The Wanderer, Part 34

The Wanderer, Part 34

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-fourth part.

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 33

Tas woke suddenly in a fever; Yaina held him and was holding a cool cloth to his face. For a moment Tas felt wild and uncontrolled; the shadow surged in him. Slowly his nerves calmed and his vision returned; at first the light was blinding. Yaina cared for him as he regained his thoughts; she told him where he was and what had happened. She had found them in the cave until she was whisked away into the nether herself. Tas still didn’t understand how she had found the cave, but couldn’t muster the energy to care. His mind moved to Arcartre and the monastery.

Yao seemed to have read his mind and began talking, “we will need to leave in the morning to head to the monastery. Fei will no doubt want to prepare for the inevitabilities of our future.”

Tas pushed to get up, but was stopped by his own fatigue. His head pounded and his chest ached; the pressure was overwhelming. He wanted to speak, but couldn’t.

“We will leave once you feel better Tas. Yaina and I will take care of you, go to sleep now. Once the sun rises we will head for the west.”

Tas loved to watch Yaina work; she was so skilled and gentle with her applications, the bandages, oils, and medicines seemed to be used in perfect harmony and at optimal volumes. She was cooling his fever now with ice and certain fragrances; as well as heating his feet to stimulate circulation. Her hands moved in a blur as she tended to Tas. He laid back, sighed deeply and softly fell into a deep sleep.

Tas woke  up with drool hanging off the side of his mouth. He was alone, Yaina and Yao were nowhere to be seen. For a moment, Tas panicked. He hadn’t liked the last time he was alone and in the dark.

He sighed, remembering the last 24 hours with Arcartre and the nether. He had felt so alive there; now he felt weak, meaningless, void of energy, and numb. The colors were so indiscernible, he couldn’t seem to make out shapes or anything else around him. Everything was dark.

Yao seemed to know that something was wrong. He moved to help Tas to get up off the floor, but Tas’ frame was too heavy for the old man to lift now.

“Tas, I’m not sure what I should do.” Yao said hesitantly.

“Leave me for a minute.” Tas said slowly. His mouth didn’t feel like it was working properly either.

“What are you experiencing Tas? Since getting back to this plane I feel much better, almost like I was sick before, but didn’t notice. Are you feeling sick now?”

Tas nodded his head. “My head is pounding and I can’t think straight. There seems to be some kind of layer of fuzziness over everything making it all blurry.”

“You are recovering from your shadow form; no doubt it took hold over you when you were flying Arcartre and likely before as well.” Tas nodded silently again.

“We can’t stay here Tas; we have to get moving to the West where we can meet with Fei and Paj and the other monks to decided how we should prepare for what awaits us. We have a lot of work to do and no doubt Melkar is already on the move to counter our plans to summon Arcartre from the nether. Fei will havent plenty of his own thoughts to discuss on the matter, no doubt.”

“Well then let’s get going Yao. You don’t have to wait on me, I will be stronger than you have ever remembered me to be. The mountains and the cold made me strong so just guide me.”

Yao nodded, then began to prepare. Several furs and packs of supplies to prepare for the long trek ahead; Tas easily remembered the weeks they spent climbing up into the mountains from the jungles below; the long and arduous treks through the jungle, the ascent into the evergreen trees and of course, his first experiences with snow. It was hard for him to believe that a year ago he had never even see snow; now it was like the back of his own hand.

Yaina was cooking their last meal as Yao finished the packing. Tas was still resting on the floor, doing his best to focus on his breathing and to recover for the long journey ahead. He was supremely happy that Yaina would be with them; her cooking skills were nothing short of majestic and in the wild Tas knew that she would have an even easier time making amazing meals out of nearly no supplies. In Bahar, she had made the most amazing food from just snow and small bits of grass and some slices of venison; her stews almost brought tears to his eyes as he remembered them. Suddenly Tas began to feel energy flowing back into him, but not enough to get up.

“I need food Yao. My body is completely out of energy!” Tas was nearly crying, his stomach was hurting so bad.

“It might be better if you don’t eat right now Tas.” Yao said with certainty. Tas looked back at the old man in anger. How could he keep food from him at a time like this? This was not a good time for Yao to be playing one of his games.

“The nether energies have made your insides dark. Allow the darkness to consume itself and wait for the natural balance of your body to return!” Yao was exasperated. Tas couldn’t ever remember seeing the old man in this kind of anguish.

“Okay, Yao. But this better not be another one of your games. I feel like I can’t stay awake any longer unless I eat.”

“Then rest Tas. We will leave when you wake up.”

Tas did his best to sleep over the next hour, but the agony in his stomach didn’t allow for it. He pulled down his sleeve several times to look at his shadow-scar and eventually he came to the conclusion that it was the scar that was making him hungry, not his own will. He sighed, this type of spell was not something he had ever wanted, or even known could exist! He continued to try to sleep for another hour, but simply couldn’t. It was as if he was too tired, his body ached too much and there was starting to be a pain in his joints.

