This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-fourth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 23
Tas found himself in a dark cellar, with dusty casks, kegs, and wine bottles stacked up the dark stone walls that encircled him. His vision was flawless in the darkness, he could see himself well and there was just a tiny bit of light pushing through the crack in the bottom of the door. A flickering candle on the other side, most likely. He quietly undid the bolt on the door and moved through it to the dimly lit corridor on the other side.
He grabbed the candle on the wall to light the hall after he softly closed the door, then walked slowly through the corridor; he was sure by now that he wasn’t awake. His skin was translucent and he had no general idea of where he was. And Yao would certainly not have access to where he was because Paj was back at the monastery. He was alone, back in the dream world.
Tas decided to sit for a long moment and meditate. He had never meditated inside of a waking dream before, so he decided this was as good of a time as any to try. He sat with his legs crossed and began to listen with his eyes closed, trying not to be distracted from his natural breathing.
At first, he felt a sense of being light; almost like he weighed half as much as usual. It was easier to maintain a fully erect posture and he found that the meditation came easily. But slowly, everything became much heavier, to the point where it seemed to bring him down with it. Each breath was a labor, intensely freeing but like he had been chained down. His concentration was so intense, but he was losing focus. It was like he was limited in some way, but he didn’t know how. His breath grew shorter and he began to panic, he couldn’t breath now! What could he do? The world around him began to go dark. His dream world was literally falling apart, melting into the dark ground beneath it until Tas woke up screaming into the dark night.
He was gasping for air, sweating when he realized his dream and lay back down to settle into his mattress. He was in a cold sweat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. The air was absolutely freezing, though the fire by his head kept him warm. He was still panicked, he had no idea that this would happen as a result of meditating in the dream. He needed to talk to Yao about this.
He got up to look outside through the small window by the door and found that it was still completely dark. The sun hadn’t yet peaked over the horizon to commence the day’s light.
Yao was scuttling around the small room, preparing hot water as he moved seamlessly over the rugged wool floor.
“I had another dream last night.”
“Good.” Yao said nonchalantly. “Was it exciting?”
“Not particularly.” Tas rubbed his head again; he was still sweating. “I meditated in it.”
Yao turned his head with a surprised expression that quickly faded. “You meditated during the dream? Why did you think to do that?”
“I dunno.” The sweat finally stopped pouring from his forehead. “But it worked.”
“The world began to melt around me. It was like I hit the eject button on the dream and it was forcing me back out into the world.”
“Interesting.” Yao said in a very peculiar tone. “It seems that you are getting better and better at traversing between the dream world and this one Tas. Be careful, you don’t want to get stuck somewhere that you don’t belong.”
“Well, I guess I will just have to keep moving then.” Tas grinned at Yao’s dis-satisfied frown in response. “What are we doing here anyways? You’ve never said anything besides getting to safety.”
“We are going to train and hunt here in Bahar for the remainder of winter. Which is 5 more months of the bitterest cold you’ve ever felt.” Yao raised his eyebrows and smirked when Tas’ put on a melancholy expression and let out an exasperated sigh.
“We are also going to meet the kings this morning. My cousins, both of them, though they are simply brothers. Kings are not allowed to marry in Bahar. You will find that they are very different from myself.” Yao smiled briefly, though Tas couldn’t tell why. “Afterwards, you will hopefully be assigned a hunting party with the younger hunters your own age. They will teach you what you need to learn to survive in the high mountains. Or they won’t and you’ll die.” Tas sniggered. He wasn’t going to die from some cold, not after everything he had been through. Yao’s slight grin was telling of his own sarcasm.
After they finished their tea and Yaina came to make them breakfast and help Tas to find some clothes to wear. Tas tried to insist that he would be fine with similar garments to Yao, but Yaina would hear nothing of it. She wanted him prepared for the cold.
“The is your first time in the snow,” she said with her gentle and soft voice. “You’ll need some time to adjust before you’re like him.” She scoffed as she looked over at Yao, but the old man wasn’t paying attention. He was deep in thought, looking out the window at the white cold world outside. “Plus,” she said softly into Tas’ ear, “you need to look your best for the kings! First looks are never forgotten.” She gave Tas a firm nod.
Tas heaved on the furs and other jackets, gloves, boots, and a couple of old metal pauldrons that glinted in the sun and were surrounded by what must have been wolf fur. He strapped on the leather under armor, then began to strap his boots while Yaina helped with his pauldrons and boots. Tas stood up only to be immediately reseated by his own weight. Yao laughed loudly.
“Well boy, you’ll get stronger in no time! But right now, we have to go see my cousins and we can’t be late, so get on out of the door and leave my niece to her own work for the afternoon.” Tas hustled out of the room and into the cold mountain air. It was freezing outside.
He turned and saw Yao talking softly to Yaina before joining Tas in the snow. As Yao left he smiled at Tas, “get a move on, if we’re late to see my cousins they won’t hesitate to behead us.” Yao didn’t give the faintest hint of whether he was joking or not, so Tas just put his head down and followed the old man as fast as he could. They trudged off leaving a path of broken snow behind them and getting a light dusting from the sky. Enough for Tas to feel like he was in the fairytales he had always heard from his mother as a child.