The Wanderer, Part 35

alpine_trail_mountains

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-fifth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 34

Tas still ached from the nether. He walked through the light snow, hauling his pack and following Yao through a winding mountain path. He could see the vast expanses of green below in the valley and was enthralled by the shades of color in the sunset. Yaina walked with him, whispering in his ear jokingly about Yao’s hunched demeanor and how he looked slightly like a lama when he ate. Laughing made him feel better; Yaina had realized this after the first day and had been working at cheering him up ever since; she was starting to succeed.

Tas was beginning to feel a craving sensation deep within his stomach; for the past days he had felt sick, but today he was finally starting to feel better.

“You think that the cravings will subside?” Tas asked the old man.

“Maybe…” Yao’s voice trailed off. “If you avoid using it completely. The second you re-enter the dream world, or call on your shadow magic your cravings will be reinvigorated, perhaps even more powerfully.”

Tas frowned. The magic came at a price; but he would simply use it as little as possible. Only when he needed to.

Yao said suddenly, “let’s go hunting; Yaina get the fire and cooking supplies ready and we’ll stay here tonight.”

The trees towered over them as they stalked through the woods; Yao would stop at certain trees and examine their moss, but most of their time was spent looking at the ground for footprints. Ice eventually caught a scent and began his tracking; Tas knew he would find something soon so he simply continued to wander around the trees and look for any signs of animals that weren’t ground squirrels or birds.

Ice eventually caught a rabbit, brought it back and Yaina and Tas began to prepare it together. They had become quite a cooking team during the cold winters in Bahar, Tas would gut it after Yaina skinned it, then she would decide how to cook all the different organs and cuts of meat. Tas had become quite skilled at cutting meat; his knife skills in general had improved vastly from the past year of hunting and dealing with the furs and bodies of the hunted. Yaina was the best preserver Tas had ever met; she could turn any meat into jerky and Tas had always found the spices she chose to be delectable.

Ice continued to catch two more rabbits, one much larger than the other two which Yao prepared over the open fire. Yaina salted and spiced the first rabbit’s meat then moved onto the second smaller rabbit. Tas worked quickly, cutting slices for Yaina to spice, but his stomach hurt from the withdrawals from magic. He could feel the waves of pain ascending up his spine, until eventually he could hear them in his head. He put down his knife and sat to clear his head. Tas slowed his breathing and began to focus on elongating his breaths. He felt the pain move back down his spine slowly, until eventually it disappeared into the bowels of his hips.

He re-opened his eyes to see Yaina looking back at him intently. She had always tended to his fevers and when Tas was sick, Yaina was the one to take care of him. Yao didn’t even get in the way anymore, he just let Yaina take care of Tas.

“Do you feel faint, Tas? Like you don’t have any energy?” She said quietly, holding his hand tightly.

“I feel drained. Its starting to get hard to stand.” Tas felt the world starting to go dark. The pain had returned in his abdomen with a vengeance. His breathing turned sharp and ragged as he felt his side begin to cramp.

Tas let out a cry of pain; he felt as though his side had been stabbed with a burning knife. He clutched his ribs and rolled on the floor screaming in pain. Yaina tried to stop and comfort him, but it was no use; the pain was excruciating and Tas was simply reacting now; not even thinking of what he was doing. Suddenly he felt a cooling sensation spreading from his forehead into his neck and spine. He opened his eyes to see Yaina holding a wet cloth up to his head and he could feel the heat dissipating from the front of his skull. Tas’ body was trashed; he has bruises everywhere, his legs were hardly working and he felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“It’s good that we’ve decided to spent the day and night here.” Tas overheard Yao say to Yaina. He was sleeping after the ordeal, but he could just make out their voices against the howling of coyotes and wolves in the background. It was a full moon.

“Do you think we will be safe out here uncle? Will the wolves find us?” Yaina sounded concerned. Tas could hear the tension in her voice and it comforted him. She cared.

Yao’s voice, however, was almost indifferent. He didn’t seem to care at all about wolves or Tas lately and was constantly looking at the sky as if trying to finish some kind of puzzle. Tas knew that he was up to something, but he dared not ask what; Tas had his mind filled already by Arcartre’s words of prophecy and the looming shadow of Melkar’s inevitable return. Tas felt that if they talked about such things, they were bound to curse them to happen sooner. Yao seemed to hold no such fear.

“The wolves may find us, but they would be the least of our worries. I am more concerned with bears and cats; I am nearly certain there is a cat stalking us as we speak.”

Ice perked up his head at the mention of a cat, almost as if he understood. Immediately he got up and began to sniff the camp for scents, moving further and further out while circling the camp.

Yaina sighed, “Well at least we have one protector.” She gave her uncle a wink and a sideways glance, then turned away to hear him curse under his breath.

“How many times have I kept you safe from harm, my most precious flower?”

