I. Mountain Stream
When I opened my eyes, an elderly man with a gentle smile stood before me.
He patted my hands gently, and said,
"Thank you for coming.
Please accompany this old man here."
A room full of medical related books. Simple blue clothes that smells of medicinal herbs, which refuses to disappear even after the clothes are washed off. The owner of all of these is my Master Attendant.
Master Attendant is a godly doctor living hidden deep in the mountain. Many people had offered him golds, silvers, and even lands, wanting him to work solely for them.
As Master Attendant has no interest in such things, he decided to live in retirement in this area to avoid the complicated earthly life.
There is neither disputes nor fighting here. Only faint tea and herb scent wafting in the air.
Lovely animals also live here, in the depth of the mountain. Once they got accustomed to our presence, they often come approaching us to ask for some snacks.
They're also pretty clever. If they got hurt, they will wait patiently by our side, as if asking us to treat their wounds.
I usually relieve myself from boredom by reading Master Attendant's medical books, learning bit by bit from them.
Seeing that, Master Attendant eventually taught me the art of medicine.
Every mid-month, Master Attendant would take me with him going down the mountain, to exchange medicinal herbs with daily necessities.
Once, when we're heading back home, we heard a dreadful scream and the voice of people panicking from within a small hut along the road.
"The, the baby won't come out!"
Master Attendant, who usually is always walking leisurely, suddenly hastened his footsteps when he heard this, and he entered the unlocked hut.
Then, after pushing his way through the crowd of bewildered people, he pulled out the silver needle that he always kept around his waist belt.
When he pierced the correct acupuncture point with the silver needle, the screaming woman began to calm down, and she breathed more easily.
"Boil the water for her."
Master Attendant and I then left the room.
Before long, we can hear the high-pitched cries of a baby from within the room.
Master Attendant finally looked relieved, and he took me to leave the place.
"Master Attendant, weren't you saying that you don't wish to involve yourself with the earthly life?"
"That's a different matter altogether with helping others.
We don't need reasons to help others.
Cloud, do you understand what I mean?"
"Do you really understand?"
"... I do."
II. Involvement With The Earthly Life
As the moon sank behind the ravines, I helped Master Attendant walking a step at a time, climbing up the stone steps covered in mosses.
The clouds are playfully riding on the gentle breeze, bringing a fresh air to the the valley after the rain.
After helping Master Attendant getting into the house, I let him sit under the roof overhang, and poured a cup of tea for him.
The enshrouding mist slowly cleared away, and both the comfortable scent of tea and the scent of medicines in the room feels comfortable to our exhausted body.
"Cloud, don't you ever feel like seeing the earthly life?"
Master Attendant looked at me as he hesitantly asked.
I lightly shook my head, then draped the coat that I took from inside the room over his shoulders.
"Master Attendant, it's already time for evening dew to form, so please take cafe of yourself. I'm not fond of the superficial earthly life. This Cloud much prefers serving and staying by your side over that."
"I see... but this old man is thinking of letting you leave for the outside world. Right now, my knowledge of medicine has come pale in comparison to yours. However, you've only ever heard about the world from me. The world isn't actually all that bad, you see."
"This Cloud wishes to continue to stay here. To think of going to places where there are people whose heart I can't fathom is..."
"Cloud, it would be better if you reach your conclusion after seeing it with your own eyes."
"... But this Cloud truly wishes to stay behind in this mountain."
"Alright, alright, do what you want then."
As I lead a quiet life in the mountain, aside from reading the medical books, playing the flute becomes an activity that I enjoyed the most.
Master Attendant also loved the sound of my flute, and so I would often played a carefree tune among the winds.
"The singing voice of a mermaid is probably the only thing that can counterbalance these sounds."
"Come here, let me show you."
In the ancient document placed between medical books, is written countless articles about medicines, with its characteristics and use drawn along with the texts.
Master Attendant flipped it open to one of the pages. On the page, a beautiful woman with her lower half resembling a fish's tail is drawn.
"This is a mermaid. A humanoid creature with a fish tail.
According to the legend, a mermaid has a beautiful singing voice likened to the whisper of nature. There are also rumors that a human who heard them singing a whole song will soon meet their own end, or that eating mermaid's flesh will grant one an eternal life, or that it works as a medicine that can cure all kind of illness.
In this world, there are many people who dreams of meeting a mermaid, but I've never heard of anyone meeting a real one."
"Do you wish to meet one, Master Attendant?"
"Me? I do want to hear one singing. Though I'm sure I won't be able to meet any."
"And why is that?"
