The Wanderer, Part 25

mountain

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

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

and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 24

The Wanderer Continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wanderer, Part 19

demon_wallpaper

This story is a part of a series. This is the 19th part of the Wanderer

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

or the previous story here: The Wanderer, Part 18

Tas woke with a start. His body ached, he was so sore from the day before. His back hurt and his legs felt like jelly, but he got himself up from the bed and yawned. Cracking his shoulders and neck, he stood and remembered. The shadow; he could feel it in his stomach. He had only one option, like Yao said; to fight it.

He gritted his teeth and began to walk, taking his time to warm up his legs and let a bit of the stiffness subside. Yao would undoubtedly have him training harder today; Tas was not looking forward to it.

Tas joined the morning ceremony, but something was wrong. Fei was missing and Tas couldn’t seem to find any trace of Yao. Since Fei normally invoked the morning ceremony, the monks were a bit unsettled, talking to one another and looking for Fei. A few seemed to be walking around the grounds, most were a bit alarmed.

Tas immediately knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t see Paj either. As soon as he entered the courtyard, the sky began to darken, dark clouds moved with swift currents to replace the bright blue sky. Shadows darkened and loomed and Tas could feel the shadow inside of himself growing in power, though it wasn’t unpleasureable.  In fact, he felt stronger than ever. His pain and fatigue subsided and his strength returned. The monks around him began to moan with displeasure and then became restless, their calm forgotten; but Tas paid no mind to them. Tas was deep within himself, beginning to feel a deep, low buzz growing inside of himself, something that he had never felt before. He knew instinctively that it had to do with the shadow wyrm. It was like his heart became a drum and his body was pulsating with sensations; he could feel power coursing through him.

His eyes became more focused and his heart continued to beat powerfully in his chest. His gaze turned to the balcony and he saw the dark, hooded figures from his nightmares standing above the monks, looming over the crowd. The dark sky lowered to surround them, and the shadows pulled to and fro around them, growing larger and moving closer, then fading away and growing smaller to make another round. Tas’ eyes focused on the eyes of Melkar; a dark bright red light illuminated from them, sometimes being blocked by the shadows emanating from his skin. It was as if his pores breathed the darkness and it pulsated around him.

A sliver of the shadow passed near Tas, but it didn’t simply pass; it seemed to attach itself to him, until he began to feel the power radiating in his blood, like a growing rage in his heart. It beat harder and faster now, his breathing became ragged and angry. He felt so strong.

Tas looked to his right and saw Yao watching him intently, curiously. The old man no doubt had been watching the whole time from the shadows; his favorite hiding place. Yao stepped out from the darkness to glint his spear at Melkar. Instantly, the shadows retracted back into Melkar, the sky brightened again except for a dark cloud that blocked the sun from Melkar. Grethatch was by his side, but silent, observing.

A hideous raspy voice echoed from the darkly cloaked imposter, deeper and darker than Tas could have imagined. He felt it in his soul, his bones shook with its power. “Yao, you are here. I thought you might be.” What must have been a laugh echoed in the hallways. “You have aged since we last met.” Melkar’s tone was almost playful, though it was also terrifying and gave Tas chills.

Yao just laughed. His smile was bigger than Tas had even seen it. “You laugh makes me happy, Melkar! It reminds me of how long it has been, indeed it does!” Yao was cackling now, he was almost on the floor because he was clutching his side so tightly. Tas didn’t know what to think; part of him was terrified, the other half was triumphant. Obviously Yao and Melkar had met before and Yao had won! That was promising.

Melkar’s cackle faded completely with Yao’s laughter. He waited for a moment for the old man to finish (which he took his time doing), then spoke in the same hideous tone, causing Tas to tremble again, “You think me to be the same since last we met? I have been in the nether, Yao, you think I have learned nothing from it.”

Yao’s smile faded slightly, “probably not. But I guess we’ll see. You certainly smell much worse than before. I can smell your stench from over here,” Yao wiped his nose with emphasis much to the annoyance of Melkar, who stood watching the old man with a look of pure loathing.

Melkar jumped from the balcony, abandoning Grethatch and falling with the heavy thud of thickly armored boots. He slowly removed his hood, revealing foot long horns and eyes that were so red they seemed to burn out of their sockets, like a fire. His face was disgusting and rotting, gnats crawled from his cheeks and flies buzzed around his head. Tas was disgusted and entranced.

Yao laughed again, louder this time, “You are definitely uglier than the last time we met. What have you been eating anyways? Goose turds? I hear those are popular in the northern cities.”

Melkar launched into a charge at these last words, a deep rumbling cry of rage pierced through the entire courtyard, aimed directly at Yao. Shadows gathered behind him, pushing him forward towards Yao, fueling him, his eyes burned as he launched himself forward; Tas knew this was dark magic and could feel his own strength grow from Melkar’s power. He knew what was fueling him now, his vision became even sharper, he could see Melkar so clearly, the burning eyes, the rotting flesh of his face, the black horns rose above his head, raised against the sky.

Yao moved in the blink of an eye, almost faster than Tas could see. He threw a small knife from his boot directly at Melkar first, causing him to move right into his spear that was coming down from above. Melkar stepped to the side at the last moment, then ducked another huge swing from Yao and rolled backwards, pushed again by his shadow. He moved so quickly.

But Yao was already above him, swinging down hard and clanging against the stone, barely missing his mark. Melkar kicked Yao from his dodged position, then slid back up to attack Yao head on, in close range.

The old man dropped his spear immediately and swiftly ducked Melkar’s punch; Tas thought him to be even faster than the shadow fueled demon. Yao turned and began his own assault, his fists flew and connected hard, then he brought his feet to bear on Melkar’s knees and wounded him yet again. Melkar began to hobble, but in his yell of rage connected his fist with Yao’s face. The old man stumbled backwards and almost fell, but Tas arrived just in time to catch him and keep him from falling. Melkar retreated, hobbled and obviously intimidated by Yao’s strength. But Tas noticed that the demon slowly began to walk better; like he was healing in mid-battle.

Tas found his own strength waning. He felt weak, so weak that he almost couldn’t move anymore. His run to help Yao had drained him.

Melkar continued to retreat, but Yao was not well. There was something dark on his forehead, and it seemed to pulsate with shadow, the same way that Melkar’s shadow did.

