The Wanderer, Part 35

alpine_trail_mountains

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 34

Tas still ached from the nether. He walked through the light snow, hauling his pack and following Yao through a winding mountain path. He could see the vast expanses of green below in the valley and was enthralled by the shades of color in the sunset. Yaina walked with him, whispering in his ear jokingly about Yao’s hunched demeanor and how he looked slightly like a lama when he ate. Laughing made him feel better; Yaina had realized this after the first day and had been working at cheering him up ever since; she was starting to succeed.

Tas was beginning to feel a craving sensation deep within his stomach; for the past days he had felt sick, but today he was finally starting to feel better.

“You think that the cravings will subside?” Tas asked the old man.

“Maybe…” Yao’s voice trailed off. “If you avoid using it completely. The second you re-enter the dream world, or call on your shadow magic your cravings will be reinvigorated, perhaps even more powerfully.”

Tas frowned. The magic came at a price; but he would simply use it as little as possible. Only when he needed to.

Yao said suddenly, “let’s go hunting; Yaina get the fire and cooking supplies ready and we’ll stay here tonight.”

The trees towered over them as they stalked through the woods; Yao would stop at certain trees and examine their moss, but most of their time was spent looking at the ground for footprints. Ice eventually caught a scent and began his tracking; Tas knew he would find something soon so he simply continued to wander around the trees and look for any signs of animals that weren’t ground squirrels or birds.

Ice eventually caught a rabbit, brought it back and Yaina and Tas began to prepare it together. They had become quite a cooking team during the cold winters in Bahar, Tas would gut it after Yaina skinned it, then she would decide how to cook all the different organs and cuts of meat. Tas had become quite skilled at cutting meat; his knife skills in general had improved vastly from the past year of hunting and dealing with the furs and bodies of the hunted. Yaina was the best preserver Tas had ever met; she could turn any meat into jerky and Tas had always found the spices she chose to be delectable.

Ice continued to catch two more rabbits, one much larger than the other two which Yao prepared over the open fire. Yaina salted and spiced the first rabbit’s meat then moved onto the second smaller rabbit. Tas worked quickly, cutting slices for Yaina to spice, but his stomach hurt from the withdrawals from magic. He could feel the waves of pain ascending up his spine, until eventually he could hear them in his head. He put down his knife and sat to clear his head. Tas slowed his breathing and began to focus on elongating his breaths. He felt the pain move back down his spine slowly, until eventually it disappeared into the bowels of his hips.

He re-opened his eyes to see Yaina looking back at him intently. She had always tended to his fevers and when Tas was sick, Yaina was the one to take care of him. Yao didn’t even get in the way anymore, he just let Yaina take care of Tas.

“Do you feel faint, Tas? Like you don’t have any energy?” She said quietly, holding his hand tightly.

“I feel drained. Its starting to get hard to stand.” Tas felt the world starting to go dark. The pain had returned in his abdomen with a vengeance. His breathing turned sharp and ragged as he felt his side begin to cramp.

Tas let out a cry of pain; he felt as though his side had been stabbed with a burning knife. He clutched his ribs and rolled on the floor screaming in pain. Yaina tried to stop and comfort him, but it was no use; the pain was excruciating and Tas was simply reacting now; not even thinking of what he was doing. Suddenly he felt a cooling sensation spreading from his forehead into his neck and spine. He opened his eyes to see Yaina holding a wet cloth up to his head and he could feel the heat dissipating from the front of his skull. Tas’ body was trashed; he has bruises everywhere, his legs were hardly working and he felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“It’s good that we’ve decided to spent the day and night here.” Tas overheard Yao say to Yaina. He was sleeping after the ordeal, but he could just make out their voices against the howling of coyotes and wolves in the background. It was a full moon.

“Do you think we will be safe out here uncle? Will the wolves find us?” Yaina sounded concerned. Tas could hear the tension in her voice and it comforted him. She cared.