“Countless.” She said quietly. “And I’m sure there will be many more, my troublesome uncle.”

Yao laughed, obviously unaffected by her pretending lack of appreciation. Tas began to understand a little bit more about why they seemed to be so indifferent to each other; it was all an act.

“We will be safe here.” Yao said confidently. “Now get some rest, we will have to leave in the morning and we are approaching the monastery grounds. Tas, you’ll want to get your strength back as fast as possible. Once we are there, Melkar will know.

Tas nodded his head, then turned to his side and closed his eyes. Sleep came easily to him that night, the darkness seemed far more welcome than usual; much to Tas’ appreciation. He sighed and let the night pull him into the depths of his dreams.

The Wanderer, Part 34

The Wanderer, Part 34

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-fourth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 33

Tas woke suddenly in a fever; Yaina held him and was holding a cool cloth to his face. For a moment Tas felt wild and uncontrolled; the shadow surged in him. Slowly his nerves calmed and his vision returned; at first the light was blinding. Yaina cared for him as he regained his thoughts; she told him where he was and what had happened. She had found them in the cave until she was whisked away into the nether herself. Tas still didn’t understand how she had found the cave, but couldn’t muster the energy to care. His mind moved to Arcartre and the monastery.

Yao seemed to have read his mind and began talking, “we will need to leave in the morning to head to the monastery. Fei will no doubt want to prepare for the inevitabilities of our future.”

Tas pushed to get up, but was stopped by his own fatigue. His head pounded and his chest ached; the pressure was overwhelming. He wanted to speak, but couldn’t.

“We will leave once you feel better Tas. Yaina and I will take care of you, go to sleep now. Once the sun rises we will head for the west.”

Tas loved to watch Yaina work; she was so skilled and gentle with her applications, the bandages, oils, and medicines seemed to be used in perfect harmony and at optimal volumes. She was cooling his fever now with ice and certain fragrances; as well as heating his feet to stimulate circulation. Her hands moved in a blur as she tended to Tas. He laid back, sighed deeply and softly fell into a deep sleep.

Tas woke  up with drool hanging off the side of his mouth. He was alone, Yaina and Yao were nowhere to be seen. For a moment, Tas panicked. He hadn’t liked the last time he was alone and in the dark.

He sighed, remembering the last 24 hours with Arcartre and the nether. He had felt so alive there; now he felt weak, meaningless, void of energy, and numb. The colors were so indiscernible, he couldn’t seem to make out shapes or anything else around him. Everything was dark.

Yao seemed to know that something was wrong. He moved to help Tas to get up off the floor, but Tas’ frame was too heavy for the old man to lift now.

“Tas, I’m not sure what I should do.” Yao said hesitantly.

“Leave me for a minute.” Tas said slowly. His mouth didn’t feel like it was working properly either.

“What are you experiencing Tas? Since getting back to this plane I feel much better, almost like I was sick before, but didn’t notice. Are you feeling sick now?”

Tas nodded his head. “My head is pounding and I can’t think straight. There seems to be some kind of layer of fuzziness over everything making it all blurry.”

“You are recovering from your shadow form; no doubt it took hold over you when you were flying Arcartre and likely before as well.” Tas nodded silently again.

“We can’t stay here Tas; we have to get moving to the West where we can meet with Fei and Paj and the other monks to decided how we should prepare for what awaits us. We have a lot of work to do and no doubt Melkar is already on the move to counter our plans to summon Arcartre from the nether. Fei will havent plenty of his own thoughts to discuss on the matter, no doubt.”

“Well then let’s get going Yao. You don’t have to wait on me, I will be stronger than you have ever remembered me to be. The mountains and the cold made me strong so just guide me.”

Yao nodded, then began to prepare. Several furs and packs of supplies to prepare for the long trek ahead; Tas easily remembered the weeks they spent climbing up into the mountains from the jungles below; the long and arduous treks through the jungle, the ascent into the evergreen trees and of course, his first experiences with snow. It was hard for him to believe that a year ago he had never even see snow; now it was like the back of his own hand.

Yaina was cooking their last meal as Yao finished the packing. Tas was still resting on the floor, doing his best to focus on his breathing and to recover for the long journey ahead. He was supremely happy that Yaina would be with them; her cooking skills were nothing short of majestic and in the wild Tas knew that she would have an even easier time making amazing meals out of nearly no supplies. In Bahar, she had made the most amazing food from just snow and small bits of grass and some slices of venison; her stews almost brought tears to his eyes as he remembered them. Suddenly Tas began to feel energy flowing back into him, but not enough to get up.

“I need food Yao. My body is completely out of energy!” Tas was nearly crying, his stomach was hurting so bad.

“It might be better if you don’t eat right now Tas.” Yao said with certainty. Tas looked back at the old man in anger. How could he keep food from him at a time like this? This was not a good time for Yao to be playing one of his games.

