I swallowed hard as I asked Carves-the-Foundation, “What is your news?”
“I must return to the caves. I have received a message that I am needed.”
I exhaled and nodded. “I understand.”
“It has been a joy to travel with you and to help Mhorik find peace. I wish I could have known him as well.” Carves-the-Foundatinon’s face showed a sad expression.
I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled. “The very best part of this trip home has been your companionship. I hope we will meet each other again.”
“I would like that, too.”
I gathered my gear together, packing it together tightly. Young ones sniffed around, curious about my actions. When I was ready, I turned to the pack as a whole and gave a bow.
“Sad to see stories leaving,” Lookout said as he approached. “Many wishes for safe feet on travels.”
“Thank you,” I said, fighting back the lump in my throat. “I will cherish your kindness.”
I couldn’t resist making one last bit of magic to show off. I created a miniature image of Lookout, dancing in place as he had the previous night. Nearby members of the pack gathered around, and cries of joy came from all corners.
It was time to leave. I gave Carves-the-Foundation a hug, which seemed to surprise him. “Farewell, my friend.”
“To you, too, wizard Dorua.”
I walked along a thin path. From behind me I could hear the howls and yowls of the pack saying their goodbyes. I stopped once more, turned to wave, then continued on.
The forest was thick around me, and I kept mostly to a barely visible path. I walked for days, setting up small camps to rest at night, but covering as much ground as I could.
I was alone with my thoughts for the first time this trip. I caught myself talking to Mhorik, asking some question out loud before I realized there was nobody there to hear me. I’d gasp, look around slightly embarrassed, and then grip the staff and carry on. I came to realize how much I really missed Mhorik, and I came to realize how lonely being a wizard can be.
I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, but the ground sloped gently downward, away from the mountain and toward the sea and home. I would cast the occasional spell to get my bearings, but I still got turned around a few times.
Late one night I saw a glow up ahead as the night started to fall. The light was too dim to be a village’s fire, so I reasoned it was probably a traveler like me. I approached carefully as to not spook to other person. I let my footsteps fall heavier than normal, and called out when I was almost to the clearing.
“Greetings, traveler. May I share your fire?”
“Oh, welcome!” It was a feminine voice and sounded slightly startled.
“I am the wizard Dorua, from the village near the restless deep.”
I entered the clearing, and a lump formed in my throat. A woman sat in a simple robe with a staff across her lap. She was waving her hands, building up the fire on very little fuel.
She was a wizard.
“Welcome, sister. Forgive me, I am trying to maintain this fire. We are near the supposed home of the tree spirits, so I don’t want to tear down more wood.”
She looked up, and her face showed that she recognized me. I held my breath in anticipation of an attack.
“You! You’re the one who shamed Riversdepth!”
Her face showed a smile, open and without hostility. “Come, sit by the fire. I am pleased to meet such a famous person!”
She wove her hands in the air a few more times, and the fire burned more brightly.
“I thought you were an apprentice? You carry a wizard’s staff.”
“My master, Starwise, was killed. Attacked by other wizards at the convocation and a spell ate at him as we left.”
Her hands flew to her face. “No!” she gasped.
My vision blurred as my eyes started to water, but I gripped the staff. “I burned his body as the ritual requires. I am the village wizard now.”
She sat, unmoving, and looked at me for a few moments, collecting her thoughts. “I am sorry to hear. I knew Starwise, and I am ashamed of those who could not accept him as one of us.”
I exhaled in relief. “I am sorry, I did not hear your name.”
“Oh! I forgot my manners. Apologies, Dorua. I am called Wildfire by some, Katia by others. I knew Starwise, and I know his cousin Moonwind. I live in a village near the sea, on the far side of Moonwind’s village.”
I smiled. “You freely tell me your name? So, you agree with Mhorik that names have no power?”
“Not entirely. Names have some power, but not as much as other wizards fear. I knew you were using your name given at birth, for example.”
I nodded. “I knew Mhorik’s name, and could never land a spell on him.”
“Starwise was a powerful wizard. Although, I sense some of that same power in you.”
I felt a slight smile form on my face. “Thank you.”
“Starwise was a good man. No, a good wizard. I remember visiting Moonwind and seeing him there often. Moonwind was always a lazy teacher, but Starwise taught me the real lessons that helped me. And, he taught me about the hidden pictures in the skies.”
It was a great gift to find an old friend of Mhorik. I asked her to tell me more about him, and learned many things about him. I would tend the fire, and she became very animated, sharing stories about her childhood and learning magic. I shared a few stories of my own.
It became late, and we slept soundly next to the fire. In the morning, I got up and prepared some food from my pack that Wildfire ate eagerly.
“You are a better cook than he ever was!” She laughed as she enjoyed the meal.
We broke camp and walked together a little while longer.
“We should travel together!” Wildfire offered.
“As much as I would love that, I have another matter to attend to. You said the tree spirits live nearby?”
“I know the Lelra, as did Mhorik. I should tell them of his passing.”
Her face showed surprise. I guess I told her yet another thing about Mhorik she didn’t already know.
“I understand. It was a blessing to meet you, Dorua. I will come to visit you sometime.”
“I would like that.”
She grabbed me and hugged me tight. She took a step back and looked at me, smiled, then walked off without another word. She turned and waved, and I waved back.
I started walking with no particular goal in mind. But, after a few minutes it hit me like a punch in the stomach. The tears started, and I crumpled over to the ground. I didn’t realize how much I could miss Mhorik until now. I just sat there, blubbering and sobbing, missing my teacher. Missing my best friend.
Afterwards, I sat there exhausted. I wiped my eyes and nose with the sleeve of my robe.
My mind sprang to attention when I felt like I was being watched. I looked around, but couldn’t see anyone.
Did Wildfire return? I reached out for magic to cast a spell, but found… nothing.