After leading Kojin through the Land of Spirits for a while, we eventually reached my house. I exited his body completely before telling him to wait outside, as I wasn't sure how Fay would react to me exiting Kojin's body after being gone for so long. I phased through the locked door, which I had locked after leaving for Oni Castle, leaving my housemate Fay in charge of the place while I was gone.
Once I had entered the house, I called her name. "Fay, I'm home!"
I heard an audible gasp and a quick flutter from her small wings before she rushed downstairs to the door, youthful enthusiasm present as she shouted "You're home!" all the way down. It had been a while since I'd seen her, and she had gotten a little taller. She was still small, of course, being a fairy and all, but she had kept the place together well. When she reached me, she gasped again, noticing the holes and burns on my clothes.
"Oh my gosh, Aria! What happened to you?"
"Oh, the Oni King and I had a bit of a… falling out. So I live here again. Did you do everything I asked you to do?"
"Well, I kept all of your flowers alive. I couldn't cut the grass outside, though. I didn't have it in me."
"I noticed. It's okay, though, I expected that from a plant fairy. I was hoping you would ask one of your friends to do it. Like maybe your ice fairy friend?"
"Oh, is that how I was supposed to do that? She was out of town doing something with a few other fairies. Well, anyway…" She noticed that I had changed into semi-formal clothes and was reapplying the red highlights in my black hair. She was slightly smirking when she asked, "Hey, Aria, what's the occasion?"
"What do you mean?"
"Dressing up all nice, reapplying your highlights that you usually don't care about, all that."
"Well, if you must know, I'm travelling the world. We'll be going to each of the Domains to see what we can do in each one."
"We? Who are you going with? Is it a booooy?" She was obviously teasing me, so I decided to mess with her, even though what I told her was the truth.
"Yes, actually, it is a boy. A very nice boy, in fact."
"Ha, see, I knew you would never go anywhere with a b—wait, what?"
"That's right, Fay. I'm travelling the world with a boy. He's very caring, too, what with that pet of his that he has to be gentle with."
Fay stared with wide eyes and a shocked expression as I continued. "He's extremely passionate as well, and so strong…" I sigh to drive the point home.
"When did you meet this guy?"
"Oh, I met him today."
"Wait, you're travelling the world with a guy you met today?! Don't you think that's a little irresponsible?"
"Would you like to meet him?"
"Well, duh! I need to see if he's really all that."
I opened the door, and let Kojin into the house. He was blushing, meaning he had heard everything, which I giggled at for a bit. Once inside the house, he and Fay got acquainted, with Fay asking a ton of questions about what I had just said. Before he could answer any of them, though, I started pulling Kojin towards the open door.
"Fay, I'm leaving you in charge again until I get back from my trip. Ciao~"
I then quickly shut the door behind us. Fay, however, could not stop thinking about what I had said and thought about all of the bad things that could possibly happen, especially since jiang shis are known to absorb qi, otherwise known as life force, and for ghosts, that can end terribly, since ghosts are basically nothing but life force. She brushed it off quickly, however, and went to the second floor's windows to see us leave. However, what she saw was me phasing back into Kojin, which made all of her fears resurface.
As we were walking away, Kojin asked me a simple question. "Uh… Did you mean all that stuff back there?"
"Well, I was mostly trying to freak Fay out. But I didn't technically lie about any of it. If Dendo is any indication, you are kind and gentle, you're very passionate about what we're doing in the domains, and you are very strong. The sigh was just to get her worried." I chuckled a little.
"Oh, well, when you put it that way, I guess you're right."
"You coming in with your face as red as my highlights was priceless, too. I didn't even know a corpse could blush that much."
"No, that's just the… uh… rosacea I had when I was younger."
"Rosacea, huh? Is one of the symptoms of rosacea breaking out into a cold sweat?"
"Hush, you. We need to pick something up first."
"Oh, really? What is it?"
"Something I'm gonna need if we run into a fight."
Kojin led me away from my house, and after a small walk, we came across what looked like a stand. I recognized it from the times Fay and I would visit the stand before this whole ordeal with the Oni King started. The stand was run by a friendly Cyclops named Oplo who was usually on the go with his food stand through the domains. Even the Tengu King loved Oplo; he was incredibly easy to talk to about whatever may have troubled you that given day, and usually gave great advice. I wondered why we were visiting his stand, but Kojin went right up and sat down.
"Hey, Kojin, good to see ya! Ya even brought Dendo with ya."
"Oh, it's not just me, Oplo. I brought someone with me."
I realized that Kojin meant me, so I left his body to chat. "Hi, Oplo. It's been a while."
Oplo looked at me for a second with his single eye before smiling widely. "Why, if it isn't Aria! I remember when you and Fay would come here all the time. How have ya been?"
"Oh, I've been well. Fay's at the house, unfortunately, so she probably won't be here."
"Ah, that's a shame. It's always nice to see Fay and her boundless energy. So how did you two find each other?"
We explained the situation to Oplo, and he listened intently. "Well, it would seem to me that you two have your work cut out for ya."
"That we do, Oplo, that we do." Kojin shifted his gaze around before continuing. "So, Oplo, do you have my special order?"
"Luckily for you, Kojin, I'm a Cyclops, so my ancestors had good experience with this sort of thing. I just wished you'd quit breaking the darn thing, but then I had a thought. Why not make it so that it won't break easily? So I tempered it with some more steel, and bam! Not so easy to break now, ya get me?"
"I knew I could count on you, Oplo. I need it for the quest we're going on."
"Ah, then I finished it just in time, eh? Well, voila!"
Oplo gave Kojin a shovel that looked shiny and brand-new. Kojin seemed ecstatic to see it in its condition and voiced his approval.
"Thanks, Oplo. You're the best." Kojin walked a ways off, swinging it around. I was still at the stand with Oplo when he started speaking to me.
"Ya know, I'm really glad a good egg like you is travelling with my boy Kojin, all right?"
"Well, kinda. See, I found him when he was a fresh jiang shi, but he had no idea where to go or what to do. See, his parents—I don't really know what happened to them—weren't around when he rose from the grave, so I essentially raised him. You saw him running around every so often during your usual visits."
Oplo was right, I did remember a small brown-haired boy with a talisman on his forehead, but I never imagined he was basically Oplo's kid.
"Better you than someone who would take advantage of him, right? After all, the boy means well, but he isn't the brightest on most things. That shovel is the one I gave him when he wanted to learn how to protect himself from the 'bad guys'. He's really good with it, too."
Kojin looked over at us and spoke loudly. "Hey, Aria, you coming so we can get on the road or what?"
"I'll be right there, just hold on."
"You take care of him, all right? And remember, great souls have wills; feeble ones only have wishes. You kids go out there and make your will the way." He smiled at me as he had for years leading up to this point of my life.
I smiled back and simply said, "Thank you, Oplo. For everything." I then rushed off to join Kojin and Dendo.
As we left the insightful Cyclops to his work, he waved goodbye and called out "Good luck, you two!"
All I could think of as we started on our journey, now fully prepared, was the first piece of advice Oplo ever told me: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
We had just taken those first steps on our long and arduous journey.