The Wanderer, Part 36

Read see the first story of this series here: The Wanderer, Part 1

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 35

Tas slowly woke on his cot, finally not remembering anything from his dreams. He had become very tired of the incessant dreaming and wanted nothing more than to rest in the warm comfort of his companion Yaina in the darkness, but she wasn’t there. He rubbed his eyes that were coated with crusty sleepies and he was as sore as he had ever felt in his life. He assumed it was his last night of good sleep for a while. Today they would reach the monastery and begin planning with Fei, the monastery’s keeper for his last journey into the shadow-realm. And Tas was finally feeling his normal, old self.

The trek took the better part of the morning. Tas walked with Ice in the lead, occasionally feeding his companion the last little scraps of jerky as they went along. The whole group was walking rather slowly and Ice was very focused on scouting the trail ahead. He eventually found something in the forest, but Yao and Yaina were deep in discussion behind them and didn’t notice, though Tas had no idea what they were saying. He was trying to relax and enjoy his clear mind so he simply followed Ice.

They traversed off the beaten path into the jungle, where the bugs were loud and birds were singing high in the trees and calling to each other. Ice quickly led to the base of a large baobab tree and tried to his his claws to climb and jump up the tree, but could get more than a couple hops up. Tas got to the base of the tree and looked up to see two large apes sitting, looking down at Ice. The second they noticed Tas approaching, their attention shifted and Ice stopped his attempts to climb the tree. Tas sat next to his anxious wolf friend and was content to look up at the large, very intelligent looking animals. Then the primates descended down the giant tree, obviously interested.

Tas waited patiently, but Ice wasn’t quite as docile. He started to pant and pace anxiously, though the apes paid him no mind and jumped the last couple meters to crouch softly on the earth.

Then, to to the surprise of all, they spoke.

“we know of your journey, friend, Tas and wish to warn you of your supposed friends at the monastery. Your journey is perilous and you should trust no one. Especially the monks at the monastery. Friend will become indecipherable from foe as you continue deeper into the nether.”

“what should I do?” Tas said, shaking his head in disbelief at what they said. How could he continue if he didn’t trust Fei, or Yao, or Shu.

“Wait, observe, and watch all around you. Only your friend here is trustworthy.” They both looked at Ice with a certain interest that Tas couldn’t place.

A soft rustling came from the thick of the brush deeper in the jungle, and from the dark shadows a tiger appeared. This was the cat that Yao has sensed earlier. Ice was on edge by Tas’ side; he could feel his apprehension, though his white furred friend was silent.

The cat approached silently, and the apes appeared to also be apprehensive, though unreactive.

“I have been watching your journey for the past few days, boy. I have been interested in you and what you are doing. Tell me, why is it that you travel so far? Through my domain, nonetheless.”

Tas replied slowly, knowing the cat wouldn’t want to hear anything short of the truth. But how much truth should he share?

“We are returning to a place that was destroyed by the likes of a dragon. Do you know of what I speak.”

The tiger hissed, spitting wildly. “yessss I know of this enemy. I have lost several of my hunting grounds to the dark fire that this demon began.”

“Well,” Tas said growing sure that the tiger wouldn’t eat him after he told him more. “I am going to slay him.”

At this the apes panicked and Ice followed. The cat crouched and immediately sprung at Tas, claws outreached and teeth barred. But the one of the giant primates had grabbed a rock, and slammed it into the face of the tiger. The other brought his arms around the neck of the tiger and Ice simultaneously attacked the tiger’s throat, ripping through the flesh. The ape with the rock continued his assault until the tiger’s body convulsed. The whole ordeal took but a minute.

The apes looked at each other in confusion, but also a shared communication passed between them that Tas could see, but didn’t understand.

“The enemy will take all forms of being, my young friend. Travel lightly, and again, trust no one. Except your friend here.” They looked down warmly at Ice, who continued to drink in the blood of the tiger. After he was finished, the apes took the corpse up the tree and bid them farewell. Ice and Tas returned to their perilous path to continue to the old monastery.

After a short time of returning to the monastery’s path, Tas could see the small road winding up to the hillside to the stone walls at the base of the monastery’s overhanging garden. He was happy that they had almost arrived, but there was no sign of Yao or Yaina. They must have travelled before them.

