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 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 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 30

Tas almost never dreamt anymore. Occasionally he would have a dream in the early morning, but they were nothing supernatural. His arm occasionally, but the wyrm remained dormant and he hadn’t experienced any fading into shadow or dreamwalking. He was beginning to grow much tougher in the winter cold, always pushing against the wind and the falling snow. He was strong now, and Tas knew that Ice made him much stronger. The wolf was like his eyes in the snow, they worked in unison now.

Yao was finally tiring from the hard work on moving through the snow each day. Tas could tell that he was busy planning their next move. Though he had no idea what it was.

On the way out of the door, Tas wacked Yao in the head with the end of his stick, causing a big yelp from the old man and a reflexive grab of Tas’ collar. Yao pulled him in tight and laughed, though Tas could see that the old man was weary. “You’re tired, Yao. I’ve never seen you so physically deflated.”

“Yes, I am tired. The time has almost come for us to leave these mountains and to move on. You have gotten strong in the past months and your hunting is now better than mine.” Yao glared at Ice. “The wolf makes you inhumanely good at finding prey.”

Now Yao turned to Tas more seriously, as though he’d been waiting to ask something that was now finally coming up. “Have you dreamt lately? Has the wyrm wriggled free in your dreams?”

“No, Yao, nothing. I haven’t dreamt in months!” It was weird, now that Yao mentioned it, he couldn’t remember the last dream he had. “And the wyrm has been completely meaningless for me. I’m not sure if it is even still a part of me.”

“Oh, it most certainly is Tas. I am worried, the absence of action is the same as drastic action in cases of shadow magic. You may be sitting on a time bomb… with a demonic nightmare just waiting around for one night when you slip too deeply into your sleep. It’s just like Melkar to wait as long as he needs to in order to surprise me.”

“Then we will just have to be ready for him.” Tas said eagerly, scratching Ice behind his ear while he said it.

“Yes, Tas, we will. You have gotten stronger, but it may be time to return to the monastery. Fei could help you to learn how to use the dreamwalking now, instead of simply avoiding it.” Yao’s eyes sparkled with possibility. But Tas was enjoying his time in the snow and he loved the thrill of the hunt. He would have to pack lots of jerky with him to go; he didn’t think he could return to the old ways of only small amounts of rice each day. His body had grown quite a bit and he was no longer a child. He was now a young man, as Yaina liked to remind him.

They set out into the day with the scolding morning winds, ripping through Tas’ furs as if they were napkins. Yao’s face immediately sank to the snow and they trudged off together, separate from the main pack of hunters, but moving in the same direction. Ice led, as always; Tas bridged the wolf and Yao and made sure that everyone was in the proper position in case of a stampede or of a herd moving though the area. Tas trudged slowly using his spear Ice began to take off in search for a scent while Tas and Yao looked for tracks. Ice always found something first these days.

This was the coldest day Tas had experienced. They all had to keep moving to stay warm; even Ice was grimacing against the wind. Yao lagged a little, but he looked the least affected by the conditions.

After a few more minutes, Ice picked up a trail and they moved through the icy desert until they stumbled onto a small cave. Ice stopped at the mouth of the small rock formation and sniffed before they arrived. He looked excited, but also very wary. As Tas approached the rocks, he could see that the opening was large enough for a bigger animal.

As Yao arrived last, unusual for the old man, but Tas knew that the cold was taking its toll on the old man. They would have to leave this place soon, as Yao had said.

Yao scoffed as he reached the mouth of the cave, and began to peer down expressionlessly. Tas couldn’t seem to make out what the old man was thinking, even though he knew Yao better than he knew himself at this point. Or at least close.

“There is something dark down there.” Yao said slowly.

“What do you mean?” Tas said slowly. His mind instantly rushed to Grethatch, Melkar and the nether-magic that they had encountered at the monastery. “Is it from the nether?”

“Yes.” Yao said instantly. “I can taste the shadow in the air.” It smelt like rot and dampness to Tas, but he didn’t know better. The only nether beings he had encountered were once human; except for the wyrm, which hadn’t so much as moved since his last nightmare.

