Barkley led the children through the well-lit hallway, talking as he did. "Now, we normally save this particular event for much later on in your education, but as you're the special class, we decided that you should have a few... perks, for lack of a better word." The pleasantly awkward attitude he'd had when talking to Lola the previous day was all but gone, replaced by a serious and business-like manner.
Lola raised her hand as they went. Somehow, Barkley noticed it without actually turning around. "Yes, Lola?"
Practically skipping along, she asked, "What are we doing?"
Barkley halted, forcing them to come to a stumbling halt. He turned around, a wide smile on his face. "How much do you kids know about familiars?"
Lola raised her hand again, and his eyes flicked to her. "Yes?"
Before she could say anything, Carl spoke, brushing a hand through his hair with a smirk. "Familiars are a wizard's closest ally. Great is their power, magnificent is their intelligence. Truly a worthy companion to one such as myself!"
Barkley smiled thinly. "...Yes, quite. But does anyone know what they are? More specifically," he added, noting Carl as he began to pose. "what do they do? How exactly can they help you? Lola, I believe you were about to give an answer. By all means, continue."
Lola beamed. "They're like a super helpful pet that you summon with your mana! I really wanted one for a long time." And I got one, too! She thought cheerfully to herself. She congratulated herself on how good she was getting at not mentioning Codex. Well, she hadn't summoned him, per se, but still.
Carolin added, "Yeah, well, they're pretty hard to get, right?"
Barkley agreed, turning around to continue. "Yes, they certainly are. However, as they require a variety of licenses, you will be allowed to summon one and only one. And, against common preconceptions, they are not made of mana. "
Carl tried to pose while walking and somehow pulled it off. "Indeed, only the truly great have the ability to summon these mysterious and powerful entities known as familiars!"
Staring at Lola, Forrest blurted, "I bet yours is gonna be really cool!"
He shrank as Lola spun to him, a million-dollar grin on her face. "Thanks! I hope I get something cute."
Forrest's head bobbed, short brown hair floofing uncontrollably and inevitably getting messed up. "M-m-me too!"
Carolin shook her head for some reason, sighing deeply. Barkley seemed to agree with her.
They arrived at a large door. It was crafted from a dull gray metal, with ornate spirals and curves decorating its surface. Heavy bolts pierced the rim of its circular edge, giving a very tough overall appearance. In the center was a dark ruby, red tendrils infusing the material and radiating from it.
Barkley approached it and placed a hand on the ruby, closing his eyes. The gemstone darkened rapidly, pulling the infusions of crimson towards it. A loud chink could be heard by everyone who had ears, which obviously excluded Codex. Moving his hand sideways, Barkley gripped a previously unseen handle and pulled, revealing an utterly black wall behind it. Despite its undulating and rippling appearance, Barkley walked straight through without any hesitation, vanishing into its depths instantly.
Lola's eyes widened, Forrest releasing a loud squeak. Carolin raised an eyebrow outrageously high, and Carl stepped back, a dramatically shocked expression on his face. Dawn didn't seem to react at all, simply staring at the place where Barkley had disappeared.
A short moment later, his head poked back through it, frowning. "What are you waiting for? Come on, we haven't got all day. I mean, I guess we do. Wait, do we - oh, never mind. Just come through." He retreated, muttering something to himself about time and tenses.
Without the slightest trepidation, Dawn immediately hovered through the door, sinking into its shifting surface. The other students stared at the door with a curious mixture of fascination and terror.
Lola stomped forward, forcing her limbs to move as she screwed her eyes shut. If she was going to be the Magelord, she couldn't wait around for others to be braver than she was!
She could tell the moment she went through. A sliding sensation, as if she was walking through cold, heavy curtains, pressed against her as she forged onward. It seemed to last several minutes, though it was really only a few seconds, and she was through.
Lola opened her eyes as the pushy feeling went away, looking around in awe. The dome-shaped room arched at least a hundred feet in the air and three times as much outwards, which should have been impossible considering no such room was visible from outside. Dark stone balconies ringed the edge, the vague outlines of people walking around it. Four enormous, ornate stone pillars stretched up to meet in the center of the ceiling, meeting in a large square with what appeared to be an impossibly thin spire hanging down. Blue torches lit the room, casting everything with a pale glow, as if they were underwater.
Underground might have been more accurate. The air was cool and dry, coldly rippling across her skin and making her shiver. Dawn, floating next to her, appeared utterly nonplussed with the room and its temperature, despite wearing exactly the same clothes as Lola.
