a witch.

Back home, Ella’s brother, Caden, played with his chipmunk. Her mother’s squirrel sat on a rung of the rocker. Papaw’s ferret lay in his lap while he read the paper. All perfectly ordinary. Powerful companions appeared to powerful witches. Ordinary companions appeared to ordinary witches. The only thing worse that an ordinary companion would be no companion. If none responded to Ella’s summoning spell, she would be expelled from school and have to finish her education in the human world. It was rare that a child of two witches failed, but it wasn’t unheard of. Failure was Ella’s biggest fear.

Dinner was a quiet affair, just family, followed by an evening of reading, Ella’s favorite pastime. On her way to bed, Ella walked by Caden’s room.

“Don’t worry, sis. You’ll do fine,” Caden said.

Ella smiled. It was rare he offered her encouragement. Two years ago, Caden had bragged to her about how his companion would be a predator. When a chipmunk had answered his summoning, he had been disappointed, but now Caden and Cap were inseparable. Surely, it would be the same for her.

Before the sun rose, Ella dressed, walked into the kitchen, and poured a cup of tea. “No eggs for me today.”

Her mother smiled knowingly. “Okay, finish your tea and go.”

Throat suddenly too dry to speak, Ella nodded. She grabbed the timer, walked through the garden, and up the steps to the family summoning tree. It was a powerful talisman for her family. Ella normally loved the view from atop the overlook, surrounded by rocks and trees. Today she only had eyes for the huge summoning tree. Just as the sun rose, Ella said the summoning spell.

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Ella finished the summoning and turned the three-minute timer. She watched the tree, constantly glancing out of the corner of her eye as the black sand fell through the glass. When the sand was nearly gone, Ella saw movement in the bush beside the tree.

An adult black panther padded toward her. The powerful feline stopped and bowed before Ella. Ella reached out and laid her hand on the cat’s forehead and felt a rush of power as they bonded. The panther wished to be called Evie. Ella smiled. They would do amazing things together.