About an hour later, Asterios began regaining his consciousness. He felt something soft under the back of his head. He slowly opened his eyes and saw the figure of a girl leaning above him. From the angle and position, he deduced that he was lying on her lap.
Soon after, she noticed him waking up and glanced down with a kind smile.
“Welcome back, Master.”
Asterios furrowed his brows while staring at the beautiful face of the black-haired girl. He started focusing his mind to recall everything that led to this weird situation. He rotated his head to the side and his gaze landed on the decapitated body of the Brown Bear. Everything immediately came back to him. The scene of his partner jumping in front of him flashed through his mind.
“Mii!” Asterios shouted while hastily raising himself up, startling the girl a bit.
He looked around the whole battlefield, sent sensory pings as far as he could, but there was no trace of her left. He realized that this time, it wasn’t a dream. And his beloved partner just sacrificed her life to protect him.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck… You idiot...”
He started repeatedly hitting the ground with his fist. A few tears rolled down his cheeks. The girl wanted to do something, but she wasn’t sure what to say so she just sat by his side on her knees and stared at the man with a worried expression.
Asterios finally stopped after around three minutes. He fell onto his butt, panting heavily. Noticing the concerned gaze of his saviour, he wiped his face off and tried his best to calm the turbulent emotions.
“Sorry about that.”
She shook her head. “It’s okay. I don’t know who this Mii is, but I can see that you are in a lot of pain so don’t hold it back,” she said with a gentle tone and a heartwarming smile.
Asterios made a deep sigh. “Mii was… my partner. She lost her life after protecting me from the bear just shortly before you arrived…”
The girl covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, no… I’m so sorry...”
“It’s not your fault. I’m grateful for your help. It’s all on me. If only I wasn’t so pathetically weak, this might have ended differently...”
“You are not weak.”
“How is a summoner who can’t call beasts bigger than a chicken to his aid not weak?” he glanced at the girl with self-depreciative eyes.
“But, you summoned me.”
Asterios blinked a few times and furrowed his brows at the girl. He dived into his memories again to check if he missed some important detail. He remembered feeling a sudden surge of energy which disappeared quite quickly, but wasn’t that just an adrenaline spike due to all his rage?
He stopped prodding his mind and for the first time, he looked at his saviour attentively. The girl sitting on his side had short black hair and a very cute and gentle face. The main thing that was wrong, or rather two things, were cat-like ears sprouting from around the top of her head, twitching from time to time or changing the direction they were facing. The pair of black eyes with vertical pupils also seemed a little out of place when considering a typical human’s appearance.
Moving his gaze lower made his eyes widen in consternation. Her arms were covered in blackish fur, down from the elbow. Her hands looked similar to his, but they also were covered in silky-smooth hair. She noticed his curious gaze and extended her hand to Ast, rotating it so that that palm faced upwards.
Something akin to the cushiony surface of a cat’s paw covered it. Much flatter and evenly spread. It didn’t look like it would get in the way of holding things and her previous show with swords proved that. Rather than that, it seemed like it would allow a person to have a perfect grip on things. Her hands were just like a better version of human ones but covered with gentle hair on the back.
Asterios moved his eyes further, glancing over her red vest covering the girl’s chest and shorts of the same colour. Her slender belly was exposed to the world. He noticed something moving behind her back so he tilted his head to check it out. The girl leaned to the side to give Ast a better view of her lively, black, cat-like tail.
The last thing that differentiated her from a normal human was her legs, which were covered with the same fur-like hair as her arms, just below her knees in this case. She wore leather boots, but Asterios felt like she could walk or even run barefoot without any inconveniences.
“Who are you?”
He decided that it would be a bit rude to ask the girl what she is out of the blue, so he started with something less offensive.
“I’m Miria. And as you can see I’m a Werepanther.” She nodded her head courteously.
「Werepanther? That’s the first time I hear about a race like that… It’s also the first time I see a person with such animal features. There are some monsters that are bipedal, covered completely in fur and have heads of wolves or tigers, but having a human-like appearance to this extent?」
The curious gaze of Miria pulled Ast back from his contemplation.
“Ah, I’m Asterios, and as you can see I’m a Human.”
“Oooooooooooh. My friends will never believe me that I was able to meet a Human! I knew that Master was amazing!” Surprised at first, Miria quickly started clapping with a joyful smile, her tail moving rapidly.
“How is that amazing? Wait, master? You also said that I summoned you, but it can’t be right.”
She tilted her head. “But it is. I was walking around the forest near my village when I sensed a very pained call for help, full of grief and anger, and felt like I could grab onto it. Of course, I couldn’t ignore something so sad and desperate so I did it. Something connected to my mind and I could feel the emotions of another person. Then an immense amount of mana flowed into my body and a shadowy-red portal appeared in front of me. After jumping through it, I arrived behind you kneeling on the ground and stopped the bear’s attack.”
Asterios listened to Miria’s story with great attention. Many details overlapped with what usually happens between a summoner and a magical beast. When invoking the summoning ritual, the person sends a call into the Void, stating his real name and purpose of looking for help. A corridor between realms is opened and if any existence wishes for it, they can answer the call and move to the summoner’s world to discuss the terms of their contract. In simple words of course. It’s much more complicated than this.
Everything pretty much confirmed that Miria answered his summons, but there were never any records of people summoning entities so closely resembling humans. It’s like she was a member of another race more than some legendary beast.
