This story is a part of a series. This is the 19th part of the Wanderer
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
or the previous story here: The Wanderer, Part 18
Tas woke with a start. His body ached, he was so sore from the day before. His back hurt and his legs felt like jelly, but he got himself up from the bed and yawned. Cracking his shoulders and neck, he stood and remembered. The shadow; he could feel it in his stomach. He had only one option, like Yao said; to fight it.
He gritted his teeth and began to walk, taking his time to warm up his legs and let a bit of the stiffness subside. Yao would undoubtedly have him training harder today; Tas was not looking forward to it.
Tas joined the morning ceremony, but something was wrong. Fei was missing and Tas couldn’t seem to find any trace of Yao. Since Fei normally invoked the morning ceremony, the monks were a bit unsettled, talking to one another and looking for Fei. A few seemed to be walking around the grounds, most were a bit alarmed.
Tas immediately knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t see Paj either. As soon as he entered the courtyard, the sky began to darken, dark clouds moved with swift currents to replace the bright blue sky. Shadows darkened and loomed and Tas could feel the shadow inside of himself growing in power, though it wasn’t unpleasureable. In fact, he felt stronger than ever. His pain and fatigue subsided and his strength returned. The monks around him began to moan with displeasure and then became restless, their calm forgotten; but Tas paid no mind to them. Tas was deep within himself, beginning to feel a deep, low buzz growing inside of himself, something that he had never felt before. He knew instinctively that it had to do with the shadow wyrm. It was like his heart became a drum and his body was pulsating with sensations; he could feel power coursing through him.
His eyes became more focused and his heart continued to beat powerfully in his chest. His gaze turned to the balcony and he saw the dark, hooded figures from his nightmares standing above the monks, looming over the crowd. The dark sky lowered to surround them, and the shadows pulled to and fro around them, growing larger and moving closer, then fading away and growing smaller to make another round. Tas’ eyes focused on the eyes of Melkar; a dark bright red light illuminated from them, sometimes being blocked by the shadows emanating from his skin. It was as if his pores breathed the darkness and it pulsated around him.
A sliver of the shadow passed near Tas, but it didn’t simply pass; it seemed to attach itself to him, until he began to feel the power radiating in his blood, like a growing rage in his heart. It beat harder and faster now, his breathing became ragged and angry. He felt so strong.
Tas looked to his right and saw Yao watching him intently, curiously. The old man no doubt had been watching the whole time from the shadows; his favorite hiding place. Yao stepped out from the darkness to glint his spear at Melkar. Instantly, the shadows retracted back into Melkar, the sky brightened again except for a dark cloud that blocked the sun from Melkar. Grethatch was by his side, but silent, observing.
A hideous raspy voice echoed from the darkly cloaked imposter, deeper and darker than Tas could have imagined. He felt it in his soul, his bones shook with its power. “Yao, you are here. I thought you might be.” What must have been a laugh echoed in the hallways. “You have aged since we last met.” Melkar’s tone was almost playful, though it was also terrifying and gave Tas chills.
Yao just laughed. His smile was bigger than Tas had even seen it. “You laugh makes me happy, Melkar! It reminds me of how long it has been, indeed it does!” Yao was cackling now, he was almost on the floor because he was clutching his side so tightly. Tas didn’t know what to think; part of him was terrified, the other half was triumphant. Obviously Yao and Melkar had met before and Yao had won! That was promising.
Melkar’s cackle faded completely with Yao’s laughter. He waited for a moment for the old man to finish (which he took his time doing), then spoke in the same hideous tone, causing Tas to tremble again, “You think me to be the same since last we met? I have been in the nether, Yao, you think I have learned nothing from it.”
Yao’s smile faded slightly, “probably not. But I guess we’ll see. You certainly smell much worse than before. I can smell your stench from over here,” Yao wiped his nose with emphasis much to the annoyance of Melkar, who stood watching the old man with a look of pure loathing.
Melkar jumped from the balcony, abandoning Grethatch and falling with the heavy thud of thickly armored boots. He slowly removed his hood, revealing foot long horns and eyes that were so red they seemed to burn out of their sockets, like a fire. His face was disgusting and rotting, gnats crawled from his cheeks and flies buzzed around his head. Tas was disgusted and entranced.
Yao laughed again, louder this time, “You are definitely uglier than the last time we met. What have you been eating anyways? Goose turds? I hear those are popular in the northern cities.”
Melkar launched into a charge at these last words, a deep rumbling cry of rage pierced through the entire courtyard, aimed directly at Yao. Shadows gathered behind him, pushing him forward towards Yao, fueling him, his eyes burned as he launched himself forward; Tas knew this was dark magic and could feel his own strength grow from Melkar’s power. He knew what was fueling him now, his vision became even sharper, he could see Melkar so clearly, the burning eyes, the rotting flesh of his face, the black horns rose above his head, raised against the sky.
