133 The Dark-cloaked Traveller Pt.1

    Everything was a blur.

    Gyuri ran with all her might, tears forming at the corners of her eyes as she sprinted away from Pho. She didn't know what she was doing, where she was going, or why she was running, but she needed to escape.

    All around her, the streets of the capital converged into a blur as if they were moving past her rather than the other way around. It was like watching the world fast-forward in time while she stood still, a bystander in her own life.

    Ever since arriving at Saim, nothing had made sense to Gyuri. She had tried her best to survive, figure out how and why she had time-slipped to this era, but to little avail. Day after day, Gyuri had pushed her worries to the back of her mind like one would if they were packing a suitcase. Like a game of Tetris, she managed to keep her worries at bay: as soon as it became too overwhelming, Gyuri had miraculously found a way to reduce her anxiety, making it vanish like the geometric shapes from the said game.

    But, unlike Tetris, Gyuri's worries were not compact shapes. They didn't vanish like she thought they did.

    No- like a suitcase filled to the brim, her worries, fears and doubts threatened to spill out, only contained by the fragile zip that was her sheer will to stay intact. The shapeless fiends were uncooperative, persistent and heavy. Even though Gyuri had tried her best to forget about them, still they remained. And for a while, Gyuri's method of staying optimistic had helped her forget their presence. Disguising her anxiety behind a smile, Gyuri had continued with life on Saim as usual.

    That was... until now.

    Gyuri gasped for breath as she finally slowed to a light jog. She hadn't run like that in such a long time that her heart was beating erratically, and a painful stitch had developed in her side. But despite her fatigue, the sensation that overrode them all was the heaviness in her chest. A shaky breath escaped her lips as hot tears spilled from her eyes.

    "Who am I kidding?" Gyuri said aloud as she wiped away her tears. "I'm not okay," she hiccupped, "I'm not okay at all..."

    For a while, Gyuri trudged on aimlessly, following the dirt path that lay before her. With eyes fixed on the ground, Gyuri was only faintly aware of her surroundings. Curious whispers drifted to her ears followed by the scuffling of shoes. Without having to look up, Gyuri knew that it was the townsfolk probably gossiping about her, putting forward their assumptions as to why a young maid like herself was crying in the middle of the street.

    I'm so tired of this.

    Absorbed in her ruminations, Gyuri continued walking until the whispers died down and she was greeted with silence. Save for the howling of the wind and the bristling of grass, everything was peaceful- a striking contrast to the tempest in her mind. It was only when Gyuri noticed the unevenness of the path did she halt. Gazing up from the ground, Gyuri soon realised that she was no longer in the village. A vast expanse of emptiness lay before her without a single building in sight.

    "Where... am I?"

    A soft pitter-patter greeted her ears before it suddenly grew into heavy drumming.

    It had been months since she had last seen rain; an age since she had last been soaked through to the skin, and almost a lifetime since she had last felt comforted by its presence.

    Mesmerised by the sudden downpour, Gyuri stood still as she allowed the precipitation to slice through her clothing, eventually reaching her sweaty skin, where the cooling effect was most welcome.

    With the scent of petrichor making its way to her nostrils, Gyuri relished the nostalgia that the rain evoked. It reminded her of her life back home. Memories of many rainy days spent indoors, cuddled underneath the safety of her blanket while watching K-dramas flashed before her eyes. With the rain's rhythmic and hypnotic beat, Gyuri found solace like one would if they step into a hot shower. And just for that short while, all her fears were temporarily forgotten as if the rain had washed them all away.

    If only I could stay like this forever.

    Suddenly, a bolt of lightning tore through the sky followed by the rumble of thunder. Startled by the threatening sound, Gyuri jumped, shattering the enchantment as she was pulled back into reality.

    Ominous, grey clouds cloaked the sky while bitter winds howled past her as it accompanied the torrential showers like a phantom banshee. Disorientated, Gyuri searched her surroundings and found that the vast expanse of emptiness was, in fact, a field. Gyuri scrambled toward a tall, gnarly tree in the distance, hoping that it would provide her shelter. She knew that it wouldn't do much good since she was already soaked to the skin but decided that anything would be better than being exposed to the unforgiving elements. In a blink of an eye, the rain had transformed from a calming drizzle to a foreboding storm.