The pain worsened over the next hour, Tas had to bite on a rag to keep himself from yelling at the top of his lungs. He felt his insides starting to sizzle and burn up, the heat was intense. It was almost as if his body were coming back to life, but more intensely. He continued to grasp against the pain, biting against the rag and letting his body convulse and do as it wished in response to the pain.

After a while, the pain subsided then ebbed and flowed away into the far reaches of his body. He felt his mind move into darkness and his body finally was able to relax. It wasn’t long until Tas was feeling almost nothing and he turned his head to the side and closed his eyes.

The Wanderer, Part 33

dragon: the wanderer, part 33

The Wanderer, Part 33

This story is part of a series, this is the thirty-third part.

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 32

Tas and his scaly new mentor soared through the ripping winds, tearing into them with as much force as they delivered. Tas was exhilarated; he lost his breath every few moments. Tas’ wyrm scar rippled with purple flame and smoke from it billowed into the air over his shoulder as he gripped the dragon closely. He was empowered; he  could feel his eyes pierce through shadow, rock, and mist alike and his arms gripped with strength he had never felt before. He felt an incredible power surging through him on the back of Arcartre.

Do you feel the shadow surging through you Tas? Its power can be overwhelming; try to moderate your consumption.

Tas’ looked down to see that hands were shaking violently as he held on. He was strong, but completely uncontrolled. He pushed inside of himself and began to breath through his nose as Yao taught him. As he did, the world  around him slowed and he could feel his body calming down. Tas could feel the energy concentrating inside of him, pulsating with the waves of his own breath. Time seemed to slow and Tas mind melded into the dragon’s as they soared.

They shared memories, mostly, and emotions about particular people. Yao was of particular interest to the dragon, but Tas refused to talk more unless the dragon did.

Tas could see through Arcartre’s eyes; the dragon was scanning the horizon, then pushed against the air time and time again to ascend and see higher. With his mind he pushed the dragon’s wings to flap harder their strength began to combine. Then everything went black.

All of a sudden the dragon spoke, or rather thought to Tas.

You are stronger than I could have imagined, young Tas, apprentice to Yao and son of no one. Your wound gives you great strength. I will teach you to use it, if you set me free of this wretched plane.

Tas woke up slowly to find himself soaring above the cloud with a dark sun beating down on him. They continued to descend. Tas was ready to bargain with this creature; its powers obviously complimented his own.

“I think you are very useful to me, Arcartre. You know about Melkar and his freedom to roam my world. Would you help me to end his conquest of my world? And even if you did, how can I free you? You are a shadow dragon from the nether. Could you even survive in the light of our sun?”

Of course I could, the dragon thought gruffly. Tas could feel the emotion, a scornful and nasty response, one tasting of bitterness. They were unified, in a way that Tas couldn’t explain or understand. He truly felt as though he had known Arcartre for his entire life, though at the same time felt a strong distrust for the winged beast and his sinister nature.

You are right to distrust me, Tas. Don’t forget that. I could survive your world, remember that I can create magic too.

They continued soaring through the air tearing into clouds and weather for some time longer, giving Tas the opportunity to practice steering the unforgiving nether weather. Then as they were roaming, the dragon under him began to shake; he split into 3 dragons and the one under Tas was smaller. They all bellowed shadow-fire down into the sky as they ripped into the clouds. They dove together until the one under Tas shook violently and the larger, singular version of Arcartre was back underneath him.

I can do things that you can only imagine, Tas. Do not underestimate me.

Tas took what the dragon said to heart; this was no kitty cat from his local town. Arcartre could kill them all with a swipe of his tail.

Tas loved soaring through the air on the dragon’s back. It was the most exciting thing he had ever done. He was getting good fast too. But he flew back to the mountains where they started and he pulled his mount into a spiral dive and swept the dragon’s wings before landing on the ground in front of Yaina, Yao, and Ice.

Ice looked at Tas apprehensively, but Yao seemed to be at ease, enjoying staring at the dragon.

“How can I free you?” Tas asked, pretending to be only mildly skeptical of his own ability to free this monster.

The dragon spoke aloud now; his voice hissed and steamed as he spoke. “You will have to create a portal in your world, through a star ceremony. It is the only way to walk between the worlds.” The dragon looked at Tas then hesitated. “Unless you are a dreamwalker, apparently. Then you and all of your friends can do as you please.”

Yao looked gleefully up at the dragon. “How do we know to create this ceremony, dragon? What are the specifications?”

“Paj will tell you,” the dragon said confidently. “Certainly he is back at the monastery by now. And Fei will be able to help as well. Obviously, this will attracted Melkar and his thugs.” It will be your opportunity to banish them back into the nether. Or to do as you please,” Arcartre said curtly, a grin formed leading down to his shiny scaled maw. There was something so sinister about the dragon that it made Tas question their trust in the beast at all. But he brushed it off and remembered how Melkar could have already destroyed Bahar.

