This story is part of a series, this is the twentieth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 19
Tas found himself in the dark, though he didn’t know how he arrived there. He got up to walk and found himself in a dark chamber; the air was damp and cold. The floor was hard stone but his feet were silent on it. He ambled through the corridor and found a door at the end, made of a wooden frame with ornamentation that Tas couldn’t have imagined; demons and monsters vied for space at the depths of a powerfully raging sea. Waves swelled and the shadows seemed to flicker, mesmerizing Tas. He moved his eyes slowly to the sky and saw bat-like monsters soaring through the skies and dark winged ravens above them; the ravens had eyes that pieced through the darkness and seemed to know everything. He could also saw some creatures roaming on the shore, but they were very small in comparison to the monsters of the sea and sky, more like rats that anything else.
Tas looked down at his own hands and found that they were all but a shadow, barely visible in the darkness. He slowly touched the door handle and found it surprisingly warm to his touch. Suddenly, the door creaked open without effort. He stepped through it, into a darkness even more consuming than the one he was already in.
After a minute of standing and looking out into the black void, Tas found that he could see well in the darkness, though focusing his eyes was a terribly exhausting effort. He saw a path a little ways off in the distance and knew it was where he needed to go. There was nothing else around him but a barren landscape. As Tas stepped out into the shifting shadow grass he felt a dampness; surprisingly, he found it to be somewhat comforting. It felt as though the shadows were a part of him, comforting and soothing him as he walked.
The landscape was completely barren, except for his path; almost like a desert but with fields and flatlands in every except for his left where a great sea raged and stormed in the far distance. He barely make out the sea monsters from the picture on the door vying for the surface, being tugged to the bottom by what seemed to be chained of smoking shadow. Some force Tas didn’t understand. It was like they were all far too heavy and kept sinking to the bottom unless the clawed at each other to get to the top. So they raked at each other and pulled each other down into the dark depths. So many seemed to fall but innumerable more would simply replace the fallen. It was a viciously cycle that Tas eventually tore his eyes from forcefully. He had to follow the path.
The path wound above the sea, on cliffs that descended sharply into shards and rubble and break-rocks on the shore. As Tas looked closer at the water he found that it was unlike anything he had ever seen; he didn’t know if he could call it water. It was blacker and more viscous, and they seemed to crash much harder against the shore. It attached itself to the rocks as it slammed against them and he knew that this was no sea. Tas got a deep sense of foreboding and decided to keep his gaze to his right as he walked on the cliff side path, the sea raging out of his mind to the left.
It was a treacherous climb; several times Tas had to double back to find the proper way up through the rocks. He was becoming more and more tired, something he had not expected. Even his eyes were starting to shut. The concentration required to keep going was slowly becoming insurmountable. But as soon as he finished walking, ready to give up, Tas glanced ahead at a cave in side of the cliff. He waited a moment to regain his strength, but when it didn’t come, pushed himself forward towards the small opening in the rocky cliffs. The air was heavy with his fatigue and he almost had to stop again before reaching the small cave, but manage to make it without keeling over.
As he entered under the low and sharp rocks at the mouth of the cave, he pulled his hands away from the damp rocks, sticky with the dark liquid he assumed to be the same as the sea. It was sticky like honey, but as he brought his hand to his face, the substance absorbed into his skin. Something was very odd about this place, but Tas had to time to be confused. He could barely keep his eyes open. He felt his way slowly through the dark passage until it opened into a larger cave; though Tas could barely tell because of the dark. He groped along the wall as he stood up all the way, using his hands to feel in the blackness. He continued a bit further until he could go no further. His eyes were closed and he was too tired to keep them open. His concentration fell into the darkness and the darkness surrounded him. But as he lay down on the cold and damp floor to fall asleep something dark took a hold of him.
Tas woke up in a different small, dark room, though it had a bright light in the middle. He didn’t know where he was. The light shined directly into Tas’ face, making it so that he couldn’t see anything, even as he focused his eyes. He was seated and couldn’t move; and he was bound to some kind of metal chair. The bindings slithered across his skin creepily; their moist grip sent chills running down his spine. He knew they were made of the shadows, he could feel it. Suddenly a door opened and the dark figure from his nightmares stepped in. Grethatch wore a furious expression; dark, bruised eyes with a splash of menacing satisfaction. His eyes glowed a faint red, not nearly as brightly as Melkar’s. In addition, his face was still completely intact; Melkar’s was a hideously diseased and rotting thing that made Tas sick just thinking about it. But that didn’t stop Tas’ entire body from shuttering uncontrollably when Grethatch put his face in front of Tas’, grinning so wide that Tas could see each of his sharp and demonic looking teeth. The tattoos lining his face moved, circling his eyes; Tas looked away forcefully.