“Where is Paj!?” Yao yelled to the grounds, clutching his head. The monks had begun to re-emerge from underground, no doubt having fled to hide from Melkar. Paj rustled himself from the crowd and began to chant immediately upon seeing Yao, undoubtedly working to stunt the growth of the shadow on his head. Tas walked as fast as he could towards Yao, but it was little more than a slow limp. He could see the shadow fighting Paj’s voice at first, but with time the waves of shadow soothed themselves and faded from Yao completely after about 10 minutes.  Tas still felt very weak, but was doing his best to help Yao. He was fighting his pain, but Tas could tell he was weak as well.

Paj and Tas carried the old man slowly from the stairs of the balcony down to the ground level entrance, leading him down into the lower levels of the monastery. Paj was still chanting something, but Tas’ head was pounding too heavily to notice. What had happened when Melkar had called his shadow powers? Tas had felt euphoric, full of live, and so much power. Was that the power that Melkar wielded? Tas didn’t understand. They brought Yao down to a room on the lower level for him to simply recover; Tas resolved to return to feed him at morning and night while he rested. But Tas knew better than to expect Yao to rest for long.

After taking Yao down, Tas followed Paj up the stairs to his tower. He knew that Paj wanted to talk to him, but Paj knew that Tas really wanted to talk to Yao. And Tas also knew that conversation would have to wait for tomorrow.

“You realize what has happened here, don’t you?” Paj sighed with obvious frustration. “You can’t stay here. He will return, stronger. Grethatch didn’t even participate. He might have wanted to master to fall. You and Yao have to leave tonight; this place is not safe for you. I’m sorry my friend.” Paj hung his head as he apologized, but Tas didn’t understand.

Tas was shocked. He was so used to living here now that leaving seemed absurd. Where could they be safe? And his training…

“But my training…”

“Yao will continue it with you. He is the most skilled in warfare, though not in the same mysticisms as myself. You will have to make due with the knowledge you have; it will serve you well. Your hard work will be useful, we will just have to hope that it is enough.” Paj smiled feebly and Tas knew there wasn’t a hint of sarcasm or arrogance in his voice. But Tas could see the worry in his teacher’s eyes.

“Okay.” Tas said slowly. Where would they go? Yao would know. He need to talk to the old man; maybe he would wake him for a few moments before getting ready to leave. But Paj insisted that he wait until it was time to leave.

“You need to let him rest now; in an hour we will wake him and you’ll have plenty of time to talk then.

Tas turned to walk down to his room to prepare his belongings, though he had only clothes and a few star charts that he had copied from Paj’s own charts. Paj was readying some concoction that Tas didn’t understand as he walked from the room; he would fill his small pack with some food from the kitchen. It had been so long since he had wandered the deserts with the old man; he wondered where they would go now.

He prepared everything, gathering food from the kitchen and saying goodbye to his fews friends in the kitchen and by his room. He took some final moments meditate and found the shadows inside of him flickering; he liked to watch them as they moved through him even though they were weak. He remembered Shu’s lessons and sighed; he would miss his presence while he meditated in the deep forest. Tas laid down for a moment to rest, continuing his meditation and thinking of all the things he would miss about this magical place. Tas fell asleep easily that night, letting the shadows wash over him, eventually taking him deeper into his dreams than he had ever been; his need to leave forgotten in the dark of his mind.

The Wanderer, Part 18

Taoist_Temple

This story can be read alone, or as the 18th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 17

Tas woke up slowly, rolling to his side to nurse his aching stomach. He slept soundly, but his body was stiff as a board. He began to slowly stretch to wake his muscles and joints and eventually headed to the shower room. It was hard to walk.

Tas took his time washing, running cold water over his face and clearing his eyes. He looked down at his hands and began to feel like they were falling away, as if an immeasurable distance was separating them and he was completely overwhelmed. He shut his eyes, remembering to think on his breath like Shu taught him. Eventually, the feeling of falling subsided and he looked down to a floor that wasn’t moving. With a sigh and a big breath in, he returned to his chamber, dressed, and walked outside to join the morning ceremony.

For the first time Tas was late and walked by himself down the solitary halls filled with small amounts of sunlight that trickled through the stone walls. He was just trying to make it up the stairs when a pain in his stomach stopped him, taking his breath away. Tas wouldn’t give up, he only had to make it up another four flights; it wasn’t that far. He never remembered the walk being tiring at all, but toward the end of the second flight of stairs he began to shake a bit and he knew that he would have to stop and wait.

His breathing was shallow and he felt weak. But he wasn’t kneeling over anymore so he was happy. But he would have to wait to regain his strength.

He made his way slowly up the last flights of stairs and walked into the main courtyard, fully in bloom and radiating green and all other sorts of colors. Tas sat far from the balcony by himself, resting.

Once the ceremony was finished, Yao came up to Tas and walked with him to Fei. Fei looked at Tas, weakened and tired. He sighed and gave Yao a look that Tas couldn’t even begin to understand. He looked frustrated and sad and angry all at the same time.

“You look tired Tas, are you sick as well?”

“No, not sick. Just very tired. Like I walked up a mountain yesterday.”

“We will begin your training now.” Yao said swiftly, taking over the conversation and leading Tas towards Fei’s chambers. “Master Fei, we will be requiring your chamber for the day, we will be finished at 5, when Tas will go with master Paj and continue to study astrology and walking.” Tas sighed when he head it all; a full day of work, today? He was so tired. Tas entered the room ready to pass out.

“Your first task, which will continue throughout the day is to fight your fatigue.” Yao raised his eyebrows at Tas, who weakly lifted his head. He was still out of breath from entering the room. Yao slapped him, hard.

Tas felt blood rushing to his face, it hurt, but he also alive again in a way that he hadn’t before. Yao’s gaze was hard.

“You must get used to fighting. I want to see anger!”

He slapped Tas again, but this time Tas blocked it. He found his energy returning as his anger towards Yao increased.

Now Yao attacked Tas and pushed him towards the floor, wrestling the young boy with ease. Tas struggled, found his arms becoming stronger again, as well as his legs when he push Yao back with a shove. He crouched down low, ready to take the old man’s weight and throw it back at him.

Suddenly, the old man stopped and sat, then motioned for Tas to do the same. Cautiously, he sat, ready to regain his feet if he needed to. But Yao looked very calm and began to speak again.

“The lingering shadow in you will be strongest after you wake. You have to stay active in the day and… use your anger to fight it. Or else it will take you, as it had you in its grasp before.

Now today will be a long day, because if you are allowed to sleep, Melkar will be able to enter your dream and take control. As he did two nights ago. You must stay awake during the day and sleep only at night. Paj will also assist you in shielding your mind against Melkar, but understand that he is powerful. He may find ways around the rules that govern the normal use of this type of magic, if you want to call it that. He is old and wise, and despite his sinister inclinations, is very learned.