“The nether energies have made your insides dark. Allow the darkness to consume itself and wait for the natural balance of your body to return!” Yao was exasperated. Tas couldn’t ever remember seeing the old man in this kind of anguish.

“Okay, Yao. But this better not be another one of your games. I feel like I can’t stay awake any longer unless I eat.”

“Then rest Tas. We will leave when you wake up.”

Tas did his best to sleep over the next hour, but the agony in his stomach didn’t allow for it. He pulled down his sleeve several times to look at his shadow-scar and eventually he came to the conclusion that it was the scar that was making him hungry, not his own will. He sighed, this type of spell was not something he had ever wanted, or even known could exist! He continued to try to sleep for another hour, but simply couldn’t. It was as if he was too tired, his body ached too much and there was starting to be a pain in his joints.

The pain worsened over the next hour, Tas had to bite on a rag to keep himself from yelling at the top of his lungs. He felt his insides starting to sizzle and burn up, the heat was intense. It was almost as if his body were coming back to life, but more intensely. He continued to grasp against the pain, biting against the rag and letting his body convulse and do as it wished in response to the pain.

After a while, the pain subsided then ebbed and flowed away into the far reaches of his body. He felt his mind move into darkness and his body finally was able to relax. It wasn’t long until Tas was feeling almost nothing and he turned his head to the side and closed his eyes.

The Wanderer, Part 33

dragon: the wanderer, part 33

The Wanderer, Part 33

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-third part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 32

Tas and his scaly new mentor soared through the ripping winds, tearing into them with as much force as they delivered. Tas was exhilarated; he lost his breath every few moments. Tas’ wyrm scar rippled with purple flame and smoke from it billowed into the air over his shoulder as he gripped the dragon closely. He was empowered; he  could feel his eyes pierce through shadow, rock, and mist alike and his arms gripped with strength he had never felt before. He felt an incredible power surging through him on the back of Arcartre.

Do you feel the shadow surging through you Tas? Its power can be overwhelming; try to moderate your consumption.

Tas’ looked down to see that hands were shaking violently as he held on. He was strong, but completely uncontrolled. He pushed inside of himself and began to breath through his nose as Yao taught him. As he did, the world  around him slowed and he could feel his body calming down. Tas could feel the energy concentrating inside of him, pulsating with the waves of his own breath. Time seemed to slow and Tas mind melded into the dragon’s as they soared.

They shared memories, mostly, and emotions about particular people. Yao was of particular interest to the dragon, but Tas refused to talk more unless the dragon did.

Tas could see through Arcartre’s eyes; the dragon was scanning the horizon, then pushed against the air time and time again to ascend and see higher. With his mind he pushed the dragon’s wings to flap harder their strength began to combine. Then everything went black.

All of a sudden the dragon spoke, or rather thought to Tas.

You are stronger than I could have imagined, young Tas, apprentice to Yao and son of no one. Your wound gives you great strength. I will teach you to use it, if you set me free of this wretched plane.

Tas woke up slowly to find himself soaring above the cloud with a dark sun beating down on him. They continued to descend. Tas was ready to bargain with this creature; its powers obviously complimented his own.

“I think you are very useful to me, Arcartre. You know about Melkar and his freedom to roam my world. Would you help me to end his conquest of my world? And even if you did, how can I free you? You are a shadow dragon from the nether. Could you even survive in the light of our sun?”

Of course I could, the dragon thought gruffly. Tas could feel the emotion, a scornful and nasty response, one tasting of bitterness. They were unified, in a way that Tas couldn’t explain or understand. He truly felt as though he had known Arcartre for his entire life, though at the same time felt a strong distrust for the winged beast and his sinister nature.

You are right to distrust me, Tas. Don’t forget that. I could survive your world, remember that I can create magic too.

They continued soaring through the air tearing into clouds and weather for some time longer, giving Tas the opportunity to practice steering the unforgiving nether weather. Then as they were roaming, the dragon under him began to shake; he split into 3 dragons and the one under Tas was smaller. They all bellowed shadow-fire down into the sky as they ripped into the clouds. They dove together until the one under Tas shook violently and the larger, singular version of Arcartre was back underneath him.

I can do things that you can only imagine, Tas. Do not underestimate me.

Tas took what the dragon said to heart; this was no kitty cat from his local town. Arcartre could kill them all with a swipe of his tail.

Tas loved soaring through the air on the dragon’s back. It was the most exciting thing he had ever done. He was getting good fast too. But he flew back to the mountains where they started and he pulled his mount into a spiral dive and swept the dragon’s wings before landing on the ground in front of Yaina, Yao, and Ice.

Ice looked at Tas apprehensively, but Yao seemed to be at ease, enjoying staring at the dragon.

“How can I free you?” Tas asked, pretending to be only mildly skeptical of his own ability to free this monster.

