Yujia breathes a sigh of relief while she walks through the forest Hui'er told her about, feeling the cool spring breeze rustling through the leaves. Although she had only been at this world for a day, it felt long. Too long. And during those long hours exploring the world, she had been monitored by Hui'er so carefully that she almost felt trapped.
Back in the modern world, Yujia considered herself an independent person, so while she did enjoy talking to others, she needed her time alone too. Now that she was in this time period, having Hui'er constantly monitor every move she made was a little excessive and tiring. She appreciated Hui'er's company, but she needed time to herself as well.
That was partially the reason why Yujia came up with the idea of task splitting— where she would go venture in the forest alone while Hui'er took care of the two issues of getting the graphite from the vendor and settling the painting commision with the commissioner from yesterday. Hui'er trusted that Yujia would be safe in the forest, considering that many traveled in it on a day-to-day basis and that they made precautions of what to do if Yujia did not return by noon.
Yujia grins, tossing all thoughts of Hui'er aside.
It felt wonderful to be free and by herself, enjoying the nature of the forest and admiring the scenery of bamboo and leaves! Yujia hums as she continues walking, a small tune caught on her lips.
However, her humming eventually dies down and stops when she realizes that she must've been walking for half an hour now, and the creek Hui'er spoke of was still not appearing. Perhaps she was walking in the wrong direction…
From the far distance, Yujia notices an old man pushing a cart of vegetables walking closer and closer to her on the other side of the path. Swiftly, Yujia speeds up and waves her hand, putting a polite smile on her face while she greets the old man.
"Elder, good morning!"
The old man nods appreciatively at the show of respect, then observes her. "What's a young girl like you doing in the forest? You don't look like you're dressed for traveling out the city…"
Yujia continues smiling, a lie rolling off her tongue easily. "I'm just exploring the forest for fun." It would be too much work to explain exactly what she was looking for and for what purpose. "Though I did hear that there was a creek or stream of some sort in this forest? Elder, do you have any idea about that?"
"Yes, yes. There is a creek if you walk down this path enough. Just a little more walking and the path will split. The one on the left leads you deeper into the forest and the one on the right leads you out of the city. Go for the left one, and walk some more. The creek is very deep in the forest," explains the man.
"Alright, thank you!" Yujia gives a quick nod and parts ways with the old man, heading deeper down the path like he instructed.
Another good ten or so minutes, and she found the split that the man was talking about. Standing at the place where the roads divided, she stared at a minute down the right path. She clearly remembered the old man's words about the right leading out of the city, so currently, the path on the right looked tempting.
Yujia could imagine herself walking down the path on the right, eventually out of the city and into the unknown lands of the empire. This was entirely possible, and judging by the fact that it was hardly even noon, she could get a good head start.
It took a while of debating to convince herself that as tempting as it seemed to leave the city behind, Yujia would most likely die quickly out there. Her taels and supplies were left in the villa, and she didn't think that a girl like her would survive too long out there without money or people to rely on.
With a sigh, Yujia turned to the left and headed down the path she knew was the most logical. Still, for future purposes, she saved the knowledge that the old man gave her for later, in case a time ever came where she wanted to leave.
Soon enough, Yujia also gained a new perspective on things— walking in the forest wasn't as wonderful as she thought it to be. The more she walked, the more she began to regret things. Why did she have to search for a creek herself? She could've likely bought the resource she was looking for in the river at the marketplace, most likely. This idea of being independent and innovative was completely useless when it came to the fact that she had to walk so much just to get to it.
Yujia finally admits to herself that she was a bit lazy when it came to physical activities.
Still, the prospect of making a pencil kept her going, and she continued walking with that motivation in her mind. Determination! Hard work! She needed to use these traits to bring her the results she wanted.
As the morning went on, the sun slowly shone a little brighter, rays of light and heat beating down at Yujia. The coverage from the trees and bamboo bought some shade for her, but not enough, and quickly, Yujia realized that this cool spring day was about to turn warmer and warmer with the arrival of the sun.
She was now seriously beginning to give up.
What determination? What hard work? If the sun continued shining down like this, then Yujia would likely be cooked into a fine piece of meat faster than she could make the pencil that she was doing all these things for. The heat was beginning to be too much to bear, considering that the robes she was wearing had layers upon layers and that she was already tired from walking.
If Yujia didn't see that cursed creek within a few more steps of walking, she was about to give up. She didn't care for pencils anymore. She just wanted relief from the sun. What was wrong with the creek? Why must it be so deep in the forest instead of out there in the open? She hated the sun, she hated the forest, she hated the creek—
And then, Yujia saw it:
A shining body of water, running down across from the path. It was wide enough for her to lie across without touching both sides, and the reflection of the sky above her told her that the water was deeper than she expected it to be.
It was the creek! Finally! She found it!
Her first instinct was to run up to the rippling water and to splash some on her face, but something else caught her eye— the resource she was looking for.
When she neared the river, staring at the soil by the banks, the dark material didn't look too much different than dirt, but Yujia recalls taking a pottery class during her second year of college, where the mentor briefly discussed finding clay in nature, mentioning that it was around water banks, such as rivers. The soil should be clay. It had to.
Yujia bends down at the bank of the creek, prodding at the soil with her fingers. It certainly felt smooth enough. When she dug her fingers deep into the cool soil, scooping a bit up and playing around with it, she found that it was moldable enough to be clay. Besides the occasional pebble stuck in the soil, this clay was perfect. It was as if the heavens were telling her that she was fated to find clay here.
A satisfied smile on her face, Yujia pulls out a piece of cloth she brought along with her to carry her clay, unfolding the fabric and putting the scoops of soil onto the cloth, not at all concerned with how dirty her fingers were becoming.
Yet as she dug, Yujia soon discovered another problem: the only place where she found clay was the small spot where she first dug at. Around the spot seemed to be soil that was more average soil than clay, and the soil around her was primarily soil as well. A frown on her face, Yujia looked at the pathetically small amount of clay that she gathered on her cloth and then looked back at the creek.
She sighs once more— something that she's been doing the whole day— and stands up, beginning to walk along the banks of the creek and stopping occasionally to test the soil and still finding minimal amounts of clay. At this rate, she was not going to find enough clay to act as a binding agent for her graphite and water, her goal all along.
Moodily, Yujia continued walking, finding that she already walked enough down the creek to even discover the origin of the creek, a small spring surrounded by cascades and trees for shade. It was slightly oppressing to realize that she already walked far enough to reach the origin of the creek, yet still had less clay than the size of her fist.
As she stared at the spring with a bit of hatred, Yujia noticed something else that caught her eye— a large dark shadow resting at the bottom of the spring.
Yujia steps a little closer and looms over the shadow, looking at it with cautious eyes. What was that? The more she looked at it, the more the shape seemed to formulate into something familiar. A round head, two arms…
… don't tell her that was… a person?
Why was a person lying face down in the water without moving an inch? Was he dead? Was he drowning?
All thoughts of clay aside, Yujia immediately reaches over, grabbing the shadow's arm. This was not a fun trip in the forest to search for clay anymore. It involved a drowning— or drowned— person!
Yet, as Yujia discovers within the second, the person didn't exactly seem to be dead or unconscious. The figure flinches backwards at her touch, yanking Yujia into the spring with him.
Water instantly rushes into Yujia's open mouth and seeps into her clothes, the chilling sensation making her shiver. Despite the fact that Yujia couldn't exactly swim, the waters of the spring were not deep, and with scrambling movements, she pushes herself out of the water, to find…
… to find…
… to find a naked man with a very familiar, scowling face glaring back at her.