But you should not fear him, Tas.” He looked into the boys eyes, his own were full of light and life, Tas couldn’t help but be mesmerized. “Fear has no place for you, understand? If you feel fear, take a deep breath in and remember your mother. You are fighting for her sake.”

Yao words resonated deeply, Tas felt as though the old man were showing him the truth of things; lives of people like his mother were surely the ones at stake here.

“What is Melkar? I don’t understand how he can be so powerful. And what does he want?”

“Melkar is a demon of sorts. His original body died and a very long time ago and he has taken another in its stead.” As Yao talked, Tas could see lines of disgust forming on his brow.

“So he was once human, but now he is… something else?”

“Yes, now he is part of the shadow. It fuels him as much as it enslaves him to its limits. That’s why he seeks its growth you see, because he grows with it.”

“Tas, he is powerful, but nothing that you need to fear. You are balanced between light and dark, so we must simply focus on the light within you to counter the excess of shadow.” Yao spoke as if it were simple, but Tas really had no idea what he was talking about.

“So I must become more light?”

“Yes,” Yao said happily. “So we will learn martial arts, do conditioning training, hill training, weapons training, and proper running, rolling, dodging, and throwing.” Tas had never seen a bigger smile on the old man; it was like he had just finished harvest and realized the final load was double what it was normally.

“Now, we will start with hill training.” Yao said gleefully. Tas was slowly becoming utterly terrified.

They walked outside into a cool morning breeze and began to run towards the hillier parts of the monastery’s grounds, finding areas that were particularly vertical and pushing Tas’ body to its limits. They began to practice sparring and Tas fell time and time again. Then they did sprints, with rolling training in between the sprints. Then they moved on to weapons where Tas learned about bow staffs and bows. He was completely exhausted by the time he returned to the monastery before the sun set, ready to eat, then spend the night with Paj, studying ways to clear his mind and shield it from intrusion.

He was completely spent and exhausted by the time he returned to the monastery, but he felt so alive. Like his body was used in the best possible ways and his strength was completely gone. He ate his rice vigorously, asking for a second portion and fighting the fatigue in his body and mind. Gritting his teeth to stand, he walked towards the stairs, prepared for his nightly lesson with Paj and resolved to become stronger.

 

The Wanderer, Part 17

tao_monastery

This story can be read alone, or as the 17th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 16

Tas woke up on a table in the middle of Fei’s chamber, his stomach was in agony and he could barely move except to go deeper into the fetal position. He realized suddenly that Yao was chanting above him, locked in concentration. The pain was slowly leaving his body and Yao was holding something, Tas had to put his head back down to cope with the massive waves a pain from his gut. He felt like he was dry heaving, but without any result except the contraction in his abdomen.

Yao began to chant a bit more loudly now, and Tas managed to look up and see the black wyrm wriggling in his hand, nearly dried up of its dark liquid and covered in a mucky slime that seemed to partially disappear into vapor before hitting the ground. The Tas was slowly feeling the pain leave, he could breathe again and the tears stopped streaming from his eyes. Yao’s voice was steady in the background, he had never been so grateful for the old man in his life. Fei began to help Tas to drink some water as the waves of pain faded more and more. After a minute of recovering, Tas could see that Yao was still locked in concentration, eye fixed on the wyrm in his hand.

Yao continued for the next 5 minutes, then stopped once the wyrm was motionless for a few minutes. He threw the carcass into the fireplace for Fei to burn later in the afternoon.

Once Tas could breath normally, he asked, “Melkar said it was from the north and so was he. What does that mean?”

“It means they have both died,” Yao said, careless, as usual. “And come back with the power of the shadows.”

Fei looked at Yao disapprovingly, as if he had ruined a surprise or something of the sort. After a quick gruff, he spoke, “The North is a place without as much light, Tas. Darker things thrive there and people who have spent extended periods of time there come back different than when they left.” Fei turned to Paj, “My theory, or hypothesis excuse me, is that Melkar’s remains were taken into the north by Grethatch, sometime after Melkar’s first death.” Fei looked at Yao now, who was picking dirt from under his fingernails.

After a moment, Yao realized they were waiting for him and gave a shrug, “what do you want me to say? I killed that bastard, tore his head from his shoulders with a morning star.” He looked at Tas now, “it was quite the swing,” winked, and returned to picking his fingernails. Fei looked deeply disturbed for a moment, then resumed his normal smile.

Paj spoke now, “Tas, you have been entangled in something older than your self, as we all are when we are born into this world. Your dream, rather, nightmare last night was no accident. Melkar knows you now and so does Grethatch for that matter,” He looked alternately at Fei and Yao now.

Yao spoke now, “there is no use terrifying the boy.”

“Wait,” Tas copied the way Yao spoke on occasion, heightening his voice then softening it to get the others to listen. “What is happening to me?”

Yao laughed now, “Your mind was under attack by a shadow wyrm, or something along those lines, no one can know what Melkar has been creating in the shadow. Without my extraction, you would have entered into a permanent nightmare. And in the process, become Melkar’s slave.” He looked more seriously at Tas now, “You must be careful for the next few days. It may take up to a week for your body to process and get rid of the shadow.”

Fei nodded, “meditation will help.” He looked at the others, “But we must be careful now. There is no telling how much control Melkar might have over the boy.”

Yao locked eyes with Fei, “I disagree. The boy is resilient and powerful. We should continue his training.”

Fei’s eyes now darkened, in a way that Tas hadn’t seen before, “You would fling his life around like a plaything, teaching him that which can kill him, harm him, put him in the way of death?”

“Do you suddenly believe in accidents Fei? This is the boy’s destiny. He has chosen to walk the path towards god, he said so himself! Who are we not only to stand in his way of his path, where-ever he is being led.”

Fei sighed, “your way is so detached. Do you have no compassion for him?”

“I do, that is why I wish to arm him with all of the skills necessary to defend himself.” Yao was resolute, Tas could feel it, not only from looking at his eyes.

Paj remained silent as Fei scanned the room for support. Tas finally got up the courage to speak, “Do you think he will come back?”

“Do wolves give up their hunt? How about when they smell blood? He smells a soul to reap, he will be back sure as the sun rises.”

“Then I have no choice.” Tas said, knowing his mind was made. “We should train starting tomorrow.”