"There are many people who believed in the rumor that "their flesh can grant one an eternal life" and so wished to kill a mermaid and consume their flesh.
And if it's true that such thing as medicine that can cure all kind of illness exists, doctors like us will have nothing to do, right?
Besides, if those mermaids truly have beautiful singing voice, it would be better to let them live happily in their homeland."
Master Attendant lived out his allotted life span.
For a human's standard, he had managed to live a long life.
At his last moments, Master Attendant said this to me.
"Cloud, what do you plan to do after this?"
"... I will travel around the world, looking for mermaid, and try to have a joint performance with them at least once."
That was the last thing Master Attendant said, before he laughed, and left this world.
After giving Master Attendant a proper burial, I left our small hut and traveled all around the world.
Then I came to see the downfall of villages, the change of ruling sovereigns, and the death-like stillness and sadness reflected in the eyes of Food Souls who involved themselves with the earthly life.
I once asked to one who served a child that will succeed the throne.
"What kind of meaning does your job holds?
Why would you throw away your freedom and protect this child?"
"I won't answer. Someday, Miss Cloud, I'm sure you'll come to understand, after you find someone who can make you feel that way toward them."
At other times, I met a Food Soul who watched quietly as their Master Attendant is put on the guillotine.
"You have the power to help them. But why are you only watching as they receive their punishment?"
"Because Master Attendant doesn't wish for my help."
Is this the "world" that Master Attendant spoke of?
I've tried to see it with my own eyes, but as I've thought, I don't think I should stay here.
In the end, I couldn't feel the positive side of it that Master Attendant spoke of.
I returned to the small hut and started living in seclusion.
Food Soul doesn't need to eat.
There's no need for me to leave the forested mountain.
I only went down the mountain when I almost ran out of my favorite tea leaves.
The season for peach flowers to bloom has arrived once again.
The dried petals of peach flowers are good ingredients to make medicines.
Lately, I found out that there is a peach forest at the foot of the mountain where I lived.
Long ago, this place is supposedly a mere empty land run to waste. Before I realized, it has been turned into a wonderful peach forest.
When I reached the peach forest, I found an unexpected figure sitting on the gazebo that has been built here since long ago.
"Cloud? I didn't expect that I can meet you here."
"You are... Why did you leave?"
The name of that Food Soul, who always have a gentle smile on his mien, is Wonton.
He left the Master Attendant who binds him and came to this land. This paradise is changing its form little by little into the form that he desired.
According to him, the child he protected had grown so much that he now can let go of Wonton.
I can feel it.
His eyes reflected a fraction of loneliness, but more than that, they are brimming with pride for his Master Attendant.
"Putting aside my story, how about you?
Ever since the first time we met, you looks like you've been looking for something.
A long time has passed since then, but have you found what you're looking for?"
"I'm still... looking for it..."
Well, we have all the time in the world.
You can take your time looking for it."
"I'd like to find the singing voice of a mermaid."
That day, I conversed all day long with him.
Seeing how his eyes looked as he gazed toward the direction of the royal palace, I suddenly came to think, what my Master Attendant said might be true after all.
The earthly life isn't only filled with things that can make us feel despair.
No matter what kind of hardships fill this world, there will always be something that can make us think that the world is beautiful.
Let's go. To find the mermaid.
And as I do it, let's try to see the world again.
The reason I could only find sadness back then might be because I only saw a tiny part of this world.
IV. A Wish Granted
Ever since then, I traveled through many lands.
I've came to see all kind of human emotions.
The whole time, I was only watching quietly as a spectator.
Sometimes, just like my Master Attendant, I would lend a helping hand for people who needs to get treated back to health.
Many times the situation is as despairing as the ones I saw during my early years of traveling, but before I gave up completely, there would always be warm hands that wrapped itself around my cold hands.
Spring, summer, fall, and winter passed. Plum blossoms, orchids, bamboos, and chrysanthemums are blooming and scattering.
Both the pavilion standing still in the middle of light drizzle and the lonely mist slowly raising in the vast desert, are completely different from the view that I can see in the mountain. Thanks to these scenery, the thought of regretting my decision to leave the small hut is driven away from my mind.
Each time a certain amount of time has passed, I would return to my starting point.
Sometimes I would go to Master Attendant's grave, talking about the scenery I saw and my observations, and then I would go to the gazebo at the foothills, meeting that drunkard.
One day, the Ton spirit whom I had just said a good bye to suddenly fly to the back of the mountain where I stayed, appearing to be panicked. It pulled at my clothes and dragged me to the foothills.
The stench of blood heavily hangs in the air of the peach forest.
Seeing my arrival, Wonton's expression changed into that of a relief.
