The Wanderer, Part 16

Changchun

This story can be read alone, or as the 16th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 15

Tas slipped in and out of sleep throughout the entire morning ceremony. He felt like he hadn’t rested at all the night before, almost like he hadn’t even slept. The dream was still lingering in his mind, the dark figures looming over him from the corner of his eye. He looked around constantly, always feeling the shadows and his captors from the night before through them.

Finally he found himself before master Fei, on the balcony overlooking the central ground where they met each morning to invoke the day. As he approached, he saw Yao waiting, something he definitely had not expected. Yao was not supposed to return for 3 weeks and the old man had looked certain of his promise when he had left. But upon looking at his eyes, Tas could tell he was worried. Things had certainly changed since the old man left. He wondered how much Yao knew.

As he approached, Fei grew wary. Tas could see the worry lace his eyes. Tas turned as he felt a hand on his back, Paj was there was well. They all walked into Fei’s apartment, without even a word. They all took their time find a comfortable place to sit on the small floor, pulling cushions and pillows to support their legs and backs as they sat.

It was Yao who spoke first, in a commanding tone, “Paj, I understand that you have been succeeding in teaching Tas dreamwalking. Tell me everything.”

Paj gave a slight chuckle, though his tone was very serious. “Always the blunt one, eh Yao? You’ve never had a breath of patience.” Yao was silent, waiting.

“Well, you see the boy started to do it of his own accord; three nights ago, if my memory is correct. He aligned himself somehow with Jupiter during the full moon and went to see his parents. Hardly something troublesome, especially because I did not tell him about the full moon; he learned and remember it himself. How could one blame a boy for being curious about such things.

“I spent the first week of teaching spending time only on planetary movements. The boy memorized them all in a week.” He gave Tas a quick glance, filled with something that looked like incredulity. “So I began to teach him how to attune with planetary energies, to open his meditations. In the process, we talked about the different ways to use planetary energies and many of the different techniques were discussed.” He said the last part slowly, as if re-realizing Tas was still in the room; he obviously didn’t want Tas to learn more of the ‘techniques’ he had been in the process of learning. Tas and Paj both knew that Tas would continue his studies.

“After Tas had his first unwarranted walk, I decided that I would take him with me while I investigate a rumor. A rumor… that turned out to be true.” He turned to master Fei, “Melkar is embodied again, Fei. He is incarnated with the assistance of Grethatch, a monk who was an old pupil of mine.” Paj sighed, obviously tired himself. “They travel together; a dangerous combination for anyone who crossed their path.” He looked seriously at Yao without reaction. Yao seemed as wily as ever, nonchalantly brushing Paj’s words aside. Paj continued.

“We saw them threatening a villager, removed from the town and in a dark cave, undoubtedly to conceal Melkar’s rabid and unrelenting stench. Considering his age…” Paj trailed off for a second, a look of disgust entering his nose. Tas didn’t remember a smell, but then again, it was a dream so he hardly remembered anything, except the crushing feeling when Grethatch had taken hold of him.

“So we have Grethatch and Melkar who are wandering in the world, who knows where…” Fei said slowly. “What happened when you saw them two nights ago?”

“They were threatening a villager.” Paj said. “There was some kind of shipment, the cave was full of boxes. And they were threatening a villager, Fiden, I think his name was. But I have no idea where they were.” Paj’s eyes glinted as he looked at the others, obviously very happy with himself. “I managed to track him with my own dreams. But it is a technique I think best left unspoken of.” He glanced at Tas then turned back to the group. “The rest of the story, I am unsure of.”

Everyone looked expectantly at Tas, but he was falling in and out of sleep while he listened to Paj. Yao gave him a strong clap on the back and Tas howled in pain, but he wouldn’t fall asleep again.

“I don’t remember what happened, really.” Tas said slowly. “I just remember being lost and not remembering how I got to where I was. It was dark, then the two men came out of the dark, mostly by surprise Tas said coldly. The second man kind of appeared from the shadows. Melkar, you called him. He was terrifying and they both had horns.”

Yao responded now, “How did you escape? Why did they let you leave?” He seemed curious, as if there was a missing puzzle piece somewhere that he was looking for.

“Actually,” Tas said slowly, cautiously. “they fed me a wyrm, though I’m not sure what it is.”

“A wyrm?” Fei said shortly. “what does that mean?”

