This had all started because Lance was told that he needed to brighten up.
It wasn’t an accusation. Rather, he thought it was a fair assessment, no matter how much it bothered him. See, every mage reached a point where the input of magic flowing into them didn’t match the output. Sometimes that meant they were taking in too little and using too much, or it meant they were taking in too much and using too little.
For Lance’s family, the problem was always the latter. He came from a bloodline that produced astounding magic users with talents in a variety of different fields. His father, Alfor, was a talented mechanic, and could fuse machinery and magic like no one else. Not only that, but he’d created a new type of teleportation magic, one that had been fostered in his first child, Lance’s older sister Allura. She could create dimension doors with a wave of her hand, like her body was infused with the very essence of space.
Lance’s inclinations with magic took more after his mother. She’d been a well-trusted healer, one who’d created a myriad of new spells to treat all kinds of illnesses. Lance had studied her skills in healing and regeneration magic. He liked to think he was good at what he did. He’d started combining his spell work with water magic, since a subclass of healing spells could be manifested through water to make the spells more powerful.
It could be tough, using magic. Magic energy came from the world around the user, and tempering it so that it was safe for use was a vital skill to learn. If magic was kindling, then a mage had to be the spark to light it. Too much force and a blaze would start. Too little, and there’d be nothing but smoke.
Mages who dealt with more powerful spells and magic work, like Lance and his family, tended to require help portioning off their magic use. Falling out of balance with magic could leave them lethargic and unwell. Now that Lance was experimenting with spell work, he found himself constantly tired, and unwilling to do the things he normally enjoyed doing. It was difficult to balance his magic intake when he was unsure how much a particular spell would require.
Acquiring a companion to help with that was considered an honour. Only the strongest magic users had companions. Allura already had a little mouse companion that sat on her shoulder while she did her spells. Lance knew his mother had had doves.
When it became clear that Lance’s spell work was getting to that upper threshold, his father told him to look into finding a companion.
“You seem so down lately,” he’d said, brushing hair away from Lance’s eyes as Lance sat slumped against his desk, his cheek pressed to the wood. “Maybe having a companion would brighten you up a little.”
Lance knew he was right, of course. There was little his father was ever wrong about.
Finding a companion, however, was not an easy task. There had to be a certain level of compatibility between the two that was hard to find. Not only that, but a companion had to be a creature born of magic, since they would be aiding the mage with their magic usage. Allura’s mouse wasn’t a normal mouse, and his mother’s doves hadn’t been normal doves.
He should’ve tried to find a creature that could help him with his water magic, one that had an affinity for it.
His choice, however, was felt like it was made for him by fate.
Most companions could be found through a service in the city. Any willing creature could offer themselves to a mage they felt had potential. He didn’t find his companion there, nor was his companion any usual magic creature.
One evening, when he’d been walking through the sprawling woods behind the city, he came across something unexpected. His family home sat on the upper outskirts of the city, where it was peaceful and quiet. The city’s expansive library and hospital were nearby, so work was never far. Behind their manor was the woods. Paths were marked through it, though not terribly deep, since wilder creatures lived there. Lance always stayed to the safe path, and that evening had been no different.
But there was something unexpected in the woods.
Or rather, someone.
He sensed an overflow of magic first. It was like a wave of heat in the air, one that made his skin prickle with sweat entirely out of place for the season. He’d spotted blood on the foliage away from the path, and let his concern get the better of him by following it into the trees.
What he found was a wolf. A big one. It was easy as tall as Lance, and twice as broad as him. Its fur was pitch black, and when he approached, its massive head swing towards him, teeth bared in a snarl. A wound marred its muzzle, bloody and matted. It had the strangest violet eyes.
Lance was confused. Magic creatures this large didn’t stray near the city, and he’d never seen one like this anyway. There was an almost human quality to its eyes, one that threw him off. Not only that, but the wolf was leaking magic like a broken tap.
“You’re hurt,” was the first thing that came out of Lance’s mouth for some unfathomable reason. “Let me help.”
The wolf was untrusting. That was to be expected. Lance approached slowly, his hands raised to show he wasn’t up to anything. He let his magic pulse out of him a little, subtle and gentle. Healers had to be good at calming their patients. He was sure that it was because of his training that the wolf let him approach.
Water condensed out of the air, collecting in his palm. He held it out towards the wolf and waited. Cautious, its teeth still flashing, the wolf lowered its head towards Lance’s outstretched hand. Lance eased the water over the wound, watching it with critical eyes. A faint blue glow appeared where they were connected as his magic took effect. This was an easy spell, one he’d done a hundred times over. He had no trouble sealing the wound.
When it was done, he pulled his hand back, and grinned at the dumbfounded look on the wolf’s face. “There,” he said, pleased, “feel better?”
The wolf let out a little rumble.
As it turned out, the wolf was no normal wolf. Rather, he was a wolf shifter, and his name was Keith. They had an odd connection, the two of them. Shifters were rare – not quite mage, not quite beast, but an alluring mix of the two – and so Lance had never seen one before. For some reason, Keith trusted him with that secret. He’d shifted back to his human form that evening in the woods so that they could speak.