"Cloud, please save this person!"
The unconscious person leaning against him is terribly wounded.
I did my best, staying awake all night long, and finally the condition of this man, whose body is rampant with malice, settled down.
It doesn't shows on my face, but exhaustion is gradually piling up in my body, and when I realized, the sun has risen high.
I took a deep breath, heading toward the riverside near the peach forest, and started playing my flute.
The slow notes of flute has the power to comfort one's heart.
I used to play my flute in many riversides and beaches, in hope of one day finding traces of a mermaid.
A long time has passed and I still couldn't find it, so I thought of giving up.
However, when I saw her emerging from the waters and looking at me hesitantly, I couldn't help but widen my eyes.
The joy from finally having my wish granted assaulted my whole being.
"Come, come closer to me. If you do, you'll be able to hear much better notes."
After hesitating for awhile, she, who gazed at me hesitantly, finally swam to my side.
To think that the mermaid that I thought is a mere product of legends actually existed...
At the end of my long journey, I finally found her.
V. Cloud Tea
In the depth of the mountain in Light Kingdom, there is a garden that is neither large nor small.
"Long Bao, stop! How many times has it been now!? That's good tea leaves that we received from Cloud, you know!!?"
The thunderous yelling that sounded like it could flip the roofs over echoed throughout the place.
A boy with a smile plastered on his face and holding a tea cup in his hands, leaped through the door, running toward the garden.
The one who chased after him is actually the master of said garden.
Wonton leaned against the frame of the door, glaring at the back of the running away Long Bao as he was out of breath.
Veins can be clearly seen popping out on the back of his hand, which was holding onto the frame of the door.
"Don't come back again!
... No, I can't do that.
Ton spirit, go catch him!"
Cloud Tea, who came to visit the Forgotten Yard, heaved a sigh as if she's thinking that this situation is hopeless.
She poured a new cup of tea for Wonton, whose tongue is numbing because he accidentally drank vinegar earlier.
"You don't have to be so angry. We can just brew another pot of tea."
With one hand holding the tea cup and the other hand massaging his temple, Wonton heaved a tired sigh.
"Every time you brought good tea leaves for us, he would end up spoiling it."
"Don't mind it. I can always bring you new ones."
"See! Cloud said that she's fine with it!"
Since who knows when, the running away Long Bao had returned and is now peeking his head through the door, showing them a silly expression.
Wonton ended up getting provoked and commanded his Ton spirit to once again chase after Long Bao.
Cloud heaved out another sigh, and as she shook her head, she took her flute. She then headed toward the gazebo by the lakeside.
As soon as the rising and falling slow notes of her flute starts playing out, gentle ripples soon formed on the surface of the waters, as if drawn toward the sound of the flute.
Sweet & Sour Fish, despite has become well acquainted with everyone here, is still appearing hesitant.
She carefully seated herself on the chair situated at the bank of the lake, that everyone prepared for her.
"C, Cloud... do you want to hear me singing?"
"Why do you think so?
Do you wish to sing?"
"I heard from Wonton... The reason you've been looking for a mermaid all this time is because you wanted to hear a mermaid singing. And I'd like to thank you..."
"What about it?"
But singing is the only thing that I..."
"Don't tell me, you thought that I saved you so that I can hear you sing?"
"... A, am I wrong?"
"You don't have to sing if you don't want to. I healed you just because I wanted to, and not for the sake of hearing you sing. Even if you're not a mermaid, I'm sure I would still save you back then. However, if you wish to sing, then let me accompany you with my music."
"Because I'd like to let you know as well. That this earthly life isn't only filled with sadness and grief.
Someone taught me that. That's why, I'd like to let everyone know about it as well."
When Cloud Tea first went to experience earthly life, she passed by Light Kingdom's royal palace in the process.
There, she saw a falsely charged, honest government official who, in order to protect the dignity of their law, went to the gallows on his own will.
She also saw the imperial prince, who got cornered by his own father and brothers, ended up tainting his hands with blood in order to protect the justice within his heart.
Due to witnessing events that caused her heart to freeze up, she rejected the world and returned to where her Master Attendant used to live in seclusion deep in the mountain, and decided to never again leave the area.
After that, Wonton's arrival to the area allowed her to learn about a truth which was different from the things that she had seen, and she finally, once again, stepped into the earthly life, and began to be able to feel the small warmth that exists among the cold world.
She gradually realized that finding a mermaid is no longer an important objective, and instead ended up thinking that working as a healer is her life's calling.
As if to reward her good conducts, one day a beautiful woman with a fin finally appeared in her life.