    As she curled up into a small ball at the base of the tree, Gyuri began to contemplate on what she should do next.

    "I should go back to the household. Pho must be worried about me."

    Burying her head into her knees, Gyuri thought about her friend and how she had left her so suddenly. She didn't know what came over her. While her mind tried to convince her to think rationally and return to the Kim household, her heart was set on leaving everything behind. Why should she return? She didn't belong there. This wasn't the life she was supposed to lead.

    Gyuri sat still as she tried to work through her muddled thoughts.

    Strong gales whistled by and rain poured down, but inside, Gyuri remained oblivious. So much so, that even when the rain appeared to have ceased, she didn't notice. Not registering how cold and numb she was, Gyuri remained in her curled-up position. She might have stayed like so for longer if it wasn't for what came next.

    "Are ye all righ', child?"

    Gyuri looked up.

    There, before her, stood an elderly woman dressed in tattered rags that were singed at the edges. Her long, silver hair was tied into a loose bun with a few strands framing her wrinkled but kind-looking face. She gaped at Gyuri curiously, her dark, brown eyes shining with an intelligent glint.

    "Do ye need help?"

    Gyuri shook her head. She was so lost in her thoughts that she thought the woman in front of her was a mirage.

    The elder paused for a moment before gathering up the courage to ask, "Well, I was wondering if ye can help me."

    Gyuri blinked.

    "I was on my way to the capital," the old woman revealed, "when the storm came and led me astray. I am afraid I am quite lost."

    "You can get to the capital by following the path," Gyuri murmured, finally finding her voice. "The path is just over there."

    "Oh." The woman followed the direction Gyuri was pointing to and squinted. After a while, she added, "Say, if it is not too much trouble..."

    Gyuri looked up again.

    "...will ye accompany me?"

    A reluctant hum escaped Gyuri's lips. All she really wanted to do was stay in her cocoon for a little longer.

    "I am afraid I might get lost again," the elder added, noticing Gyuri's hesitance. "I am on my way to surprise my granddaughter."

    At this Gyuri's eyes softened.

    The elder was about to say more in a bid to convince her when she noticed Gyuri wobble to her feet. Clinging to the tree for support, Gyuri answered while shaking her limbs awake, "Sure, I'll help you get to her." She smiled wryly. "I should probably be heading back anyway..."

    For a while, the sound of squelching mud filled the silence as Gyuri and the elder trekked side by side along the grass plain. Gyuri frowned as she tried her best not to slip as she waded through the mud, her skirt caked in soil and her hair clumped into dark, dripping tendrils. When they eventually reached the dirt path, Gyuri and the elder sighed in relief.

    "At last," the woman mumbled, "firm ground."

    Gyuri managed a small smile.

    "I don' mean to pry," the elder said tentatively after a moment of silence, "but what's a young'un like ye doing back there? Were ye lost as well?"

    "No... not quite."

    The elder observed Gyuri's gloomy features. "I think my granddaughter might be the same age as ye."

    "Oh?" Gyuri automatically responded, her thoughts elsewhere.

    "Aye," the elder replied. "And like yourself, she too is haunted by troubles."

    Gyuri turned to the elder.

    "I may be old, but I can tell when one is unsettled," she spoke sagely. "Tell me, child, what is bothering you so?"


    The elder let out a doubtful humph. She watched as Gyuri chewed her bottom lip in apprehension as they continued to amble.

    Trying a different approach, the elder began, "My granddaughter is very energetic." She peered at Gyuri's direction to see if the lass was listening. "She is very ambitious for a young'un. Causes her parents grief every time she does something reckless."

    "She sounds like a handful," Gyuri murmured distractedly.

    "Indeed," The elder chuckled, delighted that Gyuri had responded. "That girl would do anything for a bit of excitement."

    Gyuri glanced at the elder who exhibited a warm expression. From the way the elder spoke of her granddaughter, Gyuri knew that she loved her dearly.

    "Did you travel very far?" Gyuri questioned. "I'm guessing you're not from the capital."