The dragon spoke aloud now; his voice hissed and steamed as he spoke. “You will have to create a portal in your world, through a star ceremony. It is the only way to walk between the worlds.” The dragon looked at Tas then hesitated. “Unless you are a dreamwalker, apparently. Then you and all of your friends can do as you please.”

Yao looked gleefully up at the dragon. “How do we know to create this ceremony, dragon? What are the specifications?”

“Paj will tell you,” the dragon said confidently. “Certainly he is back at the monastery by now. And Fei will be able to help as well. Obviously, this will attracted Melkar and his thugs.” It will be your opportunity to banish them back into the nether. Or to do as you please,” Arcartre said curtly, a grin formed leading down to his shiny scaled maw. There was something so sinister about the dragon that it made Tas question their trust in the beast at all. But he brushed it off and remembered how Melkar could have already destroyed Bahar.

He also wondered about this teachers and the monastery. It was decimated when Melkar attacked and Tas couldn’t imagine that the monks were already back there. But he supposed there was nowhere else to go.

Yao motioned for Tas and Yaina to come over and walk with him. Ice trotted alongside both of them, continually looking back at the dragon.

“Tas, it seems we have met our ally. If the dragon is loyal to his word, we might not even have to battle Melkar at all.”

“Do you think that Arcartre is the stronger?”

“I think its likely. But I also think that Melkar is very sly and cunning and that he will likely hear about our alliance from his spies.”

Yaina stood next to Yao, finally speaking loudly against the wind.

“When you go back to the monastery uncle, I want to come with you. There is nothing left in Bahar for me.”

Yao was surprised for a moment, then agreed. “Yes, you are a part of this now, Yaina. As much as I dislike admitting it, it’s the truth. We can’t leave you to be discovered by Melkar.”

“Well, we better get going,” Tas said curtly. He began walking again and heard Yao behind him shuffle to catch up.

Yaina laughed quietly to herself and they were on their way against the tearing winds until it all faded to black.

The Wanderer, Part 32

The Wanderer Part 32

The Wanderer, Part 32

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-second part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 31

Tas was standing, walking through a field with freshly tilled soil. The sky was blackened and it was night and he knew he was dream walking.

It was so dark… Tas could feel his forearm hurting; he pulled up his sleeve to look closely he saw that the wyrm tattoo on his arm was smoking. But the smoke seemed to fade right into the dark mist that surrounded him.

His eyes began to adjust to the darkness and to pierce through the shadowy mist. He could see that the landscape was nearly empty, but also that it seemed to be pulled apart by the wind. Everything seemed to turn to dust in the shadow mist. He looked closely at his own skin and sighed. His skin was resilient to the shadows, but he was in the nether.

Once again he felt empowered by the shadow. He closed his eyes and felt a surge of energy flow through his spine, and he stood a bit taller with more energy than he could remember having.

He suddenly remembered how he arrived, and looked up only to see the darkened sky twinkling back at him. He wondered if something else was behind this; he felt like it was no coincide he had arrived here. He scanned the horizon, mostly in futility. The entire landscape seems to be deserted except for the tundra plants and clouds of swirling, dark mist. The moon was high in the sky, but was only a sliver so that it could barely be seen and provided no useful light through the thick misty shadows.

He walked into the hazy wind slowly, pushing against it onto the horizon. On the path there were hills and Tas figured that if he elevated himself, he could at least get a feel for the surrounding area. But he wasn’t hungry or tired, or thirsty; he felt like he’d just slept all night and eaten plenty the night before.

He walked quickly through the hard tundra, and didn’t even look up as he walked quickly ahead. He heard a flapping sound above, him; something was stalking him. He looked up to see a small dragon flying above him, starting to descend to his level. Rings of smoked blew from the creatures nostrils and his eyes pierced into Tas’ as he dove. The creature got closer and Tas could see his horns and tendrils extending into his scaly backside. Then he saw the claws and teeth, which looked sharper than razor blades.

Suddenly Ice appeared on the horizon, his normally white fur was now completely black and seemed to flow with the wind, without being affected by it. Even his eyes were black now and Tas was a bit taken aback. But Ice sniffed him and curled around his leg as usual, then jumped up to lick Tas directly in his right nostril. Tas had no idea how the wolf had gotten here, but he wasn’t surprised. Ice hadn’t come to them by accident; Yao had hammered that into Tas’ brain. Ice was a part of his destiny.

Ice was watching the hovering dragon as it circled, ready to attack. But when the horned and winged beast landed it looked at them without menace, its stance was completely defensive and the dragon buried itself in its own wings.

Then, it spoke,

“Tas and Ice, I presume. Welcome to my cave. It’s quite spacious for me, but I have learnt disdain for the wretched nether.” The dragon snorted and huffed plumes of smoke into the tearing wind and his eyes were wildly chasing the clouds in the sky.