As Tas thought about the wyrm, it began to squirm in his arm. He was terrified; it was obviously responding to whatever was down below.

Suddenly a sound echoed through the cave; a raspy and chilling breath that made Tas’ heart shudder. His eyes began to go dark, though they were still open and a loud ringing sound took over his hearing. He looked at Yao, who seemed to be yelling, but was making no sound. Another breath and now Tas was shaking uncontrollably. He could feel Yao’s hand on his face, but Tas had to focus completely on breathing, because he was grasping for air. Then Tas felt Ice lay next to him and with a sigh that broke through the shaking, passed out.

 

 

 

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 23

image from shaddyconceptart.com/

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 22

Tas woke with a harsh sneeze that echoed off the trees and shook a bit of snow into his eyes. He shook his head to get rid of the dusting of snow in his hair then stood to shake the rest of the snow from his clothes. Yao had pelted a deer three nights before and made jerky with a lot of the meat, so they wouldn’t need food for another month. Plenty of time to get wherever they were going. Yao still hadn’t said anything really. He just walked

Yao was already awake and about; he had just finished making his morning tea and handed Tas the scalding cup, which he had learned to hold carefully with his sleeves after Yao poured it. The old man seemed to be impervious to the heat and he chugged it like it was lukewarm chocolate milk.

In the past days the old man was silent; as they approached the upper heights of the mountains Tas could see his gaze darting up the mountain, looking for things Tas couldn’t see. Somehow seeing them. Tas didn’t know what the old man was doing, but he was certain it involved magic. There was a blur in his eyes, and the freedom in his expression were unquestioning, hollow, simply euphoric. As they continued their walk forward and upward Tas pulled him back by grabbing his arm.

The old man shook his head for a moment, then his eyes refocused on Tas, “Why’d you do that? I was watching them!” He pointed at the huge ice wall in front of them, nearly covered in white wind from the hearty winds passing through. After a minute or so of staring Tas could just barely make out a couple of black dots slowly climbing the white sheer cliff. They looked liked ants.

Tas felt his arm grabbed violently, but didn’t respond. He knew that Yao was playing some game. He began to zoom in further on the climbers, deepening his concentration until he saw them much closer. He could still feel Yao’s grasp grow tighter on his arm. What was the old man doing to him. He could see the powerful strokes of each climber’s iron traction against the ice now, he was so close. They wore suits with spikes pointed downwards to keep them flush against the ice, black and grey and silvery fur lined their bodies and heads. In this part of the world Yao said it never melted.

He felt his vision increase further and could nearly see their grizzled faces. There were more than eight climbers that he had counted, though there could have been more below. Each was a man at least twice as old as Tas, each had a mantle of some extravagant type of bear. Not old men, but certainly strong men. They tore up the cliffside as they passed through, moving steadily upwards. They wore furs from all kinds of animals, wolves, elk, bears, including one that was dressed in all white, probably from a polar bear. The man was massive to match, but Tas thought for a second about how much help the man would have needed to kill such a creature. These men must be elite hunters. The fur looked whole and his eyesight grew even more powerful to see it closer. But he decided it was enough and his head was already hurting again.

He closed his eyes and grabbed Yao’s arm, moving it away from him. Yao huffed and walked away, but it took a few minutes for Tas’ vision to return. When it came back, it was still a bit blurry.

“Don’t worry boy, it’ll return in the morning all the way. Probably better than before honestly.” Yao gave him a little wink and a big grin as if he’d just handed the world to Tas. Tas didn’t really understand, but he knew that Yao was smarter than him. He was far too light-headed to think rationally right now. Maybe he could do it himself now that Yao had taught him? He got up and forgot all about it in his suffering in the cold with his headache.

They continued walking through the snow, both were well fed from the big stockpile of jerky that made when they killed an elk a week ago in some lower forests so they had plenty of energy. They had to take their time to get used to the altitude and to ensure that they arrived unseen. Yao said that it was essential.

