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First Summoning

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Rydia was seven years old when she first summoned.

That was a touch young, though not outlandishly so; the summoners of Mist tended to manifest their magic at a young age.

“Mama?” she'd said one day, looking up from the book that was her most treasured possession—a children's book full of woodcut illustrations that told the tale of a summoner who journeyed across the world with the help of her eidolon companions.

“Yes, sweetheart?” her mother had replied.

“Will you teach me how to summon your dragon? Am I ready yet?” Rydia asked.

That was how Rydia thought of the Mist Dragon—as her mother's dragon. One misty morning a few weeks ago, her mother had taken her to the outskirts of town to introduce them. Even knowing what her mother had come out here to do, Rydia had gasped to see the shimmering white-scaled dragon appear, seemingly coalescing from the mist itself, as her mother murmured the invocation and made the gesture of summoning.

The Mist Dragon's eyes had been kindly; the dragon had allowed Rydia to pet her snout.

“This is my daughter, Rydia,” Rydia's mother had said. “She will be a summoner, one day.”

The dragon had blinked, slowly, and given a little puff of breath; cold mist from her nostrils had ruffled Rydia's hair as the dragon's nose briefly touched Rydia's forehead. An acknowledgement, perhaps, or a blessing.

“Thank you for coming to meet us,” Rydia's mother had said, making the gesture of farewell. “Go in peace.”

With a soft, sighing sound, the dragon turned away, fading back into the mist.

The Mist Dragon was the eidolon Rydia's mother was closest to. Most summoners had an eidolon they had a special relationship with; Rydia couldn't remember much about her father, but her mother had told Rydia that he and Titan had shared a close bond.

Rydia knew she'd be a summoner one day... but “one day” had to come eventually, right?

Rydia's mother had paused a moment, looking at her daughter. “I'm not certain you're ready for the Mist Dragon, just yet,” said Rydia. “But... perhaps you could try speaking with Chocobo.”

Rydia frowned. Chocobo was the first eidolon practically every young summoner started out with; he was known to be remarkably patient with new students.

But Chocobo wasn't her mother's dragon.

“Why not your dragon?” Rydia asked. “I know she likes me!”

“Yes, she does,” said her mother. “But that doesn't mean you're ready to go through her trial. Chocobo's trial is gentler than most.”

“What's the trial like?” Rydia asked.

“I can't tell you that, I'm afraid,” said her mother. “Each summoner must find out for themselves. Well, at least in most cases. There are tales of summoners who were granted permission to summon an eidolon after defeating that eidolon in battle, but... well, most of the eidolons live in a different realm, and only visit ours when we call them, so that wouldn't work at all. And I certainly wouldn't want you trying to fight an eidolon!”

Rydia didn't like the idea of fighting the Mist Dragon at all—especially not while her mother was summoning her. There was more than one reason why eidolons were usually only summoned for brief periods of time. Not only was maintaining the link strenuous for the summoner, but during the summoning, summoner and eidolon were bound together so deeply that if the summoned eidolon were struck down in battle, even if the eidolon wouldn't truly die, the summoner would.

“But if you think you're ready to try summoning, I'll help you set up a circle,” said Rydia's mother.

“...okay,” said Rydia.

Together, they prepared the little meditation room—a staple in most of the homes of Mist. Rydia, under her mother's watchful eye, carefully poured out a circle of salt large enough for her to sit down in, then lit five candles--one for each cardinal direction, placed at the borders of the salt circle, plus one within the circle to represent the Feymarch, realm of the eidolons. Salt to cleanse the area and create a border—a place set apart, where two worlds might meet—and the candles to represent the way two worlds, briefly, would become one.

“And you'll want this, too,” said Rydia's mother, handing Rydia a long, golden chocobo feather. It was helpful to have a physical emblem connected to the eidolon you were trying to summon, at least for the first few times; once you got to know the eidolon better, you didn't need one. The first summoning took the most effort, because the summoner had to forge an initial bond between themselves and an eidolon that dwelled in another realm.

Rydia turned the feather around in her hands.

“All right, my dear,” said Rydia's mother. “You know what to do.”

Rydia nodded. A child of Mist started learning the form of meditation necessary to forge a pact with an eidolon almost as soon as they started learning to walk. That said, it was still difficult for even a child with the summoner's gift to sit still for very long.

But Rydia was determined. She remembered her mother's dragon, and though Rydia wasn't going to be meeting with the dragon this time, this was the first step.