Paj sighed, shook his head, then spoke, “I am sad to say it. But we should certainly. Your life will not be an easy one Tas. This is only the beginning of the terrible darkness that a black reaper can bring.” He looked at Fei and Yao to make sure they understood. “His warlock friend is also a nuisance, but I will teach you how to shield your mind against both of them. You will sleep soundly within the week.” He said it jauntily, but Tas wasn’t so excited for a week of sleepless nights.

Fei spoke now, “I will put the best resources the temple can provide. You will be ready to defend yourself when the time is right, Tas.”

Yao just sat, but Tas would wait. Finally, he spoke, harshly and barely audible, “Wake up before the sun. Meet me in the central grounds, that’s when we start your physical training.”

Tas was surprised with himself, but he was excited to train with Yao again, more than anything else.

“After morning ceremony, meet me on the balcony,” Fei said with a smile.

Paj took Tas by the hand and led him away, “For now, you can rest. We will talk some more when you wake up. Be careful; do not forget about what was inside of you this morning…”

Tas nodded, nearly asleep again and let himself be led back to his room, when he fell onto the mattress and let himself fade into the dark of sleep.

The Wanderer, Part 16

Changchun

This story can be read alone, or as the 16th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 15

Tas slipped in and out of sleep throughout the entire morning ceremony. He felt like he hadn’t rested at all the night before, almost like he hadn’t even slept. The dream was still lingering in his mind, the dark figures looming over him from the corner of his eye. He looked around constantly, always feeling the shadows and his captors from the night before through them.

Finally he found himself before master Fei, on the balcony overlooking the central ground where they met each morning to invoke the day. As he approached, he saw Yao waiting, something he definitely had not expected. Yao was not supposed to return for 3 weeks and the old man had looked certain of his promise when he had left. But upon looking at his eyes, Tas could tell he was worried. Things had certainly changed since the old man left, he wondered how much Yao already knew.

As he approached, Fei grew wary. Tas could see the worry lace his eyes. Tas turned as he felt a hand on his back, Paj was there was well. They all walked into Fei’s apartment, without even a word. They all took their time find a comfortable place to sit on the small floor, pulling cushions and pillows to support their legs and backs as they sat.

It was Yao who spoke first, in a commanding tone, “Paj, I understand that you have been succeeding in teaching Tas dreamwalking. Tell me everything.”

Paj gave a slight chuckle, though his tone was very serious. “Always the blunt one, eh Yao? You’ve never had a breath of patience.” Yao was silent, waiting.

“Well, you see the boy started to do it of his own accord,;three nights ago, if my memory is correct. He aligned himself with Jupiter during the full moon and went to see his family. Hardly something troublesome, especially because I did not tell him about the full moon; he learned and remember it himself.

“I spent the first week of teaching spending time only on planetary movements. The boy memorized them all in a week.” He gave Tas a quick glance, filled with something that looked like incredulity. “So I began to teach him how to attune with planetary energies, to open his meditations. In the process, we talked about the different ways to use planetary energies and many of the different techniques were discussed.” He said the last part slowly, as if re-realizing Tas was still in the room; he obviously didn’t want Tas to learn more of the ‘techniques’ he had been in the process of learning.

“After Tas had his first unwarranted walk, I decided that I would take him with me while I investigated a rumor. A rumor… that turned out to be true.” He turned to master Fei, “Melkar is embodied again, Fei. He is incarnated with the assistance of Grethatch, a monk who was once a pupil of mine.” Paj sighed, obviously tired himself. “They travel together; a dangerous combination for anyone who crossed their path.” He looked seriously at Yao without flinching. Yao seemed as wily as ever, nonchalantly brushing Paj’s words aside. Paj continued.

“We saw them threatening a villager, removed from the town and in a dark cave, undoubtedly to conceal Melkar’s stench. Considering his age…” Paj trailed off for a second, a look of disgust entering his nose. Tas didn’t remember a smell, but then again, it was a dream so he hardly remembered anything, except the crushing feeling when Grethatch had taken hold of him.

“So we have Grethatch and Melkar who are wandering in the world, who knows where…” Fei said slowly. “What happened when you saw them two nights ago?”

“They were threatening a villager.” Paj said. “There was some kind of shipment, the cave was full of boxes. And they were threatening a villager, Fiden, I think his name was. But I have no idea where they were.” Paj’s eyes glinted as he looked at the others, obviously very happy with himself. “I managed to track him with my own dreams. But it is a technique I think best left unspoken of.” He glanced at Tas then turned back to the group. “The rest of the story, I am unsure of.”

Everyone looked expectantly at Tas, but he was falling in and out of sleep while he listened to Paj. Yao gave him a strong clap on the back and Tas howled in pain, but he wasn’t going to fall asleep again.

“I don’t remember what happened, really.” Tas said slowly. “I just remember being lost and not remembering how I got to where I was. It was dark, then the two men came out of the dark, mostly by surprise Tas said coldly. The second man kind of appeared from the shadows. Melkar, you called him. He was terrifying and they both had horns.”

Yao responded now, “How did you escape? Why did they let you leave?” He seemed curious, as if there was a missing puzzle piece somewhere that he was looking for.

“Actually,” Tas said slowly, cautiously. “they fed me a wyrm, though I’m not sure what it is.”

“A wyrm?” Fei said shortly. “what does that mean?”

“Some smaller creature crawled down my throat, it was slimy and there was nothing I could do.” Tas felt his stomach. “I could feel it.” Now it feels gone though. He was still so tired, now that the slap faded he was falling asleep again.

Yao looked at him now, his eyes didn’t leave, but Tas’ did. He fell asleep, his chin falling to his shoulders and the last thing he remembered was barely managing to open to his eyes for a second to seeing Yao holding him and chanting something slowly and dark, grumbly; with a sigh he passed out again, this time into the a darkness that he could not force himself to wake from.

 

 

The Wanderer, Part 15

nightmare_figure

This story can be read alone, or as the 15th section of the wanderer story.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 14

Tas slowly ambled through a dark forest, he was lost. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but thought himself to be outside of the monastery, in the woods. He just couldn’t remember how he got here.

Come to think of it, the only thing he remembered was leaving Paj’s tower. He walked a bit before realizing that he was completely hopelessly lost.

He took a seat under a tree and waited for a moment, thinking of what to do next. After all, he had no idea which way to go and it was dark. He tried to find the north star but there were too many clouds in the sky, even the moon was hidden. It was so dark, shadows seemed to loom taller than usual and he began to feel hopeless.