They spent the better part of the next month meeting in the woods behind Lance’s house, getting to know one another. Lance found it hard to stay away. He got to know a lot about Keith in those few short weeks – he learned about Keith’s family, and where he used to live, and how he’d been injured. The woods had been warm that evening because Keith had a proficiency for fire magic, though he rarely used it, since shifting was a better use of his energy. In return for Keith’s story, Lance shared his own, often talking of his family, his job, his aspirations and his current problem with his magic output.
It was actually Keith who suggested he become Lance’s companion.
That was surprising for a number of reasons. Firstly, shifters didn’t usually become companions. They were human, after all. They weren’t a creature, even if they could shift into the form of a beast. It wasn’t illegal for a shifter to become a companion, it was just uncommon. Incredibly uncommon. A lot of people would try to take advantage of a shifter and their immense skill with magic, after all. Any mage tied to one would become the envy of those around them.
Secondly, Keith didn’t seem like the type to offer such a thing himself. Lance quickly learned that Keith wasn’t very forthcoming with his emotions. He was rather stony-faced, and kept himself in check. He could be competitive – in fact, his competitiveness rivalled Lance’s, which was a feat in of itself – but he wasn’t emotionally energetic like Lance was, or anything like that. Lance never imagined him wanting to tie himself to Lance in the way companionship did.
His confusion must have shown on his face, because Keith felt the need to explain, albeit while looking a little embarrassed.
“Being your companion would be beneficial for both of us,” he insisted, like Lance wasn’t already on board with the idea. “I can measure your magic, and you can keep me safe.” An uncharacteristically vulnerable look had passed over his face. “Right?”
“Of course.” Lance wouldn’t have hesitated to accept Keith as his companion at that point. “If that’s what you want, I’m more than willing, Keith.”
“I want to keep you safe too,” Keith told him, determined.
Lance flushed, pleased and red-cheeked. He’d realised that Keith’s influence on his magic was phenomenal, and to have him as a companion… it eased all his worries. Keith would be able to help him control his magic for more difficult spells, and in return, Lance would help Keith with his. It was an unbreakable bond. Something deep inside Lance, whether it was instinct or magic or fate, told him it was the right decision.
He didn’t regret it.
Perhaps the hardest part of it all was not making the decision, but of telling others about it. His father and sister had noticed the change in him, of course. He’d told them he was looking for a companion, which had been the truth, but not that he’d found one. They’d attributed his uptick in attitude to the possibility of finding one.
Keith decided to stay in his wolf form to meet Lance’s family. Since he’d never met them before, he was unsure whether to trust them with his secret, and Lance left that decision entirely up to him.
“Aren’t you worried about deceiving your family?” Keith had asked.
Lance only shook his head. “No. It’s your secret, and whatever decision you make, I will support that.” He didn’t add that he thought of Keith as family too now, or at least as someone incredibly important to him. Their bond as companion and mage placed Keith very high on his priority list. It flustered him to think of how close he’d grown to Keith in such a short time, but he knew his feelings were reciprocated, so he didn’t worry about it too much.
Walking into the manor with a giant wolf by his side was a little daunting. He found his father and sister in the dining room pouring over a pile of books. They both looked up in surprise at his entrance. He almost wanted to shrink into Keith’s side to hide his nervousness, but the way Keith pressed against him, a reassuring weight, kept him steady.
“This is Keith,” he said, before anyone said a word. “He’s my companion.”
Alfor blinked several times, shocked. “You chose… a wolf?”
“A giant wolf?” Allura amended, eyes wide.
“It’s more like we chose each other,” Lance admitted.
He expected their surprise. This was a very unusual thing for him to do.
Thankfully, it went well. Keith proved to be very protective of him, and that won over his family. He always tended to Lance’s magic with the utmost care, and snarled when people got too close without Lance’s permission, which often happened in his line of work – the loved ones of patients could be quite distraught, and accidentally violent, too. Having Keith there hovering around him, growling, hackles raised, kept him safe.
In turn, Lance protected Keith, too. He fiercely guarded his companion, keeping encroaching mages away. He could tell who were the ones who wanted to steal Keith from him, the ones who wanted to break their bond so that they could bind Keith to themselves. A lot of dark mages would siphon the energy from companions in order to weaken them, and Lance made sure that Keith was always protected from that. Not only that, but he healed Keith’s wounds too, if he happened to endure any.
Keith did end up sharing his secret with Lance’s family, after he’d come to trust them. Lance was rather proud to admit that his family had won Keith over without him interfering at all.
“They love you so much,” Keith explained, when Lance asked him why he’d showed himself to be a shifter. “I can tell they’re relieved you chose a strong companion.”
Lance grinned, elbowing Keith in the ribs. “Strong, huh?”
“I have to be strong to protect you,” Keith said, matter of fact. “And they’re friendly to me. Your family, I mean. They welcomed me without any prejudice.”
“Of course,” Lance said, deeply pleased. “You’re family too, you know.”