He also wondered about this teachers and the monastery. It was decimated when Melkar attacked and Tas couldn’t imagine that the monks were already back there. But he supposed there was nowhere else to go.

Yao motioned for Tas and Yaina to come over and walk with him. Ice trotted alongside both of them, continually looking back at the dragon.

“Tas, it seems we have met our ally. If the dragon is loyal to his word, we might not even have to battle Melkar at all.”

“Do you think that Arcartre is the stronger?”

“I think its likely. But I also think that Melkar is very sly and cunning and that he will likely hear about our alliance from his spies.”

Yaina stood next to Yao, finally speaking loudly against the wind.

“When you go back to the monastery uncle, I want to come with you. There is nothing left in Bahar for me.”

Yao was surprised for a moment, then agreed. “Yes, you are a part of this now, Yaina. As much as I dislike admitting it, it’s the truth. We can’t leave you to be discovered by Melkar.”

“Well, we better get going,” Tas said curtly. He began walking again and heard Yao behind him shuffle to catch up.

Yaina laughed quietly to herself and they were on their way against the tearing winds until it all faded to black.

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 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.

The Wanderer, Part 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

The Wanderer, Part 31

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 30

Tas almost never dreamt anymore. Occasionally he would have a dream in the early morning, but they were nothing supernatural. His arm occasionally, but the wyrm remained dormant and he hadn’t experienced any fading into shadow or dreamwalking. He was beginning to grow much tougher in the winter cold, always pushing against the wind and the falling snow. He was strong now, and Tas knew that Ice made him much stronger. The wolf was like his eyes in the snow, they worked in unison now.

Yao was finally tiring from the hard work on moving through the snow each day. Tas could tell that he was busy planning their next move. Though he had no idea what it was.

On the way out of the door, Tas wacked Yao in the head with the end of his stick, causing a big yelp from the old man and a reflexive grab of Tas’ collar. Yao pulled him in tight and laughed, though Tas could see that the old man was weary. “You’re tired, Yao. I’ve never seen you so physically deflated.”

“Yes, I am tired. The time has almost come for us to leave these mountains and to move on. You have gotten strong in the past months and your hunting is now better than mine.” Yao glared at Ice. “The wolf makes you inhumanely good at finding prey.”

Now Yao turned to Tas more seriously, as though he’d been waiting to ask something that was now finally coming up. “Have you dreamt lately? Has the wyrm wriggled free in your dreams?”

“No, Yao, nothing. I haven’t dreamt in months!” It was weird, now that Yao mentioned it, he couldn’t remember the last dream he had. “And the wyrm has been completely meaningless for me. I’m not sure if it is even still a part of me.”

“Oh, it most certainly is Tas. I am worried, the absence of action is the same as drastic action in cases of shadow magic. You may be sitting on a time bomb… with a demonic nightmare just waiting around for one night when you slip too deeply into your sleep. It’s just like Melkar to wait as long as he needs to in order to surprise me.”

“Then we will just have to be ready for him.” Tas said eagerly, scratching Ice behind his ear while he said it.

“Yes, Tas, we will. You have gotten stronger, but it may be time to return to the monastery. Fei could help you to learn how to use the dreamwalking now, instead of simply avoiding it.” Yao’s eyes sparkled with possibility. But Tas was enjoying his time in the snow and he loved the thrill of the hunt. He would have to pack lots of jerky with him to go; he didn’t think he could return to the old ways of only small amounts of rice each day. His body had grown quite a bit and he was no longer a child. He was now a young man, as Yaina liked to remind him.

They set out into the day with the scolding morning winds, ripping through Tas’ furs as if they were napkins. Yao’s face immediately sank to the snow and they trudged off together, separate from the main pack of hunters, but moving in the same direction. Ice led, as always; Tas bridged the wolf and Yao and made sure that everyone was in the proper position in case of a stampede or of a herd moving though the area. Tas trudged slowly using his spear Ice began to take off in search for a scent while Tas and Yao looked for tracks. Ice always found something first these days.

This was the coldest day Tas had experienced. They all had to keep moving to stay warm; even Ice was grimacing against the wind. Yao lagged a little, but he looked the least affected by the conditions.

After a few more minutes, Ice picked up a trail and they moved through the icy desert until they stumbled onto a small cave. Ice stopped at the mouth of the small rock formation and sniffed before they arrived. He looked excited, but also very wary. As Tas approached the rocks, he could see that the opening was large enough for a bigger animal.

As Yao arrived last, unusual for the old man, but Tas knew that the cold was taking its toll on the old man. They would have to leave this place soon, as Yao had said.