    "Aye," the woman replied. "I am from a small town far yonder." The elder flashed Gyuri a quick smile, revealing her crooked teeth. "It has been far too long since I had last seen my granddaughter. She was only a child when I saw her last."

    Gyuri hummed in reply, suddenly reminded of how long it has been since she herself had last seen her family.

    "But what about ye? Are ye going back to your family after this?"

    Gyuri smiled forcibly. "If only."

    The elder cocked her head to the side.

    "I haven't seen them in a long time either."

    The elder watched as Gyuri played with her sleeve, an uncomfortable silence brewing between them.

    "Well, it is not too late. Ye can always try and make amends with them if that is what is keeping ye."

    Gyuri shook her head. "No, it's not like that. I want to go home but the thing is... I can't."


    Gyuri mumbled, "It's complicated."

    "Complications make life colourful. Surely it cannot be as bad as ye say?"

    "But it is." Gyuri stopped as she spotted her reflection in a puddle. She clenched her fist as she stared at the girl in front of her. "It is so complicated that I sometimes don't know who I am anymore." The elder was about to respond when Gyuri suddenly muttered, "I feel like I'm starting to forget." Her voice quivered. "I'm starting to forget and... I'm scared."

    Silently, the elder observed how Gyuri clung to her damp skirt, her knuckles turning white from the tension.

    "It is all right to be afraid."

    Slowly, Gyuri turned to the elder. The elder smiled as she gestured to the path ahead of them.

    "We all have a path we must take," she explained. "Some are straightforward like a road while others meander like a river." She beckoned for her and Gyuri to continue their walk. "And when the time comes, we are sometimes confronted with two paths and we become unsure of which to take."

    Suddenly, Gyuri and the elder reached the end of their path where it diverged into two.

    "Which way?" the elder asked.

    Gyuri pointed to the right.

    The pair began their journey again but after a few minutes, Gyuri beckoned for the elder to stop. "I don't think we're going the right way." She scanned her surroundings. "I don't remember seeing those rice paddies."

    Gyuri and the elder retraced their steps back to the crossroads where they followed the path on the left instead, blushing faintly at the irony.

    "Each choice we make have consequences in the future," the elder continued, once Gyuri was sure of their location. "Sometimes the path we take can lead us astray, but once we are back on the right path, we learn that it is not only the direction that has changed but the person as well."

    Gyuri eyed the elder dubiously.

    "Ye say that ye don' know who ye are anymore."

    Gyuri nodded.

    "Well, does anybody really know who they are?"

    "No," Gyuri answered slowly. "I guess not."

    "We never really stay the same as we go through life," the elder mentioned. "One's self is not something that can be defined by mere words because the self is not static- it is ever-changing. Ye can even argue that we are just many people trapped in one soul." The elder turned to Gyuri knowingly. "'Tis just the matter of accepting the person ye are today and not worrying about the person ye were yesterday."

    "I don't really understand how that's supposed to help me. All I want is to go back to where I belong." She shifted her attention to the horizon and was glad to spot the outline of the village. "I didn't ask to come here. I don't understand why I came to be here at all."

    "But that is the point."

    Gyuri turned to the elder.

    "Ye do not need to understand everything right now. Just trust that there is always a reason why things have turned out the way they have." The elder joined Gyuri in staring at the distance as the sky darkened and light droplets of rain started to fall. "There are no accidents in life- everything happens for a reason." She turned to Gyuri and gently took hold of her palm. Gyuri turned to her questioningly. "Just like how I found ye under that tree."

    Noticing a small flower tattoo on the elder's wrist, Gyuri was about to point it out when she suddenly felt the elder place something in her hand.

    "Take it," the elder said with a fond smile. "I believe it is something that ye seek."

    Caught off guard, Gyuri inspected the small item and her eyes widened in disbelief.

    "This is payment for helping me find my way," the elder added as she grinned at Gyuri's reaction. "I hope that it will help ye find yours."

    "My grandma's ring!" Gyuri exclaimed, finding her voice again. Several questions whizzed through her mind as she inspected it, her fingers pressing hard just to ensure that she was not hallucinating. "How did you-? Where did you-?"

    But when Gyuri looked up, the old woman was gone.
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