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.

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The Wanderer, Part 11

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
The Wanderer, Part 10

Tas woke up comfortably, soft cushions and a mattress supported him on the cool stone floor of the monastery. He was excited; today was his first day of training with Fei at the monastery.

He woke slowly and stretched, then dressed and prepared for the day. Fei said that he would begin training today, so he was excited to get started.”

He moved with the sea of monks from the lower levels of the monastery up to the ground level. They rose on the steps slowly, each taking their time and moving fluidly together while Tas walked awkwardly, accidentally bumping shoulders and occasionally walking a some toes on accident. But the monks didn’t seem to mind, a few even smiled when he miss-stepped. Tas had never seen men that were so peaceful.

He watched and waited during the morning ceremony, Yao was missing from the balcony this time and only Fei stood alone, reciting incantations and chants for the rest to follow. After they were done, Tas climbed the stairs to the balcony to meet Fei for training as he had requested the day before.

As he approached, Fei resumed his wide smile, looking happy as could be. Tas was very excited, though he had no idea what the old master had in mind for training. He had trouble sleeping the night before because he was thinking about what how Fei would be training him.

“Good morning Tas!” the monk said gleefully. His smile was unwavering, but it was comforting. This man didn’t seem to have any worries.

“Good morning, master Fei.”

Fei’s smile faded for a moment, “You do not need to call me master, Tas.” His smile returned in full force. “Are you ready to begin your training?”

“Yes, of course!” Tas said exasperated.

“Good! I am glad to see you are excited. You will spend the morning with Shu. He will train you in meditation. At lunch, you will eat with a very old man name Paj. He will train you in clairvoyance and astrology for the afternoon and night.” Tas looked up to see Fei suddenly look very serous, “Don’t take his lessons lightly. Master Yao told me that you should pay special attention to the astrology lesson.” Fei looked curious at his own words and Tas’ grinned. Even though the old man had left, Tas could still feel his presence, a lingering shadow.

“Thank you,” Tas said, bowing his head to the master, Fei’s smile fully resumed and was beaming.

As Tas finished walking down the stairs, a tall man with a long, dark beard approached him. His head was bowed until Tas reached him, then he abruptly raised his head to a huge watermelon shaped smile with only one tooth at the center top of his mouth. Tas almost fell over in surprise.

He regained his composure and smiled back at the monk, sure that he had made a weird face at the man. But he simply continued to smile, then took Tas by the hand and led him from the front entrance, into the grounds of the temple. Tas had spent a little time walking through the flowers the day before, but Shu led him past the garden into a thicket of trees. Sitting against the trees, monks were meditating, their eyes closed and many were using prayer beads. Some were making small rumbling sounds to themselves, others lay on the roots looking up at the leaves of the trees. They seemed to form a kind of big circle and Tas almost felt guilty breathing in it. It was so quiet here.

He slowly moved following Shu, mindful of each step, each breath, each thought. He felt as though he had entered into a different world.

One monk caught his attention, he was upside down on his head, with his feet up on the tree. He was so still, his legs did not waver or sway, but held firm, risen against the trunk of the tree. Tas took a slight right from Shu to take a closer look; he had never seen anyone standing on their head before. Tas realized suddenly that the man’s head wasn’t touching the ground. Tas was shocked when Shu took his hand again and led him further into the circle of monks. When they arrived at the center, Shu showed Tas a tree and asked him to close his eyes. Shu explained that he would return after a little while of letting Tas be by himself. “In the meantime,” he said, “close your eyes and try to feel your breathe only. Focus on it and let your thoughts pass as distractions. Return, always, to breath. I return soon.”

So Tas sat under his tree, closed his eyes and focused on his breath. It seemed to come so easily here, in the deep silence, with the monks all around him. Occasionally, he would open his eyes when he was distracted, but he felt the time slip away as he drifted into the small breeze, the rustling of life on the forest floor, and his own breath. He felt free for the first time since the night when Yao had first taught him meditation, while he was starving up in that ancient tree.

After a bit longer, when Tas was starting to get restless, Shu returned. “This time,” he explained, “You will keep your eyes open, but only on the floor. Try not to look up. Focus on your breath.” And again, Shu left him in the peace and quiet of his own breath.

For the next period of unknown time, Tas looked at the floor, seeing all manners of ants, little flies, pincer bugs occasionally, and found this meditation to be a bit easier than the first. The ants were the most interesting, constantly moving, constantly working, building, gathering, never stopping. Tas wondered why they never rested. It seemed like such a waste to work so hard and never rest.

After more time had passed, Shu returned to Tas. “Now, I will teach you how to flow with the wind.” Tas’ interested peaked. “Now you will control your breath. Count to 5 on each inhale, and 5 on each exhale. After 500 breathes, you can walk back to the temple.” and suddenly as he had appeared to Tas, Shu disappeared into the forest. Tas was a bit startled because Shu hadn’t seemed to move, but he stayed seated and began to breath.

