The Wanderer, Part 32
This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-second part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 31
Tas was standing, walking through a field with freshly tilled soil. The sky was blackened and it was night and he knew he was dream walking.
It was so dark… Tas could feel his forearm hurting; he pulled up his sleeve to look closely he saw that the wyrm tattoo on his arm was smoking. But the smoke seemed to fade right into the dark mist that surrounded him.
His eyes began to adjust to the darkness and to pierce through the shadowy mist. He could see that the landscape was nearly empty, but also that it seemed to be pulled apart by the wind. Everything seemed to turn to dust in the shadow mist. He looked closely at his own skin and sighed. His skin was resilient to the shadows, but he was in the nether.
Once again he felt empowered by the shadow. He closed his eyes and felt a surge of energy flow through his spine, and he stood a bit taller with more energy than he could remember having.
He suddenly remembered how he arrived, and looked up only to see the darkened sky twinkling back at him. He wondered if something else was behind this; he felt like it was no coincide he had arrived here. He scanned the horizon, mostly in futility. The entire landscape seems to be deserted except for the tundra plants and clouds of swirling, dark mist. The moon was high in the sky, but was only a sliver so that it could barely be seen and provided no useful light through the thick misty shadows.
He walked into the hazy wind slowly, pushing against it onto the horizon. On the path there were hills and Tas figured that if he elevated himself, he could at least get a feel for the surrounding area. But he wasn’t hungry or tired, or thirsty; he felt like he’d just slept all night and eaten plenty the night before.
He walked quickly through the hard tundra, and didn’t even look up as he walked quickly ahead. He heard a flapping sound above, him; something was stalking him. He looked up to see a small dragon flying above him, starting to descend to his level. Rings of smoked blew from the creatures nostrils and his eyes pierced into Tas’ as he dove. The creature got closer and Tas could see his horns and tendrils extending into his scaly backside. Then he saw the claws and teeth, which looked sharper than razor blades.
Suddenly Ice appeared on the horizon, his normally white fur was now completely black and seemed to flow with the wind, without being affected by it. Even his eyes were black now and Tas was a bit taken aback. But Ice sniffed him and curled around his leg as usual, then jumped up to lick Tas directly in his right nostril. Tas had no idea how the wolf had gotten here, but he wasn’t surprised. Ice hadn’t come to them by accident; Yao had hammered that into Tas’ brain. Ice was a part of his destiny.
Ice was watching the hovering dragon as it circled, ready to attack. But when the horned and winged beast landed it looked at them without menace, its stance was completely defensive and the dragon buried itself in its own wings.
Then, it spoke,
“Tas and Ice, I presume. Welcome to my cave. It’s quite spacious for me, but I have learnt disdain for the wretched nether.” The dragon snorted and huffed plumes of smoke into the tearing wind and his eyes were wildly chasing the clouds in the sky.
“Yes, I am Tas, this is my hound, Ice. His wolf snarled at the beast as Tas motioned to his white haired companion. The dragon continued to look defensive, but Tas could see the creature’s eyes glinting with the desire to talk. He took a step back and felt a push of hands at his back stopping him. He looked behind and saw Yao driving him forward. Behind him, walking slowly was Yaina.
The dragon looked even more curious now, it stepped closer and said in his slimy and slithery voice, “Yao, how wonderful to see you again!”
Yao laughed heartily, seeming unconcerned about the dragon’s presence. “You are the first to have said that to me in a long time,” Yao winked at Tas. “So you have brought the boy back into the nether. To set yourself free?” Yao looked sternly at the dragon.
“Yao, I am hurt,” the dragon said with dismay. “Have you not know me to be of noble intention? Haven’t you felt the abundance of my generosity?” The dragon’s voice had sharpened over the length of his speech, sounding terrifyingly unappreciated at the end.
Yao laughed. “I suppose I have not, dragon. Perhaps a demonstration is in order?”
The dragon looked incredulous for a moment, then a snarl came across his face like a breeze sweeping through a valley in preparation for a storm. His teeth glinted and the dragon replied, “Of course, Yao. It would be my pleasure.” The dragon looked as if in deep contemplation for a moment. “Though I do wish you remembered the sword I gave you when you fought against Melkar. As I remember, it helped you to slay him.”
“It did,” Yao replied, “but it also destroyed itself in the process, almost killing me. You think I would be so quick as to give my apprentice to your will without first knowing your intention?”
“My intention is the same as yours, Yao. To end Melkar.”
“I do not wish to end him, dragon. And if you are so loyal, what then is your name?”
“Arcartre; it means sly one in my parent’s tongue. We are shadow dragons, slave to the nether since times that are now forgotten. Do you wish to put a stop to this shadow fiend hunting your both or do you prefer to be pursued by this wretched shadow fiend for the entirety of your existence?”
“You know this answer Arc. I remember you more clearly now,” Yao looked at the dragon with squinty eyes, “you nearly betrayed us at the end of the battle. It didn’t seem to matter to you much if Fei lived or died.”
The dragon looked cold heartedly at Yao, “I did what I had to do to survive, Yao. Let me give your apprentice what I could not give to Fei.”
Yao huffed. Then nodded. Tas walked forward to greet the dragon properly.
Arcartre looked at Tas playfully at first, then entered his mind.
Hello boy. It is a shame we haven’t met until now, but I will show you the way that the shadow ebbs and flows. You may yet become a great weaver, if you are properly practiced. For now, you will spend your days in the nether and learn what I have to teach you. Unless you wish to die at the hands of your foe.
Tas looked at the dragon, but said nothing. He didn’t have to; he knew that this creature would teach him things that he could never unlearn; and things that Yao didn’t know. Tas looked at Yao, hesitantly. Should I follow this beast Yao?
As much as I wish I could say no, I don’t think we have a choice Tas. Melkar could find us any day in the Bahar. And you must be strong when that twisted creature comes after you.
Tas looked at the dragon with some excitement now; there was no turning back. There had never been any turning back. He thought of his mother and father in his village and knew that they would want him to go further, to push as much as he needed to. “Show me, Arcartre. What do you know of the shadow?” The dragon lowered his head and neck and Tas climbed on. He put his right hand in the center of the dragon’s wings and felt his mind enter into the dragon’s.
Arcartre leapt into the air and with a sweeping flap of his wings launched them straight up into the dark winds.