Paj and Shu greeted them at the recently rebuilt entrance, undoubtedly having foreseen his arrival. They both looked rested and recovered, though apprehensive. The garden, however, looked very overgrown compared to the last time that Tas was there; the bushes had grown thick and the grass was peeping through the dirt on the paths. The rest of the monks where nowhere to be seen. They could only see Fei on the balcony, looking out at them as they rose to the courtyard. His large smile put them all at ease, though after their recent debacle, Tas was skeptical of all of his old friends.

The two monks, Tas and Ice walked up the spiral staircase together to meet Fei. Yaina and Yao had arrived previously and were a little uneasy. Tas explained what had happened with everyone. Fei continued his smile at first, but his smiled waned as he learned of the tiger’s attack and the apes warning. Yao brought light back to the conversation immediately. “well, you’re not dead yet! Maybe I should push you off the balcony and speed up the inevitable!” Tas felt a warmth and fondness grow through him for his master. He always missed this nonchalance when Yao wasn’t there. The feeling inside gleamed like the light from the sun.

Fei took the chance to continue lightening the atmosphere: “Welcome Tas and company, make your selves at home. Paj and Shu will prepare a couple of rooms for you.” He bowed deeply. “We will meet this afternoon before the sunset. In the meantime, Tas, why don’t you go with Shu in the lower levels of the garden? You will be undoubtedly very happy to talk and catch up on what has been happening in the last month while you were traveling. Fei winked and walked away, Yao in tow and Yaina slowly followed after with Paj. She looked back at Tas with a light smile as she left. Tas could tell that she was worried for him. He knew they would be planning for later that night.

Tas walked down the balcony and headed towards the gardens with Shu, his first monk teacher. It truly was becoming wild in the monastery, even some smaller trees had begun to grow and there were swarms of insects moving about; everything was dissheveled. Tas had to swat at them to keep them off of his face, but it was nearly useless.

Shu moved into the center of the lower terrace and together they began meditating and oom’ing without even talking. After several minutes of quiet, they opened their eyes and Shu’s smile split open wide, eyes squinting against the light. Tas smiled back

“Tas is that you?!? I’ve missed you my friend!” and he immediately arose to embrace Tas. Tas was a little startled, but settle easily into his friends weight. He certainly was sore from the stress of his long journey.

“I’ve been traveling a lot Shu.” Tas said slowly. “I am so tired and I’m not sure what to do other than go back into the nether and face what’s there for me.”

Shu replied slowly, “well, my young friend, there are only two ways that I know of to rejuvenate the body. The first, is sleeping. If you haven’t had any of that, mediating can restore your energies in a similar way. Let’s mediate for a time, and perhaps you will feel better!”

Tas was in position to refuse. He desperately wanted his energy back. He had woken up with so much and now there seemed to be none and the sun was still high in the sky. Shu and he sat for a short time, before Tas grew impatient. Shu wasn’t saying or doing anything but sitting there breathing deeply. Eventually Tas’ patience ran out and he sighed to get up.

Shu sat him back down, and smiled, “not yet my friend. We will sleep while you are awake! Breath deeply with me and lets restore your energies.”

“But I need to sleep to truly heal and regain my strength.”

“these limitations are made up by your mind my friend. Breath with me slowly and deeply and you will find the sleep that you need.”

So Tas tried to sit still and breath deeply and after a time, he felt himself falling into a deep trance. The light inside of him grew bright and he soon felt as light as a feather. Shu continued to breath next to him, but his breathing was making Tas tired, and soon he felt himself lay back and drift off, darkness once again surrounding him completely.

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 shadowy mist that threw itself into the spaces. He looked closely at his own skin and sighed. His skin was resilient to the shadows, but he was in the nether. But it was glowing.

Once again he felt empowered by the shadow. He closed his eyes and felt a rush flow through his spine, and he stood a bit taller with more energy than he could remember having something in his hands.

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 companion, 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 deep grin formed 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. What then, is your name? And are you a demon?”

The dragon’s chest puffed as he heard Yao say the last word. He truly looked hurt now. With a slow and depressed sounding air, the enormous shadowy dragon responded “I am named Arcartre; it means sly one in my parent’s tongue. I am a shadow dragon, slave to the nether since times that are now forgotten; however, once I was a black drake. But that was an age before.” Images circled of dragons and men fighting together, red, green, and yellow banners. “There was once many dragons in your world, Tas; though I suspect that now, there are very few.”