Yao scoffed as he reached the mouth of the cave, and began to peer down expressionlessly. Tas couldn’t seem to make out what the old man was thinking, even though he knew Yao better than he knew himself at this point. Or at least close.

“There is something dark down there.” Yao said slowly.

“What do you mean?” Tas said slowly. His mind instantly rushed to Grethatch, Melkar and the nether-magic that they had encountered at the monastery. “Is it from the nether?”

“Yes.” Yao said instantly. “I can taste the shadow in the air.” It smelt like rot and dampness to Tas, but he didn’t know better. The only nether beings he had encountered were once human; except for the wyrm, which hadn’t so much as moved since his last nightmare.

As Tas thought about the wyrm, it began to squirm in his arm. He was terrified; it was obviously responding to whatever was down below.

Suddenly a sound echoed through the cave; a raspy and chilling breath that made Tas’ heart shudder. His eyes began to go dark, though they were still open and a loud ringing sound took over his hearing. He looked at Yao, who seemed to be yelling, but was making no sound. Another breath and now Tas was shaking uncontrollably. He could feel Yao’s hand on his face, but Tas had to focus completely on breathing, because he was grasping for air. Then Tas felt Ice lay next to him and with a sigh that broke through the shaking, passed out.

 

 

 

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 29

The Wanderer, Part 29

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 28

 

Yao and Tas readied their gear for tomorrow, another day of hunting in the ice-cold mountains. They took turns to wash quickly, then dressed to eat with Yao’s cousins, the princes. He was even looking forward to the meal.

After washing from the day of hunting, Tas found himself missing Ice; he hadn’t ever felt this way. He just wanted to spend time with her, but knew that he would be busy tonight. But he was happy that he had a new friend. Yaina had taken well to the news that there would be someone new around to take care of and was already feeding Ice before Tas had a chance to think about it, much to the glee and confusion of the small pup. Ice would miss and accidentally scratch Yaina, but Yaina didn’t seem to mind. After a few cuts, she rolled her sleeves down and that kept the pup’s teeth from cutting her skin. She was even more keen to care for Ice when Yao had announced that she was an orphan now and needed a new mother. Tas said his goodbye to both Ice and Yaina, then adorned his furry cloak and followed Yao back into the icy wind.

The walk back to Yaina’s was a brutal ordeal and Tas was exhausted to say the least. But it was still early in the evening and they would feast with the cousins, Idril and Adal, and hopefully regain their energy. Yao had brought the unnamed male pup with them and they were all huddling close as they strode against the wind to the palace.

They arrived a quarter of an hour later at the huge structure, iced stone walls rising high into the night. There were three blacksmith forges surrounding the castle, running on wood from the immense forest behind the outcropping that housed the foundation. The mountain was still full of huge trees and Tas couldn’t help but wonder what kind of animals they might encounter in dark woods.

The group of three knocked on the iron door then Yao entered; he led the way into a dark antechamber and seemingly empty hall. The room was enormous, so big that Tas couldn’t see the ceiling in the darkness. But he could hear a dim sound in the back of the castle and Yao had continued in its direction. Tas scuttled to catch-up and found himself in another hall. Yao was just slipping through a doorway to his right and he followed the old man quickly, grabbing the door before he closed it and shutting it behind him.

The cousins didn’t notice Yao at first. They were both taken off guard and erupted into expressions of exasperation when they saw him sneaking a leg of elk from the table. They welcomed Tas and Yao to sit and feast with them, without question. Tas had never eaten venison before, but it was delicious and he enjoyed himself enormously while the cousins and Yao discussed the circumstances under which they had found Jaar; Adal named him immediately, but Yao kept Jaar in his jacket while he ate.

They all ate fairly quickly and the twin’s meal was taken away by their two maids while Yao was the last to finish. Tas took his time finishing the stew; it warmed his insides and seemed to finally get rid of the cold from their long day of trekking through the snow.

Finally Yao removed the small pup from his pocket so that it could eat some of the remains of the elk and both of the cousins hushed with astonishment.

“Yao, where did you find this glorious little arctic wolf?” Idril moved closer and started to pet it softly and tenderly, much to Tas’ surprise. “Of course, he will only be small for a couple of months. These are wolves.” He started to examine the  long teeth and their eyes were silver as ice.

Adal picked the Jaar up, a little less tenderly, but that didn’t seem to upset it. It licked Adal’s nose, then he lowered it slowly while giggling. “What an interesting little guy. He’s so small. He’ll be a hunter soon?”

“Yao, this is the perfect age, thank you for your gift. He will be fun to have on our hunts,” Adal stared at his husband. “It would seem that destiny had a hand in this. You bring a white wolf back with you from your first day of hunting? We owe the gods a great honor! Who could have predicted it?  We are honored to receive it Uncle!”