“Yes, I am Tas, this is my hound, Ice. His wolf snarled at the beast as Tas motioned to his white haired companion. The dragon continued to look defensive, but Tas could see the creature’s eyes glinting with the desire to talk. He took a step back and felt a push of hands at his back stopping him. He looked behind and saw Yao driving him forward. Behind him, walking slowly was Yaina.

The dragon looked even more curious now, it stepped closer and said in his slimy and slithery voice, “Yao, how wonderful to see you again!”

Yao laughed heartily, seeming unconcerned about the dragon’s presence. “You are the first to have said that to me in a long time,” Yao winked at Tas. “So you have brought the boy back into the nether. To set yourself free?” Yao looked sternly at the dragon.

“Yao, I am hurt,” the dragon said with dismay. “Have you not know me to be of noble intention? Haven’t you felt the abundance of my generosity?” The dragon’s voice had sharpened over the length of his speech, sounding terrifyingly unappreciated at the end.

Yao laughed. “I suppose I have not, dragon. Perhaps a demonstration is in order?”

The dragon looked incredulous for a moment, then a snarl came across his face like a breeze sweeping through a valley in preparation for a storm. His teeth glinted and the dragon replied, “Of course, Yao. It would be my pleasure.” The dragon looked as if in deep contemplation for a moment. “Though I do wish you remembered the sword I gave you when you fought against Melkar. As I remember, it helped you to slay him.”

“It did,” Yao replied, “but it also destroyed itself in the process, almost killing me. You think I would be so quick as to give my apprentice to your will without first knowing your intention?”

“My intention is the same as yours, Yao. To end Melkar.”

“I do not wish to end him, dragon. And if you are so loyal, what then is your name?”

“Arcartre; it means sly one in my parent’s tongue. We are shadow dragons, slave to the nether since times that are now forgotten. Do you wish to put a stop to this shadow fiend hunting your both or do you prefer to be pursued by this wretched shadow fiend for the entirety of your existence?”

“You know this answer Arc. I remember you more clearly now,” Yao looked at the dragon with squinty eyes, “you nearly betrayed us at the end of the battle. It didn’t seem to matter to you much if Fei lived or died.”

The dragon looked cold heartedly at Yao, “I did what I had to do to survive, Yao. Let me give your apprentice what I could not give to Fei.”

Yao huffed. Then nodded. Tas walked forward to greet the dragon properly.

Arcartre looked at Tas playfully at first, then entered his mind.

Hello boy. It is a shame we haven’t met until now, but I will show you the way that the shadow ebbs and flows. You may yet become a great weaver, if you are properly practiced. For now, you will spend your days in the nether and learn what I have to teach you. Unless you wish to die at the hands of your foe.

Tas looked at the dragon, but said nothing. He didn’t have to; he knew that this creature would teach him things that he could never unlearn; and things that Yao didn’t know. Tas looked at Yao, hesitantly. Should I follow this beast Yao?

As much as I wish I could say no, I don’t think we have a choice Tas. Melkar could find us any day in the Bahar. And you must be strong when that twisted creature comes after you.

Tas looked at the dragon with some excitement now; there was no turning back. There had never been any turning back. He thought of his mother and father in his village and knew that they would want him to go further, to push as much as he needed to. “Show me, Arcartre. What do you know of the shadow?” The dragon lowered his head and neck and Tas climbed on. He put his right hand in the center of the dragon’s wings and felt his mind enter into the dragon’s.

Arcartre leapt into the air and with a sweeping flap of his wings launched them straight up into the dark winds.

The Wanderer, Part 29

The Wanderer, Part 29

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-ninth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 28

 

Yao and Tas readied their gear for tomorrow, another day of hunting in the ice-cold mountains. They took turns to wash quickly, then dressed to eat with Yao’s cousins, the princes. He was even looking forward to the meal.

After washing from the day of hunting, Tas found himself missing Ice; he hadn’t ever felt this way. He just wanted to spend time with her, but knew that he would be busy tonight. But he was happy that he had a new friend. Yaina had taken well to the news that there would be someone new around to take care of and was already feeding Ice before Tas had a chance to think about it, much to the glee and confusion of the small pup. Ice would miss and accidentally scratch Yaina, but Yaina didn’t seem to mind. After a few cuts, she rolled her sleeves down and that kept the pup’s teeth from cutting her skin. She was even more keen to care for Ice when Yao had announced that she was an orphan now and needed a new mother. Tas said his goodbye to both Ice and Yaina, then adorned his furry cloak and followed Yao back into the icy wind.

The walk back to Yaina’s was a brutal ordeal and Tas was exhausted to say the least. But it was still early in the evening and they would feast with the cousins, Idril and Adal, and hopefully regain their energy. Yao had brought the unnamed male pup with them and they were all huddling close as they strode against the wind to the palace.