“Do you wish to put a stop to this shadow fiend hunting your both or do you prefer to be pursued by this wretched shadowy demon for the entirety of your existence? That creature, might I add, is much different in creation and purpose than myself.” Arcatre huffed again.

“You know this answer Arcartre. Did I say that right?”

Call me Arc, my young friend.

Yao spoke suddenly, “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. Tas sat and his eyes rolled back into his skull.

Hello boy. It is a shame we haven’t met until now, but I will show you the way that the shadows ebb and flow. 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 himself to his fullest potential. He thought of his mother the night before the fire and knew, this was his path. “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 of the nether.

The Wanderer, Part 30

wanderer part 30

The Wanderer, Part 30

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 29

Tas trudged behind Ice as they shoved their way through the piling snow. Tas couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the sun. It was now mid-winter and Ice was much larger, but still a pup. He was always full of energy, once they were outside in the snow he would take off and circle constantly. Tas and Yao both found him to be the most indescribably perfect companion. Yao had explained to Tas his belief in the Chi; the currents of energy flowing through the universe and that it was no coincidence that they had found the pups. Yao had begun training Ice from day 1, mostly to identify animals and to teach him how to be a scout for their hunting party. They had become quite an efficient team; once Ice had begun to point them in the direction of prey, they were easily able to find several of the packs of elk and buffalo off the nose of their new wolf friend. Occasionally Ice would find a fox, or a smaller critter like a snow rabbit, and Tas wasn’t quite sure how he did it, but Ice would just be sitting there, eating a new carcass, or playing with his food before decapitating it with his massive teeth and jaw.

They would find food today, Tas was sure of it. He continued to huddle in his jacket, the wind was fierce and icy as the ground. Ice ran ahead, crossing into the upper ridges while Yao and Tas trudged below.

They moved through the swift wind and deep snow. It was now mid-winter and they needed more food to survive. They had been very efficient with their hunting lately, but Yao was charitable; he had given away too much of their catch to their neighbors. If they caught nothing today, Tas would go hungry tonight and tomorrow would be a struggle. Yao would as well.

Ice continued through the snow, head down, his white fur covered with icicles, though Tas couldn’t see them now, as he was just barely visible on the ridge line of the mountain. Tas shielded his eyes when the wind howled through their canyon. Yao wasn’t talking again; it was miserable. Suddenly, Ice picked up a trail, and as fast as Tas had ever seen, took off over the cliff. Tas and Yao followed, Ice would wait for them below, hidden in the snow.

Tas heaved side to side trying to keep his momentum going upwards. Yao and he would take breaks in the lead to keep their speed up, usually they would switch twice every hill. They finally made it to the top, breathing heavily and sweating which they normally tried to avoid; but their dinner was at stake.

Tas could just barely make out Ice against the lower levels of the ridge and a pack of hairy ice elk were huddling together, protecting their young in the center. That was fine; Tas would shoot an arrow through the eyes of one of the males. He had plenty of practice, but had never seen male elk this tall before.

He lined up his sight of the bow, arrow notched in his cord. He flexed his bow hard, the wood moved with his hands and he remembered what he had felt so often lately; the rush of his focus. Time seemed to slow down, his vision became clearer and he could see in more detail, and he seemed to think and react faster. Tas looked down at his scar momentarily and saw it seething; was this curse also some kind of gift?

He refocused on the largest male elk and shot him right in the head with his thickest arrowhead. Ice ran out after the arrow made contact and grabbed the elk by the neck, and ripped its throat open. The pack had fled in the confusion, the elk didn’t even know what had hit him when he collapsed. Ice was ecstatic, he was eating the neck and head; Yao always let him get some of the larger kills before they skinned it and cut out the meat. Yao began immediately, tearing the fur away with his sharpest dagger.

They spent the next two hours tearing the meat away from the bones and Ice patrolled the outskirts. They had to make sure no larger predators came to steal their catch until they were done taking all of the meat that they could carry. They finished getting as much as they could and began to walk back through the snow, leaving the carcass behind. Some other animal would come to finish it off, Tas was sure.

They moved as fast as they could with the arms full and their packs were heavy. They took a break when they reached the halfway point, much to the dismay of Ice. Yao pointed out that they had to carry much more than Ice in the way that only Yao could and Ice quieted. They drank their water and continued through the snow, ready for the long day to be over and to sit down and cook their catch. Tas had truly learned the full appreciation of his food from Yao, that was something that he couldn’t deny. He looked at the old man, swinging exhaustedly into the snow, so close to their home that he could see the shadows of the fire dancing on the snow outside.

