Propping myself up now, the large bird now perched on my knee, I rubbed my eyes, plunged my ears with my fingers, and tried to make sense of what was happening. The bird was marvellous. A healthy shine on its feathers, its eyes darker than the night sky but still with a magnificent depth. So much so that, looking into them, they looked as though they understood the world in a way I had never noticed in a bird before.
"Y-you spoke," I muttered. "I speak!" The magpie once again spread its wings in a terrific display, showing off the white tips of its primary feathers. "I've known you for a long time, Neyal. But you haven't really known me yet." The bird hopped off of my knee to the ground beside us with a quick flutter of its wings. It began to pace, almost marching. "My name is Jinri. I'm your familiar!" Jinri's marching was cut short, interrupted by a chuckle that escaped my mouth.
"Familiars belong to witches," I shook my head, still in disbelief at this whole situation, "I'm just a travelling leatherworking looking for a place to set up my next shop." The bird slapped my leg, causing me to withdraw some space between us. "How could you have known me, but I don't know you?"
"I'm your familiar!" Jinri repeated quite sternly. Its brows even looked creased, if that were possible for a bird. Her paced marching continued. "Do you remember when you fell ill as a child? You missed the Festival of Choosing."
I nodded and finished, "I was taken as a leatherworker's apprentice because they were the only master left in my village by the time I'd recovered, right." My eyes widened with the realization that the bird, Jinri, did indeed know quite a bit about me. "How is that important?"
"You were meant to be taken as a witch's apprentice. Nyaa! You've got magic in your blood. Mine, too! Well, that's because I'm part of you, so maybe that's cheating." She stopped her marching and turned her head in several directions, her eyes flashing a pale blue as she blinked before continuing. "Night approaches. Back to the cottage we go! Up, up, up!" With this, she quickly jumped forward, waving her wings wide and ushering me up.
We departed the clearing and made our way back to the cottage. Jinri flew from tree to tree, staying close by. My mind was swimming with all sorts of concerns, piecing together mysterious events of my life, answering some very specific questions I have always had, like how the bully in my workshop, Treytin Bargwallin, suddenly lost all the hair on his body overnight after being particularly cruel to me one day. Potion-making. My mind turned to the letter that led me into the woods. That led Jinri and me to each other. How did the owner of the cottage know me? I couldn't deny that I had magic because, just a few minutes prior, my whole body was on fire, and yet I was walking back to the cottage unscathed. Well, physically. I'm not sure my mind has recovered from the whole ordeal.
I called out ahead to Jinri, "The letter I read told me that whoever I found was going to be able to answer some questions." I kicked a stick aside, possibly out of frustration over the whole situation. My life had just gotten so much more complicated beyond having just nearly died. Jinri waited on a branch overhanging the path ahead. As I got closer she responded,
"Nya~ That's right. I can answer what I can! Though, I can't answer what I can't." She groomed one of her wings before continuing, "I can tell you that I will always tell you the truth."
"Okay, well..." I wasn't sure where to start. I stuck to the most practical first. "What kind of magic can I do, and how do I do it?" I kept up with her as she flew from branch to branch. She was right; it was getting darker. There was no time to slow down to have a better conversation.
"Those books you saw in the cottage have the answers to how you do magic. What kinds can you do? That depends on you." She stopped once again, perched on a branch, waiting for me to catch up before speaking again. "You need to train your magic. But what kind you do is up to what you choose to practice. I'll be here to help you along the way."
I felt a bit of warmth hearing that. I hadn't had someone who seemingly cared about me for a long time. I spent so long wandering from place to place doing odd jobs, trying to find a place I'd felt at home, that I hadn't built any proper connections with anyone. "Okay, so what about you, then? Do you need to eat if you're magical?"
Her beak parted, almost as though her jaw had dropped in shock, "Of course, I need to eat! Nya! I'm a magpie, not a ghost!" I chuckled, walking below and then beyond her. "My favourite food is misty lacewings; I'll have you know." She flew after me as I made a mental note of that. We continued talking as we walked. I asked a question, and she gave me an answer. Sometimes I'd ask about her, specifically, a break from the troubles on my mind.
"Hey, you're a magpie --" "Yes, last time I checked." "Sorry, of course. I meant, since you're a magpie, could you explain to me why magpies have their own day to celebrate the new year?" While thinking about everything, I was also reviewing what I'd known about magpies. I'd once lived in an area where magpies were frequent visitors to the village. People there had said, as the new year approached, that the magpies would celebrate their new year the day before us humans, but they didn't know why -- or at least they couldn't explain why to me.
"Oh, well I am a magpie, yes. But I'm also not a magpie. Really, I could have shown up as any form before you, but I guess I took on this form." She swooped low by him as she explained herself further, "I suppose I'll have to think about that the next time we see some other magpies. Perhaps I can ask them."
"So, I shouldn't consider you as a magpie, but I also should. What exactly is a familiar?" I almost felt rude asking the question. She didn't respond right away, too. She just kept flying ahead, waiting for me and then continuing. Perhaps she wasn't too sure, herself. Perhaps we'd hit a limit on how many questions she could answer me about what was happening.
"I'm part of you. I won't just stay by you. I'm literally a part of your soul." The words held a weight. Did I lose part of my soul by Jinri leaving my soul? This added more questions I'd have to consider at a later time. If it were possible for a bird, Jinri appeared to sigh from the branch she was perched on before swooping down around me again. "A familiar is part of your magic. I can help you with casting spells or making magical objects. I can do other things too, of course." Surprising me once again, she flew up past my head, barely making a sound before gliding on ahead again. I felt comfort in watching her move effortlessly above the treetops as I walked.
The cottage came into view as we neared the river, at which point Jinri took off ahead, perching herself at the window by the back door. Before crossing the bridge, I took a deep breath. A lot had changed already. Even more was about to. My first step on that bridge would be my first step into a new, exciting, terrifying magical journey. But I felt a tinge of comfort in this because, well...
I have Jinri. I wasn't alone after all.