Yao smiled fully and embraced his cousin. But Tas was more interested in what Adal said about the gods; he wanted to know if he meant it. It seemed to Tas that everything was going very well, but as soon as Yao turned his back on his cousins, he expression turned dark and they left immediately, leaving the pup behind in the arms of Adal.

“We will return tomorrow night.” and Yao left without a backward glance. Tas shrugged at the stunned cousins as he left, then follow Yao.

They left through the same entrance and entered into the cold night without a backward glance. Yao trudged off into the darkness, forcing Tas to catch up; Tas was still confused.

“What’s the matter Yao? Why were you so quick to leave?”

“It hurts me to leave the poor wolf there; he will be cage and most of his life will be as a slave.” Yao looked back at Tas with tears in his eye. “I fear I have condemned that poor wolf to a life of enslavement.”

“Not all beings get to be free.” Tas said suddenly, surprising himself. He remembered his home and the small farms around it; many animals were locked up there. Many of his friends were slaves. He knew that what he said was right.

He returned back to the house, happy to greet Ice, who was still awake, but Yaina was startled as they entered. It was late now and Tas took Ice to his room, where they all slept in a warm feather mattress and comforter and kept each other warm in the cold.

 

The Wanderer, Part 28

The_Wanderer_Part_28_jim-brandenburg_arctic_wolf

The Wanderer, Part 28

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 27

 

Tas continued through the thick snow barely tracing Yao’s footsteps through the darkening sky. They were nearing the end of the day and hadn’t found anything yet; nothing since they saw the three men killed by the bear. The continued against the mountain, traveling back down the steep hills and slopes, but still alert for anything that they could hunt. Tas could tell that Yao had gotten very tired; his pace had slowed by at least half and he kept catching up to the old man. The wind started to bear down heavily on them and they continued their descent crouched against the side of the mountain to shield from the wind as much as they could.

Tas looked up the mountain and saw a larger beast roaming, some kind of white wolf. It pushed forward against the side of the mountain like them, but kept its head lowered and continued forward quickly through the harsh winds. It was far above them, but the majestic animal was hard to take his eyes from.

Tas continued on a higher slope through the snow, watch the wolf as it moved against the wind and off into the distance. Yao was slowing down again, Tas could tell he was distracted.

He unwrapped his mouth from his leather neck-strap and spoke loudly in Tas’ ear, though just loud enough to compete with the raging wind. “We should track the Wolf’s den!” Yao shouted. “We could find a kill to steal!”

Tas nodded, though he was skeptical. This was one of the first times that he had ever hunted and he found the whole ordeal to be completely pointless. There was far more waiting, moving slowly, and stalking than he had initially expected.

Yao moved at a faster pace now, their daylight was running out and Tas knew that they would be fighting the clock to return to Bahar before dark. It seemed to get colder every minute.

They found the wolf’s prints easily and followed them back over the mountains, though after 30 minutes they turned to moved down a slope. Another 30 minutes of wading through the dense snow and they reached a rocky outcropping; the den.

Yao began slowly, moving in towards the sheltered outcropping and then motioned for Tas to do the same. Tas could hear a faint whispering sound through the stone, almost as if someone were yelping inside. Yao looked back at Tas, having heard the same sounds and they continued forward. There were pups in the small cave. Yao found them, maybe a month old, hiding in a warm thicket of brush, leaves, and pine needles. There were three of them, one was asleep and the other two were yelping and trying to move away for Yao, but unsuccessfully.

Yao picked one up by the back of its neck and held it up for Tas to see. A pure white coat was growing heavily over some spots and mostly pink skin. It was cold in the cave, but the pups seemed to be alright. Tas pet one for a moment, then found himself being bit savagely by the pup’s already long canines. It began to play with his tattered leather jacket and Tas realized that it was snuggling against him and trying to get warm. Almost as if it liked him.

Yao saw the whole thing and started to get that stern look that meant he was thinking hard. He grabbed the second pup that was awake; this one was a boy and much more rambunctious. Almost immediately Yao had to lower the pup quickly back to the ground because it was biting him savagely in the hand. Tas’ pup was rather more quiet and alert.

We should bring these two with us. We can train them to hunt with the Bahar, and perhaps you can train that one.

Tas was stunned. The possibility of taking this animal with him had never even crossed his mind.

“What about the mother? Won’t she worry?” Tas was not happy to split apart a small family; it reminded him of his mother.

“These pups have a much greater chance of survival with us. They could be hunted within the next few weeks; most Bahar would eat wolf pups; or they would likely die to the elements. Life in the high mountains is not easy Tas.”

Tas nodded, though he didn’t really understand. It felt wrong to take this pup from its mother, but like Yao said, it would probably die if he didn’t.

“We should just bring the one.” Tas offered. He felt guilty about taking one, but if he left the other two, he could feel better about it. He was already starting to think of names.