Yaina and her warm smile were ready inside with soup and blankets for both of them. Tas had grown to appreciate Yao’s niece in so many ways. The house was nearly always spotless and she greeted them each day as they arrived back from the cold. She was like a second mother to him.

They undressed to their undergarments and wore the blankets over their shoulders and sat down to slowly drink their soup and warm their bodies. The end of the day always seemed to be so cold. But wearing light clothes and drinking their soup, they felt like kings for the ten minutes that they rested.

Then Yao got up to begin curing and cutting the meat for their dinner and to be made into jerky. Tas helped him, then began cooking both of their steaks once Yao had gotten through most of the meat to be put aside for jerky. But the sizzling of the venison was so appetizing that Tas’ mouth began to water.

As they sat down to eat, Tas couldn’t help but grin, he was so happy. They ate in near silence, the three of them enthralled by their meal and the new energy coursing through their bodies. Tas ate until his stomach hurt, then lied down and fell immediately into his sleep; this day was like the day before and the days before that and Tas was getting stronger with each one that passed.

 

 

The Wanderer, Part 25

mountain

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 24

The Wanderer Continued…

They walked all morning while the sun rose over the horizon and then proceeded to cross the sky changing from a deep red to an outstanding whitish yellow that Tas couldn’t stare at. The snow around them reflected the bright light, but it was still freezing on the hilly paths. Most paths that they had taken were completely frozen over, and occasionally they would see a hut built into the side of the mountain as they climbed.

Yao whispered behind him, “these are Bahar’s nobility.” As they passed several built together, then they could see a  bigger group of what must have been 7 enormous huts built into the mountain. They turned a corner to the right, on their path around the mountain and Tas saw a huge castle-like structure and surrounding townhouses looming in the shadows of the giant mountain that rose above it. There were many spires, but of them only two were high enough to travel at least quarter of the way up the huge mountain to stand against its imposing majesty; they were attached to a gargantuan cathedral build into the side of the granite cliff-face with stained glass windows to play with the light of the sun. Tas could tell it was the kings’ castle, but also enjoyed seeing the capital town as a whole.

The buildings in the city were only a couple of stories, except for the three that were much larger than the rest, but most of the others looked like they were different parts of the same building. The castle, the tavern, and the stables were larger and far more detached than anything else and the castle imposed its huge spires over the rest of the village. As Tas and Yao walked through the small city they found a tavern and Yao moved inside while Tas chaffed at his heels. Yao immediately moved towards the back of the bar with his head lowered; Tas followed the old man into the shadowed corners at the far side of the bar.

As soon as Tas sat, Yao made a motion for him to stay seated, then got up to buy drinks, most likely the local ales. Yao would likely come back with enough beer for them to drink as much as they wanted and then would share only a small dinner. But instead of coming back with just beers, the barkeep came as well. The beers the keep carried were large though.

“So you’re Tas, Yao’s charge?” Tas nodded at the burly and muscular man with hair growing particularly long out of his shoulders and back.

“He is my teacher.” Tas said happily, smiling at Yao and not giving way to any of the ways that he felt betrayed to left behind; he didn’t have time for those feelings right now.

“I’m Sarjin, I own the bar here in Bahar. Nice to meet you, Tas, nice to meet you. I hear you are quite the student? You have traveled far with Yao, haven’t you?” He waited for Tas’ reply.

Tas initially nodded his head at everything Sarjin said, but when it became his turn to speak he could, or wouldn’t; either way, he was silent. Yao scoffed.

“He travels where and when he wants with me Sarjin. How do the details concern you my friend?”

Sarjin shrugged. “They don’t.” The way he spoke made Tas hair stand up, as if Sarjin wanted it to mean more than what he said. “I was just hoping to make a friend.”

“Well my name is Tas.” He was sick of Yao talking for him; it was time he made some friends of his own. “and I’ll be your friend.” Tas stuck out his hand to grasp Sarjin’s. The hairy man laughed, then gripped Tas’ hand hard enough to completely stop blood flow.

“Good to meet you boy. I’ll be your friend, but probably the only in all of Bahar.” Sarjin let out a chuckle as he let Tas’ hand go.

“No.” Tas said simply. “Yaina is my friend too.” She is my favorite friend.” Tas looked down at his hand “She doesn’t hurt me when we talk.”