They arrived a quarter of an hour later at the huge structure, iced stone walls rising high into the night. There were three blacksmith forges surrounding the castle, running on wood from the immense forest behind the outcropping that housed the foundation. The mountain was still full of huge trees and Tas couldn’t help but wonder what kind of animals they might encounter in dark woods.

The group of three knocked on the iron door then Yao entered; he led the way into a dark antechamber and seemingly empty hall. The room was enormous, so big that Tas couldn’t see the ceiling in the darkness. But he could hear a dim sound in the back of the castle and Yao had continued in its direction. Tas scuttled to catch-up and found himself in another hall. Yao was just slipping through a doorway to his right and he followed the old man quickly, grabbing the door before he closed it and shutting it behind him.

The cousins didn’t notice Yao at first. They were both taken off guard and erupted into expressions of exasperation when they saw him sneaking a leg of elk from the table. They welcomed Tas and Yao to sit and feast with them, without question. Tas had never eaten venison before, but it was delicious and he enjoyed himself enormously while the cousins and Yao discussed the circumstances under which they had found Jaar; Adal named him immediately, but Yao kept Jaar in his jacket while he ate.

They all ate fairly quickly and the twin’s meal was taken away by their two maids while Yao was the last to finish. Tas took his time finishing the stew; it warmed his insides and seemed to finally get rid of the cold from their long day of trekking through the snow.

Finally Yao removed the small pup from his pocket so that it could eat some of the remains of the elk and both of the cousins hushed with astonishment.

“Yao, where did you find this glorious little arctic wolf?” Idril moved closer and started to pet it softly and tenderly, much to Tas’ surprise. “Of course, he will only be small for a couple of months. These are wolves.” He started to examine the  long teeth and their eyes were silver as ice.

Adal picked the Jaar up, a little less tenderly, but that didn’t seem to upset it. It licked Adal’s nose, then he lowered it slowly while giggling. “What an interesting little guy. He’s so small. He’ll be a hunter soon?”

“Yao, this is the perfect age, thank you for your gift. He will be fun to have on our hunts,” Adal stared at his husband. “It would seem that destiny had a hand in this. You bring a white wolf back with you from your first day of hunting? We owe the gods a great honor! Who could have predicted it?  We are honored to receive it Uncle!”

Yao smiled fully and embraced his cousin. But Tas was more interested in what Adal said about the gods; he wanted to know if he meant it. It seemed to Tas that everything was going very well, but as soon as Yao turned his back on his cousins, he expression turned dark and they left immediately, leaving the pup behind in the arms of Adal.

“We will return tomorrow night.” and Yao left without a backward glance. Tas shrugged at the stunned cousins as he left, then follow Yao.

They left through the same entrance and entered into the cold night without a backward glance. Yao trudged off into the darkness, forcing Tas to catch up; Tas was still confused.

“What’s the matter Yao? Why were you so quick to leave?”

“It hurts me to leave the poor wolf there; he will be cage and most of his life will be as a slave.” Yao looked back at Tas with tears in his eye. “I fear I have condemned that poor wolf to a life of enslavement.”

“Not all beings get to be free.” Tas said suddenly, surprising himself. He remembered his home and the small farms around it; many animals were locked up there. Many of his friends were slaves. He knew that what he said was right.

He returned back to the house, happy to greet Ice, who was still awake, but Yaina was startled as they entered. It was late now and Tas took Ice to his room, where they all slept in a warm feather mattress and comforter and kept each other warm in the cold.

 

The Wanderer, Part 28

The_Wanderer_Part_28_jim-brandenburg_arctic_wolf

The Wanderer, Part 28

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-eighth part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 27

 

Tas continued through the thick snow barely tracing Yao’s footsteps through the darkening sky. They were nearing the end of the day and hadn’t found anything yet; nothing since they saw the three men killed by the bear. The continued against the mountain, traveling back down the steep hills and slopes, but still alert for anything that they could hunt. Tas could tell that Yao had gotten very tired; his pace had slowed by at least half and he kept catching up to the old man. The wind started to bear down heavily on them and they continued their descent crouched against the side of the mountain to shield from the wind as much as they could.

Tas looked up the mountain and saw a larger beast roaming, some kind of white wolf. It pushed forward against the side of the mountain like them, but kept its head lowered and continued forward quickly through the harsh winds. It was far above them, but the majestic animal was hard to take his eyes from.

Tas continued on a higher slope through the snow, watch the wolf as it moved against the wind and off into the distance. Yao was slowing down again, Tas could tell he was distracted.

He unwrapped his mouth from his leather neck-strap and spoke loudly in Tas’ ear, though just loud enough to compete with the raging wind. “We should track the Wolf’s den!” Yao shouted. “We could find a kill to steal!”

Tas nodded, though he was skeptical. This was one of the first times that he had ever hunted and he found the whole ordeal to be completely pointless. There was far more waiting, moving slowly, and stalking than he had initially expected.