He turned his eyes up from the ground and saw a shadow moving differently than the rest . Then heard a rustling of soft footsteps and began to look when he saw a figure coming towards him, menacingly stomping through the brush. Tas turned to get up and began to run, faster than he knew he could.

The figure behind him picked up his own pace and Tas could hear the heavy boots growing closer, tearing through the earth. Tas turned at the last moment before a tree, remembering how it was to hunt rabbits when he was younger and the figure howled in frustration when it banged against the tree. Tas kept running.

Again, the darkly cloaked man caught him, but this time was mercilessly physical, slamming them both into a tree and knocking Tas nearly unconscious, possibly breaking something. Tas moaned and reeled in agony as he tried to escape the figure’s grasp, but it was no use. The dark man pulled back his hood and revealed a pair of small, protruding horns and a darkly tattooed face. It was the second man from the dream with Paj, his name was Grethatch, Tas remembered.

He was a dark one, but he was also happy that the second hooded man was not with him. He was far more menacing and even less human seeming. And as if on queue, the second, taller and darker one seemed to pull himself away from unison with the dark. It was terrifying to watch, as if the dark did not want him to leave.

Tas was terrified now; was he in a dream? He couldn’t remember falling asleep, so perhaps he wasn’t, but he hoped he was. The men were terrifying as they approached him, he simply waited now, trying to hyperventilate as Grethatch kept him pinned with his arms up against the tree. But the darker man was terrifying.

Finally, the second figure spoke, hissing in between his words. “You are the boy, Tas are you not? I know you were watching us two nights ago, boy. Why exactly did you come to that cave in the light of Saturn to spy on us? Do you think of us as, criminals?”

“No!” Tas exclaimed quickly, then re-shut his mouth. He was terrified, he watched them talk about murder and monsters and terrible things the night before and he didn’t want any of that to happen to him!

Tas tried to struggle free, but to no avail. The second man simply laughed and put his face next to Tas’ as the boy struggled on the ground. “Good.” He hissed, shadows seemed to form from his mouth, then recede with his words. It was terrifying. “But you are right to fear us.”

“Grethatch. Give me the wyrm.” Tas couldn’t see, but whatever the ‘wyrm’ was, he wanted nothing to do with it. He squirmed again, to no avail. “Now Tas, I am so silly. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Melkar. I am from the far north. Do you know about the north Tas? One day, maybe you will…” the figure gave a loud cackling laugh, it seemed to pierce through Tas and have a kind of hollow emptiness to it. “This is a wyrm. It is also from the North.”

Slowly and deeply, the figure began to speak in words Tas didn’t know. Suddenly, as he tried to move his shoulder, he found himself paralyzed. He couldn’t move!

Grethatch rolled him over to his side and then laughed. Tas supposed it must be at his immobility, because Grethatch gave him a strong slap across the face afterwards. Tas raged inside, but he could do nothing.

The taller figure walked slowly, forbodingly with a wriggling wyrm in his hand, but this one was black and looked to be attaching itself to the terrifying man. Tas tried to squirm, but he couldn’t. The figure walked closer until he was dangling the wyrm over Tas’ mouth, toying with him. Finally, he dropped it and immediately, the wyrm began to dig into Tas’ mouth, finding its way down his throat, but stopping halfway down his esophagus and then tunneling further in, towards his heart…

Tas woke with a start. He still couldn’t move and he could feel the wyrm in his chest, it was real! The dream was real! But he couldn’t move, what could he do?

Slowly, sensation returned to his body and he finally was able to roll onto his stomach, clutching at the intruder. But then, the pain began to fade and Tas felt better. A few minutes later and he began to question the dream again, what exactly was that thing? And everything had felt so real, just like when he was dream walking. He didn’t understand.

Tas readied himself for the morning, resigned to talk to master Fei and see if he could give any advice. Tas was terrified, what was happening to him? Had the two men from the night before intruded on his dream the same way he and Paj had done a couple of nights before? Tas couldn’t tell, but he was sure that he never wanted to see either of the dark, hooded men again.

 

The Wanderer, Part 13

wanderer_first-dream

This story can be read alone, or as the 13th story of the wanderer series.

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

or the latest story here: The Wanderer, Part 12

The sky was very dark and hazy, at first Tas was just walking along a lonely road, but he could recognize it. He continued to stare at the ground, mesmerized, he felt like he had been here a thousand times. He could see the tracks and the signs along the way and he knew them all, but he couldn’t remember where. The journey seemed to last forever, but he finally arrived at the entrance gate to his parents village.

Tas was so excited, but was careful to keep his breathing steady and pushed his thoughts back and exhaled, dropping back in.

Now he was with his mother in the kitchen, waiting for his father to finish cooking a fresh chicken. Come to think of it, he was famished, so he was happy to eat a bit of chicken with his parents in their small house. An eternity felt like a breath and Tas soon found himself at the hearth, sitting against his father’s chair, alone again in the dark night, the only light was flickering from the dying fire. He looked up at the stars as the ceiling dissolved; he felt himself falling and startled awake.

Tas woke up with a grin, his dream was a clear vision of his family and he could see all that they had been doing for the day. He sat for a moment, enjoying his own success. The night before, he had aligned himself with Jupiter, and because of the full moon, he was able to use the full extent of Jupiter’s power to see his family. Paj taught him this trick, though it could only be done on the full moon and only when Jupiter was high in the sky. Tas felt very satisfied as he woke to dress for the day, not to mention his peace of mind at being able to see his mother and father happily moving homes because of the success of the harvest in the past few months.

Paj and Tas made incredible progress in their nightly sessions, sometimes talking and reading and practicing certain meditations far into the morning. Tas had completely memorized the movement of the planets and their visible satellites in the sky with the telescope. They had bowls and cups of metal to make sounds to induce meditation and Tas had deepened his ability to perceive the his world. The moon’s cycles were becoming more and more familiar to Tas, but the moon’s powers were ever elusive and Paj was slow to teach him anything truly significant. Last week was the first exception, Paj told Tas that the full moon granted a sight while sleeping. Combined with Jupiter’s ability to travel outside of the body, it made for a powerful combination for dreamwalking, as he called it. Tas spent the night facing the direction of Jupiter in the Northwest and Paj hesitantly used the alloy synced with Jupiter’s frequencies. And he had succeeded.