Sarjin looked at Tas with a peculiar glance, one that Tas couldn’t explain or understand. Yao took over the conversation.

“I am going to meet my cousins right now.” Yao took a step closer to avoid being heard by anyone other than Tas. “Is there anything I know should? Any recent…events?”

Sarjin took a moment from pouring another man’s beer and took his money into the register. Then he leaned back over to Yao’s ear, “Its been oddly silent up there, old man. I’m not sure what is happening, but I’m sure its unusual.” He nodded at Yao, then said loudly, “thanks for stopping by old friend” and went back to serving. Yao left looking pleased, but also a bit confused.

They continued for a time to a large steel gate that led to the top of one of the tallest spires. Tas looked straight up along the heights of the pole to see it rise into the sky. Three guards waited at the gate and asked Yao what his business was. But all Yao had to do was say his name and they let him pass. Tas walked in behind him, boots clanging on the hard stone floor.

They walked through a dark corridior for a while, the only light came through the small slits on the side of the walkway. Then they came to a flight of stairs. It was unending. Yao set off first, looking like he was avoiding thinking of the innumerable steps before them altogether. Tas followed, but more curious as to how many there would be rather than dreading the walk.

They arrived at the top after about 30 minutes of climbing, each was panting, though both were weathered by their long days hiking through the mountains. Another decorated guard waited for them at the top, then took them through a corridor and into a waiting room. They walked over a velvet purple carpet that looked pristine in the candlelight. There was minimal sunlight because of the massive stone walls.

After another few minutes, a guard entered through the door at the other side and took them into the courtroom, bigger and more extravagant than anything Tas had ever seen. Two men, both iron clad and in full raiment greeted them, obviously the kings. Yao bowed to his knees and Tas followed suit.

Each had a fur cape, one was dark blue and the other dark red, but each had an unmistakable silver crown adorning their shortly cropped heads. They also had sleek steel armor connected by fur coated leather joints.

“Oh get up you old goat. What a pleasure it is to see you uncle!” The one in red embraced Yao while the second waited his turn.

“You’ve gotten older since we last say each other.”

Yao frowned, “you have obviously gotten stupider! Iril you should know by now never to insult those wiser than you.” His eyes twinkled with mischief as he spoke.

“Yes, Iril, I’m afraid I have to agree with Yao, you have gotten rather idiotic lately. He has a new girlfriend.”

“And you don’t Adal?” Iril smirked and waved his brother off.

Tas didn’t know what to think of these two men. Yao hadn’t told him anything about them besides that they were his cousins.

“Come you two, join us for dinner.” Adal said and led them down the stairs at the end of the hall, his heavy armor clunked down the stairs.

Tas looked at his master, who smiled, shrugged, then followed his two cousins down a much shorter staircase to the dining room.

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 21

mountains_w_path

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 20

Tas woke with a shake, not sure where he was. He panicked immediately, remember the night before. He twisted to his left and hit his head on something hard. ugh, what was that? Clutching his forehead, he slowly opened his eyes, trying hard not to think about much his head hurt. He could see a dark, starry sky on the ceiling slowly come into focus. He sighed with relief. The stars were meticulously placed and he had often sat beneath them late at night, learning their patterns and locations ceaselessly. He was in Paj’s study.

It was a second before he remembered everything. The monks panicking under the shadowy sky, Melkar and Grethatch’s attack on the monastery and then his dark dreams. Where had he gone the night before? How had Grethatch found him? He was so confused. The memories came rushing back to him as he rustled his body awake; it was still sleeping.

Paj awoke as Tas stood, though the old man tried to return to sleep. Tas grabbed his arm to wake him again and the old man’s eyes flickered open, panicking in the same way as Tas had; but one glance at Tas and the old man was awake.

“Tas! You’re alive. Thank heavens.” Paj rustled himself awake, taking a few moment to stretch. “Let’s wake the old man, shall we,” Paj said sarcastically and in a slightly disgruntled tone. Tas could hear Paj’s bones crackling as the old man got up to his feet. Yao was on the couch to their left; still asleep. There was a small, charred scar on his forehead, though it was barely noticeable. Paj moved towards Yao to wake him, moving with the slow grace that was always with the old man.