“No, we have to take two.” Yao sighed. “My cousins will require a payment if we are to eat tonight. We must either kill one to eat, or offer it as a gift to them. They have quite a large bestiary actually; the pup would be a hunter and have a nice life in the palace.”

Tas was very sad to leave the cave with the young wolf pup in his hands; he felt as if he were robbing a man of his most precious jewel; but Yao continued to remind him that it was for the best. Yao hadn’t been wrong yet. Tas sighed, then left the last pup behind and went with the old man.

Even as he felt guilty, he could feel the young pup warming herself against his chest and he thought of the perfect name, Ice. He smiled then said to the pup inside of his jacket; “What do you think of Ice? Do you like it?” A small yelp confirmed his suspicions; this was no average animal and no small coincidence. Tas looked up at the sky, darkness was settling heavily on the landscape. They continued against the harsh winds and Tas felt the pup now keeping him warm as they trudged through the snow; it was colder and windier than anything Tas had ever felt. He was so thankful to have the pup to keep him warm now that he began to forget his hesitations about taking the pup from its mother. He began to get a funny feeling that he would need Ice far more than she would need him. He shuttered against the cold, sure that they had another hour to trek before they would arrive in Bahar. But the pup kept him warm and he enjoyed checking in with her every few minutes.

“What do you think Ice? Is there a god?”

The pup was silent this time; perhaps she had fallen asleep. Yao was starting to move faster now so Tas doubled his speed and continued towards the old man, with his new companion wrapped snuggly against his chest. Into the cold they marched, against the wind and ready for this long day to come to an end.

 

The Wanderer, Part 27

dark_mountains the wanderer, part 27

The Wanderer, Part 27

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 26

 

Tas woke with the creeping light of dawn, his furs were disheveled and Yao was already awake, making tea and preparing his wool and fur coats near the fire. Tas yawned heartily, he was finally sleeping regularly, without any dream-walking, nightmares, or intruders. His meditations were also becoming more powerful, the night before he slid into sleep without even noticing.

Yao was moving much faster than usual, his arms were racing to pack everything into this larger wool sac that Yaina was holding for him. He was fully dressed and was packing smaller weapons and some of the left-over jerky and filling his water sacs to full. Tas got up quickly and dressed adorning the furs and leathers that Yaina provided to protect against the bitter cold that he knew waited for him outside. Both Yao and Yaina helped him to rapidly set the leather straps of his leathers, then moved onto the thicker furs that would cover his shoulders, back, head, thighs, and torso. By the end, Tas felt as though he must look like a bear because he was completely covered in white and grey furs. Yao held a spear, a longbow and two swords; one longer and thinner and a second that was more blunted and smaller. He holstered the weapons outside, waiting for Yaina to finish strapping the heavy furs to Tas shoulders.

Tas swaddled outside; he had never felt so heavy and over-encumbered in his life. But as he walked into the cold, he realized that he wanted every pound of extra warmth that he could get; the wind was wailing and the cold pierced through his layers of thick cloth. Yao looked unhappy as well, though Yaina looked perfectly acclimated. She would hunt in the morning, then return at night as many women in the village would. The men usually stayed out later, sometimes not returning at all if they didn’t have anything to present to their partner. Yao had told him the night before that they would likely stay out until dark each night, when the cold was too much to handle. Tas was going to be trained properly.

It took Tas the entire walk to the hunting group to get comfortable in his clothes. He altered his face mask several times against the howling wind and finally settled with his mouth uncovered and cold, but able to breath deeply. He warmed as he walked.

As Yao arrived first, he got several stares of disbelief from the hunters and huntresses. Several laughed, as though they couldn’t believe their eyes and were trying to wake themselves. But Yao stood firmly and silently, ignoring them all. He waited for Tas, who received different stares as he arrived; stares of confusion and questioning. He felt like an outsider here, more than he had felt it anywhere else. Everyone seemed to be grouped up and huddling around their horses or packs, but Tas and Yao were alone. Several darker skinned men and women seemed to be carrying more and standing at the outskirts of the fire, but Tas didn’t understand why. Then he saw Yao’s cousins enter the circle with what could only be a large group of their personal slaves. The brothers were fully armored and carried nothing, not even a weapon.

A mammoth walked behind their group, an animal larger than any Tas had ever seen. It made the earth tremble with its footsteps causing Tas to crouch to maintain his balance he wondered how such a huge animal could come to exist in this cold and hard world. But he saw the scars and the half of a missing tusk and re-estimated; this mammoth had seen its share of battle and hardships. It was heavily armored and fully prepared for its human riders to mount; spears were located at each of the giant quadruped’s 4 corners and it was mounted by one of the darkest men Tas had ever seen with full control over the beasts movement.

