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.