Behind her, Carl stumbled out of the shifting portal, eyes widening as he took in the size. "Truly, this is a grand arena indeed! This can only be the place where we shall battle our soon-to-be familiars!"
Barkley's right hand twitched, as if he desperately wanted to facepalm. "Carl, you don't have to fight your familiars for them to Bind to you. We're going to be doing all the heavy lifting, so to speak."
Carolin passed through with a confident gait, whistling as she appreciated the room. "Wow. This is really something else. Wasn't that a Gate?"
Barkley nodded with a grin. "It certainly was. It took quite some effort and expense on our part to get it to work properly, mind you. Gates are no easy task for beginners, and even if they work correctly, there's a chance that it'll destabilize and take who knows what with it as it collapses."
Lola gazed at the bottom and center of the dome, where there were five large chalk circles drawn on the ground. There weren't any inscriptions or carvings as Lola had thought, but were simple, albeit flawlessly round.
As Forrest was gently assisted through the Gate by a well-dressed aide, the students walked toward the circles. It was fairly obvious what they were supposed to do.
Standing in the circles, they waited as Barkley gave them their instructions. "All right, this should be fairly easy. This dome was built to enhance the flows of dimensional magic immensely. Call it a side effect of the Gate, but familiars are easier to summon here than anywhere else. Remember, you're not going to get a level two-hundred dragon on accident. That's simply not possible. Familiars match your personalities and power, not your wants and fantasies."
Drawing complex, floating black circles around him, Barkley removed his thin midnight grimoire and flipped through the pages, muttering spells to himself at high speed. The circles they were standing in began to glow, casting the childrens' shadows upwards onto the ceiling.
A moment later, Barkley shouted, "All right, focus on your status and then pour all the mana you've got into the concept of summoning. Picture a map of shining stars, and pull one towards you."
Lola closed her eyes tightly, following his instructions. All right, I have to give all my mana away. Come here, familiar! I swear I'm really nice!
Suddenly, she was hovering over an enormous, uneven area. She felt around for a moment in the giant space, wondering if this was how Dawn felt all the time, and sensed a strange pinprick under where her palm should be. Clenching her soft hand into a fist, she tugged. At the same time, she saw another star hurtle towards her, one she hadn't been looking at.
Her eyes flicked open as two dense glows appeared in front of her. Barkley's eyes narrowed. Putting the relative ease of the process aside, it literally should not have been possible for Lola to summon more than one familiar. He'd specifically manipulated the magic to avoid allowing any of them to do so, which either meant she'd overpowered his magic (unlikely) or...
He really didn't know any other possibilities, and resolved to check back with Principal Faxter regarding Lola's status.
Lola's eyes sparkled in excitement as the glows stabilized, finding form and color on the sandy floor.
As her vision was overwhelmed with one final flash, a furry, pokey creature slammed into her, knocking her over.
(Summon successful! You have Bound a cavyrn to you.)
As the spots faded, she saw what looked like a cat crossed with a dragon.
No, that wasn't quite right. It was mostly covered in deep blue fur, and while its kitten-like face and slitted yellow eyes curiously stared at her, she could see navy, leathery knobbly wings where its front legs should be, three sharp claws hooking into her shirt. A line of short, dull spikes protruded from its spine, crawling all the way up from the tip of its sturdy tail, shrinking to a point just behind the back of its head and the two curvy horns poking from behind its fuzzy ears.
Lola hugged it immediately, and it protested with a hiss before realizing that hey, this is actually quite nice, and snuggling into her arms.
(Summon successful! Oculahl bound to Codex.)
As another, duller flash of light interrupted her hug, she looked over to see an unusual creature. It had the overall bodily appearance of an owl, except its face was covered in a flat mask, the top of which curved in a wide V. Its feathers were a greasy black, diluting down to a dark purple at the tips. Aside from the curious face and unusual coloring, it didn't look any different from a very young owl, feathers sticking out at odd angles.
Looking around, Lola realized everyone had gotten a creature of some kind. Dawn was holding a delicate fairy above her hand, a tiny green woman with a sleeveless dress, bare feet, and tulips sprouting from her thorny green hair. A black, yellow-bellied snake with three pairs of beetle-like wings was spiraling around Carolin with what could only be described as a derpy smile, its forked tongue sticking out the side of its mouth. Forrest was cringing under the weight of a massive two-headed pepper-colored dog, small nubs sprouting from the top of each drooling head, and Carl was posing with a miniature lion, fire flickering through its mane.
Lola clapped her hands, hugging the cayvrn to her chest. This was going to be so much fun!