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 24

Baharian villages

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 23

Tas found himself in a dark cellar, with dusty casks, kegs, and wine bottles stacked up the dark stone walls that encircled him. His vision was flawless in the darkness, he could see himself well and there was just a tiny bit of light pushing through the crack in the bottom of the door. A flickering candle on the other side, most likely. He quietly undid the bolt on the door and moved through it to the dimly lit corridor on the other side.

He grabbed the candle on the wall to light the hall after he softly closed the door, then walked slowly through the corridor; he was sure by now that he wasn’t awake. His skin was translucent and he had no general idea of where he was. And Yao would certainly not have access to where he was because Paj was back at the monastery. He was alone, back in the dream world.

Tas decided to sit for a long moment and meditate. He had never meditated inside of a waking dream before, so he decided this was as good of a time as any to try. He sat with his legs crossed and began to listen with his eyes closed, trying not to be distracted from his natural breathing.

At first, he felt a sense of being light; almost like he weighed half as much as usual. It was easier to maintain a fully erect posture and he found that the meditation came easily. But slowly, everything became much heavier, to the point where it seemed to bring him down with it. Each breath was a labor, intensely freeing but like he had been chained down. His concentration was so intense, but he was losing focus. It was like he was limited in some way, but he didn’t know how. His breath grew shorter and he began to panic, he couldn’t breath now! What could he do? The world around him began to go dark. His dream world was literally falling apart, melting into the dark ground beneath it until Tas woke up screaming into the dark night.

He was gasping for air, sweating when he realized his dream and lay back down to settle into his mattress. He was in a cold sweat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. The air was absolutely freezing, though the fire by his head kept him warm. He was still panicked, he had no idea that this would happen as a result of meditating in the dream. He needed to talk to Yao about this.

He got up to look outside through the small window by the door and found that it was still completely dark. The sun hadn’t yet peaked over the horizon to commence the day’s light.

Yao was scuttling around the small room, preparing hot water as he moved seamlessly over the rugged wool floor.

“I had another dream last night.”

“Good.” Yao said nonchalantly. “Was it exciting?”

“Not particularly.” Tas rubbed his head again; he was still sweating. “I meditated in it.”

Yao turned his head with a surprised expression that quickly faded. “You meditated during the dream? Why did you think to do that?”

“I dunno.” The sweat finally stopped pouring from his forehead. “But it worked.”

“How?”

“The world began to melt around me. It was like I hit the eject button on the dream and it was forcing me back out into the world.”

“Interesting.” Yao said in a very peculiar tone. “It seems that you are getting better and better at traversing between the dream world and this one Tas. Be careful, you don’t want to get stuck somewhere that you don’t belong.”

“Well, I guess I will just have to keep moving then.” Tas grinned at Yao’s dis-satisfied frown in response. “What are we doing here anyways? You’ve never said anything besides getting to safety.”

“We are going to train and hunt here in Bahar for the remainder of winter. Which is 5 more months of the bitterest cold you’ve ever felt.” Yao raised his eyebrows and smirked when Tas’ put on a melancholy expression and let out an exasperated sigh.

“We are also going to meet the kings this morning. My cousins, both of them, though they are simply brothers. Kings are not allowed to marry in Bahar. You will find that they are very different from myself.” Yao smiled briefly, though Tas couldn’t tell why. “Afterwards, you will hopefully be assigned a hunting party with the younger hunters your own age. They will teach you what you need to learn to survive in the high mountains. Or they won’t and you’ll die.” Tas sniggered. He wasn’t going to die from some cold, not after everything he had been through. Yao’s slight grin was telling of his own sarcasm.

After they finished their tea and Yaina came to make them breakfast and help Tas to find some clothes to wear. Tas tried to insist that he would be fine with similar garments to Yao, but Yaina would hear nothing of it. She wanted him prepared for the cold.

“The is your first time in the snow,” she said with her gentle and soft voice. “You’ll need some time to adjust before you’re like him.” She scoffed as she looked over at Yao, but the old man wasn’t paying attention. He was deep in thought, looking out the window at the white cold world outside. “Plus,” she said softly into Tas’ ear, “you need to look your best for the kings! First looks are never forgotten.” She gave Tas a firm nod.

Tas heaved on the furs and other jackets, gloves, boots, and a couple of old metal pauldrons that glinted in the sun and were surrounded by what must have been wolf fur. He strapped on the leather under armor, then began to strap his boots while Yaina helped with his pauldrons and boots. Tas stood up only to be immediately reseated by his own weight. Yao laughed loudly.

“Well boy, you’ll get stronger in no time! But right now, we have to go see my cousins and we can’t be late, so get on out of the door and leave my niece to her own work for the afternoon.” Tas hustled out of the room and into the cold mountain air. It was freezing outside.