The last meditation was by far the most tedious and at the end Tas was exhausted, but felt so free. He understood what Shu meant by flowing with the wind now, he felt as light as a feather. He left the circle of monks to return to the temple grounds. On the way, he looked to see if the man standing on his head was still there, but he was gone. Tas was so happy with his morning; surely he would learn about god here, surely this was it! The power and concentration of these men was incredible, Tas was inspired and felt as though he couldn’t wait for his meditation the following day. He wondered if that was what he would be doing.

He took his time to walk back to the monastery, but felt his feet moving much faster than he was used to. Flow with the wind indeed, he felt as though he must be moving twice as fast as usual.

He arrived into the upper dining hall to find it empty. He wondered when these men ate, he had never seen a single one eat so much as a grain of rice.

He was served a bowl of rice and some vegetables by a monk who seemed very friendly, but didn’t talk. As he was finishing, an older man with a beard down to his belt and hair as long a wispy as the clouds. Tas saw him slowly limp over, his back was hunched and his age obvious simply from the way that he walked. This was the oldest man Tas had ever seen.

He sat across from Tas without warning, and looked directly into Tas’ eyes. Tas felt himself getting pulled into the old man’s watery blue eyes, almost like he couldn’t look away. Suddenly, he saw his father, his mother, then his friends and the other villagers he had left behind, glimpses of the old man, and the city, then the jungle and finally he re-arrived where he was. All of this happened in the course of 5 seconds, but Tas felt his breath leave his body. He had just relived his entire life in 5 seconds. The old man made a crooked smile with no teeth, but his eyes seemed to show that he knew. Tas was shocked, he had not expected anything like this.

“So Tas,” the old man said warily and tired. “I know you now, thank you for being open to me. It seems as though you are on somewhat of a quest!” He said that last part with a bit of humor and awe. Tas was still recovering from shock.

“Well, I suppose I am, sir” Tas said slowly.

“Good!” the old man said enthusiastically. “Don’t you forget it!”

“Did you see my entire life? In just five seconds?”

“Kind of,” the old man explained. “a glimpse of your life. The events, but not the effect of them, if that makes sense.”

“How?” Tas asked, exasperated. He had to learn how.

“I cannot explain my gifts, as you will not be able to explain yours, my boy.” The old man laughed. Tas thought he seemed much younger when he did.

“Now, follow me. Fei said that you could use some lessons in clairvoyance and astrology. So we will learn together for the afternoon and as long as I can stay awake.” He chuckled a little, but with a heaviness that Tas couldn’t explain.

They walked to the tallest tower of the monastery, the entrance was concealed in the lower levels so it took them some time to arrive. Once they did, the old man sat in a chair and mentioned for Tas to do the same. The room was filled with books and charts, most were depictions of the stars.

“Paj, what are clairvoyance and astrology? I’ve never heard of such things before.” Tas talked in a depressed tone, he felt stupid.

“Of course you haven’t boy!” Paj said louder than he had talked before. “Not just any twat can look at the stars and the sky and know what is happening in the heavens! It takes mastery and skill, the type of which your master has in handfuls.” He grinned.

“Yao knows astrology?” Tas asked. He had no idea if he was right, but was what the old man must have meant when he said he had found Tas with the stars?

“How do you think he found you, Tas? He is completely clairvoyant, he sees what he wishes to see in the world. As I taught him to,” the old man said with a small “hmphf”.

Now Tas understood. This was one of Yao’s masters! He quickly grew enthusiastic and was impatient to get started.

Paj could tell and said, “good, now that you’ve realized that, let’s get to work.” He sighed, as if he were going into a long lecture. Now, clairvoyance and astrology and intricately related my boy. You can’t have one without the other, but clairvoyance is the obvious desire for most people. This, however, is an illusion. Clairvoyance is both a gift and a burden. As you will soon learn.”

“How do I know that I want this burden? Paj, what if it makes me unhappy and sad and angry?” Tas said the obvious answer that came to his mind, but Paj laughed.

“You are here, aren’t you?” Paj spoke as if the answer were obvious. “It is not so much of a burden, unless you use the gift poorly, for your own means.” He smiled, “do not worry Tas. I will teach you enough control so that it won’t affect you if you don’t want it to.” Paj’s eyes glinted.

Tas trusted the old man, but he knew that this would change him. He wasn’t so sure that he was ready, but he trusted Paj and Yao, so he decided that he would continue and learn the stars.

Despite the introductory conversation, the work was extremely boring. Tas spent all of his time mapping stars and planets and trying to figure out where mercury was, where Mars was, where the andromeda galaxy was. Nothing special occurred that night, except Tas got a huge headache and went to sleep exhausted from trying to memorize names, figures, charts, and movement patterns of the stars. Paj wished him a good night and told him to just return to the tower tomorrow after lunch, that they would continue their lessons. He seemed satisfied, but Tas didn’t care. He stumbled down from the tower and found that his room was not to far from the stairway to the tower. He fell on his cot and was instantly asleep, the world around him forgotten until morning.



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