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.