Familiars were animal assistants to powerful magicians. They were frequently normal animals that gained sentience and other abilities, but more mystical creatures like spirits, small dragons, animated objects, etc, could also become familiars.
With the decline of magic, magicians would gradually notice the bond with the familiar weakening and their sentience waning. In recent years, nearly all familiars have either gone rogue or have returned to a non-sapient state. Some magicians still keep them as pets, though they no longer function as familiars.
Acquiring a Familiar Edit
A familiar was bound to a magician by a ritual called the Pact. The Pact involves a complex magic circle and a large amount of mana components. The spell itself would grant a wiling creature sentience and connect the spirits of the familiar and magician. It is customary for the magician to present gifts to the familiar before it accepts the pact. These gifts include ordinary objects like the creature's favored foods, but also the magician must give a piece of themself as a spell component. A lock of hair is the most common, but magicians who require a stronger bond may offer blood or even a piece of flesh. Some of the more mystical familiars will not make the pact unless the magician offers a more significant part of themself, such as a toe or finger. A familiar may ask for even more, but it is almost never worth sacrificing a limb, so most magicians turn them down.
The above ritual works only if the magician has captured a creature to be turned into a familiar. Magicians who do not have a creature at hand use an augmented version that includes a circle of summoning. With summoning added to the ritual, the spell will find a creature with a willing soul from anywhere in the world and transport it to the ritual site. While the magician can influence what kind of creature is summoned, the summoning is not guaranteed to produce a specific creature. The summoning spell assess the magicians needs, desires, and faults to chose a creature that is suitable to them. A magician longing for a dragon familiar may instead receive an ordinary lizard if the summoning spell determines they could not handle a dragon. A magician with poor eye sight may be given a keen-eyed animal to serve them.
Before the Pact is sealed, the creature is given enough sentience to understand the terms. If the creature is not satisfied with the terms of the Pact or with the gifts, it may reject the offer and flee. The creature's sentience will fade over an hour and it will return to being a normal creature. The magician will need to start the ritual over with new mana components and a different animal (or summon a new one).
Characteristics of a Familiar Edit
Once the familiar has formed the Pact, it gains several qualities. Minimally, it becomes sapient, having a level of intelligence similar to their magician. It can also communicate telepathically with its magician, though at first it may be only to send and receive basic ideas and mental visions rather than full thoughts formed with words. Over time, the familiar may learn to speak aloud. They may also learn how to activate spells. Those with opposable digits may be able to actually create the spells and use more complex tools. If the bond is strong enough, spells that benefit the magician will also benefit the familiar. They can also transfer negative magics between them.
A familiar does not age and will not die of natural causes while bonded to a magician. As such it is recommended to take on fully grown, young adult creatures. Familiars can still breed with normal creatures but their offspring will not be affected by familiar magic. Familiarhood usually lasts a set number of years, though it may vary based on individual Pacts. Fifty- or hundred-year Pacts are common. If the magician dies before the Pact ends, the familiar still retains its abilities. In the event of the magician's death, Pacts by default require the familiar to deliver the corpse to its appropriate destination, if possible, and to protect the magician's family, lands, treasure, or anything else deemed important. The practice of these pacts lasting a set amount of years emerged during an era where magicians were heavily persecuted. Familiars were often employed to protect research and take it to another magician if the bonded magician was killed. This method is also a better deal for familiars who would not want to serve an entire human lifetime- or longer, if the bonded magician was of the First Folk.
When a familiar is released from service, it retains much of its knowledge, but loses spell-based abilities and the ability to talk if it is a creature that could not previously speak. The former familiar is no longer impervious to aging but still stays supernaturally healthy for the remainder of its lifespan. At the time of release it may chose to surrender its memories and knowledge so that it can return to being a normal animal. Other times, the familiar just "retires," becoming a mundane pet of the magician.