“Some smaller creature crawled down my throat, it was slimy and there was nothing I could do.” Tas felt his stomach. “I could feel it.” Now it feels gone though. He was still so tired, now that the slap faded he was falling asleep again.

Yao looked at him now, his eyes didn’t leave, but Tas’ did. He fell asleep, his chin falling to his shoulders and the last thing he remembered was barely managing to open to his eyes for a second to seeing Yao holding him and chanting something slowly and dark, grumbly; with a sigh he passed out again, this time into the a darkness that he could not force himself to wake from.

The Wanderer, Part 15

nightmare_figure

This story can be read alone, or as the 15th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 14

Tas slowly ambled through a dark forest, he was lost. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but thought himself to be outside of the monastery, in the woods. He just couldn’t remember how he got here.

Come to think of it, the only thing he remembered was flying away from Paj’s tower. He walked a bit before realizing that he was completely hopelessly lost.

He took a seat under a tree and waited for a moment, thinking of what to do next. After all, he had no idea which way to go and it was dark. He tried to find the north star but there were too many clouds in the sky, even the moon was hidden. It was so dark, shadows seemed to loom taller than usual and he began to feel hopeless.

He turned his eyes up from the ground and saw a shadow moving differently than the rest . Then heard a rustling of soft footsteps and began to look when he saw a figure coming towards him, menacingly stomping through the brush. Tas turned to get up and began to run, faster than he knew he could.

The figure behind him picked up his own pace and Tas could hear the heavy boots growing closer, tearing through the earth. Tas turned at the last moment before a tree, remembering how it was to hunt rabbits when he was younger and the figure howled in frustration when it banged against the tree. Tas kept running.

Again, the darkly cloaked man caught him, but this time was mercilessly physical, slamming them both into a tree and knocking Tas nearly unconscious, possibly breaking something. Tas moaned and reeled in agony as he tried to escape the figure’s grasp, but it was no use. The dark man pulled back his hood and revealed a pair of small, protruding horns and a darkly tattooed face. It was the second man from the dream with Paj, his name was Grethatch, Tas remembered.

He was a dark one, but he was also happy that the second hooded man was not with him. He was far more menacing and even less human seeming. And as if on queue, the second, taller and darker one seemed to pull himself away from his shadow. It was terrifying to watch, as if the dark did not want him to leave.

Tas was scared. Was he in a dream? Was this happening right now? He couldn’t remember falling asleep, so perhaps he wasn’t, but he hoped he was. The men were terrifying as they approached him, he simply waited now, trying not to hyperventilate as Grethatch kept him pinned with his arms up against the tree. But the darker man was terrifying.

Finally, the second figure spoke, hissing in between his words. “You are the boy, Tas are you not? I know you were watching us two nights ago, boy. Why exactly did you come to that cave in the light of Saturn to spy on us? Do you think of us as, criminals?”

“No!” Tas exclaimed quickly, then re-shut his mouth. He was terrified, he watched them talk about murder and monsters and terrible things the night before and he didn’t want any of that to happen to him!

Tas tried to struggle free, but to no avail. The second man simply laughed and put his face next to Tas’ as the boy struggled on the ground. “Good.” He hissed, shadows seemed to form from his mouth, then recede with his words. It was terrifying. “But you are right to fear us.”

“Grethatch. Give me the wyrm.” Tas couldn’t see, but whatever the ‘wyrm’ was, he wanted nothing to do with it. He squirmed again, to no avail. “Now Tas, I am so silly. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Melkar. I am from the far, far north. From lands so cold, that men no longer inhabit them. Do you know about the north Tas? One day, maybe you will…” the figure gave a loud cackling laugh, it seemed to pierce through Tas and have a kind of hollow emptiness to it. “This is a wyrm. It is also from the North.”

Slowly and deeply, the figure began to speak in words Tas didn’t know. Suddenly, as he tried to move his shoulder, he found himself paralyzed. He couldn’t move!

Grethatch rolled him over to his side and then laughed. He was stuck. Grethatch struck him across the face afterwards. Tas raged inside, but he could do nothing. He could only drool.

The taller figure walked slowly, forbodingly with a wriggling wyrm in his hand, but this one was black and looked to be attaching itself to the terrifying man. Tas tried to squirm, but he couldn’t. The figure walked closer until he was dangling the wyrm over Tas’ mouth, toying with him. Finally, he dropped it and immediately, the wyrm began to crawl across Tas’ mouth, finding its way down his throat, onto his should and eventually, stopped about halfway down his arm, in the elbow socket crammed next to Tas’ ribs.