Tas and Yao stayed where they were for a time and let the others pass. The light of the sun began to peak over the horizon as they began their walk, to the right and what must have been south since the sun rose in the East. They walked for hours until the sun was high and they were both fatigued from climbing rock faces and hiking quickly over the treacherous and snowy terrain. Tas drank slowly from his half-full waterskin and continued his climb, looking for animals that they could claim as their supper.

Yao seemed to know already where to go and Tas could help but gasp at the cold air; he was higher than he’d ever been and breathing was as hard as Yao warned it would be. After another 15 minutes of climbing, Tas began to feel light-headed and his legs were growing heavier and heavier. Yao didn’t notice, but Tas had to stop and gasp for air; he couldn’t continue.

He sat for several minutes, regaining his breath, until Yao returned down the hill, looking angry at first, but then as he approached saw the pain that Tas was in.

Yao helped Tas to his feet after what seemed to be just another moment and they began to walk horizontally on the mountainside. The snow was thick and the weather was uncooperative; Tas nearly felt like he would be thrown from his feet and had to wrap his arms around his fur coat to feel secure. He and Yao stayed low as they crossed over the mountainside, still in search for something to claim as their hunting trophy.

Tas noticed that two men below them were traveling in the same direction and wondered if they were going somewhere specific. Yao was not speaking to him, but he felt much better after they had lowered their altitude several hundred feet.

Everyone moved in silence towards a forest, where Tas could see another was headed quickly with his two hounds; huge dogs that had vicious teeth and showed them and they pulled violently against their master’s grip.

“Something powerful in there!” one below yelled as the trudged through the snow, speed increasing. Yao began to grunt with the effort and Tas went as fast as he could; he was falling behind quickly.

With a earth-shattering roar, a bear stomped through a thicket of brush charging the two men below. This bear was far larger than any creature Tas had ever seen and he crouched low to hide in the snow, peeking over the ledge to watch the bear impale the first man with while the man lodged his spear in the bear’s shoulder. The second swipe from the bear decapitated the man. The second man began to run but the bear sprinted not 25 meters then caught the man by the near. She ripped the back of his neck open, then looked across the valley at the third hunter; his spear was over his shoulder, ready to be thrown. He waited another few moments, then heaved his spear at the bear.

Immediately the bear started forward, an unstoppable force that seemed unafflicted by the heavy thud of the spear. The bear ran into the second man and swiped him to the ground, giving him no room to run away. The bear looked up the hill, but seemed to be uninterested in Yao and Tas. Tas stared at the bear as it seemed to size him up, then grabbed the corpses of the two men that he had killed and began to drag them back to what Tas assumed must be a den.

Yao and Tas continued in the snow, looking for game that was a bit more reasonable than what they had seen with the comrades.

The Wanderer, Part 26

wanderer_dining

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 25

The Wanderer Continued…

Tas continued his leisurely stroll down the last of the stairs and into a magnificently adorned dining hall with silver and crystal furnishings that glinted and played with the candlelight. Yao kept his eyes fixed on his cousins, but Tas could help looking around at all of the marvelous paintings and sculptures woven into the fine architecture and decor of this palace.

Tas brought himself back from his imagination at the perfect moment; his feet nearly caught the edge of the final stair which would have sent him tumbling down and embarrassing himself completely in front of Yao’s obviously very important family. He took a deep breath, then looked up towards the table and saw it garnished with a feast of several large and lean meats that he had never seen, poached eggs, raw, and smoked fish, porridge, assortments of cheeses, a few different colors of yogurts, and a vast selection of fruit that was certainly not local to their cold mountains, but very ripe nonetheless.

They were each sat by a butler who then filled Tas’ glasses with three different liquids. One cup was glass and tall with a big bottom and was filled with a velvety dark red liquid; another was shorter, again a glass but this time filled with ice and a golden brown liquid; the final was a brighter yellow with pulp and placed into a coconut shell and then scraped for him by the butler. Tas was open-mouthed at the end of the process. Both of Yao’s cousins laughed easily at Tas’ surprise.

“What has startled you my dear little friend?” The taller and slightly more handsome one said. Tas remembered that his name was Idril? Yeah, that’s it.

“I’ve never seen such a well dressed slave,” Tas said slowly, not sure how it would be received. But he continued, “I’ve never seen a coconut that wasn’t already eaten. What is this orange stuff that’s inside of it. I’ve never seen this much food!” He stood up in exclamation, his eyes wide as he staring at the table. “I can’t believe this exists!”

The other brother laughed, “Well you will see lots of things over the next few days that you have never seen before, Tas. Bahar is very unique, one of a kind in this harsh world.” He winked and spoke as if he’d said it a thousand times. “Consider Iril and I your cousins. You are royalty in this city and peasants will have to obey you and your guard, which you will be assigned.” Adal, who was a bit darker, but shorter, stronger, and a bit uglier. Tas couldn’t say why, except that he was.

“Well thank you…” Tas looked down. He didn’t know what to say. He felt ashamed that he had said Iril name wrong and drooped his forehead towards the floor.