Tas tested it by passively meditating into sleep, as Paj had instructed, then found himself awake in the dream. He continued to smile as he washed, groomed, and dressed himself, preparing for his morning meditations. He joined the sea of monks again, as he did every morning and after the morning’s invocation, went down to the forest to meet Shu and continue. Each day was a little different, the powerful meditations seemed to come in waves. Some days were torturous, but made him feel so great afterwards, some where easy, but made the rest of the day difficult. He had grown frustrated in the first weeks, but now he had stopped caring. Tas just tried not to think about it and it seemed to be working out so far.

He was keen to continue exploring his mind in the energy of the circle of monks. He had come to realize that there was something special about the trees, or perhaps the ground that allowed them to meditate for so long. He asked Shu a few days ago and he only responded that there was indeed something special about it, but he didn’t know what.

Shu had begun to meditate with Tas, teaching him techniques to still his breathing and slow his heart. Tas could feel so much, Shu said constantly, “you must become more sensitive. Only when you become more sensitive, more detached and able to feel your senses will you be free of their grasp. Then you will be free to feel as the true you wishes.”

Tas knew there was more than this from Yao, but he was sure that Shu was also correct in his teaching. Tas was starting to feel a nothingness, a sensation of pure bliss in his meditation, but he could only caught small glimpses of it. It was similar to how he felt with Yao, but less potent. He often remembered the night where he was starving and forced to wait and felt a sea of immeasurable pleasure and himself floating inside of its immensely overwhelming nothingness.

He spent a couple of hours in pure silence, scanning his thoughts and letting go of the night before; after he went to lunch and enjoyed his time alone. He asked for two extra servings, much to the dismay of the cook, but he needed the food. His stomach was rumbling for the past few days and he had already ignored it for too long. The meditations and lessons were exhausting.

After he finished his third bowl of rice soup, he took a few breaths and began to walk upstairs to the tower.

As he walked through the heavy, wooden door, Tas could tell that things were arranged differently than usual. Immediately he asked himself what the old man could be up to, until his shoulder was grabbed forcefully and he was turned to face Paj; the old man’s eyes were lined with fatigue.

“Last night, you prepared to travel with Jupiter, didn’t you?” Paj asked impatiently, his eyes never leaving Tas’. He already knew.

“Yes, I went to see my family.” Tas turned his eyes down to the floor.

“it was…” he sighed, returning to his mother’s laugh and his father’s confident grin.

“powerful and..” he looked up again to see Paj’s eyes reflecting his own.

“reassuring.” he said the last work slowly, letting it sink in so he could hear it himself. His family was healthy and happy.

Paj smiled suddenly, Tas could tell that he was not happy when he walked into the room. “Good, I am glad that your family is safe. Have you experienced any side effects?”

“I don’t think so…” Tas said slowly, trying to think back.

“Good. You would know.” Paj changed his manner and his brow darkened, a contrast to his white beard. “But there is something of a larger scale that is happening. The stars reflect a chaos surfacing in the West. Something is returning that is very, very old, and more powerful than you want to know.” Paj’s eyes glared and he slowed as he said them, obviously thinking back to another time. Tas was patient, but he already had so many questions.

“What is it?” Tas asked, hesitant to ask a question at all.

“Well, straight to the point aren’t we? Let’s find out.” Paj said, his gaze icy and cold, resigned, hardened. Tas felt his body begin to tremble in anticipation, he learnt of great sages who shared dreams in the manuals, but hadn’t even seen mention of techniques. Was he about to do this with Paj? He was sure that the ancient techniques were far advanced to his own elementary knowledge; at least for now.

Paj began to scuffled around, grabbing particular bowls and preparing tea for Tas with ginger, hibiscus, eucalyptus, and rosemary. “We will align with the moon again tonight, there is still small remaining power for sight. The tea will augment that power and…” he paused for long enough to look at Tas very seriously, one eyebrow rose as he finished, “will greatly enhance our sensitivity.”

Tas knew what this meant. The dream would be powerful; more powerful than anything he had ever experienced. But he was ready, his mind was empty and he was not scared.

“We will align our minds with Saturn’s rings, using the silver and iron alloyed bowls. Jupiter will also be in the sky, so we can share with Saturn’s energies and travel with Jupiter’s. and…” now he paused for a moment.

“we will smoke this.” He held up a small paper full of tobacco, some greenweed, and some other black substance that Tas didn’t know. But Tas was ready; he knew that this would be another step towards his ultimate goal and he wasn’t worried; Paj wouldn’t lead him astray.

He drank the tea, slowly, meditating as he did, saying nothing and letting Paj use the signing bowls. They both began to smoke the small rolled joint. Paj instructed Tas to inhale, but after the first one, he couldn’t stop coughing. Each time afterwords, he still coughed, but a bit less. Paj continued to play the bowls and Tas could feel himself fading into sleep; he could do nothing to stop it. Paj continued to play the bowls and create the vibrations, but was now sitting in his chair and Tas could tell that he was dozing off as well. Tas could feel himself leaving his body in the depths of the vibrations, the huge sea of vast nothingness was returning. Tas sat back on his mat in the room, faced towards Saturn and fell deeply into a sleeping meditation, where he couldn’t tell if he was awake, or asleep, until he finally succumbed to the dark of his mind.

 

 

The Wanderer, Part 12

tao_garden

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9
The Wanderer, Part 10
The Wanderer, Part 11

Tas woke up in confusion, his breathing was shallow and a cold sweat laced his forehead. The soft cushions and a mattress supported as he regained his breath, finally remembering where he was from the grey stone floor of the monastery. His training was getting more intense; Paj was relentless in his teaching, giving Tas task after task and leaving no extra energy in the wake of his teaching. It wasn’t even interesting, he just had Tas memorizing patterns and movements of the stars and especially the planets. He was getting good at plotting Mercury, but the other five or six were a complete mystery. Paj worked him tirelessly saying it was all useless until he could track the movement of the six prime planets and major constellations. Then, he would learn about the planets of the planets, which granted stronger sight, but were seemingly impossibly complex. Tas was exhausted, even Shu was pushing Tas’ limits now; Tas sighed with fatigue, but he was happy to be tired. The only times he had ever worked this hard before had been with his father in the final days of the harvest.

He couldn’t remember his dream, but he could feel the intensity from the ferocious beating of his heart and felt flustered. He took his time to catch his breath and hung his head to clear and calm his mind. He rubbed the back of his neck, straining to remember. He went to his washroom and prepared for the day, taking his time, then went out to meander through the hall for the morning’s ceremony, the dream forgotten.

After the ceremony, he met Fei at the balcony, which was customary. But instead of order Tas to go with Shu for the day, he motioned for Tas to follow him. Tas soon found himself entering the Acharya’s chambers. It was full of artwork, paintings on the walls and floors and all sorts of trinkets, more beautiful than Tas had ever seen. No doubt it was the work of the monks, but Tas wondered why Fei had so many.