Yao moved at a faster pace now, their daylight was running out and Tas knew that they would be fighting the clock to return to Bahar before dark. It seemed to get colder every minute.

They found the wolf’s prints easily and followed them back over the mountains, though after 30 minutes they turned to moved down a slope. Another 30 minutes of wading through the dense snow and they reached a rocky outcropping; the den.

Yao began slowly, moving in towards the sheltered outcropping and then motioned for Tas to do the same. Tas could hear a faint whispering sound through the stone, almost as if someone were yelping inside. Yao looked back at Tas, having heard the same sounds and they continued forward. There were pups in the small cave. Yao found them, maybe a month old, hiding in a warm thicket of brush, leaves, and pine needles. There were three of them, one was asleep and the other two were yelping and trying to move away for Yao, but unsuccessfully.

Yao picked one up by the back of its neck and held it up for Tas to see. A pure white coat was growing heavily over some spots and mostly pink skin. It was cold in the cave, but the pups seemed to be alright. Tas pet one for a moment, then found himself being bit savagely by the pup’s already long canines. It began to play with his tattered leather jacket and Tas realized that it was snuggling against him and trying to get warm. Almost as if it liked him.

Yao saw the whole thing and started to get that stern look that meant he was thinking hard. He grabbed the second pup that was awake; this one was a boy and much more rambunctious. Almost immediately Yao had to lower the pup quickly back to the ground because it was biting him savagely in the hand. Tas’ pup was rather more quiet and alert.

We should bring these two with us. We can train them to hunt with the Bahar, and perhaps you can train that one.

Tas was stunned. The possibility of taking this animal with him had never even crossed his mind.

“What about the mother? Won’t she worry?” Tas was not happy to split apart a small family; it reminded him of his mother.

“These pups have a much greater chance of survival with us. They could be hunted within the next few weeks; most Bahar would eat wolf pups; or they would likely die to the elements. Life in the high mountains is not easy Tas.”

Tas nodded, though he didn’t really understand. It felt wrong to take this pup from its mother, but like Yao said, it would probably die if he didn’t.

“We should just bring the one.” Tas offered. He felt guilty about taking one, but if he left the other two, he could feel better about it. He was already starting to think of names.

“No, we have to take two.” Yao sighed. “My cousins will require a payment if we are to eat tonight. We must either kill one to eat, or offer it as a gift to them. They have quite a large bestiary actually; the pup would be a hunter and have a nice life in the palace.”

Tas was very sad to leave the cave with the young wolf pup in his hands; he felt as if he were robbing a man of his most precious jewel; but Yao continued to remind him that it was for the best. Yao hadn’t been wrong yet. Tas sighed, then left the last pup behind and went with the old man.

Even as he felt guilty, he could feel the young pup warming herself against his chest and he thought of the perfect name, Ice. He smiled then said to the pup inside of his jacket; “What do you think of Ice? Do you like it?” A small yelp confirmed his suspicions; this was no average animal and no small coincidence. Tas looked up at the sky, darkness was settling heavily on the landscape. They continued against the harsh winds and Tas felt the pup now keeping him warm as they trudged through the snow; it was colder and windier than anything Tas had ever felt. He was so thankful to have the pup to keep him warm now that he began to forget his hesitations about taking the pup from its mother. He began to get a funny feeling that he would need Ice far more than she would need him. He shuttered against the cold, sure that they had another hour to trek before they would arrive in Bahar. But the pup kept him warm and he enjoyed checking in with her every few minutes.

“What do you think Ice? Is there a god?”

The pup was silent this time; perhaps she had fallen asleep. Yao was starting to move faster now so Tas doubled his speed and continued towards the old man, with his new companion wrapped snuggly against his chest. Into the cold they marched, against the wind and ready for this long day to come to an end.

 

The Wanderer, Part 27

dark_mountains the wanderer, part 27

The Wanderer, Part 27

This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-seventh part.

You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 26

 

Tas woke with the creeping light of dawn, his furs were disheveled and Yao was already awake, making tea and preparing his wool and fur coats near the fire. Tas yawned heartily, he was finally sleeping regularly, without any dream-walking, nightmares, or intruders. His meditations were also becoming more powerful, the night before he slid into sleep without even noticing.

Yao was moving much faster than usual, his arms were racing to pack everything into this larger wool sac that Yaina was holding for him. He was fully dressed and was packing smaller weapons and some of the left-over jerky and filling his water sacs to full. Tas got up quickly and dressed adorning the furs and leathers that Yaina provided to protect against the bitter cold that he knew waited for him outside. Both Yao and Yaina helped him to rapidly set the leather straps of his leathers, then moved onto the thicker furs that would cover his shoulders, back, head, thighs, and torso. By the end, Tas felt as though he must look like a bear because he was completely covered in white and grey furs. Yao held a spear, a longbow and two swords; one longer and thinner and a second that was more blunted and smaller. He holstered the weapons outside, waiting for Yaina to finish strapping the heavy furs to Tas shoulders.

