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.