A Journey Out

MaryGold

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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior

Through the valley wildflowers, across the bridge over the river full of flying fish, and over mountain tops where a goat waits, bring a bottle of wine sweeter than apples and offer it to the man who will guide you. Bow your head, remain humble, and speak respectfully. Only then will he hear your request, and only then will you cross over to the world of the dead.

The auntie’s directions and instructions were beyond horrible. Vague and mysterious was far from what Bo needed for this quest. She needed clear and decisive guidance when her goal was just as so. Bring back her brother. Instead, she walked and walked, stopping only to ask for proper direction. This way and that way, every older woman and man told her boring different offerings, from mooncakes to fresh fruit until Bo carried one of each in her pack. But the directions always remained the same.

She walked until her feet were sore and aching. She only stopped to rest her eyes and fill her belly. If her body was too weak, she would never be able to see her brother before it was too late. Once she stopped to wash the dirt from her face in a running stream and was shocked to see the messy hair woman staring back at her with tired eyes. The mysterious guide would not turn away a woman with the eyes of a raccoon dog, would he? That was the same day she stopped to wash fully. If the guide wouldn’t turn her away for her appearance, then surely he would for her smell.

Warriors often smelled of blood and metal, but Tian Bo that day smelled of Jasmine flowers picked for their scent and not for their beauty. She was quick on her feet to carry on, especially meticulous when walking up the rocker parts of the mountain path. Her feet were heavy when she had her sword strapped to her hip and metal pieces of armor pressed against her body. She wouldn’t dare let her horse carry her the whole way there. He too had to rest after all.

“I think we’re here, Pepper,” Bo said to the horse, the sound of her voice rising with excitement and most importantly hope. “See, there’s that goat she spoke to,” she whispered to the black horse with just a spot of white on his head.

As if to answer her, he nuzzled his wet nose against her cheek and whined. As she moved to approach the horned animal, he skeeted away, only looking at the newcomers once. “Perhaps he isn’t a fan of strangers,” she mumbled.

7 days traveling was spent and all she had was the company and one-sided conversation of her horse. She had always spoken to him before, but being so alone she found herself approaching any animal for conversation now. Still, she watched as the goat disappeared behind the many trees with mild disappointment.

Onward they went, Bo pulled Pepper along with her by his leash. She noticed that the part of the forest they walked into was quieter. The sound of the wind rustling through the tress reached her ears, but not that of tweeting birds and twigs snapping under the paws and hoofs of forest creatures. Her horse’s demeanor changed too. He stopped and refused to be pulled along any further.

“Stay then,” she mumbled, pulling his reins a little harder to a sturdy tree branch to tie his straps. He stared at her with his large unblinking eyes as she walked away from him and further ahead. She was sure that this man was nearby, she was certain of it. Well, almost.

Carefully, Bo removed the pack from her back where she carried his offerings. “Hello?” she called out more softly than she was used to. It would be rude to yell. Even if she was more familiar with raising her voice, her vocal cords could rest.

 
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The Soul Collector

Gui
Within a power struggle between subject and liege all that was remembered was the single line; ‘is this a horse or a deer?’* and from there, all the people recalled and rephrased was the deer mistaken for a horse, from which, ultimately, the word ‘idiot’ came to fruit. From a story, in which an eunuch showed his great political power to his lord, by naming a deer a horse and forcing the ministers to agree or to face death, only the image of a fool remained.

Much the same had happened to the goat that refused to move from its spot. The rest were pretty additions, but the goat, the damned goat had remained firmly fixated in all directions leading to him, and even Gui couldn’t change that single fact.

Applewine, some claimed, sorghum wine the other said. Wildflowers and osmanthus blossoms switched each other off, depending on the season, and the flying fish were sometimes replaced by the leaping frogs. All these variations, but the goat remained.

The bell rang and his musings broke. The goat had moved and with that someone of interest had come to his door, for the goat never moved unless someone of indomitable will came.