He turned and saw Yao talking softly to Yaina before joining Tas in the snow. As Yao left he smiled at Tas, “get a move on, if we’re late to see my cousins they won’t hesitate to behead us.” Yao didn’t give the faintest hint of whether he was joking or not, so Tas just put his head down and followed the old man as fast as he could. They trudged off leaving a path of broken snow behind them and getting a light dusting from the sky. Enough for Tas to feel like he was in the fairytales he had always heard from his mother as a child.

The Wanderer, Part 20

the Wanderer, part 20

This story is part of a series, this is the twentieth part.

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 19

Tas found himself in the dark, though he didn’t know how he arrived there. He got up to walk and found himself in a dark chamber; the air was damp and cold. The floor was hard stone but his feet were silent on it. He ambled through the corridor and found a door at the end, made of a wooden frame with ornamentation that Tas couldn’t have imagined; demons and monsters vied for space at the depths of a powerfully raging sea. Waves swelled and the shadows seemed to flicker, mesmerizing Tas. He moved his eyes slowly to the sky and saw bat-like monsters soaring through the skies and dark winged ravens above them; the ravens had eyes that pieced through the darkness and seemed to know everything. He could also saw some creatures roaming on the shore, but they were very small in comparison to the monsters of the sea and sky, more like rats that anything else.

Tas looked down at his own hands and found that they were all but a shadow, barely visible in the darkness. He slowly touched the door handle and found it surprisingly warm to his touch. Suddenly, the door creaked open without effort. He stepped through it, into a darkness even more consuming than the one he was already in.

After a minute of standing and looking out into the black void, Tas found that he could see well in the darkness, though focusing his eyes was a terribly exhausting effort. He saw a path a little ways off in the distance and knew it was where he needed to go. There was nothing else around him but a barren landscape. As Tas stepped out into the shifting shadow grass he felt a dampness; surprisingly, he found it to be somewhat comforting. It felt as though the shadows were a part of him, comforting and soothing him as he walked.

The landscape was completely barren, except for his path; almost like a desert but with fields and flatlands in every except for his left where a great sea raged and stormed in the far distance. He barely make out the sea monsters from the picture on the door vying for the surface, being tugged to the bottom by what seemed to be chained of smoking shadow. Some force Tas didn’t understand. It was like they were all far too heavy and kept sinking to the bottom unless the clawed at each other to get to the top. So they raked at each other and pulled each other down into the dark depths. So many seemed to fall but innumerable more would simply replace the fallen. It was a viciously cycle that Tas eventually tore his eyes from forcefully. He had to follow the path.

The path wound above the sea, on cliffs that descended sharply into shards and rubble and break-rocks on the shore. As Tas looked closer at the water he found that it was unlike anything he had ever seen; he didn’t know if he could call it water. It was blacker and more viscous, and they seemed to crash much harder against the shore. It attached itself to the rocks as it slammed against them and he knew that this was no sea. Tas got a deep sense of foreboding and decided to keep his gaze to his right as he walked on the cliff side path, the sea raging out of his mind to the left.

It was a treacherous climb; several times Tas had to double back to find the proper way up through the rocks. He was becoming more and more tired, something he had not expected. Even his eyes were starting to shut. The concentration required to keep going was slowly becoming insurmountable. But as soon as he finished walking, ready to give up, Tas glanced ahead at a cave in side of the cliff. He waited a moment to regain his strength, but when it didn’t come, pushed himself forward towards the small opening in the rocky cliffs. The air was heavy with his fatigue and he almost had to stop again before reaching the small cave, but manage to make it without keeling over.

As he entered under the low and sharp rocks at the mouth of the cave, he pulled his hands away from the damp rocks, sticky with the dark liquid he assumed to be the same as the sea. It was sticky like honey, but as he brought his hand to his face, the substance absorbed into his skin. Something was very odd about this place, but Tas had to time to be confused. He could barely keep his eyes open. He felt his way slowly through the dark passage until it opened into a larger cave; though Tas could barely tell because of the dark. He groped along the wall as he stood up all the way, using his hands to feel in the blackness. He continued a bit further until he could go no further. His eyes were closed and he was too tired to keep them open. His concentration fell into the darkness and the darkness surrounded him. But as he lay down on the cold and damp floor to fall asleep something dark took a hold of him.

Tas woke up in a different small, dark room, though it had a bright light in the middle. He didn’t know where he was. The light shined directly into Tas’ face, making it so that he couldn’t see anything, even as he focused his eyes. He was seated and couldn’t move; and he was bound to some kind of metal chair. The bindings slithered across his skin creepily; their moist grip sent chills running down his spine. He knew they were made of the shadows, he could feel it. Suddenly a door opened and the dark figure from his nightmares stepped in. Grethatch wore a furious expression; dark, bruised eyes with a splash of menacing satisfaction. His eyes glowed a faint red, not nearly as brightly as Melkar’s. In addition, his face was still completely intact; Melkar’s was a hideously diseased and rotting thing that made Tas sick just thinking about it. But that didn’t stop Tas’ entire body from shuttering uncontrollably when Grethatch put his face in front of Tas’, grinning so wide that Tas could see each of his sharp and demonic looking teeth. The tattoos lining his face moved, circling his eyes; Tas looked away forcefully.