With one last smile, Rydia's mother left, closing the door behind her. The candles flickered, and Rydia took a deep breath, closing her eyes. One breath followed another--in, out. She let her muscles relax, just as she'd been taught, both by her mother and by the teachers in the little schoolhouse that taught the children of Mist.

With another deep breath, Rydia imagined a chocobo with bright yellow feathers and a thick, curved beak; she imagined long legs with slightly curved talons, perfect for running; she imagined the chirps and warks that chocobos made until she could hear them in her mind's ear.

She imagined a place where a chocobo would most like to be—a green forest, with gysahl greens thick on the ground and no monsters anywhere near.

She tried to imagine every single detail, no matter how small—and after a while, her imaginings seemed to become more solid... almost as if someone were helping her.

Rydia, eyes shut, sitting in the middle of her circle, imagined that she was no longer in the little meditation room, but at the edge of a forest. She could hear a breeze rustling the leaves, and birdcalls in the distance.

She opened her eyes and saw the green forest and the golden bird that was sitting in front of her, legs bent beneath him.

“Hello,” said Chocobo. “It's nice to meet you. I am called Chocobo.”

“My name is Rydia, of Mist,” Rydia replied politely. She shifted, and said the ceremonial words, “I am a summoner, and I wish to form a pact with you.”

“And I am an eidolon, and I'd like to form a pact with you, too,” said Chocobo. His beak couldn't make human expressions, of course, but his eyes seemed to be smiling. “But it's not so easy as both of us wishing it so.”

“There's a trial,” said Rydia.

Chocobo nodded. “In order for you to summon me, you need to understand me. What do you see when you look at me?”

“...I see a chocobo,” said Rydia. “A big chocobo.”

Chocobo dipped his beak in a quick nod. “But you need to know more than just my appearance to be able to call me,” he said. “You will need to know something of my true nature. That is what the trial is about. It is different for different eidolons--trials of willpower, trials of endurance, trials of courage... all of them meant to help our would-be summoner know us well enough to draw us forth from our realm. And, often, to have the summoner prove their willpower, or endurance, or courage.”

“My mom says that some stories talk about summoners who made a summoning-pact by fighting an eidolon,” Rydia said.

“Yes, well, when you fight someone, you learn quite a bit about them--and force them to prove themselves, certainly. And some of my brethren value strength a great deal. They would never allow themselves to be summoned by someone who couldn't hold their own in a battle. But that has never been my way. I don't like fighting very much, though I will if I need to protect myself and those I care for. And it seems that someone who isn't terribly strong yet needs help most of all,” said Chocobo.

Rydia considered this for a few moments; as young as she was, she didn't like to think of herself as weak. “I'm pretty good at magic,” she said. “I can cast Fire, and Ice, and Thunder, and I even know Cure, though white magic is little harder for me.”

“That may be so. But you are still just a chick,” said Chocobo. “And you have a lot to learn—about magic, and about summoning. For many, many summoners, I was the first eidolon they made a pact with—the first they ever summoned. And even though I'm certainly not among the most powerful, it's a great honor to be the first.” He dipped his head, tapping his beak gently against Rydia's forehead. “Would you get on my back, please? I'd like to show you something.”

Rydia got to her feet and carefully perched herself on Chocobo's back. She wrapped her arms around Chocobo's neck as he rose, to steady herself.

“I am called the swiftest of the eidolons,” said Chocobo. “Even if I'd usually rather run away from a fight than towards one, if my summoner asks me for help, I'll still come running. If you want to summon me, you need to understand that running is part of me. My nature is swiftness! Hold on, young summoner!”

With that, Chocobo broke into a sprint--not towards the forest, but away, towards a seemingly-endless array of grassy hills.

Rydia was not terribly experienced in riding chocobos. She'd had little need to, in her seven years of life. Now, she held onto the bird-eidolon as if her life depended on it.

Though, a little voice in the back of her head reminded her, her life didn't really depend on holding on; she knew her body was still sitting in the salt circle in the meditation room. If she fell off, she'd probably just wake up.

She still didn't want to fall, because that would be failing.

She clung to Chocobo, squeezing her eyes shut, focusing all her attention on not falling off.

After a short while, she felt Chocobo slowing to a walk. She dared to open her eyes.

Chocobo craned his head back to look at her. “Are you all right?”

Rydia nodded, but said nothing.

Chocobo kept walking at a slow, steady pace. “Are you willing to trust me when I say I won't drop you?”

Rydia considered this. “I'll try. You were going really fast, though.”