Tas and Yao made their way leisurely and slowly up the trees and through the snow. It was colder up here, but their newly tanned hides kept them warm at night. Each day was a day of drudgery, looking, and boredom, though they were both beginning to run low of energy. The snow seemed to take it from them.

Yao continued to lead through the enormous patches of trees, some that were wider and taller than anything Tas could have imagined. These trees seemed to grow up into the sky and their bark was thick as armor.

They went through the largest patch of trees Tas had seen yet, before emerging from the trees into the center of a group of buildings. They were small white huts made partially from snow, partially from treated wood. It was cold enough up here to ensure that the ice would not melt and each hut was closed shut with a large chimney billowing up into the sky. Tas counted twelves huts, but he was sure that he missed some. And he was only looking at a single area. They continued to trudge through the snow, moving towards a larger, more central location probably. Yao seemed to move very cautiously, as if he were ready for the worst possibility. But they continued through the rusty pink dusk they could barely see through the scattered storm until they arrived at a particularly small hut with a noticeably bigger-than-average chimney.

Yao led them inside to be greeted by a woman who could have been the same age as Tas’ mother. She turned out to be Yao’s niece, as she explained while she gathered things for Tas to bath and redress. Her name was Yaina and she said that she would make sure that Tas was ready for what would happen in the morning. Yao nodded his approval and went upstairs with her to talk of what had happened to them, and why they had come here.

Tas was exhausted, his head hurt from the long days of walking through ice and sleet. He would rest for the night and was happy enough to not move at all after finishing his shower and dressing in his undergarments for a quick rise the morning.

Yaina brought him soup as he was settling down for bed, some light potato with a morsel of cheese and some tomato. He ate a few bites, then told Yaina he was finished. He rolled over onto his back to go to sleep. She paused for a moment and rubbed Tas back slowly, her hand was like a motherly protection, he could feel himself nodding off to sleep, slowly yet surely. He hadn’t been touched in so long, not at the monastery, not really in his travels with Yao. He could feel the warmth spreading out from her fingers.

He opened his eyes one last time, but fell right back into a dark sleep.

 

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.

The Wanderer, Part 10

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Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9

Tas woke on a soft cushioned cot, his body felt rested for the first time since he was recuperating in the village hut over a week ago. He yawned, stretching his arms and legs, taking his time to enjoy the softness of his pillow and cot. He and the old man had arrived at the monastery yesterday and Tas had been sent to this room; he had fallen asleep within minutes.

He rose slowly, and walked into the washroom and got ready for the day. His hair had become a wild and black tangled mess and he took his time to use the comb to rack his hair for a time before giving up in the back. He sighed and dressed into the traditional robe he was given for clothing, and walked outside into a dark corridor.

Tas walked towards the lighter end of the hall, small candles lit the floor and he really had no idea where he was. But this is where he had been led by the monk the night before so he followed the longer portion of the hallway to the left. Once he had traveled up a few flights of stairs, he began to see monks, all with robes likes his and shaven heads. They were all moving so quietly and it was all he could do to move slowly with them. He rose up the final flights of stairs and came to the ground level of the monastery.

He hadn’t realized it the night before, but the monastery was high a on a hill overlooking the dense forest to the south. It later turned to jungle, but most of the trees were a lot taller than those Tas was used to and with a lot more thin leaves. He glanced at the temple above ground and thought the majority of the building must be below the hill, because he had taken five flights of stairs to get to the surface. He wondered what else was down there besides simple rooms for the monks.

Over five hundred monks were gathering together for their morning prayer, Yao would be with the acharya, the leader of the temple. When the gong over the entrance to the grounds began to sound, Tas could see Yao and a heavily decorated monk climbing down the steps from the upper level of the temple to a balcony over-looking the grounds; no doubt these were the acharya’s quarters. On the eighth sounding of the gong, every around Tas sat; he was quick to follow.