Fei motioned for Tas to sit on a beautiful rug on his floor and began to pour him tea. He smiled, the same beaming smile that Tas had grown accustomed to. He wondered when the monk wasn’t smiling and couldn’t hide his grin. The old monk simply smiled.

“Tas, you look tired. How have you been feeling?”

Tas hadn’t seen himself lately, but he was sure that the monk must be right, “I have been working hard, master Fei. The training here is very difficult!”

Fei laughed. He didn’t respond, but sipped his tea instead, waiting a moment. “Is this the kind of challenge that you want?”

“Why, yes master Fei.” Tas lowered his eyes, “I felt never felt so purposeful before, I focus only on my studies and learning meditation. I felt one foot begin to float off the floor yesterday!”

“Good, boy,” Fei said happily. “You’ll be able to levitate within your first year, if you keep it up.”

Tas was confused by this. A year? He was only staying for a few weeks, until Yao returned. Did this mean he could stay if he wanted?

“Paj has noticed your proficiency for star reading. He has asked that you stay for an additional month to continue studying. He says he can teach you three techniques in next six weeks time, and Yao has agreed. He will return then, as long as you approve.”

“Of course I approve,” Tas said eagerly. Everything seemed to be working in his favor now.

Fei nodded at the enthusiasm and sipped his tea slowly. They rose together and Tas left to go meet Shu in the trees.

When he arrived into the circle of silent monks, Shu was nowhere to be seen. Tas chose a tree and sat under its cool shade, letting himself drift off into his meditation, letting his thoughts, his mind, and his body go. His breath would take care of itself. He drifted off into the ocean of his mind, lost within the nothingness at his own core. He didn’t know how long he sat for, but when Shu woke him, his legs were completely numb. They walked together from the circle of trees and entered the grounds, following the path to the garden. Pink blossoms floated in the gentle wind and the water of the pond grew still as Shu sat by the edge. He motioned for Tas to do the same.

Shu spoke extremely slowly, Tas could hardly understand, but he leaned in to the monk’s soft words. “You are strong, Tas. Your meditation is so peaceful…” She looked a bit distraught, but mostly thoughtful. “You practice meditation with Yao?”

“Yes,” Tas said. “The old man is infuriating, but his lessons are invaluable,” Tas thought back to their journeys in the desert. He was excited to begin traveling again, but he was more excited to learn here. His meditations were indeed growing longer and longer.

“You are now a powerful meditator Tas, you can set aside your emotions easily, see clearly, but most importantly…” Shu looked at Tas determinedly, “You can empty yourself of judgement. This is the only way to see the truth. One of the first steps towards understanding god, is understanding truth, Tas. Knowledge is the key to understanding god, but you must relinquish all knowledge to truly know god.” Shu grinned, knowing that he was now talking to empty space.

Tas nodded, but he didn’t understand. He would learn, with time. But he knew that the monk was teaching him something valuable, so he remembered his words like a puzzle to be solved for later.

The Wanderer, Part 11

wandering_stars_in_the_sky

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9
The Wanderer, Part 10

Tas woke up comfortably, soft cushions and a mattress supported him on the cool stone floor of the monastery. He was excited; today was his first day of training with Fei at the monastery.

He woke slowly and stretched, then dressed and prepared for the day. Fei said that he would begin training today, so he was excited to get started.”

He moved with the sea of monks from the lower levels of the monastery up to the ground level. They rose on the steps slowly, each taking their time and moving fluidly together while Tas walked awkwardly, accidentally bumping shoulders and occasionally walking a some toes on accident. But the monks didn’t seem to mind, a few even smiled when he miss-stepped. Tas had never seen men that were so peaceful.

He watched and waited during the morning ceremony, Yao was missing from the balcony this time and only Fei stood alone, reciting incantations and chants for the rest to follow. After they were done, Tas climbed the stairs to the balcony to meet Fei for training as he had requested the day before.

As he approached, Fei resumed his wide smile, looking happy as could be. Tas was very excited, though he had no idea what the old master had in mind for training. He had trouble sleeping the night before because he was thinking about what how Fei would be training him.

“Good morning Tas!” the monk said gleefully. His smile was unwavering, but it was comforting. This man didn’t seem to have any worries.

“Good morning, master Fei.”

Fei’s smile faded for a moment, “You do not need to call me master, Tas.” His smile returned in full force. “Are you ready to begin your training?”

“Yes, of course!” Tas said exasperated.

“Good! I am glad to see you are excited. You will spend the morning with Shu. He will train you in meditation. At lunch, you will eat with a very old man name Paj. He will train you in clairvoyance and astrology for the afternoon and night.” Tas looked up to see Fei suddenly look very serous, “Don’t take his lessons lightly. Master Yao told me that you should pay special attention to the astrology lesson.” Fei looked curious at his own words and Tas’ grinned. Even though the old man had left, Tas could still feel his presence, a lingering shadow.

“Thank you,” Tas said, bowing his head to the master, Fei’s smile fully resumed and was beaming.

As Tas finished walking down the stairs, a tall man with a long, dark beard approached him. His head was bowed until Tas reached him, then he abruptly raised his head to a huge watermelon shaped smile with only one tooth at the center top of his mouth. Tas almost fell over in surprise.

He regained his composure and smiled back at the monk, sure that he had made a weird face at the man. But he simply continued to smile, then took Tas by the hand and led him from the front entrance, into the grounds of the temple. Tas had spent a little time walking through the flowers the day before, but Shu led him past the garden into a thicket of trees. Sitting against the trees, monks were meditating, their eyes closed and many were using prayer beads. Some were making small rumbling sounds to themselves, others lay on the roots looking up at the leaves of the trees. They seemed to form a kind of big circle and Tas almost felt guilty breathing in it. It was so quiet here.

He slowly moved following Shu, mindful of each step, each breath, each thought. He felt as though he had entered into a different world.

One monk caught his attention, he was upside down on his head, with his feet up on the tree. He was so still, his legs did not waver or sway, but held firm, risen against the trunk of the tree. Tas took a slight right from Shu to take a closer look; he had never seen anyone standing on their head before. Tas realized suddenly that the man’s head wasn’t touching the ground. Tas was shocked when Shu took his hand again and led him further into the circle of monks. When they arrived at the center, Shu showed Tas a tree and asked him to close his eyes. Shu explained that he would return after a little while of letting Tas be by himself. “In the meantime,” he said, “close your eyes and try to feel your breathe only. Focus on it and let your thoughts pass as distractions. Return, always, to breath. I return soon.”