Chocobo gave a soft “wark” noise that sounded a bit like laughter. “I was. Would it help if I started a bit slower, this time?”

“Yes,” said Rydia, sitting up a bit more. “Please,” she added, to be polite.

“All right,” said Chocobo. He quickened his pace a bit. “Try to keep your eyes open this time, if you can.”

Rydia did so. The gently-sloped grassy hills around her were the deep, varied greens of late spring, speckled with flowers, and they seemed to stretch out endlessly. The air whipped through her hair and, though she still clung tightly to Chocobo's back, she found herself beginning to enjoy this.

“Faster?” Chocobo asked.

“Yes!” said Rydia, and Chocobo gained speed, his footfalls thudding against the earth, sending grass flying in his wake.

Rydia began to laugh. “Faster!” she cried, and Chocobo, with a squawk, complied. They ran down one hill, then mounted another, faster and faster, until they reached the peak—

—and Chocobo leaped, flapping his wings, and for a few bright moments the two of them soared, and for a handful of heartbeats Rydia felt as if she were Chocobo—she felt the strength of his legs, the air whistling beneath his wings, too short to sustain true flight, but enough for this—she felt herself straining up, up towards the sky, up towards the sun, and for a moment she felt as if she were perfectly weightless...

In the middle of her summoning circle, Rydia's eyes opened, and she took a deep breath.

And now you know who I am, she heard a voice whisper in the back of her mind. Call me when you have need, and I will come. I will trust you to use your powers well, and you can trust me to aid you with what strength I have.

“I will,” Rydia whispered. She got to her feet, stepped over the edge of the salt circle, still holding the chocobo feather, and opened the door to let the light in before blowing out each candle—first the ones on the edges, then the one inside the circle.

She found her mother in the kitchen, chopping up greens—including, Rydia noticed, gysahl greens, which her mother enjoyed in salads and grew in the garden out back.

“Mama, I did it!” she cried.

“Well done!” her mother replied, setting down her knife and going to one knee to wrap Rydia in a hug.

Afterwards, after a moment's thought, Rydia said, “Can I have a bowl of those gysahl greens?”

Her mother smiled. “Of course, sweetheart.” She scooped some into a bowl and offered it to Rydia. “Are you heading outside to summon your new eidolon?”

Rydia nodded. “He might be hungry, after his trip here.”

“I think he'll appreciate them,” said Rydia's mother.

Together, they walked out of their house.

There were many wide, open grassy areas scattered throughout the village, large enough to allow an eidolon to arrive without being cramped or accidentally breaking something—though Chocobo was smaller than some others.

Once she reached a suitable place, Rydia set the bowl down, took a deep breath, and spoke the words of invocation—short, and simple enough that a child could memorize them as a routine part of their studies; a phrase in an old, old language spoken when the first summoner made a pact with an eidolon—Come, pact-partner, and be welcome in this realm!

She thought of the sheer joy of running as fast as possible—and she remembered what it had been like at the apex of Chocobo's leap.

Then, making the gesture of summoning, she made a wordless cry from her heart: Chocobo!

And she heard—or felt—the response: Yes! Here! Seemingly out of thin air, Chocobo appeared—not in Rydia's mind's eye, but before her open eyes, in the middle of Mist.

Chocobo stepped towards her, dipping his head. Grinning widely—she'd done it! She'd really done it!—she reached up to stroke his feathers.

He closed his eyes and chirped softly.

“I—I brought these for you,” said Rydia, picking up the bowl and offering it to him.

Chocobo eagerly plunged his beak into the bowl. Thank you! he said, and Rydia felt his appreciation.

Once the leaves were gone, Rydia hugged him around his neck. “Thank you,” she echoed. Then, stepping back, she made the gesture of farewell. “I'll see you again!”

Chocobo nodded, and then he turned, ran a few quick steps, and was gone.

Rydia's mother placed a hand on her shoulder. “Well done, sweetheart,” she said. “You're truly a summoner now.”

Rydia nodded, still smiling. She found she wasn't really disappointed that the Mist Dragon hadn't been her first—she really liked Chocobo.

But still, her thoughts strayed to the piece of milky quartz that always on her mother's nightstand—the one that reminded her of a pale misty morning. It was, she thought, a token that might serve the same sort of role as the chocobo feather, in time.

I'll see you soon, too, she thought towards the Mist Dragon. Though she felt no response, she stood up straight and proud as her mother took her hand and they both walked home, and that night her dreams were full of flight.