(Ryker)

"Ryker, wake up!" Téo shouts at me, shaking my shoulders wildly.

"What?" I moan. I push his blond head away while also pulling the blankets back over me, shielding my eyes from the sunlight. "Téo, best friend or not, you will never come to my house again if you wake up me like this."

"The elder is here!"

I uncover myself and sit straight up in bed. Now he has my full attention. "At my house?"

"Yes. And he says he's here about you!"

"About me? What about me?"

"I don't know, but let's go find out. Come on!"

The cold floors sting my bare feet as Téo and I speed through the corridors. Why would the elder come to see me? Maybe I've been accepted into the academy early, I hope. Téo and I push and pull playfully as we try to beat each other to the receiving room. I'm the first to round the corner, but I stop in my tracks as a familiar and unwelcome face comes into view. Adella. She's ten years old, two years younger than me. A few months ago our parents decided to arrange a marriage between us. We're to be married the summer after we both finish at the academy. I've never liked her, and I begged my parents not to make me marry her. "Good morning, Ryker," she greets me with a smirk.

"What are you doing here, Adella?" I snarl. I feel Téo's hand gently take hold of my shoulder. He knows how much I despise this little monster.

"Not a very nice way to greet your fiancée, Ryker," she scolds, waving her index finger back and forth.

"Just answer his question, Adella." Téo sounds annoyed as well. He's never cared for her much either.

"Your parents invited us. They said the elder is here to see you about something important, and since we're all going to be family one day, they thought we should be here too."

"Fine," I mutter, pushing my way past her. I enter the receiving room where our families, the elder, and the elder's two companions are already seated. One of his companions I recognize as a friend of my parents, but the other one I've never seen before.

"Young Ryker!" the elder smiles at me. "So wonderful to see you again." The elder was once my father's peer, and later trainer, at the academy. He's the best caster the world has ever known, and my father is proud to have been an apprentice of his. My father loved him so much that he named me after him.

"Elder Ryker, you've come to see me?" I sit excitedly at his feet.

"I have. I have seen a vision - a very powerful vision. Caster Ann and your father saw it too." I've known Ann all my life. She and my father quickly became friends at the academy when they were younger. She winks at me playfully, and I smile.

"Really? What was it? Will I be a great caster like you and my father?" I glance behind me and see my father smiling proudly down at me.

"No, you will be a warrior. The greatest warrior anyone has ever seen."

My mother, seated to the elder's right, reaches across her chair and grabs my father's hand with tears of joy in her eyes. My excitement leaves me frozen and jaw-dropped. Am I breathing? Breathe, Ryker. "Thank you, Elder," I finally whisper.

"But that isn't the reason I came, Ryker," he continues.

"It's not?"

"It is true that we foresaw your amazing warrior skills to come, but even more importantly, it showed us your familiar."

"My familiar?" Familiars are beings chosen by Fate to assist the protectors of the world. Fate delivers a familiar to its protector at varying times. My father's familiar, a raven, was delivered to him while he was studying at the academy. And my mother's familiar appeared to her when she was my age. Her familiar is a fire-breathing lizard, one of the last creatures to be related to the dragons. One of my mother's ancestors, a caster, had a dragon chosen as her familiar. "Will it be a dragon?" I grin.

Everyone laughs. The elder chuckles too as he says, "Anything is possible, young Ryker, but I wouldn't hope too strongly for a dragon. Unfortunately, they have been extinct for a very long time. Actually, the form of your familiar is still a mystery. I have focused much of my energy on you, trying to discover its form, but it is always shrouded in light. However..." he adds, holding out his hand toward the other of his companions. "Esau, please hand me your parchment." The man I don't recognize pulls a rolled up piece of parchment from his jacket and hands it to the elder. "Divinations occur in a number of ways, and while Caster Ann and I envisioned your future, Esau found himself unconsciously writing this. He's a caster from the academy founded in Sai."

Elder gives me the paper, and I unroll it carefully. Téo and Adella's older brother, Aydan, eagerly struggle with each other in order to get a good look over my shoulder as I read the words aloud, "A warrior and his familiar. Heroes of the world shine brightly. But beware, for love does not always conquer evil, and evil lurks at every turn." I stare at the paper dumfounded. "I don't think I understand."

"I think it means that you and your familiar will face many trials. The world is filled with evil, and you will be challenged frequently. In fact..." His expression saddens as he gazes at my father.

I turn to my father. "What is it?"

"Ryker," he sighs, "you've been cursed, son."

Fixing my eyes on the elder again, he elaborates, "Divinations as powerful as one such as this will be seen by casters from every corner of the world, which includes unfriendly ones. Someone - a caster - is already trying to hurt you both."

"What do you mean?" I ask angrily. My mother places her hand on my arm, probably to keep me calm.

"I'm afraid, young Ryker, that you've been marked with a curse, as your father said." He pulls my sleeve up, exposing my shoulder. I flinch frighteningly when I see a small black circle there that has never been there before.

"What is this curse?" I shout, doing my best to scrape off the mark.

My father speaks up, grabbing my hand to stop me from digging at my arm. "This curse makes it so that when Fate delivers your familiar to you, it will not appear before you like all the others, it will be sent far away. Whoever cast this curse will probably seek out your familiar and attempt to kill it before you find each other."

"When that day comes," I pause, trying to keep from hyperventilating, "how will I be able to save it? I won't even know what animal to be searching for! And what if I'm too weak? What will I do?"

"We are all here to help you, Ryker," the elder says calmly. "I will continue focusing, and should I discover anything else about you or your familiar, I will let you and your family know."

Unable to form words, I simply nod my head.

"Anyway, that is the news I came to deliver." He stands to leave, but he adds one more bit of advice, "Be safe, Ryker. Now that your destiny is known, your life may be in grave danger."

"Thank you, Elder. I'll be careful."

"I look forward to seeing you next year at the academy."