"Hello?" it carefully came, the voice of a young woman came and Gui wondered if her voice naturally sounded demure, for he couldn't sense anything from her that could make that stubborn goat move.

"Hello," Gui had greeted back, already eyeing the applewine she held in hands, grateful that the aunties had at least remembered his love for liquor.

Human met spirit, disguised as man, though his hair was as pale as ghosts were believed to be. Under long white tresses Gui smiled a wide laugh, handsomely crafted and copied from men with straight healthy teeth to go along. He was the deer men had called a horse, the reason why the wise became the fool.

*Baka (Japanese word) - Wikipedia
 
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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior

He was not what she had been expecting.

For a start, the man who stood before her was young when she had been expecting an older person. Much older. The only feature that was akin to an elder this man had was his white-silver hair. It was far too full and vibrant to belong to someone in old age. Bo could not help herself in squinting her eyes slightly at the fellow. All instructions, vague and specific, were forgotten as instinct took over, followed by impulse and her unfiltered mouth.

"Are you supposed to be the hermit who knows the way to the underworld?" She shook her head at her own blatant words and tried again, this time taking a single step forward. "What I mean to say is, I am looking for the one who can guide me to the underworld. I was told by others this was the place. And I brought the apple wine too."

Without hesitation, Bo held out the offering of wine to the man she assumed and hoped to be the one she searched for. What he lacked for in age and the look of wisdom he made up for, in her mind, with an odd sort of energy about him. "I am Tian Bo, I traveled a long way to get here and I would like to request your guidance."
 
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The Soul Collector

Gui
Unimpressed or surprised? It was always either one with these humans whenever they saw him. ’Amusing,’ Gui thought to himself as she entered the little cottage, almost immediately starting to speak as she stated her purpose. ’Straightforward,’ Gui added into thought, his amusement growing while watching the female start over again, trying to hit the proper tone and add in the right amount of politeness reserved for a stranger not quite that old, but also not quite so young, or rather indiscernible.

“That’s what they call me,” Gui had answered gleefully, though how much of a hermit he truly was Gui had to wonder. He did find himself quite surrounded by souls, after all, and ever since he had heard of this little human the visitors had increased even further once he let word slip about his own special knowledge.

“Can I call you Bo? Bobo?” Gui had countered instead, having fun letting the sound escape his lips as he grinned a little wider, not really caring whether she actually approved or not. “I guess you can call me hermit, or Gui, Gu also sounds great,” Gui went on, circling around the little cottage until he stood in front of Tian Bo, taking the wine offered as he sniffed it, as if cautious on what it was.

“Self-brewn? Or bought?” Gui questioned, taking a sip straight from the flask as he nipped his lips, tasting the sweet bite of the drink before sealing it once more, “tastes good, fine choice,” he appraised as he sat himself down at the only table in the room, having all of the leisurely time at his disposal.
 

MaryGold

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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior

"I'll stick with Gui, and you can stick with Bo," Bo responded evenly. His appearance was not nearly as off-putting as his behavior. He moved like a cat, never standing still other than to take the wine from her hands and assess it himself. But Bo kept her eye trained on him all the while. She didn't trust easily, but she would have to trust him to lead her to a place no one returned from. Trust that he actually knew the way.

But trust did not mean being subjected to the nickname Bobo by a man she had just met.

He lacked a lot of manners, but so did she. His excuse was that he was a hermit. Her excuse? She had none that held. So, it should have come as no surprise that she marched towards the table and sat across from him. "It is bought. I don't have any skills in brewing, but I do have a good sense of taste." Where her skills do lie were with the sword, but that did not need to be spoken with words. Her sword that weighed heavy on her belt said enough.

"I have answered your questions, will you answer mine now?" She asked. Her first question and it didn't include a single word about the underworld. She quickly remedied that. "Do you really know the way there? To the underworld?"
 
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The Soul Collector

Gui
A smile, or more like a grin, something that passed between condescending and amused, something that so entirely made up Gui’s character that it may as well have been permanently stuck on his face as Bo responded, a little put off, a whole lot of unimpressed.