Yao’s voice, however, was almost indifferent. He didn’t seem to care at all about wolves or Tas lately and was constantly looking at the sky as if trying to finish some kind of puzzle. Tas knew that he was up to something, but he dared not ask what; Tas had his mind filled already by Arcartre’s words of prophecy and the looming shadow of Melkar’s inevitable return. Tas felt that if they talked about such things, they were bound to curse them to happen sooner. Yao seemed to hold no such fear.

“The wolves may find us, but they would be the least of our worries. I am more concerned with bears and cats; I am nearly certain there is a cat stalking us as we speak.”

Ice perked up his head at the mention of a cat, almost as if he understood. Immediately he got up and began to sniff the camp for scents, moving further and further out while circling the camp.

Yaina sighed, “Well at least we have one protector.” She gave her uncle a wink and a sideways glance, then turned away to hear him curse under his breath.

“How many times have I kept you safe from harm, my most precious flower?”

“Countless.” She said quietly. “And I’m sure there will be many more, my troublesome uncle.”

Yao laughed, obviously unaffected by her pretending lack of appreciation. Tas began to understand a little bit more about why they seemed to be so indifferent to each other; it was all an act.

“We will be safe here.” Yao said confidently. “Now get some rest, we will have to leave in the morning and we are approaching the monastery grounds. Tas, you’ll want to get your strength back as fast as possible. Once we are there, Melkar will know.

Tas nodded his head, then turned to his side and closed his eyes. Sleep came easily to him that night, the darkness seemed far more welcome than usual; much to Tas’ appreciation. He sighed and let the night pull him into the depths of his dreams.

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 22

"White Mountain CA" by JonathanLamb (talk · contribs) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Mountain_CA.JPG#/media/File:White_Mountain_CA.JPG

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 21

Tas woke up with a jolt. Chills coursed through his body; the alpine air was fresh and crisp and their fire had died down to embers. Yao was snoring loudly and his wispy white beard floated with the wind and his loud snores. Tas’ eyes were hazy and his mind was blurred with fatigue from the day before, but the chill seemed to take only moments to wake him.

They were out of water, but during the past days Yao had taught Tas to build sturdy fires in the cold, to melt snow, and even a bit of rudimentary hunting, though he hadn’t shown Tas any of his expert trapping yet. The old man had caught three hares in a single snare two days ago, but he insisted that Tas wasn’t near ready yet and that he would simply hurt himself if he tried. Tas couldn’t argue; he had never seen snow before the days they had trekked up into the thin mountain air and he was still adjusting. He had never hunted. It was cold, harsh, and darker here, though the sun seemed to shine brighter during the day.

There was a dusty layer of snow on the ground so Tas took to cleaning out their temporary fire pit in the ground then went to collect more dead branches from the bottom of trees. He took his time to build the fire in a square with plenty of space in the middle for dried pine cones, pine needles, small sticks and some other kindling he could find. Using the flint that Yao had given him, he sparked the fire after only 10 minutes of trying; Yao could do it in just a couple, but it had taken Tas nearly an hour the night before.

The fire began to build and Tas took the small copper pot Yao had brought and began to fill his water skin first. When he was done, he woke Yao, knowing that it was time; the sun was rising in the sky and they needed to keep up their pace. Who knew how long they had until Grethatch or Melkar would find them.

Tas woke Yao by prodding him with a stick in the arm; the old man shuttered awake and for a moment his eyes were wild in defense and he looked ready to spring upon an assailant. Tas had learned to stay away from the old man when he woke him from snoring. He laughed as the old man gained his bearings, then moved closer to the fire, a grin of pure satisfaction crossing his lips.

“Good work boy! Maybe your cause isn’t lost after all,” he winked, and took the pot from Tas, filling his own skin, then drinking from it. He had another small vessel full of small leaves that he added to the water, then invited Tas to share in it.

