They say that for Mages, the most dangerous thing they will ever have to do is what they need to do every day.
His hair still damn, Tomas paced around his tent running a towel across the thick brown locks. His fellows had retired for the evening to their tents, with only the beautiful archer, Mayella, left up to keep watch for the first shift. From across the camp at her post on a chunk of rock, she gave him a warm smile and pointed from her eyes towards him.
Nodding back, Tomas slipped into his tent. It had been a year since he had first found himself walking the world, and with his skill set the group he found were quick to take him in. Removing his outer garments, he was quick to slip between the covers of his sleeping bag, shivering a little as he did so. He’d been up for the past three days, and he knew that all the cold baths in rivers or drinks of bitter potion could not keep him up and coherent much longer.
Mages are beings of mystery. One day, they find themselves in the world, and it is their free will that dictates what they do. Some give aid to the needy, or devote themselves to pursuing knowledge. Others become a blight against the just, using their gifts for their own petty whims, damning the consequences of their actions. One thing remains constant though. As easily as they walk into the world from the aether, it is just as easily for them to fall from it. And in that place between the waking world and the land of dreams is the biggest crack of them all.
The Hypnagogic State.
Tomas fidgeted in the bed roll, knowing what was coming and powerless to resist as exhaustion weighted his limbs, pulling him away from wakefulness. The weight on his body increased steadily as the details faded from the world, shifting to a pitch black before beginning to lighten.
The light brought no comfort to the young mage. He would struggle, if only he could. His body would not respond to his thoughts. The light became a sterile white, with little to settle his eyes on at the moment. It would come though. It always came.
It was there. The steady drumbeat of war pounding away. Shrill chirping from demonic birds falling in time with the battle march. An arid smell hit his nose, one that defied classification. It matched the bitter, filmy taste in his mouth in a way. And then- there! The Looming Spectre. It moved softly and slowly into his field of vision, faceless as always. Or there was a face, but it was swaddled in pristine cloth, masking most of the features from recognition.
Tomas knew what came next, and did the one thing he thought might help: He thought of his friends, his comrades that he had left behind. As always, the strongest thought was of Mayella. She was smiling, standing in waist-high water with her hair drenched and eyes beckoning, reaching out to him. And as always, the sweeping beam of bright light tried its hardest to dispel that beautiful woman from his consciousness, overwhelming his mind with its intensity.
Struggling, Tomas concentrated on all those little things a lover notices. The smell of her hair in the morning. The feel of that soft skin at the nape of her neck. How her lips tasted when they kissed, just after she’d gleefully consumed the slice of apple cake he’d bought for her. The way she called his name in wonder, when from the depths of his mind he altered the fabric of reality to protect her, and his friends.
The light was brighter than it ever had been, assaulting his eyes with an incandescent fury that made a shiver run through his utterly responseless body. He felt so heavy… so heavy that it almost felt like he could float in some bizarre paradox, the sensations wrapping around to their polar opposite.
Clinging to all the adventures, Tomas gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t fall into the void he’d been born from. He had so much to do, so much to see. He could hear the cacophony building around him. The war drums stepped up their beat, pounding away furiously.
The dragon he had slain. The castle wall he had broken down with a mere gesture. The tidal wave he had frozen and the volcano he had calmed with a soothing whisper. These were some of his greatest achievements, but there was scope for so much more in his life.
The call of his name was rising above the cacophony of sound, words and screams and shouts that were tantalizingly close to being recognized, before falling from comprehension at the last moment. There was Mayella calling, he knew that much for sure. But the other voices. Strange. Unfamiliar as always, but something resonated within the words. The Looming Spectre drew closer, alabaster hands reaching for Tomas’ face. His breath caught in his throat, burning as it hung there.
He shot up out of bed, skin pale as snow and just as cold, trickles of terror-produced sweat running down his limbs and soaking his underclothes. As Mayella’s arms wrapped around him, he could feel the spasms running through his body.
“I… I think I almost went that time…” He managed to say after several shaky breaths, clinging to his love.
“I know, Tomas. I know.” Mayella sniffled, her eyes puffy from crying.
“I… phew. I think I’m going to stay up for a while.” Tomas smiled, giving her a reassuring kiss on the cheek. “Just till you finish your watch shift. It’s not that bad when you’re with me.”
Nodding, the red-haired archer pulled the blankets up around him. “I always wonder why that is… I might be a good shot with a bow, but I’m no one special.”
“Hey.” Tomas said softly, brushing his hand along her arm. “You’re the one I care for most. You’re like… an anchor for me. So it makes perfect sense.” He smiled at the rosy blush that comment brought to her cheeks. “Now, you better get back to watch. I’ll come and join you once I’ve gotten freshened up and dressed.”
Her watch shift had gone without a hitch, and the two clung to each other in the bed roll as both archer and Mage drifted into sleep. She did not have to worry about the Hypnagogic State as he knew it, and with her in his arms, the Looming Spectre gave only the most cursory of glances to Tomas, before moving on to haunt the others of his kind, sinking him back into the black depths of rest.
And so for another time, Tomas was able to avoid his fate. But as a Mage, like all of his kin, he would face that challenge again all too soon. And in that next battle, maybe he would finally fall from the world, as all were fated to.
One cannot stay awake forever.
But one cannot stay asleep for eternity, either.