“Want a cup?” he offered, as if already forgotten that the wine brought was bought by her, further ignoring the fact that he had taken a swig straight from the bottle itself. “Your sense of taste is admirable,” he praised, the emphasis lingering on the last word leaving a charge in the air, as if heaven itself was taking note of the observation before he poured Bo a cup in anyway, not really caring whether she wanted it or not.

“Ah, but as for your question,” the male shrugged, as if not really caring, his lips pouting and forming in that particular way again while he tasted another swig of the wine, “I suppose we all do, unconsciously, it is where we all end up at eventually,” he answered before he walked back into his hut, adjusting his mask before he picked up a staff for himself, or rather a cane, or perhaps even a stick. The item seemed to grow and shift in his hand as if this was its regular state of being before finally opening up into a fan that the male felt fond of.

“Let’s go, no?” he finally announced, as if waiting for Bo to ready herself for a trip to the realm of souls.
 

MaryGold

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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior
Once again, bo found herself wondering if he was the right man she was looking for. It was less to do with his age now, and more of his attitude. But strange characters usually were the most spiritual, were they not? The aunties and uncles could have warned her about his attitude at the very least. But there was no reason to make a complaint now, so she accepted the cup of wine and downed it. One glass would not hurt her, her senses still remained sharp and the drink was sweet and refreshing.

Her grip on the cup tightened at his nonanswer given. These types were always tricksy too, weren't they? She preferred the honest nature of a warrior, but it was becoming strikingly clear this Gui character was not. With that in mind, she realized he would not make this journey an easy one either.

Bo hopped back up onto her feet as quickly as possible the second he announced they should go. "Yes, let's go." She said more excitedly than what was suitable for a woman of her state and status. The corner of her lips trembled, resisting the urge to smile. "Oh, I should get Pepper. My horse." She explained. the pretty beast has still tied to a tree a few paces away from them.

"Horses can cross over to the spirit realm too, can they not?" A question she had not thought of until now.
 
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The Soul Collector

Gui
“Does Pepper have a soul, Bo?” The stranger asked. Gui wasn’t sure himself either. Souls roamed around, he never questioned where they came from, or what host they had departed from. It wasn’t in his job to question, but it certainly seemed amusing to pose it to humans.

“I suppose we will have to find out, I never tried,” he continued, as if he had ever helped a living human cross before. He wasn’t even sure of that, but the woman was so determined, and Gui was bored. Immensely bored. There was very little life amongst resting souls, after all.

“Why are you crossing anyway? Is Bo eager to die? Reaper took away your man?”

He liked her name, simple and short, and delightful to pronounce with an annoying popping sound. No repeat, like she had requested, though mentally Gui did let it echo along as he stepped closer to the horse.

“Does she bite?” he questioned, a hand reaching out to the horse as the answer soon followed. The horse snapped, baring its teeth into the direction of the pale hand that the stranger had extended as Gui chuckled wryly.

Of course animals still disliked him. That much hadn’t changed.

Another grimace and a retreat Gui admired the animal from a distance, his fan touching the point of his chin. "Shall we go?" he finally offers, hoping that the horse wasn't allowed to cross.
 

MaryGold

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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior
Bo had to bite back the laughter that bubbled up in the back of her throat at the sight of Pepper snapping at Gui. If she had been an animal, she too would have snapped her teeth at him, he was impolite and too friendly when someone he had just met -- through friendly was putting it kindly. Regardless of every annoying comment, Bo held back the smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. She wouldn't risk getting on his bad side until they were in the spirit world ... afterward her tongue may loosen.

"After you," Bo gestured her hand forward and moved to untie her horse's reins to follow him. She petted the beast's furry head, patting him with a smile, and "good boy" whispered to follow. "She is a he, by the way." Bo's gait was heavier due to the armor that weighed her down, but it was the horse who refused to walk alongside the masked man that kept her from walking any faster.