Instead of grabbing Yao’s arm like Tas had for Paj, Paj threw a cup of water on Yao’s face. Yao sputtered to life, his guard came up immediately as he jumped to his feet. Paj watched the Yao as he swung at the air, and laughing heartily at Yao’s reflexes. Yao cursed strongly, but his anger faded immediately. Tas took note never to wake Yao up forcefully.

Once Yao’s eyes fell on Tas, his jaw hardened. “Time to leave.”

Tas sighed in exasperation; he need answers. “Can’t we talk about what is happening? I want to know what in the hell is going on, I’m terrified to fall asleep again!”

“You should be.” Yao said heatedly, checking his pockets and obviously getting ready to depart. Paj shrugged as Tas looked to him for help. “GO GET YOUR THINGS BOY! MOVE! NOW!” Tas didn’t even have time to think to respond; he hurried down the stairs to get his things from his room. He couldn’t believe he fell asleep the night before; this whole ordeal was his fault.

He rushed down the stairs, noting the emptiness of the monastery. Where had all the monks gone? Tas hurried to grab his pack; thanking himself for having already gathered food. He knew Yao would be ready to leave the second he walked upstairs to the main entrance.

He hurried back up the stairs; there was no time for farewells or goodbyes, even though one of the cooks he often talked to tried to talk to him. He was the only person in sight, but Tas knew he had to leave. He didn’t know if Grethatch might appear from the shadows, or if Melkar was coming after them as he rushed up the stairs. His mind was racing. He found Yao in the entrance and together they left the monastery, moving at double pace; he hadn’t even said goodbye to Paj. Tas looked back with apprehension; he would miss his time in the solitude of the monks.

Yao noticed and for the first time; comforted Tas. “We will see them again, boy.”Don’t you worry. With us gone, those monks will be safe. Paj is stronger than you think. The old man has survived worse. But he is powerful in ways that I am not.” Yao sighed. “I will miss him” Even as he glanced back for a moment, Yao kept up his blistering pace, heading for the forests to the south. Tas had no idea where they were heading so he asked quickly, saving his breath for his legs.

“Its better that you don’t know right now. We will be safe tonight though,” Yao said with certainty. Tas didn’t know how the old man could know such a thing, but at this point he trusted Yao with his life. He had saved it enough to earn that trust.

“I just want to know what’s happening to us, Yao. I don’t think I will be able to sleep tonight.”

Yao raised his eyebrows without stopping. He gave a soft chuckle. “Have you forgotten what its like to travel with me boy?” Yao was right, but Tas’ body felt oddly strong, was Yao slowing down? Or was Tas becoming stronger? “You will sleep well tonight, my boy. I will make sure of that.” Sure enough, Yao picked up the pace. He must have noticed Tas’ lack of fatigue.

They walked through the forest for the rest of the day, steadily climbing up-hill. The trees grew sparser and larger as they ascended and Tas could tell that they were heading north-east now; towards the mountains if he had to guess, but he had never been. Paj’s maps were his only source of guessing as they continued a rigorous climb and Tas was steadily growing exhausted. Yao was right; he wouldn’t have trouble sleeping tonight.

The air was crisp and chilly by the time they stopped for the night. Yao began to build a fire; Tas had never seen the old man so happy, but Tas was cold and the sweat on his clothes was a source of complete discomfort as he tried to warm himself by the fire.

“Tas, tonight, I want you to clear your mind completely before you sleep. Meditate yourself into nothing before you rest; it will keep you safe as you dream.” Yao pulled out a long pipe from his jacket pocket and began filling it with a green plant, something that Tas had never seen before. As he lit the pipe, Tas could smell a sweat, but strange smell emanating from it, unlike anything he had ever seen. “This will help you to have dreamless sleeps as we travel. In three days, we will reach our destination and there you will learn what is happening. But until we arrive, we are not safe from the demons that pursue us. Here smoke this, then you can meditate yourself to sleep.”

Tas didn’t even want to think about arguing; he was exhausted and knew that tomorrow would probably be even more arduous. The mountains were still countless miles away and Tas guessed that they were headed somewhere in the high ranges of snow caps you could see from afar.

As he inhaled the pipe, he found his mind growing blank, entering instantly into his meditation. His mind buzzed for a few moments, then cleared itself completely. He felt his muscles and stomach relax, easing him into the darkness once again. He leaned against the old man next to the fire and Yao covered him with their only blanket as Tas fell back into the darkness of his mind.

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 19

demon_wallpaper

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.