This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-first part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 20
Tas woke with a shake, not sure where he was. He panicked immediately, remember the night before. He twisted to his left and hit his head on something hard. ugh, what was that? Clutching his forehead, he slowly opened his eyes, trying hard not to think about much his head hurt. He could see a dark, starry sky on the ceiling slowly come into focus. He sighed with relief. The stars were meticulously placed and he had often sat beneath them late at night, learning their patterns and locations ceaselessly. He was in Paj’s study.
It was a second before he remembered everything. The monks panicking under the shadowy sky, Melkar and Grethatch’s attack on the monastery and then his dark dreams. Where had he gone the night before? How had Grethatch found him? He was so confused. The memories came rushing back to him as he rustled his body awake; it was still sleeping.
Paj awoke as Tas stood, though the old man tried to return to sleep. Tas grabbed his arm to wake him again and the old man’s eyes flickered open, panicking in the same way as Tas had; but one glance at Tas and the old man was awake.
“Tas! You’re alive. Thank heavens.” Paj rustled himself awake, taking a few moment to stretch. “Let’s wake the old man, shall we,” Paj said sarcastically and in a slightly disgruntled tone. Tas could hear Paj’s bones crackling as the old man got up to his feet. Yao was on the couch to their left; still asleep. There was a small, charred scar on his forehead, though it was barely noticeable. Paj moved towards Yao to wake him, moving with the slow grace that was always with the old man.
Instead of grabbing Yao’s arm like Tas had for Paj, Paj threw a cup of water on Yao’s face. Yao sputtered to life, his guard came up immediately as he jumped to his feet. Paj watched the Yao as he swung at the air, and laughing heartily at Yao’s reflexes. Yao cursed strongly, but his anger faded immediately. Tas took note never to wake Yao up forcefully.
Once Yao’s eyes fell on Tas, his jaw hardened. “Time to leave.”
Tas sighed in exasperation; he need answers. “Can’t we talk about what is happening? I want to know what in the hell is going on, I’m terrified to fall asleep again!”
“You should be.” Yao said heatedly, checking his pockets and obviously getting ready to depart. Paj shrugged as Tas looked to him for help. “GO GET YOUR THINGS BOY! MOVE! NOW!” Tas didn’t even have time to think to respond; he hurried down the stairs to get his things from his room. He couldn’t believe he fell asleep the night before; this whole ordeal was his fault.
He rushed down the stairs, noting the emptiness of the monastery. Where had all the monks gone? Tas hurried to grab his pack; thanking himself for having already gathered food. He knew Yao would be ready to leave the second he walked upstairs to the main entrance.
He hurried back up the stairs; there was no time for farewells or goodbyes, even though one of the cooks he often talked to tried to talk to him. He was the only person in sight, but Tas knew he had to leave. He didn’t know if Grethatch might appear from the shadows, or if Melkar was coming after them as he rushed up the stairs. His mind was racing. He found Yao in the entrance and together they left the monastery, moving at double pace; he hadn’t even said goodbye to Paj. Tas looked back with apprehension; he would miss his time in the solitude of the monks.
Yao noticed and for the first time; comforted Tas. “We will see them again, boy.”Don’t you worry. With us gone, those monks will be safe. Paj is stronger than you think. The old man has survived worse. But he is powerful in ways that I am not.” Yao sighed. “I will miss him” Even as he glanced back for a moment, Yao kept up his blistering pace, heading for the forests to the south. Tas had no idea where they were heading so he asked quickly, saving his breath for his legs.
“Its better that you don’t know right now. We will be safe tonight though,” Yao said with certainty. Tas didn’t know how the old man could know such a thing, but at this point he trusted Yao with his life. He had saved it enough to earn that trust.
“I just want to know what’s happening to us, Yao. I don’t think I will be able to sleep tonight.”
Yao raised his eyebrows without stopping. He gave a soft chuckle. “Have you forgotten what its like to travel with me boy?” Yao was right, but Tas’ body felt oddly strong, was Yao slowing down? Or was Tas becoming stronger? “You will sleep well tonight, my boy. I will make sure of that.” Sure enough, Yao picked up the pace. He must have noticed Tas’ lack of fatigue.
They walked through the forest for the rest of the day, steadily climbing up-hill. The trees grew sparser and larger as they ascended and Tas could tell that they were heading north-east now; towards the mountains if he had to guess, but he had never been. Paj’s maps were his only source of guessing as they continued a rigorous climb and Tas was steadily growing exhausted. Yao was right; he wouldn’t have trouble sleeping tonight.
The air was crisp and chilly by the time they stopped for the night. Yao began to build a fire; Tas had never seen the old man so happy, but Tas was cold and the sweat on his clothes was a source of complete discomfort as he tried to warm himself by the fire.
“Tas, tonight, I want you to clear your mind completely before you sleep. Meditate yourself into nothing before you rest; it will keep you safe as you dream.” Yao pulled out a long pipe from his jacket pocket and began filling it with a green plant, something that Tas had never seen before. As he lit the pipe, Tas could smell a sweat, but strange smell emanating from it, unlike anything he had ever seen. “This will help you to have dreamless sleeps as we travel. In three days, we will reach our destination and there you will learn what is happening. But until we arrive, we are not safe from the demons that pursue us. Here smoke this, then you can meditate yourself to sleep.”
Tas didn’t even want to think about arguing; he was exhausted and knew that tomorrow would probably be even more arduous. The mountains were still countless miles away and Tas guessed that they were headed somewhere in the high ranges of snow caps you could see from afar.
As he inhaled the pipe, he found his mind growing blank, entering instantly into his meditation. His mind buzzed for a few moments, then cleared itself completely. He felt his muscles and stomach relax, easing him into the darkness once again. He leaned against the old man next to the fire and Yao covered him with their only blanket as Tas fell back into the darkness of his mind.