“I thought you might pursue that curiosity of yours.” Another evil grin spread Grethatch’s dark lips and a sinister laugh echoed in the stone chamber. “What it is you wanted to know? Oh yes, I almost forgot. You wanted to know god, wasn’t it?” Now the laugh was far louder and caused Tas’ skin to prickel. The stone walls seemed to shutter. “Well, you have found him. Melkar is god.”

Now it was Tas’ turn to laugh. “What do you know of god, fiend? You know only lust, demon’s pet. Masters follow themselves, not incubi” He spat the last word out, using the strongest insult he knew, though he didn’t really know what it meant. Yao had used it once to insult a merchant who was trying to overcharge them and the merchant had almost fought him over it.

Grethatch’s smile faded and was replaced by one of fury and he let loose a snarl, “Yao knows nothing. You follow an old man to his long-avoided death. You believe he will show you god? You are a fool!”

“You follow Melkar like a child. You are just an apprentice, like I am to Yao. You think yourself to be Melkar’s equal? Or perhaps you desire his power, is that why you follow him like a little lamb?”

At this Grethatch grew angry and slapped Tas across the face. Tas knew he had gone too far; he decided he would hold his tongue; he could taste the blood from Grethatch’s sharp nails “I am a demon myself boy! I follow no one. I have spent enough time in the nether to know the power of darkness; but you, this is your first time, isn’t it?” The grin returned. “Well, let me be the first to welcome you to your destiny! Now I will send your soul into the depths of the sea, where you learn the meaning of true suffering!”Grethatch raised his curved blade and Tas closed his eyes. He was terrified, but in that moment, he felt the same peace of his first night of meditation with Yao. He didn’t care.

But instead of pain, he heard a ear-shattering clang that startled his eyes open. He jumped back automatically. As soon as his eyes focused he saw a spear in mid-air having met Grethatch’s blow head on and forcing him to step back. The spear had come from nowhere, but the bottom of it was missing, like it was cut in half. Then a tear in the air seemed to open right in the middle of the room and light poured through, along with a lunging Yao, moving at his lightning fast attack speed, spinning whirling and jumping. His attack on Grethatch was furious relentless, and even more intense than in the village. Paj walked in slowly afterwards his eyes fixed on the battle between Yao and Grethatch. Yao pushed Grethatch back from Tas with blow after blow that would have shattered the strength of a normal man, but the demon held his ground. Even Yao’s unyielding attacks proved ineffective at pushing past the villain’s guard.

Tas moved towards Paj as he watched Yao slice swiftly press forward, cutting seamlessly through the air, his spear was like a bird on the wind, always circling his opponent, connecting with powerful strikes that Tas couldn’t follow. But Grethatch was as fast and avoided his spear continually when he didn’t block with his great strength; he used his own sword to deflect blow after blow, but Tas could see he had no time to counterattack. He continued to step back against Yao’s onslaught. As he retreated, the shadows drew towards Grethatch and the light towards Yao as they circled each other in furious combat a storm of shadow and light formed around them. But Yao’s speed increased steading and soon he was pushing Grethatch’s back against the wall. Once the demon’s back hit the wall, a fury erupted and finally he successfully counterattacked Yao. Powerful stroked sliced through the air, leaving trails of shadow pulsating against the light pouring through the hole in the center of the room.

Tas had never seen anything move so gracefully; the only thing Grethatch’s sword could find was air. It missed the old man each time by wide margins, as the old man danced swiftly away from each blow. Then, with a dizzying spin and counterattack, that Tas couldn’t see, Yao’s blade found Grethatch’s flesh and with a heavy thud, his forearm and hand hit the floor. Yao had severed his arm from the elbow down.

A scream pierced through the chamber, curdling Tas’ blood and causing him to duck and cover his ears. He could see a tar-like black liquid dripping viscously from Grethatch’s arm, a mixture of blood and shadow. Immediately, the shadows seemed to push against the open wound closing it. He looked up to see Yao smack Grethatch in the side of the head with the butt of his spear, and watched him fall unconscious to the floor. Yao took the demon and pulled him right into the tear of light as Grethatch screamed in agony. The scream made Tas fall to his knees weakly, his energy was all but gone. He was so tired that he couldn’t move. He looked up at Paj who didn’t seem to have heard anything and was watching Tas intently. Paj grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, supporting him under the shoulder. Then Paj pushed forward to the blinding light of the tear in the center of the room, and everything went black as Tas fainted.