So Tas sat under his tree, closed his eyes and focused on his breath. It seemed to come so easily here, in the deep silence, with the monks all around him. Occasionally, he would open his eyes when he was distracted, but he felt the time slip away as he drifted into the small breeze, the rustling of life on the forest floor, and his own breath. He felt free for the first time since the night when Yao had first taught him meditation, while he was starving up in that ancient tree.

After a bit longer, when Tas was starting to get restless, Shu returned. “This time,” he explained, “You will keep your eyes open, but only on the floor. Try not to look up. Focus on your breath.” And again, Shu left him in the peace and quiet of his own breath.

For the next period of unknown time, Tas looked at the floor, seeing all manners of ants, little flies, pincer bugs occasionally, and found this meditation to be a bit easier than the first. The ants were the most interesting, constantly moving, constantly working, building, gathering, never stopping. Tas wondered why they never rested. It seemed like such a waste to work so hard and never rest.

After more time had passed, Shu returned to Tas. “Now, I will teach you how to flow with the wind.” Tas’ interested peaked. “Now you will control your breath. Count to 5 on each inhale, and 5 on each exhale. After 500 breathes, you can walk back to the temple.” and suddenly as he had appeared to Tas, Shu disappeared into the forest. Tas was a bit startled because Shu hadn’t seemed to move, but he stayed seated and began to breath.

The last meditation was by far the most tedious and at the end Tas was exhausted, but felt so free. He understood what Shu meant by flowing with the wind now, he felt as light as a feather. He left the circle of monks to return to the temple grounds. On the way, he looked to see if the man standing on his head was still there, but he was gone. Tas was so happy with his morning; surely he would learn about god here, surely this was it! The power and concentration of these men was incredible, Tas was inspired and felt as though he couldn’t wait for his meditation the following day. He wondered if that was what he would be doing.

He took his time to walk back to the monastery, but felt his feet moving much faster than he was used to. Flow with the wind indeed, he felt as though he must be moving twice as fast as usual.

He arrived into the upper dining hall to find it empty. He wondered when these men ate, he had never seen a single one eat so much as a grain of rice.

He was served a bowl of rice and some vegetables by a monk who seemed very friendly, but didn’t talk. As he was finishing, an older man with a beard down to his belt and hair as long a wispy as the clouds. Tas saw him slowly limp over, his back was hunched and his age obvious simply from the way that he walked. This was the oldest man Tas had ever seen.

He sat across from Tas without warning, and looked directly into Tas’ eyes. Tas felt himself getting pulled into the old man’s watery blue eyes, almost like he couldn’t look away. Suddenly, he saw his father, his mother, then his friends and the other villagers he had left behind, glimpses of the old man, and the city, then the jungle and finally he re-arrived where he was. All of this happened in the course of 5 seconds, but Tas felt his breath leave his body. He had just relived his entire life in 5 seconds. The old man made a crooked smile with no teeth, but his eyes seemed to show that he knew. Tas was shocked, he had not expected anything like this.

“So Tas,” the old man said warily and tired. “I know you now, thank you for being open to me. It seems as though you are on somewhat of a quest!” He said that last part with a bit of humor and awe. Tas was still recovering from shock.

“Well, I suppose I am, sir” Tas said slowly.

“Good!” the old man said enthusiastically. “Don’t you forget it!”

“Did you see my entire life? In just five seconds?”

“Kind of,” the old man explained. “a glimpse of your life. The events, but not the effect of them, if that makes sense.”

“How?” Tas asked, exasperated. He had to learn how.

“I cannot explain my gifts, as you will not be able to explain yours, my boy.” The old man laughed. Tas thought he seemed much younger when he did.

“Now, follow me. Fei said that you could use some lessons in clairvoyance and astrology. So we will learn together for the afternoon and as long as I can stay awake.” He chuckled a little, but with a heaviness that Tas couldn’t explain.

They walked to the tallest tower of the monastery, the entrance was concealed in the lower levels so it took them some time to arrive. Once they did, the old man sat in a chair and mentioned for Tas to do the same. The room was filled with books and charts, most were depictions of the stars.

“Paj, what are clairvoyance and astrology? I’ve never heard of such things before.” Tas talked in a depressed tone, he felt stupid.

“Of course you haven’t boy!” Paj said louder than he had talked before. “Not just any twat can look at the stars and the sky and know what is happening in the heavens! It takes mastery and skill, the type of which your master has in handfuls.” He grinned.

“Yao knows astrology?” Tas asked. He had no idea if he was right, but was what the old man must have meant when he said he had found Tas with the stars?

“How do you think he found you, Tas? He is completely clairvoyant, he sees what he wishes to see in the world. As I taught him to,” the old man said with a small “hmphf”.

Now Tas understood. This was one of Yao’s masters! He quickly grew enthusiastic and was impatient to get started.

Paj could tell and said, “good, now that you’ve realized that, let’s get to work.” He sighed, as if he were going into a long lecture. Now, clairvoyance and astrology and intricately related my boy. You can’t have one without the other, but clairvoyance is the obvious desire for most people. This, however, is an illusion. Clairvoyance is both a gift and a burden. As you will soon learn.”

“How do I know that I want this burden? Paj, what if it makes me unhappy and sad and angry?” Tas said the obvious answer that came to his mind, but Paj laughed.

“You are here, aren’t you?” Paj spoke as if the answer were obvious. “It is not so much of a burden, unless you use the gift poorly, for your own means.” He smiled, “do not worry Tas. I will teach you enough control so that it won’t affect you if you don’t want it to.” Paj’s eyes glinted.

Tas trusted the old man, but he knew that this would change him. He wasn’t so sure that he was ready, but he trusted Paj and Yao, so he decided that he would continue and learn the stars.

Despite the introductory conversation, the work was extremely boring. Tas spent all of his time mapping stars and planets and trying to figure out where mercury was, where Mars was, where the andromeda galaxy was. Nothing special occurred that night, except Tas got a huge headache and went to sleep exhausted from trying to memorize names, figures, charts, and movement patterns of the stars. Paj wished him a good night and told him to just return to the tower tomorrow after lunch, that they would continue their lessons. He seemed satisfied, but Tas didn’t care. He stumbled down from the tower and found that his room was not to far from the stairway to the tower. He fell on his cot and was instantly asleep, the world around him forgotten until morning.