Tangseng walked with Bajie down the mountain path, realizing he had never seen flies this high in the Sang-La Mountains before. A cloud of them buzzed around Bajie’s head and torso, landing on his ears and snout. Bajie didn’t seem to notice.
“That apple left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. “Can you spare another? It has to taste better than the first.”
Tangseng had only packed enough provisions for himself, yet he pulled two more apples from his satchel and gave them to Bajie, who at them so quickly Tangseng doubted he tasted them at all.
Bajie smacked his lips. “They need sugar. And ale. So what compels you to leave the comfort of your temple and walk all the way down this mountain?”
Because he loved conversation about knowledge, Tangseng was about to tell Bajie of the Jade Scriptures and how finding them could end the war with the Hellbourne, but he was nagged by the feeling that something was not quite right. He said, “Pandamonium did not mention this when he sent you to protect me?”
Bajie glanced at Tangseng. “Er, perhaps he did. I’d just woken from a nap and my ears were still full of sleep. Tell me again, I promise to listen this time.”
Tangseng wanted to have faith in this slovenly warrior, despite his shifting eyes and questionable hygiene. “Well, there are ancient scriptures hidden throughout Newerth—”
Bajie slapped his rake across Tangseng’s chest, knocking him backward and the wind from his lungs. The pig man sniffed the air and snorted. “Someone waits ahead. Come out, coward!”
A monk stepped from behind a large stone and stood before them on the path. He was draped in orange robes and carried a long staff, which he balanced upon one finger. “Tangseng. I have been sent by Pandamonium to assist you in your journey. Who, or what, is this man with you?”
Tangseng rubbed his chest where the rake had landed. “This is Bajie. He was also sent by Pandamonium as an escort.”
The monk considered Bajie for a long moment. “I think someone else sent him.”
Bajie dug a hoof into the loose stones. “You call me liar?”
The monk said, “I call you ignorant of the truth.”
Bajie told Tangseng, “Stay here. This won’t take long.”
He bellowed and charged the monk, his rake pulled back for a mighty swing. The monk kept still, his staff balanced. When Bajie was a few paces away the monk moved in a blur, spinning the staff around and bracing one end against the ground with a foot. Bajie ran into the other end at full speed, and the monk used the staff to vault Bajie into the air and over his head. The pig man landed with a violent grunt and rolled down the path.
The monk asked Tangseng, “Have you told him any details of your journey?”
“I was on the verge of doing just that.”
They watched Bajie struggle to his feet and turn in a circle, confused.
The monk said, “I do not feel malice in him. But he has been sent by one who wishes you great harm.”
“Who?” Tangseng said.
“I doubt even he knows.”
Bajie snorted when he recovered enough to focus on them. He began to walk up the trail, closing the distance. “Stand away from Tangseng! He is under my protection.”
“Calm yourself, swine man, and tell me who—”
Without warning Bajie threw his rake at the monk. The handle was tethered with a rough cord and Tangseng realized he aimed to pull the monk into his four-armed grasp.
The monk saw this as well, though nearly too late. He disappeared in a flash of light and materialized on a rock ledge above Bajie, whose rake passed through the air and snagged a stone the size of a water bucket. Bajie yanked the cord and brought the stone hurtling toward himself. He ducked and the stone bounced off his yoke, sending a shudder through his huge frame.
When Bajie straightened, still wobbling, the monk tapped him on the head with his staff. “Anger will only cause you more harm. Tell us: who sent you to protect Tangseng?”
Bajie collected his rake and examined the tines. He was pouting, refusing to look at either Tangseng or the monk. “As I told Tangseng, it was Pandamonium.”
“Describe him,” the monk said.
“Impressive beard, clean robes. Strong minions. Though he would not offer me a ride in his sedan chair, which seemed a bit rude.”
The monk nodded. “And what were his orders?”
“Bring Tangseng to the foot of the mountain,” Bajie said. “Take him into the shelter of Pandamonium’s cave so they could speak alone.”
Tangseng was confused—he had just left Pandamonium within the Shào Temple, on the other side of the Sang-La Mountains.
The monk told Bajie, “You have been duped, my friend. I invite you to join me in protecting Tangseng, but we will not be following the orders you were given.”
Bajie blinked and snorted. “Will there be food?”
“Enough for us each to get our equal share,” the monk said.
“Then I agree, as long as my shares are equal to my size. But whose orders will we be following?”
The monk turned to Tangseng. “We await your command.”