“That’s enough.” Iril said commandingly gathering Tas’ attention, then standing. He was very serious and had dropped his brother’s semi-joking tone. “As our honored guest, you will train and eventually hunt as royalty, as will Yao if he stay” There was no room for negotation, but Yao was fuming. “This is the highest honor we can give to you,” Iril said, looking right at Yao. “Outsiders and the banished are normally enslaved here, consider yourself lucky uncle. But after you are fully trained… let’s say after 40 new moons, Tas will raid with the hunt. 40 moons of hunting will be your payment to Bahar then you may do as you wish Tas.”

Yao smiled at Tas from across the table, as if he had hoped for this. He looked more smug than Tas had ever seen him, just like Tas’ father looked after he correctly guess a dice roll in the local watering hole back home. Tas couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. He would train to hunt and kill with these snow warrior and… Yao was royalty? Everything was still so fuzzy and unclear. He was confused, Yao was poor, not some royal lord. His head began to hurt and imagination receded to make room for reality and Tas realized he was starving.

Tas saw that Adal had already served himself a full bed of cantaloupe, melon, and pineapple and was eating them leisurely so Tas grabbed a bright red piece of smoked salmon and put it on the plate and began to eat it with his hands before Yao stopped him. Both Adal and Iril roared loudly in racuous laughter as Yao taught Tas to use a fork and knife, much to the surprise of Tas. He couldn’t believe how useful, but hard to wield a fork was! He spent several minutes trying to puncture his salmon until he gave up and snuck bites with his hands while the others weren’t looking.

After another 10 minutes of banter about eating and the proper way to use a fork and knife, Adal spoke in a more serious tone. “We will train you as our kin Tas, because Yao has returned. But you must know why Yao was originally banished from Bahar. It is his home, you know?”

“He told me. I thought he was banished because he refused to hunt? He wanted to live in peace didn’t he?” Tas asked.

“Not exactly,” Iril responded this time, his gaze fixed on Yao as he talked. “But that is the general idea. You see, Yao gave up his family’s name. Our name, when Yao was going to be our advisor and assist us in ruling by taking a head position in the military. He refused us every offer we made.” Yao nodded in the background while Adal scowled.

“Why are you so proud, still uncle? It makes no sense to me how you can not see how your decision had set our entire family back a great deal. Do you care nothing for your family?” Adal was obviously furious, but kept his tone calm and under control.

“I care for my own self more than I care about my family, if you must know nephew. I also care more for certain things than I do for my self, but money, power, advisory roles, applying military strategy, and commanding are not any of those things. There isn’t a single day where I regret my decision. I spend hours in the morning meditating and enjoying the trees, eating small portions of things that I find delicious, and seeing place after place after place. I am sorry if that does not align for your vision of my future, but I do not care. I will not lead your armies to pillage the lands of this world. Ever.” Yao talked slowly and with nearly perfect annunciation. He finished and a solemn and deep silence came over the table. Both of the brothers seemed semi-shocked, but neither spoke. It was almost like a long-standing mystery had just been revealed and they both wanted it to remain a mystery.

Tas didn’t know if it was a good time, but he had stopped caring; he was stuffed so full that he couldn’t eat another bite. He asked loudly, so they could all hear him, “What were you before you left, Yao? Some kind of leader?”

“I was one of the highest respected military generals in the hunting army.” Yao said happily to Tas, as if the other two weren’t directly across the table. “But I’m happy to no longer be a part of this,” Yao waved at the walls around him, then at the food, then at his nephews, who looked back at Yao disgruntled. They were starting to look a bit angry.

“Well uncle, now I remember why you were almost executed,” Adal said shortly. “Although this is quite a bit less embarrassing, I must say.”

“And to think we welcomed you with such a royal flair! What a waste. Even the salmon was cooked perfectly. Did you even eat any meat uncle?” Iril’s face looked somewhat saddened, even though he was obviously joking.

“He never really eats,” Tas said. “I want to get to training though, just because Yao didn’t like living with you doesn’t mean I won’t!” He smiled then had one last cherry. He felt like he wanted to puke, but just suffered through his breathing instead. He was in pain, but supremely satisfied, in a way that he had never been before.

“Tomorrow, Tas.” Adal said. “You’ll see where all this comes from.” He waved his arms grandly at the dining hall and Tas felt a great sense of wonder at all of the huge tapestries and countless antlers and dead animal heads of all shapes and sizes lining the wall. It was truly magnificent. Tas wondered if he could bring himself back here while he dreamt, so he could eat without feeling like he was ready to explode.

Yao left silently, Tas followed. Tas smiled at the brothers and they smiled back, Iril even let a grin fly across his face as Yap and Tas walked from the palace and returned to Yaina’s house further down the mountain in the cold chill and shrieking wind of the dark night.