“I thought you might pursue that curiosity of yours.” Another evil grin spread Grethatch’s dark lips and a sinister laugh echoed in the stone chamber. “What it is you wanted to know? Oh yes, I almost forgot. You wanted to know god, wasn’t it?” Now the laugh was far louder and caused Tas’ skin to prickel. The stone walls seemed to shutter. “Well, you have found him. Melkar is god.”
Now it was Tas’ turn to laugh. “What do you know of god, fiend? You know only lust, demon’s pet. Masters follow themselves, not incubi” He spat the last word out, using the strongest insult he knew, though he didn’t really know what it meant. Yao had used it once to insult a merchant who was trying to overcharge them and the merchant had almost fought him over it.
Grethatch’s smile faded and was replaced by one of fury and he let loose a snarl, “Yao knows nothing. You follow an old man to his long-avoided death. You believe he will show you god? You are a fool!”
“You follow Melkar like a child. You are just an apprentice, like I am to Yao. You think yourself to be Melkar’s equal? Or perhaps you desire his power, is that why you follow him like a little lamb?”
At this Grethatch grew angry and slapped Tas across the face. Tas knew he had gone too far; he decided he would hold his tongue; he could taste the blood from Grethatch’s sharp nails “I am a demon myself boy! I follow no one. I have spent enough time in the nether to know the power of darkness; but you, this is your first time, isn’t it?” The grin returned. “Well, let me be the first to welcome you to your destiny! Now I will send your soul into the depths of the sea, where you learn the meaning of true suffering!”Grethatch raised his curved blade and Tas closed his eyes. He was terrified, but in that moment, he felt the same peace of his first night of meditation with Yao. He didn’t care.
But instead of pain, he heard a ear-shattering clang that startled his eyes open. He jumped back automatically. As soon as his eyes focused he saw a spear in mid-air having met Grethatch’s blow head on and forcing him to step back. The spear had come from nowhere, but the bottom of it was missing, like it was cut in half. Then a tear in the air seemed to open right in the middle of the room and light poured through, along with a lunging Yao, moving at his lightning fast attack speed, spinning whirling and jumping. His attack on Grethatch was furious relentless, and even more intense than in the village. Paj walked in slowly afterwards his eyes fixed on the battle between Yao and Grethatch. Yao pushed Grethatch back from Tas with blow after blow that would have shattered the strength of a normal man, but the demon held his ground. Even Yao’s unyielding attacks proved ineffective at pushing past the villain’s guard.
Tas moved towards Paj as he watched Yao slice swiftly press forward, cutting seamlessly through the air, his spear was like a bird on the wind, always circling his opponent, connecting with powerful strikes that Tas couldn’t follow. But Grethatch was as fast and avoided his spear continually when he didn’t block with his great strength; he used his own sword to deflect blow after blow, but Tas could see he had no time to counterattack. He continued to step back against Yao’s onslaught. As he retreated, the shadows drew towards Grethatch and the light towards Yao as they circled each other in furious combat a storm of shadow and light formed around them. But Yao’s speed increased steading and soon he was pushing Grethatch’s back against the wall. Once the demon’s back hit the wall, a fury erupted and finally he successfully counterattacked Yao. Powerful stroked sliced through the air, leaving trails of shadow pulsating against the light pouring through the hole in the center of the room.
Tas had never seen anything move so gracefully; the only thing Grethatch’s sword could find was air. It missed the old man each time by wide margins, as the old man danced swiftly away from each blow. Then, with a dizzying spin and counterattack, that Tas couldn’t see, Yao’s blade found Grethatch’s flesh and with a heavy thud, his forearm and hand hit the floor. Yao had severed his arm from the elbow down.
A scream pierced through the chamber, curdling Tas’ blood and causing him to duck and cover his ears. He could see a tar-like black liquid dripping viscously from Grethatch’s arm, a mixture of blood and shadow. Immediately, the shadows seemed to push against the open wound closing it. He looked up to see Yao smack Grethatch in the side of the head with the butt of his spear, and watched him fall unconscious to the floor. Yao took the demon and pulled him right into the tear of light as Grethatch screamed in agony. The scream made Tas fall to his knees weakly, his energy was all but gone. He was so tired that he couldn’t move. He looked up at Paj who didn’t seem to have heard anything and was watching Tas intently. Paj grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to his feet, supporting him under the shoulder. Then Paj pushed forward to the blinding light of the tear in the center of the room, and everything went black as Tas fainted.