“You think Grethatch will find us?” Tas said wearily. It was undeniable that his body was tired from the long days of trekking to higher and higher altitudes. His breath grew shorter faster and he found his muscles beginning to fail him at times.

“Yes.” Yao said sternly. “He has methods of doing so that I don’t understand, but they are powerful. You saw Melkar’s attack on the monastery; it was planned to perfection. Except for his overestimation of his own strength. It is probably his greatest weakness.” Another wide, this time sinister grin returned to Yao’s bearded and wrinkled face. “The only exception might be his underestimation of me. And by extension, you.”

Tas sat and thought for a moment while drinking the warm tea, feeling his entire body elevate with the hot liquid coursing into his body. It was ecstatic.

“We have two more days until we reach the village where I was born Tas. So now, you need to learn my story. Why I am who I am.”

“I know you were born a hunter Yao, then banished, but I don’t understand why. What happened?” Tas had been waiting for this since he had met the old man. Had it been months, years? He realized he had no idea.

“I wasn’t banished boy, I was exiled. The difference was my choice to leave. There was a corruption in my village that would have strangled me if I had stayed. I did what I had to.”

“What do you mean?” Tas was confused. This was not what he had understood from the little conversation they had shared on the subject earlier.

“My people are bloodthirsty Tas. The same rage and thirst runs through my veins, but I have tempered it, mostly with Fei’s help.”

“He disappeared!” Tas exclaimed. “Do you think Grethatch or Melkar capture or killed him?”

Yao laughed wholeheartedly in response, giving Tas instant relief.

“Fei may look harmless, but he’s as slimy as a snake and quiet as a mouse when he needs to be.” Yao’s expression grew more serious, “Never under-estimate the power of a monk, they dedicate their lives to learning themselves and by extension, their world. You saw Paj’s power. Fei’s is even more potent, which is why he commands the respect of the entire monastery.”

“It’s hard to think of him as so powerful; he’s so kind.”

“Fei is rare indeed; power nearly always corrupts those who grasp it. Honestly, he is one of my few friends in this world, Tas.”

“All of mine have been left behind.” Tas said, lowering his eyes and thinking back to his village. Tears suddenly welled in his eyes as his thought of his mother and father; where were they now?

“We leave behind everything in the course of our lives Tas. But looking back is important.” Yao said with a weak smile. “The past will always be behind you and that’s where it belongs.”

Tas didn’t really understand what Yao meant, but it comforted him all the same. He thought again to where they were going, taking Yao’s advice.

“So we are going to the village where you were born? Do you think we will be safe there?”

“I do not know.” Yao said seriously, his expression grew darker. He refilled the copper pot with snow and placed it near the fire, that was beginning to turn to embers. But it was still hot.

“My people are warriors, Tas. They do not know sympathy; they deal in death, honor, and strength. We will have one chance to find safe haven amongst them. I can only hope that chance will be on our side.”

“Chance? What does chance have to do with strength and honor?” Tas said curiously.

Yao laughed again, his normal hearty chuckle that Tas had grown terribly fond of. “Everything Tas. And do not be deceived by the tenets of honor; men are deceptive and sometimes evil beings. We are easily corrupted Tas. My biggest fear is that Melkar, or perhaps his allies hold have over my people.”

“You think he might have already been and corrupted your people? What drives that demon anyways? What does he even want with us?”

“He wants me dead. That is sure. As for my people, they are not easily corrupted; but I have thought the same of friends that have fallen to the shadows. So truthfully, I do not know.”

“And Melkar?”

“Melkar is a being of hate and greed. He likely wants your apprenticeship to wound me. That is why I believe he let you live while only corrupting you.” Yao grinned again, darkly. “A big mistake on his part.”

Tas thought back to the nightmare where he had been corrupted by the wyrm. Yao had to be right; Tas should have died that night.

Yao began to pack up their blankets and packs and they put out the fire. Tas felt rested and a bit worried, but happier to know where they were going and why. He couldn’t help but think that Yao was so different from his expectations. Gritting his teeth, Tas hauled his pack, took a long swig of cold mountain water, then followed his master up the slope into the chilled air of the alpine.

