What’s in a Name?
The perpetual patter of racing raindrops wouldn't cease. They wormed their way through the flimsy silken cloak and crawled into burning skin. Despite the onslaught of cold water, flesh continued to burn in retaliation. Everything was seething cold to the touch and black was overtaking every peripheral.
The vagrant was perched on the cusp of delirium but his anger impelled him to push on aimlessly. Beneath his feet lay the crudely torn remains of his diploma and magus identification card. A few tattered fragments stuck to his foot and refused to budge. The mage gave his foot a halfhearted shake but the paper stayed. His bare sole slid unceremoniously over stone and the rest of his body followed suit and lurched backwards.
He exhaled and accepted his futile fate.
When he blinked, he was back at the edge of the unnamed cliff. His satchel rested on his shoulder and the tattered paper was nowhere to be seen. With a sharp exhale, the wayfarer tore off the clasp of his satchel and found the diploma and magus card still intact. As he slung it off his shoulder and held it over his head, an epiphany befell him. He threw it into the gaping abyss and was greeted by a dull thud. Then he took a step over the edge.
It was a phantom pitfall. Nothing but soft clay soil lay beneath the blanket of shadows.
The wanderer knew he had to do it himself. He procured a quill from his pocket. Although it was soaked in rain, the decrepit wand would have to make do. In anguished, raspy breaths he cried a string of incantations that no student should utter. When he was done, a bright iridescent light emerged but it wasn't the light he was looking for. It wasn't accompanied by searing pain that indicated the end was near. Instead, a willowy web of wisps in the vague form of a rather grotesque head stared at him with an unsettling, childlike mirth.
The spiral into chaos had already begun and no matter which path he took, he couldn't bring it to an end.
The florescent apparition tilted to the side and began to speak in a timid voice.
"You're the card bearer now."
It morphed from a head into a pair of hands and then gestured forward. A blank deck of magic cards sat expectantly by the sleeping mage's feet.
Unbeknownst to him, an imminent danger was near.
The Lone Wolf
Leery topaz irises pierced through the hazy curtain of rain. The grating thud of claws against gravel and mud accompanied it. This bloodthirsty glare intensified with each booming step taken. Any person meeting its gaze would have been petrified on the spot.
The vagrant simply did not care.
Although he couldn't see it, he was well aware that a creature was close by. Instead of making an attempt to flee, he simply rolled to the side and closed his eyes. The continuous thuds of cautious footsteps were drawing near but they evoked no fear out of the wayfarer.
The thump of footsteps came to an anticlimactic halt and the creature let out a pitiful, raspy cry. The airy, shrill shrieks made a hummingbird seem horrifying in comparison.
Now this surprised the vagabond. He shifted his body to the side and propped himself up onto the balls of his aching feet. In front of him sat a canine with an unwavering golden gaze. In contrast, its stature was a far cry from awe. Its fur was dull, devoid of color and nearly translucent. Beneath the merciless rain, the creature's gnarly coat hung droopily. Bones visibly jutted out from its legs and the tips its claws were chipped and bloodied.
The wanderer laughed. It was a heartfelt bellow that resonated from his gut. Though the creature boasted a fierce gaze, its squeaky whines were a clear sign that the ferocity was just a ruse. It simply wasn't there. The creature was akin to a lost child: confused, angry and scared.
The depths of the mage's psyche brimmed with self hatred but all he could feel at the moment was amusement. His predicament was quite ironic. Looking at the creature was like looking at a warped mirror. The similarities were there but presented in a satiric way that couldn't help but make him laugh. At last, he realized how much of a child he had been.
His gloved hand groped around in his satchel and procured a stick of flaky jerky. With some hesitation, the magus unfurled his hand and beckoned the animal to approach him. Unlike the traveler, the wolf held no reservations. It lunged (albeit with an evident limp) towards the magus and devoured the leathery treat.
The drifter couldn't help but smile at the dog's enthusiasm.
"You and I have no place to go. Would you like to join me?" He mused softly.
The wolf had curled up into a fetal position and looked up wearily. It gave a nod before its eyes finally fluttered shut.
For the first time in a while, the mage finally felt panic. His two fingers grazed past the creature's neck in search of an elusive pulse. It was still there but was steadily growing faint.
Despite being on the road ever since the grand dispute between nations, the mage was no medic. His knowledge of first aid was elementary and even saying that was generous. He whipped his head to and fro. Where could they possibly go?
Behind him was the cliff he had fallen off of. Although the fall wasn't high enough to seriously injure him, the cliff was too steep to scale. To his left was a thicket of thorny foliage that light couldn't permeate through. He vaguely recalled a few lectures in the Aeromage Academy about the region. It was home to an elven kingdom and faerie folk that boasted an extensive knowledge of medicine and regenerative magic. They were fond of animals but shunned every human that came their way.
Traversing through their territory was imminent doom. But what else was there to do? Time was ticking and the mage needed to make haste if he wanted to help the wolf.
The mage scooped the limp creature with as much tenderness as he could muster. It shuddered as it inhaled and exhaled unevenly. He could feel the small puffs of warm air against his chest as he carefully meandered through the rain.
As soon as he stepped foot outside of the rocky terrain and into the foreign foliage, he silently pleaded that everything would be alright.