Tas woke with a start. He still couldn’t move but he could feel the wyrm in his arm, it was real! The dream was real! But he couldn’t move, what could he do?

Slowly, sensation returned to his body and he finally was able to roll onto his stomach, clutching at the intruder. But then, the pain began to fade and Tas felt better. A few minutes later and he began to question the dream again, what exactly was that thing? And everything had felt so real, just like when he was dream walking. He didn’t understand.

He looked down and saw it; the wyrm was tattooed on his arm, but it moved slightly. It was real!

Tas readied himself for the morning, resigned to talk to master Fei and see if he could give any advice. Tas was terrified, what was happening to him? Had the two men from the night before intruded on his dream the same way he and Paj had done a couple of nights before? Tas couldn’t tell, but he was sure that he never wanted to see either of the dark, hooded men again.

The Wanderer, Part 14

dark_cave

This story can be read alone, or as the 14th section of the wanderer story.

Please see the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 13

Tas woke to find himself surrounded by dark shadows. He was alone, but he didn’t know where.

He found a path down to a dirt road and began to walk down the side of the hill. He moved slowly, finding sure footing down the rocks and kept his eyes down. When he got to the bottom, he saw a younger man who was undoubtedly waiting for him. But he smiled when Tas met his gaze and he gestured for Tas to come.

Tas walked slowly now, he could feel the dream surrounding him, melting into inside. He couldn’t remember anything, but knew that he must go forward. He looked into the eyes of the young man who was waiting for him and gasped.

A younger version of Paj stood before him, tall and strong, but young. Tas thought he couldn’t be older than himself, but he was taller.

Paj gave him a shove and cause Tas to almost trip over himself. He turned to see Paj leaving and decided that he would give the old man a good shove in return. He quietly sprinted towards Paj until he lowered his shoulder to tackle.

At the last moment Paj lifted Tas off of his feet and threw Tas into the air to land on his back after soaring four feet into the air. Tas slowly regained his feet with Paj’s help, but his back hurt quite a bit. They sat for a moment, which was the perfect opportunity for Tas.

“So we are sharing a dream then?” Paj nodded, a grin continued to flickered from time to time.

“How am I hurt?” Tas was bleeding badly on his back.

“You get hurt in dreams sometimes, when you forget about being hurt, or wakeup, it stops hurting.” Paj said with a slippery tongue, as if it was dripping with honey.

“What if I die?” Tas asked quickly. He did not want his momentum to fade.

“Then you die.” Paj said quietly. He walked away and talked softly to the wind, “follow” over his shoulder.

Tas followed slowly, but was unsure if Paj was completely serious. After all, this was a form of magic, perhaps something else might happen that was not as tragic. Tas was quiet during the entire walk through the most crowded streets he had ever seen. Some were even cobbled, and houses towered into the sky. But he was forced to keep his eyes down most of the time to keep up with Paj, who kept a brisk pace while traveling through the unending masses of people.

Horses drew carts and cows lined the streets, chickens roamed and poked at the ground and along the street, carts pulled wares around the city and from the countryside. They continued towards what looked like the center of the huge mass of people moving through each other like a stream over rocks. Finally, they reached a small store, hidden in a dark alley, covered with muck and filthy. Paj stopped before a dirty and grungy door, but it looked ordinary as any old overused door. Paj opened it to a darker room, then grabbed Tas by the shoulder and pulled him inside. At first, Tas could see nothing; but over time, he saw the three men inside, talking in hushed voices at the back of the room.

Tas waited for his eyes to adjust, then moved to where Paj was waiting, his tall frame pressed against the shadows, listening. Tas could finally make out the hushed voices.

“You have to keep it secret if you are going to use it, Fiden. I don’t want traces of this coming back to me, I want to hear nothing, you understand?”

The man who was talking stared intently at the one that must be Fiden. Fiden stuttered, then finally said, “I understand.” His gaze hardened as he spoke and he seemed to remember his voice. “You come from the north then? Grethatch is not the name of a southerner.”