"Do you know you ask a lot of questions?" She asked herself, raising in an eyebrow. "In total, you have asked me about 9 in the very short time we have met. If I continue to answer yours will you answer mine that I have yet to ask? I think it' is a fair exchange. Both of our curiosities will be sated."

One way or another she'd be answering them, but it didn't mean she couldn't get more out of him. The man was a walking mystery and he clearly knew more than he alluded to. How could someone who knew the way to the land of the dead not know so much?
 
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The Soul Collector

Gui
Gui wasn’t sure if it was better to walk in front of a horse, or after it. Both sounded like bad ideas, what with the horse being able to take a bite out of him if Gui went front, or kick at him, if the man stood behind. Nonetheless, Gui opted for the front, keeping a fair distance in front as he turned around, the tip of his fan touching his lips with half a smile.

“Curiosity killed the cat, we are trying to visit the dead,” Gui jested, surprised at how the female had kept count of his questions with just a hint of amusement, though the sight of the horse is what kept him from bowing forward, instead sticking to Bo’s side as he continued his march backwards, unconcerned for whatever obstacle there was to come.

“That is the underworld you are referring to, right?” The rhetorical question came as another joke before he guided them off the regular path, steering into the forest as they climbed up against the hill that grew rougher as the path faded and the houses smaller, “you don’t look like a criminal, or a thug, so I assume yes,” Gui observed, his step falling light despite the stones in their path and the plants growing over their heads.

Half of his questions were answered by now. Whether the same went for Bo, Gui didn’t care for much. None of her questions had interested him much to answer, though Gui enjoyed a game now and then, and like a game he treated it. “Why do you want to visit, had enough of this life?” A snort followed Gui when the question left him, derisive and low as he thought of human despair and the confusion of life he so often heard of and experienced second-hand.
 

MaryGold

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Tian Bo

The Wandering Warrior
More questions and more than one of them weren't asked in search of an answer. He had a peculiar sense of humor that Bo didn't share. Nor did Pepper, the horse, with all his personality, snorted too after Gui's last words. The noise received a pet on his mane from Bo, who answered her companion truthfully despite his apparent mockery. "The same reason every other human comes to you asking for the way there. I am looking for someone." She didn't need to tell him everything, not when she had many questions of her own to ask and not nearly as much mystery surrounding her.

"Now, my turn," Bo smirked. She turned her head to look at him, squinting her eyes to better observe every detail of him. "Why do you wear that mask?" It was always better to start with the small questions (though that one she genuinely was curious about) and then work her way up to the big one.

"You're already strange enough without that hiding your face. Are you scarred underneath or something?" She gestured to her own face. "Or maybe you're the criminal one. A smuggler of living souls to the underworld in exchange for bribes." Bo chuckled softly at her own joke. She hid her smile behind her hand, but it did nothing to hide the smile in her eyes.
 
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The Soul Collector

Gui

A lilting laugh covered by a fan escaped Gui. The human amused him, like all humans do, the horse less so from which he kept his distance. A lover, perhaps? Gui wondered why Bo felt the need to be so mysterious about who she was looking for, perhaps a scandal, or more, whatever the case the man felt himself intrigued as he continued down the small green path that he was leading them down on, the fog thickening as they stepped through the foliage.

“Maybe both?” was his response, another question for a question, another laugh that escaped him as he wondered if he was indeed a smuggler, taking Bo into the Underworld. If there were any rules he surely had broken them all. “Do you want to find out?”

He left the question hanging between them, ceasing his step suddenly as the fog continued to thicken and water could be heard at a distance, then surrounding them, and then a shrill whistle.

“Last chance, and again, I’m not sure if the horse will come with us,” Gui warned, the whisks of fog turning more solid, like waves of water, cold to touch in a soft constant stream, yet never dampening any of their clothes before the pale hand of Gui doomed up from out of the thick mist, offering Bo a cup of clear liquid within the white vastness that covered them both.

“I have always loved to experiment, cheers,” his voice sounds through the water-like air, yet still light and breathable, but beyond chilly, as the sound of another cup clinking at Bo’s could be heard followed with an audible gulp.

And then silence.