Tangseng left the Shào Temple of the Sang-La Mountains and began his journey, climbing the narrow paths toward the peaks of the mountain range. The scrolls and books in his satchel tugged at his mind—there was so much information within them, so much wisdom, and it took most of his willpower to keep from sitting upon a stone and reading while the sun still offered light.
He reminded himself that what he sought was more important than his strong desire to read and pray. The Jade Scriptures could end the chaos and murder that engulfed Newerth, and every moment that passed until he found them meant more loss of life. Tangseng reached the pass at the top of the Sang-La Mountains and hurried through. It would be much easier on the way down, and his pace quickened as he started his descent.
The mist grew thick as Tangseng continued down the path, and he did not see the stick that tripped him. As he tumbled forward, his studious mind wondered what a stick was doing so high in the Sang-Las, as no trees grew among the ancient stones. Tangseng landed in a heap, his documents and books scattering. He examined himself for injury and found nothing serious.
“You’re fine,” a gruff voice said from the fog. A large shape emerged from the side of the path, yawning and stretching his four heavy arms. He finished the stretch but left his top two arms extended. One of the lower hands reached to help Tangseng to his feet.
Tangseng accepted, though he was wary of this brute who stank of filth and had a pig’s snout, ears, and tusks. He also had a wooden yoke across his back and shoulders, to which his top arms were chained. So it was not by choice they remained straightened.
Tangseng felt compassion for the beast. “Your arms must be weary. Allow me to free them for you.”
“No need,” the pig man said, nodding at the yoke. “This thing keeps me from having to move all four arms. Half the effort for me, little man. I am Bajie, sent by Pandamonium to see you safely down the mountain and through your journey.”
Tangseng frowned. “He told me of protectors, but he did not mention…ah…”
“What? That I would be fat?”
“The four arms, then.”
“He did not mention that either, but…my friend, you seem to be mostly pig.”
“Oh, that,” Bajie said. “Yes, I had a slight misunderstanding with some of the gods. Something about table manners, napkins in laps. But I have four arms, and sometimes I forget which lap is mine. An innocent mistake, but the gods did not believe me. So they banished me to Newerth, and here I’ve been, sleeping in slop and eating mostly garbage. I will tell you this: it is hard to impress your Newerth women with this behavior. Most of them want nothing to do with me.”
“Most?” Tangseng said.
Bajie began walking in circles, scuffing the mist-shrouded ground. “I am grateful to Pandamonium for giving me this task. It may provide redemption with those miserable gods, no fun in any of them. I was walking up the mountain to meet you and dropped my rake, got tired looking for it and sat down for a little nap. It’s a good thing you stumbled over it, else you may have walked right past without me waking.”
“I suppose,” Tangseng said. He wished Pandamonium had told him of Bajie. He did not want to be suspicious of the brute, but Bajie did not fit the usual appearance or behavior of those from the Shào Temple.
“Ah, here it is.” Bajie plucked his huge rake from the path and slung it over his shoulder. “The day only gets better. I found my rake, and we get to walk downhill. Much better than up, take my word for it. And unless my nose lies, you have some apples in your pocket.”
“I do,” Tanseng said. He offered one to Bajie, and it disappeared with one bite.
Bajie sniffed the air. “And some bread?”
Tangseng tore a hunk from the loaf and watched it vanish.
Bajie belched. “That will do for now. Shall we?”
He started down the mountain. Tangseng followed, not entirely sure if this beast meant to protect him or eat him.