“Speak my name again, Fiden, and I will slit your throat where you sit.” Tas watched in horror as Grethatch, a hooded, dark-skinned man grabbed into his own skin forcefully and pulled a knife out of his arm. There was no blood; Tas stared at Paj looking for an answer but found the young man’s eyes to be fixed on the hooded man who Grethatch seemed to be waiting for. The third remained seated, but he just even more sinister than Grethatch, his robes were in tatters and his brow was dark and menacing.

The darker man rustled, as if noticing Paj then Tas in the shadows, then shifted back to Fiden and rose from his chair. Everyone seemed to pause for a moment. The shadow seemed to linger on the darker man as he entered the light, his face was hidden, but his gaze was piercing through the shadow, Tas could almost feel its intensity from where he was. Fiden trembled terribly as the tall man approached, then fell to his knees. His frame was as imposing as his muscles, rippled and hardened, glistening darkly against the light.

When the dark figure spoke, his voice seemed to grind on itself, rumbling lowly. “You do not need to know where we are from. You do not need to know anything, least of all anything about us. But you will find ways to… distribute.” He looked around at the storage boxes of wood crammed around them, holing them into the small cave. “All of it.” He laughed with a sinister cackle, then turned back to Fiden who seemed to be waiting some kind of punishment; he was still trembling on his knees. “Then you will travel north, and you will find a creature that is unlike anything you have ever seen. You will bring a summoning stone with you, then you will tell me when you have arrived, you know how.” Grethatch nodded. The tall man looked down at Fiden darkly, looking as if he were about to strike him with his hand. But then said slowly, “Do not fail me. Or I will kill your wife, and your three daughters as surely as the sun rises. I will talk to you when you have arrived in the north. Succeed and find greater reward than heaven can offer.”

“Thank you. Master.” Fiden said humbly, still trembling, his voice shook violently as it left his mouth. Tas finally realized his mouth was open as he and Paj watched as Fiden left the room.

Both Paj and Tas looked at each other, and Paj mentioned for them to move out of the cave. Tas lingered to continue listening, but Paj finally pulled him from the room, urgency laden in his grip. He moved back through the cave entrance and then they finally emerged from the slightly illuminated caverns into the night sky. The moon was still high in the sky, but it seemed to be less bright. As Tas continued to look around him, everything became melty and shadowed until he lay down and fell asleep.

Tas woke slowly, his body ached, but his mind felt so free, so at peace. He took a few moments before moving at all, then rose and remembered that he was in Paj’s room. He yawned loudly to wake the old man and it worked, he watched as Paj rustled awake from his deep sleep. The old man looked so different now, so old. the young sharp eyes were replaced by watery pale ones and Tas quickly forgot about the younger man from the dream.

Tas used a robe from Paj and they went to the morning’s ceremony together. Tas always enjoyed moving seamlessly with the other monks, such harmony felt so endlessly enjoyable. They finished the ceremony, the Paj waited for Fei and walked up to speaking balcony.

Before waiting, Paj began to speak. “There is an urgent matter we must attend to. Grethatch, do you remember the name? He was once a monk, you should remember if you think hard enough…”

Fei’s smile was unwaivering, even against the ferociously serious expression of Paj. “Yes, I think I remember. Kind of a tall fellow? Had a hard time with meditation?”

“well, yes, actually, I do remember that now that you say it.” Paj said thoughtfully, his expression changing for a moment.

“We saw him last night, dreamwalking in the light of Saturn.”

Fei’s smile, for the first time, faded. “You went without my permission?” He immediately turned to Tas, “How many times have you dreamwalked?”

“Only two, sir.” Tas replied immediately. “The night before last and last night.”

Fei looked up slowly, his smile returned. “We should discuss this inside, Paj. Away from the ears of the adept.”

“You think so?” Paj seemed like he hadn’t even considered the idea, but Tas’ excitement faded as he saw Paj’s expression fade into resolve. “You are right. He is too young to know the full truth right now.”

“Thank you.” Fei said, as if winning a long battle and then he sighed in relief. “We will discuss with you after talk Tas. Go take your morning lesson with Shu, he will undoubtedly be waiting for you.”

Tas looked hopefully at Paj, but found a hard gaze waiting for him. “You will learn it all when the time is right, boy. We will talk tomorrow.” He smiled, “For now, go enjoy your meditation. Do not worry yourself over the matters of old men and monks.” Paj turned away, sweeping his robes and Tas turned to leave the room and spend the rest of the day waiting for his next lesson with Paj.