 

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 14

dark_cave

This story can be read alone, or as the 14th section of the wanderer story.

Please see the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 13

Tas woke to find himself surrounded by dark shadows. He was alone, but he didn’t know where.

He found a path down to a dirt road and began to walk down the side of the hill. He moved slowly, finding sure footing down the rocks and kept his eyes down. When he got to the bottom, he saw a younger man who was undoubtedly waiting for him. But he smiled when Tas met his gaze and he gestured for Tas to come.

Tas walked slowly now, he could feel the dream surrounding him, melting into inside. He couldn’t remember anything, but knew that he must go forward. He looked into the eyes of the young man who was waiting for him and gasped.

A younger version of Paj stood before him, tall and strong, but young. Tas thought he couldn’t be older than himself, but he was taller.

Paj gave him a shove and cause Tas to almost trip over himself. He turned to see Paj leaving and decided that he would give the old man a good shove in return. He quietly sprinted towards Paj until he lowered his shoulder to tackle.

At the last moment Paj lifted Tas off of his feet and threw Tas into the air to land on his back after soaring four feet into the air. Tas slowly regained his feet with Paj’s help, but his back hurt quite a bit. They sat for a moment, which was the perfect opportunity for Tas.

“So we are sharing a dream then?” Paj nodded, a grin continued to flickered from time to time.

“How am I hurt?” Tas was bleeding badly on his back.

“You get hurt in dreams sometimes, when you forget about being hurt, or wakeup, it stops hurting.” Paj said with a slippery tongue, as if it was dripping with honey.

“What if I die?” Tas asked quickly. He did not want his momentum to fade.

“Then you die.” Paj said quietly. He walked away and talked softly to the wind, “follow” over his shoulder.

Tas followed slowly, but was unsure if Paj was completely serious. After all, this was a form of magic, perhaps something else might happen that was not as tragic. Tas was quiet during the entire walk through the most crowded streets he had ever seen. Some were even cobbled, and houses towered into the sky. But he was forced to keep his eyes down most of the time to keep up with Paj, who kept a brisk pace while traveling through the unending masses of people.

Horses drew carts and cows lined the streets, chickens roamed and poked at the ground and along the street, carts pulled wares around the city and from the countryside. They continued towards what looked like the center of the huge mass of people moving through each other like a stream over rocks. Finally, they reached a small store, hidden in a dark alley, covered with muck and filthy. Paj stopped before a dirty and grungy door, but it looked ordinary as any old overused door. Paj opened it to a darker room, then grabbed Tas by the shoulder and pulled him inside. At first, Tas could see nothing; but over time, he saw the three men inside, talking in hushed voices at the back of the room.

Tas waited for his eyes to adjust, then moved to where Paj was waiting, his tall frame pressed against the shadows, listening. Tas could finally make out the hushed voices.

“You have to keep it secret if you are going to use it, Fiden. I don’t want traces of this coming back to me, I want to hear nothing, you understand?”

The man who was talking stared intently at the one that must be Fiden. Fiden stuttered, then finally said, “I understand.” His gaze hardened as he spoke and he seemed to remember his voice. “You come from the north then? Grethatch is not the name of a southerner.”

“Speak my name again, Fiden, and I will slit your throat where you sit.” Tas watched in horror as Grethatch, a hooded, dark-skinned man grabbed into his own skin forcefully and pulled a knife out of his arm. There was no blood; Tas stared at Paj looking for an answer but found the young man’s eyes to be fixed on the hooded man who Grethatch seemed to be waiting for. The third remained seated, but he just even more sinister than Grethatch, his robes were in tatters and his brow was dark and menacing.