The acharya addressed the crowd with a wave of his hand, his smile radiated out towards them all. He spoke for a time in a way that Tas couldn’t understand. After a while, the monks began a chant together that lasted about 20 minutes and that Tas was able to participate in after a bit of listening to the responses. The gong began to sound loudly in the background and the monks rose and seemed to disperse throughout the grounds. Tas supposed they each had duties to perform and things to do during their days, though many seemed to be just wandering about, looking at the floor. This was a strange place indeed.

As the crowd thinned, Tas could see that Yao was waving at him to come over to meet the acharya. He walked to the center of the temple and up the steps to the balcony, where the two waited for him. The acharya seemed to be very excited at the prospect of meeting Tas and Yao’s attitude seemed to be the exact opposite. Immediately, the acharya seized Tas’ hand and asked, “You must be Tas, the boy that followed Yao from a small desert village. Yao told me about you about a month ago. He said that you wish to know god.”

“Well, yes sir, that’s true. I do wish to know god, or whatever it is that I can know.”

Yao let out a little laugh and the monks eyes grew tight as he peered at Tas. “Whatever it is that you can know, huh?” The acharya looked at Yao, but Yao simply shrugged his shoulders in response and gave another quick laugh. The acharya sighed, some of his enthusiasm seemed to die down.

“Well you can stay here as long as you like, as long as you abide by the rules of our order. You are welcome here and you can get one square meal of rice each day that you decide to stay. Perhaps you will stay here and study god with us.”

Tas was a bit surprised at the offer, he had never been offered to stay anywhere as a guest before. And this was what he had been looking for, a chance to learn about god!

“I would love to, sir.” Tas bowed to the man as he spoke, trying to show as much respect as he possibly could. “But can I ask you a question, sir?”

The acharya looked skeptically at Tas, but his expression gave way to a smile and he said, “of course.”

“What is god?”

“That is not a question that I can answer, Tas from the desert.” The acharya seemed to know that it was coming and seemed unaffected. “But if you stay here for a time….” He glanced over at Yao, seeming skeptical of something himself, but the crooked old man seemed to have a special glint of light in his eyes, as if he knew some joke that he was keeping to himself. “and if you continue to follow Yao, perhaps you will answer that question for yourself one day.”

The acharya looked satisfied with the answer, but Tas was not. “You mean I came all the way here, through the jungle, wandering endlessly in the desert, and nearly dying to just ‘answer the question for myself’? So much for a monastery.”

The acharya laughed, surprising Tas. “You are surprised that your difficult question is not easy? It is difficult. And different for each person. If you want to understand the god that I know, I will teach you how to see what I see.”

Tas nodded, this was more of what he needed. Training and guidance. Yao seemed to be very far away, though he was right there. Tas wondered what the old man was thinking.

“Good, Tas, we will start your training first thing tomorrow morning. Wakeup with the morning sun and come to meditate with me after we gather together. I will show you how to see properly.” He seemed to find this incredibly amusing and gave Yao a big push on the shoulder as he said it, causing the old man to react and nearly toss the acharya over his shoulder. Both stopped and broke into laughter as they began to wrestle, now a little more fiercely, but also more playfully. A couple of minutes later, Tas asked the acharya one final question.

“What is your name?”

“My name is Fei.” The older man looked happy, as though he had just won a prize at the lottery. “make sure you get good rest. Tomorrow will be a long day of training for you.” Fei smiled happily as he said it. Yao was not quite so happy, but seemed to be in his usual observant and detached state. Tas couldn’t be sure if the old man was happy or sad that Tas was going to stay for a time. The old man was so hard to read.

But as Tas left to go back down the stairs to the grounds to walk around for the afternoon, Yao yelled, “I’ll return in a month, kid. Try not to get into any trouble with the local villagers.” Tas could see the old man grin as he said the last words, then continued walking.

Tas turned and walked towards the gardens, happy to be in a place where he had always thought he was meant to be. Finally, he would learn what he had left his entire life behind to know. But he wondered what Fei had meant by training and knew that would have to wait for tomorrow to find out.