Yao moved in the blink of an eye, almost faster than Tas could see. He threw a small knife from his boot directly at Melkar first, causing him to move right into his spear that was coming down from above. Melkar stepped to the side at the last moment, then ducked another huge swing from Yao and rolled backwards, pushed again by his shadow. He moved so quickly.
But Yao was already above him, swinging down hard and clanging against the stone, barely missing his mark. Melkar kicked Yao from his dodged position, then slid back up to attack Yao head on, in close range.
The old man dropped his spear immediately and swiftly ducked Melkar’s punch; Tas thought him to be even faster than the shadow fueled demon. Yao turned and began his own assault, his fists flew and connected hard, then he brought his feet to bear on Melkar’s knees and wounded him yet again. Melkar began to hobble, but in his yell of rage connected his fist with Yao’s face. The old man stumbled backwards and almost fell, but Tas arrived just in time to catch him and keep him from falling. Melkar retreated, hobbled and obviously intimidated by Yao’s strength. But Tas noticed that the demon slowly began to walk better; like he was healing in mid-battle.
Tas found his own strength waning. He felt weak, so weak that he almost couldn’t move anymore. His run to help Yao had drained him.
Melkar continued to retreat, but Yao was not well. There was something dark on his forehead, and it seemed to pulsate with shadow, the same way that Melkar’s shadow did.
“Where is Paj!?” Yao yelled to the grounds, clutching his head. The monks had begun to re-emerge from underground, no doubt having fled to hide from Melkar. Paj rustled himself from the crowd and began to chant immediately upon seeing Yao, undoubtedly working to stunt the growth of the shadow on his head. Tas walked as fast as he could towards Yao, but it was little more than a slow limp. He could see the shadow fighting Paj’s voice at first, but with time the waves of shadow soothed themselves and faded from Yao completely after about 10 minutes. Tas still felt very weak, but was doing his best to help Yao. He was fighting his pain, but Tas could tell he was weak as well.
Paj and Tas carried the old man slowly from the stairs of the balcony down to the ground level entrance, leading him down into the lower levels of the monastery. Paj was still chanting something, but Tas’ head was pounding too heavily to notice. What had happened when Melkar had called his shadow powers? Tas had felt euphoric, full of live, and so much power. Was that the power that Melkar wielded? Tas didn’t understand. They brought Yao down to a room on the lower level for him to simply recover; Tas resolved to return to feed him at morning and night while he rested. But Tas knew better than to expect Yao to rest for long.
After taking Yao down, Tas followed Paj up the stairs to his tower. He knew that Paj wanted to talk to him, but Paj knew that Tas really wanted to talk to Yao. And Tas also knew that conversation would have to wait for tomorrow.
“You realize what has happened here, don’t you?” Paj sighed with obvious frustration. “You can’t stay here. He will return, stronger. Grethatch didn’t even participate. He might have wanted to master to fall. You and Yao have to leave tonight; this place is not safe for you. I’m sorry my friend.” Paj hung his head as he apologized, but Tas didn’t understand.
Tas was shocked. He was so used to living here now that leaving seemed absurd. Where could they be safe? And his training…
“But my training…”
“Yao will continue it with you. He is the most skilled in warfare, though not in the same mysticisms as myself. You will have to make due with the knowledge you have; it will serve you well. Your hard work will be useful, we will just have to hope that it is enough.” Paj smiled feebly and Tas knew there wasn’t a hint of sarcasm or arrogance in his voice. But Tas could see the worry in his teacher’s eyes.
“Okay.” Tas said slowly. Where would they go? Yao would know. He need to talk to the old man; maybe he would wake him for a few moments before getting ready to leave. But Paj insisted that he wait until it was time to leave.
“You need to let him rest now; in an hour we will wake him and you’ll have plenty of time to talk then.
Tas turned to walk down to his room to prepare his belongings, though he had only clothes and a few star charts that he had copied from Paj’s own charts. Paj was readying some concoction that Tas didn’t understand as he walked from the room; he would fill his small pack with some food from the kitchen. It had been so long since he had wandered the deserts with the old man; he wondered where they would go now.
He prepared everything, gathering food from the kitchen and saying goodbye to his fews friends in the kitchen and by his room. He took some final moments meditate and found the shadows inside of him flickering; he liked to watch them as they moved through him even though they were weak. He remembered Shu’s lessons and sighed; he would miss his presence while he meditated in the deep forest. Tas laid down for a moment to rest, continuing his meditation and thinking of all the things he would miss about this magical place. Tas fell asleep easily that night, letting the shadows wash over him, eventually taking him deeper into his dreams than he had ever been; his need to leave forgotten in the dark of his mind.