Tas swaddled outside; he had never felt so heavy and over-encumbered in his life. But as he walked into the cold, he realized that he wanted every pound of extra warmth that he could get; the wind was wailing and the cold pierced through his layers of thick cloth. Yao looked unhappy as well, though Yaina looked perfectly acclimated. She would hunt in the morning, then return at night as many women in the village would. The men usually stayed out later, sometimes not returning at all if they didn’t have anything to present to their partner. Yao had told him the night before that they would likely stay out until dark each night, when the cold was too much to handle. Tas was going to be trained properly.

It took Tas the entire walk to the hunting group to get comfortable in his clothes. He altered his face mask several times against the howling wind and finally settled with his mouth uncovered and cold, but able to breath deeply. He warmed as he walked.

As Yao arrived first, he got several stares of disbelief from the hunters and huntresses. Several laughed, as though they couldn’t believe their eyes and were trying to wake themselves. But Yao stood firmly and silently, ignoring them all. He waited for Tas, who received different stares as he arrived; stares of confusion and questioning. He felt like an outsider here, more than he had felt it anywhere else. Everyone seemed to be grouped up and huddling around their horses or packs, but Tas and Yao were alone. Several darker skinned men and women seemed to be carrying more and standing at the outskirts of the fire, but Tas didn’t understand why. Then he saw Yao’s cousins enter the circle with what could only be a large group of their personal slaves. The brothers were fully armored and carried nothing, not even a weapon.

A mammoth walked behind their group, an animal larger than any Tas had ever seen. It made the earth tremble with its footsteps causing Tas to crouch to maintain his balance he wondered how such a huge animal could come to exist in this cold and hard world. But he saw the scars and the half of a missing tusk and re-estimated; this mammoth had seen its share of battle and hardships. It was heavily armored and fully prepared for its human riders to mount; spears were located at each of the giant quadruped’s 4 corners and it was mounted by one of the darkest men Tas had ever seen with full control over the beasts movement.

Tas and Yao stayed where they were for a time and let the others pass. The light of the sun began to peak over the horizon as they began their walk, to the right and what must have been south since the sun rose in the East. They walked for hours until the sun was high and they were both fatigued from climbing rock faces and hiking quickly over the treacherous and snowy terrain. Tas drank slowly from his half-full waterskin and continued his climb, looking for animals that they could claim as their supper.

Yao seemed to know already where to go and Tas could help but gasp at the cold air; he was higher than he’d ever been and breathing was as hard as Yao warned it would be. After another 15 minutes of climbing, Tas began to feel light-headed and his legs were growing heavier and heavier. Yao didn’t notice, but Tas had to stop and gasp for air; he couldn’t continue.

He sat for several minutes, regaining his breath, until Yao returned down the hill, looking angry at first, but then as he approached saw the pain that Tas was in.

Yao helped Tas to his feet after what seemed to be just another moment and they began to walk horizontally on the mountainside. The snow was thick and the weather was uncooperative; Tas nearly felt like he would be thrown from his feet and had to wrap his arms around his fur coat to feel secure. He and Yao stayed low as they crossed over the mountainside, still in search for something to claim as their hunting trophy.

Tas noticed that two men below them were traveling in the same direction and wondered if they were going somewhere specific. Yao was not speaking to him, but he felt much better after they had lowered their altitude several hundred feet.

Everyone moved in silence towards a forest, where Tas could see another was headed quickly with his two hounds; huge dogs that had vicious teeth and showed them and they pulled violently against their master’s grip.

“Something powerful in there!” one below yelled as the trudged through the snow, speed increasing. Yao began to grunt with the effort and Tas went as fast as he could; he was falling behind quickly.

With a earth-shattering roar, a bear stomped through a thicket of brush charging the two men below. This bear was far larger than any creature Tas had ever seen and he crouched low to hide in the snow, peeking over the ledge to watch the bear impale the first man with while the man lodged his spear in the bear’s shoulder. The second swipe from the bear decapitated the man. The second man began to run but the bear sprinted not 25 meters then caught the man by the near. She ripped the back of his neck open, then looked across the valley at the third hunter; his spear was over his shoulder, ready to be thrown. He waited another few moments, then heaved his spear at the bear.

Immediately the bear started forward, an unstoppable force that seemed unafflicted by the heavy thud of the spear. The bear ran into the second man and swiped him to the ground, giving him no room to run away. The bear looked up the hill, but seemed to be uninterested in Yao and Tas. Tas stared at the bear as it seemed to size him up, then grabbed the corpses of the two men that he had killed and began to drag them back to what Tas assumed must be a den.

Yao and Tas continued in the snow, looking for game that was a bit more reasonable than what they had seen with the comrades.