But summoners couldn't form contracts with ‘people’. That was the fundamental law of summoning magic. Summoners were just like Tamers, but they could form a spiritual connection with the beast, rather than just developing a bond with it. They could then call on the contracted partner at any time, allowing them to enter this realm and fight alongside their master. It was also possible to contract a creature from this dimension of course. The main difference was in that magical connection, which also allowed the summoner to strengthen the entity with their own mana, where Tamers could only train them physically and mentally.
“Okay. Let’s say that I summoned you. Are there no Humans in your world?” he asked.
“No. Our world has only us, Beastfolk, as we call ourselves. Everyone looks similar to me, having different animal characteristics. There are some legends and myths about people calling themselves Humans arriving in our realm. They always are in the form of tales about heroes who were unbelievably strong. There was also that one myth about a princess of the Spiritual Foxes tribe being called to their world and having many great adventures alongside the Human she fell in love with! That’s one of the oldest ones and my favourite! I still can’t believe the Human realm really does exist!”
Miria spoke about her world with gleaming eyes. Asterios understood that it wasn’t that impossible to be true. Some magical beasts lived in their own, small realms with only their species being around. Others, shared their world with creatures of similar element, as for example in an aquatic dimension. So, it was only natural for realms similar to the one he was living in to exist somewhere. And from Miria’s story, it seemed like there even had been some sort of contact between their worlds in the past.
“I see. Well, I certainly exist so I guess there was some truth in your people’s tales.” He glanced over the energetic catgirl. “Thank you again for saving me. If there’s anything I can do for you to repay that debt, just tell me. Perhaps I can get you something as a souvenir you can take back to your home?”
“Eh? I can’t stay with you?” Miria’s ears flopped down onto her head and her shoulders slumped. “You said you are a summoner, right? And you summoned me. So I’m now your familiar, yes? Is this not how this works?”
Miria stole glances at his face with her head lowered while fiddling with her fingers in front of her thighs. She looked utterly heartbroken and Asterios instantly regretted his words. He sighed heavily.
“We didn’t form a contract yet and honestly, I don’t know what could happen if we tried. No one ever managed to summon somethin—, sorry, someone, like you. You look too humane to be considered a magical beast and summoners can’t form contracts with other humanoid races. I can’t fathom how you heard my scream in the first place. I wasn’t even trying to start a summoning ritual.”
Asterios explained his worries to Miria. It’s not that he didn’t want to try, it’s just he was afraid of possible consequences. He didn’t want to hurt the person who saved his life.
Miria understood what he meant, yet still, she couldn’t help feeling down. It was like a dream come true for her, being able to set foot in another world. She didn’t mind having Asterios as her Master if that’s what was required to fulfil that dream. She even already began calling him that. Just from the emotional scream that pulled her here, she knew he was not a bad person. And he was actually quite good-looking too. She only wondered why his hair turned black and his eyes blue after he fell to the ground. She thought that he looked much cooler with white hair and red irises. She concluded that maybe Humans do that when they use magic or something.
Her ears suddenly perked back up and it looked like she figured something out. She glanced at Asterios with a cheerful smile, stood up and took a few steps back.
“So, if I’m more beast-like then it should be fine right?”
Saying so, she walked back a bit further and started to run towards him. Somewhere in the middle of the distance she created, Miria leaned forward and began to move on all fours. Soon, her body got surrounded by a black mist and Ast could see it changing shape while slightly obstructed by the magical smoke.
The cover disappeared completely when Miria reached him and stopped just in front of Ast’s face. A beautiful black panther sat on the ground, centimetres from him. It was quite a big and muscular one but still, a touch of femininity was possible to spot in the outline of her posture.
He stood up and so did Miria. In this form, she reached up to his chest with her head. That was one hell of a panther. Your usual beasts of this type were around half her size. She walked closer and nuzzled her head to Asterios, purring affectionately. He couldn’t stop himself from placing a hand on her head and brushing the fur along her body.
「So, Werepanther name doesn’t come just from her ears and tail. She’s literally one. It’s like shapeshifting magic, but I guess that’s her innate ability or something.」
“Can you speak in this form?”
Miria roared softly and shook her head.
“Okay, turn back then, please. Let’s talk about this.”
She jumped with her front paws onto Ast’s chest and gave his face a long lick while her tail was almost creating a current of air of its own. He laughed a bit and stroked her soft back a little more. Miria got off him and after being surrounded by the same, black mist, reappeared in her human form.
“Does that mean you’ll let me be your partner?” she asked, unable to hide her expectant expression.
Asterios’s face darkened for a moment. That word reminded him of Mii. He knew she wouldn’t want him to mourn after her forever, but it was still quite recent and he still subconsciously tried calling to her a few times in his mind in the past hour.
Miria took his hand into hers and squeezed it, also assuming a sad expression after realizing that her choice of words was the source of his distress. Asterios took a deep breath and patted her head while bringing up a warm smile onto his lips. She closed her eyes and let him ruffle through her hair, soon beginning to smile too.
“Let’s make a memorial for Mii and then start preparing for the contract.”
As Miria kept happily jumping around, he moved to a small stream of water which was flowing nearby. He took a moment to wash his face from her saliva and his own blood. Asterios sighed heavily while staring at his reflection on the water's surface. His short black hair fluttered in the wind.
「What a day...」