Eliza felt the sweat drip down her back as she concentrated on mastering the spell. True to her word, Julia was guiding her through the ritual again, in a more hands on manner; she literally took her hands in her own as she instructed her. The scent of her floral perfume overwhelmed Eliza; she shivered when the wizard’s hand trailed down her spine and then pushed against her lower back, forcing her to sit up.
“Make sure you maintain your posture.” Julia murmured. Her breath hot on the bard’s neck. Eliza was acutely aware that Julia’s hand lingered on her back. The wizard stood up and sat opposite her, waiting for Eliza to act on her tutelage.
The tension in the room was thick, it had been like this since she had arrived in the late morning. Eliza rubbed the back of her neck; she felt exposed under Julia’s intense gaze. She let out a breath. Taking string wrapped chalk she drew a perfect circle. The air prickled around her as she recited the incantation flawlessly, her hair rising with the static of magic in the room. Tapping the centre of the circle with the chalk, Eliza felt the magic in the room suddenly dissipate; another failed attempt at casting the phantom servant spell. Pulling out a cloth she dabbed the sweat off her brow, her shoulders sinking.
She was startled to hear Julia’s gentle clapping; the tips of her fingers created a soft pattering noise. She glanced around the room and saw the outline of a hazy humanoid shape, her hands clasped over her mouth.
“I did it!?” Eliza exclaimed in disbelief. Julia leaned forward on her knuckles, her scarf falling away from her body, to reveal her tantalising physique and her low cut top. Eliza’s gaze travelled down her cleavage, she gulped before she returned her gaze to her face. The wizard looked at her proudly.
“Yes!” Julia said. She leaned back looking all of her six feet of height, her fingers intertwined themselves as her thumbs twirled around each other like dancers; she was deliberating something. Eliza had seen this stim so many times, she knew it meant the wizard was thinking through all the possibilities in her mind before she came to a conclusion.
Eliza brushed a few strands of hair out of her face, smiling softly at Julia. The tall wizard moved towards her, taking her worn leather spellbook and flipped through it, when she found the page she wanted, she nodded to herself; her golden curls bouncing. She showed the book to Eliza.
“This spell, Spirit Steed. I think you can learn this without any guidance now.” Julia told her confidently. “It is quite similar to Phantom Servant.”
Eliza faltered and questioned her ability to do what the wizard had said.
“Are you sure? I struggled a little with the last spell and this one is far more complex.” Eliza responded. Julia smiled at her as she took a piece of chalk.
“I will demonstrate the spell once. I am confident you can master this spell today.” Julia said.
Eliza watched the wizard intently, she did not want to miss any details. The bronze-skinned wizard drew a sigil perfectly on the ground, without the aid of string, the white powder etched on the floor, within the circle she drew specific runes that she had memorised by heart. Julia recited four nonsensical words before the room intensely reverberated with magic, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. The magic honed in on the symbol on the ground, causing it to glow an intense blue; the sigil hovered off the hard-wooden floor, it shrunk in size and attached itself to the back of the wizard’s smooth hand, the symbol glowed.
Eliza quickly darted back as a full-sized, very solid-looking chestnut brown horse materialised between them. Julia stood up and petted the creature, showing that it was no illusion, but a solid magical being, like the servant. She looked down at Eliza, the blue glow from the spell reflected in her eyes; her fingers smudged the sigil on the back of her hand, breaking the spell. The horse vanished as did the residual magic in the air.
She watched the wizard tapping her thigh in a specific pattern, the thick material of her lehenga swayed. Eliza was unsure what that gesture meant; was Julia nervous?
“I will leave it to you and see you for dinner this evening at seven.” Julia said. The wizard left and went downstairs to her study, not even giving her a second look. Eliza stared at the empty room, while her nerves attempted to get the better of her. She took a deep breath, sat down and gave herself a pep talk.
The chalk in her grip snapped as she wrote the symbol for the dozenth time. Eliza flung the chalk in frustration, glaring at the symbol on the floor. She had been attempting this for the past few hours and to her it felt like she had made no progress at all. She knew she was capable of doing this independently, but why was it not working?! She rubbed out the sigil that mocked her, leaving her hand covered in white powder and feeling uncomfortably dry.
What was she doing wrong? Her recital of the spell was flawless, she was able to call the magic but it wasn’t taking form. She was doing something wrong with the sigil, that was the only explanation she could think of immediately. Standing up, she took a cloth from her pocket and wiped the dust from her hands, she needed a coffee and a break.
Early afternoon had begun to set in as Eliza sipped her coffee on the balcony, her pipe held daintily in her other hand as it smoked. She puffed on it as she thought about what her steed would look like; maybe visualising what it looked like would help her. She was aware that with some spells, each caster had to put their own unique spin on it, but she had thought if she were able to perfectly mimic Julia, she’d be able to cast it and produce a brown horse mount identical to the wizard’s.
No such luck. She tapped the ash from her pipe into the ash tray before putting it away, her coffee long finished. Settling herself back into the living room with a breeze blowing in from the open balcony doors, she revisited the wizard's worn spellbook. She compared Julia’s version of the spell to her own copy in her red leather book; there was a rune that she did not understand on them, taking a closer look at it she noticed that it was not a rune, but an extremely poor attempt at a drawing of a horse. Was this where she had gone wrong? Julia’s lack of ability as a draftswoman had her running in circles for hours.
Taking a thin piece of paper, she placed it over her spell and created a variant of it. She replaced Julia’s approximation of a horse with her own careful drawing of the mount she wanted; a delicate horse with large eyes like a doe. She felt almost like she was in school again, drawing pretty horses in the margins of her workbooks.
Pulling out a fresh piece of chalk, unaware of where the previous one had disappeared to, she copied her conceptual horse onto the ground. Eliza spoke the nonsensical words to the spell and felt the magic quickly took to the sigil. It glowed a vibrant teal as the symbol raised itself off the floor, shrinking before it attached to the back of her left hand; it tingled.
She looked up wide eyed, suddenly cast in the shadows of a handsome, long-legged horse, with a glossy coat the colour of an antique pearl and dark eyes that glittered like the night sky.