The darker man rustled, as if noticing Paj then Tas in the shadows, then shifted back to Fiden and rose from his chair. Everyone seemed to pause for a moment. The shadow seemed to linger on the darker man as he entered the light, his face was hidden, but his gaze was piercing through the shadow, Tas could almost feel its intensity from where he was. Fiden trembled terribly as the tall man approached, then fell to his knees. His frame was as imposing as his muscles, rippled and hardened, glistening darkly against the light.

When the dark figure spoke, his voice seemed to grind on itself, rumbling lowly. “You do not need to know where we are from. You do not need to know anything, least of all anything about us. But you will find ways to… distribute.” He looked around at the storage boxes of wood crammed around them, holing them into the small cave. “All of it.” He laughed with a sinister cackle, then turned back to Fiden who seemed to be waiting some kind of punishment; he was still trembling on his knees. “Then you will travel north, and you will find a creature that is unlike anything you have ever seen. You will bring a summoning stone with you, then you will tell me when you have arrived, you know how.” Grethatch nodded. The tall man looked down at Fiden darkly, looking as if he were about to strike him with his hand. But then said slowly, “Do not fail me. Or I will kill your wife, and your three daughters as surely as the sun rises. I will talk to you when you have arrived in the north. Succeed and find greater reward than heaven can offer.”

“Thank you. Master.” Fiden said humbly, still trembling, his voice shook violently as it left his mouth. Tas finally realized his mouth was open as he and Paj watched as Fiden left the room.

Both Paj and Tas looked at each other, and Paj mentioned for them to move out of the cave. Tas lingered to continue listening, but Paj finally pulled him from the room, urgency laden in his grip. He moved back through the cave entrance and then they finally emerged from the slightly illuminated caverns into the night sky. The moon was still high in the sky, but it seemed to be less bright. As Tas continued to look around him, everything became melty and shadowed until he lay down and fell asleep.

Tas woke slowly, his body ached, but his mind felt so free, so at peace. He took a few moments before moving at all, then rose and remembered that he was in Paj’s room. He yawned loudly to wake the old man and it worked, he watched as Paj rustled awake from his deep sleep. The old man looked so different now, so old. the young sharp eyes were replaced by watery pale ones and Tas quickly forgot about the younger man from the dream.

Tas used a robe from Paj and they went to the morning’s ceremony together. Tas always enjoyed moving seamlessly with the other monks, such harmony felt so endlessly enjoyable. They finished the ceremony, the Paj waited for Fei and walked up to speaking balcony.

Before waiting, Paj began to speak. “There is an urgent matter we must attend to. Grethatch, do you remember the name? He was once a monk, you should remember if you think hard enough…”

Fei’s smile was unwaivering, even against the ferociously serious expression of Paj. “Yes, I think I remember. Kind of a tall fellow? Had a hard time with meditation?”

“well, yes, actually, I do remember that now that you say it.” Paj said thoughtfully, his expression changing for a moment.

“We saw him last night, dreamwalking in the light of Saturn.”

Fei’s smile, for the first time, faded. “You went without my permission?” He immediately turned to Tas, “How many times have you dreamwalked?”

“Only two, sir.” Tas replied immediately. “The night before last and last night.”

Fei looked up slowly, his smile returned. “We should discuss this inside, Paj. Away from the ears of the adept.”

“You think so?” Paj seemed like he hadn’t even considered the idea, but Tas’ excitement faded as he saw Paj’s expression fade into resolve. “You are right. He is too young to know the full truth right now.”

“Thank you.” Fei said, as if winning a long battle and then he sighed in relief. “We will discuss with you after talk Tas. Go take your morning lesson with Shu, he will undoubtedly be waiting for you.”

Tas looked hopefully at Paj, but found a hard gaze waiting for him. “You will learn it all when the time is right, boy. We will talk tomorrow.” He smiled, “For now, go enjoy your meditation. Do not worry yourself over the matters of old men and monks.” Paj turned away, sweeping his robes and Tas turned to leave the room and spend the rest of the day waiting for his next lesson with Paj.